The Attack Begins on the Thirty Foot Height Limit

by on January 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Editor: The following are comments to an  article published recently at the Voice of San Diego, entitled The Coastal Height Limit’s Legacy, that to us, at least, signals the beginning of the attack on the thirty foot height limit at San Diego’s coast.

Comment from Geoff Page to VOSD article:

The pro-development comments here sure stand out; I agree with Mr. Wood. The language used, like smart growth, walkability, city of villages, is designed to make increased density sound acceptable. The new frontier for development is this kind of thing because there are no more wide swatches of land left for development. The 30-foot height limit law is perfect example of the difference between what people want and what development interests want. in this case, the people won and developers have been trying everything they could to get around the law, with remarkably little success.

I contacted the VOSD reporter because I wanted to see them dig into the municipal code changes that took place last year. Every bit of the language regarding the 30-foot height limit was altered in last year’s revamp of the Municipal Code. The result is a new interpretation of how to measure a structure in the coastal height area. My hope was that the VOSD would talk to the City about these changes and see what they had to say but the article did not contain anything along those lines. Hopefully, there will be a follow up story. As of right now, it appears that the City is allowing a home on a slope to go up 30 feet from the highest grade and drawing a straight line across the top of the lot. If the back is lower, the back of a building can now be as ,much as 40 feet high. This is a change. It used to be that the measurement was taken from the lowest spot five feet from the building. As the lot sloped up, the building could go up as long as it did not exceed 30 feet above existing grade. This meant that no part of the building would exceed 30 feet from grade. This needs to be investigated in better detail.

Geoff Page is the Chair of the Peninsula Planning Committee.

Coastal Height Limit Protects Public’s Interest

comment posted as article :

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 4:05 pm | Updated: 4:11 pm, Thu Jan 10, 2013.

By David Little |

Your article relative to the 30-foot height limit reminds me of the Vietnam military official who famously said we are going to have to bomb that city to save it. Bombing San Diego’s coastal zone with 60-foot high-rise condos ruins our city — as bombing tends to do.

You imply that the coastal zone is from “Point Loma to La Jolla” when actually it is from Del Mar to the end of Imperial Beach. To say “it withstood a battery of legal challenges” is an understatement. The 30-foot limit was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and when the decision was handed down a justice said “communities can zone themselves as they see fit.” This initiative means the people of San Diego don’t have to be intimidated by political and rich developer interests.

The initiative was passed by the residents of the entire city — Clairemont, University City, Tierrasanta and City Heights. Imagine the impertinence of the voters in those areas thinking they had a right to unrestricted access to their public beaches.

Your article misstates the goal of the initiative as “maintaining ocean views” — explicitly. The real goal was to prevent San Diego from becoming a Miami Beach or a Rio de Janeiro. I should know; unlike Mr. Keatts, I voted for it.

Matthew Yglesias, who would readily lower our standard of living, should pedal his snake oil in Carmel and Santa Barbara where the rents are really high. When he has convinced those communities to reduce their zoning restrictions, then San Diego should consider it.

Why was this limit done with a voter’s initiative? Precisely so that politicians like Mr. LaCava cannot tweak the limit to 34 feet or some other arbitrary number. Variances to the people’s initiative do not exist, and that is why the grassroots community went to all the trouble to get a height limit through the Supreme Court. They could not and do not trust their local authorities, who clearly have diverse interests. The “rigidity” of the law is what keeps big money developers from being able to change the height law for the benefit of their own bank accounts.

David Little lives in La Jolla.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Seth January 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Two thoughts:

1. I’m a big smart growth advocate when it is done as intended and is appropriate to context. People who misuse the term or the principles can obviously build a trojan horse for all sorts of purposes. But if you look at the projects and writings of Andrés Duany and Peter Calthorpe and the other New Urbanists who largely created/promoted the ideas behind “smart growth”, it usually looks less like Manhattan and Vancouver and much more like OB — albeit with better public transportation. As is, we are a perfectly walkable, appropriately-dense *community*. Their primary goal is to create OBs, not destroy them. If City Hall or some developers are trying to tell people otherwise, they’re wrong. One of the major tragedies of the Planning Department being eliminated is that Bill Anderson and others who helped to oversee the creation of San Diego’s City of Villages vision saw it this way too (actual implementation of policy in an underfunded and unfavorable political minefield is another story).

2. What Geoff is talking about with the new definition of buildings heights is, at first glance, pretty suspect. I’d like to think there is a reasonable explanation for that, and maybe there is, but goddamn if the City doesn’t engage in some seriously underhand, done-in-the-cover-of-darkness shenanigans in order to get around the parts of their own code that they don’t like. There are many good and dedicated people who work there, but that is one diseased culture overall.


avatar Joe LaCava January 13, 2013 at 12:30 am


1. Editor: I believe that if you dig a little deeper you find that the current conversation re the Coastal Height Limit was initiated by last fall’s celebration of the 40th anniversary. That triggered an article by the San Diego Free Press, then a tweet, more tweets, then VOSD, etc, etc. Heck even Roger Hedgecock, apparently an unabashed defender, took an interest. All in all the current conversation seems to be media driven.

2. Geoff: I too would like to follow up on your comment. You must be referring to the LDC Update #7? The city has no authority to change Prop D but it can change how the zoning height is measured. If Prop D is being attacked/undermined I’d like to know the specifics.

3. David: Despite your insistence to the contrary it is possible to embrace/defend something and at the same time discuss its pros and cons.


avatar Geoff Page January 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I had hoped by now to put together a coherent write up on what I have found out recently about the 30-foot height limit but the more research I do, the longer it is taking. So, I wanted to post something. Some of what I’ve come across has to do with what Joe mentioned about Update #7 to the Land Development Code. What I have recently discovered is that the language on how to measure the 30-foot height limit was changed in that update, but it appears that the changes are actually in line with Proposition D.

