Point Loma Reader Rant: The Developer Stereotype Exists for a Reason

by on June 24, 2014 · 72 comments

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

Pt Loma Pt loma village REVBy Geoff Page

Many of us have probably complained about stereotypes at one time or another because they are often too broadly and unfairly applied. But, as most of us also know, stereotypes are like that snowball that is started by rolling a small stone through the wet snow, buried in there somewhere is a bit of truth.

The stereotype I want to talk about here was what I witnessed at the Peninsula Community Planning Board’s (PCPB) monthly meeting on Thursday, June 19. This was a perfect example of the developer stereotype. And, hopefully, this little piece will help inform more people about this project, the so-called “Point Loma Village,” some of whom may not know about it and may want to. Let me give some project details first before telling my story.

An owner and a developer came to the Thursday, June 19 at the Pt. Loma library with a project at the intersection of Rosecrans and Byron where the old Blockbuster sits. Their plan is to build 17 condominiums and 5,000 square feet of commercial space called Pt. Loma Village. Mixed-use again.

The PCPB voted to postpone a decision on the project until July as there was a question about parking that needed further research. There was a conflict between what the architect said was required for parking and information from members of the public. So, if you are interested, there is time to look at the project. Check out pcpb.net and the Project Review subcommittee page.

So, now let me tell you how I was transported back to the fifth grade that Thursday night, or at least it felt that way.

The project owner is a man named Rudy Medina and the architect was Tony Cutri. Their presentation was a stereotype all by itself. They began by telling us about themselves, that they grew up here, that they went to school here, that their families have lived here for years, so you see folks, we’re just like you. I already felt like someone was trying to sell me a car. Mr. Medina explained that his family has been here for 100 years, an old San Diego Portuguese family. Mr. Cutri’s history didn’t go that far back but there was some.

Then, they moved on to one subject that is very dear to the people of Pt. Loma, a hot button issue they made sure they hit more than a few times. Of course, sellers use repetition to make sure the buyers remember the good points. Their building will not exceed the 30 foot height limit. There has been some controversy in the area over a building allowed to exceed 30 feet because of another one of City of San Diego Development Services’s twisted interpretations, this time of the height ordinance. Now that we knew we were all friends and neighbors and were assured about the height, they moved on to the project. It is nautically themed and some found it very nice, although themes tend to look outdated eventually.

The biggest issue for the community that attended in opposition to the project, and there were many, was the traffic it will bring and the parking problems.

For 5,000/SF of commercial space, there are 11 parking spots, which, Mr. Cutri made sure to point out, was all the City required. This space could be used for a café, for example, which would bring traffic that needs a place to park, not to mention the people who work at the café. But the workers will probably be told not to park in the lot so customers can, leaving them only the street that is already overcrowded according to the neighbors.

The project’s residential parking area is physically separated from the commercial parking. The dispute rose over the residential parking spaces that, once again, Cutri said were exactly the number of parking spaces required by the City. Exactly. And not one spot more, for say, visitors someone asked? No, Cutri said the City does not require visitor spaces.

At this point it was becoming clear that their project was designed in strict accordance with Municipal Code, with no un-required concessions for the surrounding neighborhood such as some visitor parking.

Someone addressed both men and asked why they were doing this to their own community. Why were they putting in a project like this, the scale of which was clearly not welcomed by the neighborhood?

That’s when the real truth began to come out. When you question a person’s moral judgment, you get one of two reactions. If the person truly believes they are morally in the right, the response is measured and calm. But, if the person thinks, even a little bit, that they may not be, the response is anger and defensiveness. We saw the latter from both of these men.

Cutri spoke first and what we got was what I have seen many times when dealing with architects; we saw an indignant, angry man who could not believe common people would actually question his motives. Architects tend to have a god complex, they believe they can see things the rest of us cannot and are often highly irritated that they have to explain their actions to commoners.

Cutri first ran through his bona fides illustrating that point. In his little speech, we heard about Ivy league schools, prestigious university teaching positions, creation of a school somewhere. Before he answered the moral question, he wanted to make sure we all understood we weren’t only dealing only with an architect, we were dealing with an architect of unusually impressive credentials. He then went on to give the speech about how San Diego needs to become more dense, how development is needed along transportation corridors, and that we will need housing for our children. Remember that last one. In other words, you pedestrian fools, I see the future you can’t imagine and my project is the future.

Then, Medina spoke and he was equally outraged that anyone would question his motives. He repeated that his family had been in Pt. Loma for over 100 years and he would not do anything to harm the community.He said he believed this project would improve, not take away from, the Pt. Loma Village, it would bring energy and vibrancy. Can’t we see? He was just doing this for the community.

The Medina family he is part of does have an admirable 100 year history in the area. The Portuguese that settled into what was once Tunaville worked very hard in the fishing industry that was also very lucrative. They bought homes and property in an area that was not worth much at the time. There are third and fourth generation families like the Daley’s and the Fentons in San Diego that have cashed in developing property their forefathers bought many years ago for pennies that later became a gold mine for the heirs.

I can’t say for sure that this property has been in Medina’s family for years but it is possible. It is also possible that he recently bought it because Mr. Medina is a professional developer, this is not his first county fair as they say. Either way, it is difficult to believe he has the interests of Pt. Loma at heart. He is in this to make as much money as possible. When asked how much these condominiums will cost, Medina said just under one million dollars. And there it was, finally, the truth.

Once I heard how much these units were going to cost, it all fell in place.The little speeches about them being long time friends and neighbors and Medina’s desire to improve the village and us needing housing for our children all began to stink like rotten meat.

I asked why these were so expensive and Cutri got defensive and said the owner had the right to make money on his property, which, although true, did not answer my question so I asked if these were going to be luxury condominiums. I knew the price tag was too high for the size of the units and the market in the area to be regular condos. I had to ask twice but Cutri finally admitted, yes, they were luxury condos, something that had not been mentioned in any part of his presentation. I commented that I did not see how one million dollar luxury condos solved the problem of my kids needing housing in the future.

Medina’s comment about adding to the energy and vibrancy of the community rang hollow after hearing the cost.

First, any Pt. Lomans who could afford one of these units probably already have nice homes here and would not need a luxury condo here too. Most regular Pt. Lomans couldn’t afford them either so who will buy them? People from outside the community, outside the state, probably outside the country will buy them as second homes, vacation homes, or boating homes. These people won’t be contributing to the community, they won’t be raising families, many of them probably won’t be here on a full time basis.

These are being built for wealthy people in order to absolutely maximize every cent of profit possible with nary a concern for the neighborhood. This was not project being built by our friends and neighbors, Medina and Cutri, it wasn’t being built to improve anything other than their wallets. While this is perfectly legal, just as the minimum amount of parking was perfectly legal, it lacks any sense of morality.

So, what could Medina have done? For starters, he could have built affordable condominiums instead of luxury condos, something maybe the community might welcome. Or, he could have even built luxury condos but perhaps one or two fewer units leaving more room for commercial parking and for visitor parking as a concession to the parking problems in the community.

He could have listened to the community and built something that was more acceptable instead of building to the exact limit of what he was legally allowed to build. In other words, he could actually have had some moral confidence if he had done something for the community. But, he didn’t. And to make matters worse, he and Cutri tried to sell it as if they were selling swampland in Florida, assuming the audience was full of idiots.

That’s the developer stereotype. It is unfairly applied to some developers, I will admit, but it exists because of men like these two. These types men try to sell their projects as positive additions to neighborhoods they themselves will never live in. Then, when they are challenged by people who do not fall for their act, you see how thin the pleasant veneer is and you get defensiveness, anger, and sometimes threats. Once again, this is a stereotype, but in this case, we all saw the stone in the middle very clearly.

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