For years, the rule has been to measure structure height from the lowest spot five feet outside the building being measured. From that spot, the measurement went up 30 feet and that was it. A property on a slope could rise with the rise of the slope as long as it never exceeded 30 feet. The new language calls for measuring from the highest spot adjacent to the building, going up 30 feet, and then drawing a horizontal line across the top of the lot. If the lot sloped, this means the back of a building could be as tall as 40 feet now, when the previous method would only have allowed 30 feet. The problem is that the new way of measuring appears to be completely in line with Proposition D. It seems the City had put in language that was more restrictive than Prop D, which is fine, but that has been removed.

What I don’t know yet is how the more restrictive language got into the Municipal Code in the first place. That is important to know to understand if the recent changes were made legitimately. Proposition D was voted on and became law; the City cannot do anything to the original language without a vote of the people. The new changes were made by ordinance passed by the City Council, not a vote by the people. It is possible the previous language was placed similarly or it was placed for some other reason. What I can say is that I personally think the changes will create a landscape on sloped areas that will not be pleasant, 40 foot high edifices in areas of where residences never reached those heights.

The goal of Proposition D is stated clearly in its language:

1. To take a positive step to keep the beaches usable by all citizens and
to preserve the nature of the coastal communities by preventing concrete
high rise barriers that would, because of congestion, impede or prevent
access to these areas.

2. To provide a small measure of protection against unwanted high
population density with its problems of congestion, lack of parking space,
increased crime rate, noise, air pollution, inadequate public utilities and
increased taxes.

View for all and density concerns to put it in a nutshell.

I’ve been looking at Update 7 and I’ve seen several things that are disturbing. For example, the code now allows for “accessory structures” that are not habitable but can have a half bathroom and a shower. The owner has to sign a useless document that goes on file with the County that says they won’t rent the place. This requirement already exists for companion units and guest quarters, but what good is a requirement when there is no one to enforce it. Another change is allowing kitchens in companion units. This is a stealthy way to increase density folks.

I’m going to continue the research.


avatar John February 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

” This is a stealthy way to increase density folks.”

Another way to look at it is “this is a way to preserve the ability for lower income folks to live affordably in OB as older dwellings are replaced with more expensive ones.”

All along the way, the 30 ft. height limit and most issues of planning are a double edged sword, at least from the progressive viewpoint of the Rag. In the end does the limit and associated things you find “disturbing” preserve the existing “funky” makeup of Ocean Beach- or is its underlying purpose to drive up real estate prices for the benefit of existing property owners who can say “I got mine, let’s keep the riff raff out now.”
(not saying this to you personally as much as toward the whole issue, if some of this rant criticizes a position you don’t hold, please ignore.)
I do believe you could build enough three story units in the area to fulfill all housing needs, so by itself the 30 ft limit isn’t hurting there- and 4-8 story buildings if erected today would surely, at least initially, be luxury condos, not low income housing.
However if zero increased density is the result, that’s putting a squeeze on already outrageous rental market. Have you seen what one bedroom apts go for here now? The ignored result may be an increase of locally originated homeless people carving out their existence in the streets. Is it a benefit to stop the guy from renting your neighbor’s garage… if it means he’s instead sleeping in your bushes and peeing on your wall? What if that neighbor needed the extra cash from the garage rental just to make his mortgage?
All in all you may find it “disturbing” to bear a bit of increased density, for a few extra people living per block in less than McMansion splendor.
This economy is NOT getting better, I know of no one who has not given up something from the high flying 90’s. Allowing people to have a place to live shouldn’t be too big a cost for you to share in some way.


avatar Stephen February 16, 2013 at 7:57 am

Hello, Rag. I’m back. The last time it was the Food Stamp “denial for life “. No change there.

The closing line of this piece is a “feel-good”, anti-developer rap, and a blame cast on the officials’ split loyalties. That’s why we went to the Supreme Court.

That’s not true. Speaking out is the same as ratting out. We are speakiung our mind, and in your case you know People Dying of Cancer (or ex-cancer, disabled from huge holes like that meteorite made in the Russian ice), are oppressed by DA Dumanis’ actions, if not her words, since we smoke weed.

Weed smokers differ from Chuck YEAGER and his fantastic holdin’ on (chewin’ a Stick ‘o Pep, goin’ Mach I, with a broken arm). I am weak and I’d like to give up. Oh, I need housing.

We are discriminated against, and I do mean weed. But I am a father. I have housing rights to not merely birth my young-un’, but to raise him. I’ll raise him fine, thank-you. He is eight. I’m sixty. If you do any f*****g readin’, you will know we’re way wise to your shennanigans.

I’m discriminated against for being white. These people intend to enforce my silence through physical threats.

Oh, so you see. It’s only Geoff Page’s opinion which carries weight. I need to find him to volunteer on revertsing illegal and “dangerous” housing intended for the people.

Ace Parking runs private prisons. See? The illegal garage conversions which you permit increases your parking violation revenue invisibly.

Uh, okay. Dig: Private prisons trade up on Wall Street, a no more damning indictment of a PEDOPHILE CULTURE (in your, “perversions of other stripes”).

I know why you are pedophiles. A city official is one, an international sex tourist with Tijuana brothels(orphangaes, rather). It’s that rigidity the law doesn’t have, your spineless law.
My last rate of pay with a typically lethal task was $37 an hour. I am a retired chainman. I worked at SBO. That boss made us visit three sites per day, so that I was ALWAYS WALKING ON PITCHED ROOFS IN THE MORNING DEW, for this height limit, and that can be done, “reflectorless”. Why do you suppose a man has to get up there and risk his neck like some surfer?


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