Pt Loma Project at Center of Controversy

by on October 7, 2014 · 5 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn already built project over on the bayside of Point Loma has local Peninsula planners up in arms.  They’re upset over what appears to them to be a violation of the sacrosanct 30 foot height limit at Portugal Place, at at 3102-3104 Avenida de Portugal and 1120-1122 Locust St.

In an unanimous vote at their Sept. 18th, the Peninsula Community Planning Board agreed to send a letter of protest to Mayor Faulconer alleging the city allowed the developer of the project to exceed height limit.

“The letter,” as reporter Tony de Garate cited

“charges the city in August of 2013 improperly changed the way it measures height in a manner more generous to developers.”

The letter maintains:

“Those changes are spelled out in a city document known as technical bulletin BLDG-5-4, entitled  ‘Determination of Building Height in the Coastal Height Limitation Overlay Zone.'”

The Board felt these new rules could lead to “radical and intrusive changes to existing residential character” throughout the Peninsula.  The letter was signed by Chair Julia Quinn. As far as we know here at the OB Rag, the Board has not received a response from the Mayor’s office.

To get a better picture of the project, we checked the other day and took some photos to show how the project stands and how it looks, compared to its neighbors.


Compare the project with its neighbors up the hill. Taken Oct. 2, 2014.

Our article published back on Sept. 24th, garnered a spirited and very illuminating discussion within the comments, about the new changes, how the city measures heights in the coastal zone and so forth.

Another view that allows a comparison to the project’s neighbors.

There was some contention amongst our commenters – many of them local OB or Pt Loma planners in their own right – over how the new changes to the city’s methods in measuring heights here at the coast.

One such commenter stated:

I believe this change was part of the 7th Update to the Land Development Code, which was approved by the City Council back in 2011 (but did not take effect in the coastal areas until it was certified by the Coastal Commission in 2013). See:

In other words, this was not simply the result of a Technical Bulletin written by lower-level City staff. It was the result of a legislative action by City Council, which means it did go through the proper review processes (albeit several years ago).

Ultimately, the governing statute for the coastal height limit is Proposition D. If there is any suspicion that this code change may violate Proposition D, then this issue may be worth pursuing. Otherwise I think the Peninsula planners are out of luck.

Yet, another experienced urban designer construction guy responded:

The only thing the 7th update did was to bring the Municipal Code back into compliance with Proposition D. There is NOTHING in that update or in any current Municipal Code that allows measurement from a new planter that was not in existence when the project was planned.

The City ILLEGALLY granted this height and it is a gross violation of the City’s responsibility to the citizens to adhere to the law.  …  They are ignoring the parking requirements for new construction or remodeling. They are allowing de facto rezoning of the Peninsula.

A third planner added:

We are talking about how tall a building is. There’s really not that much wiggle room in that calculation. Anyone with a tape measure and a ladder understands what that means and can answer that for you.

It’s as if one is being asked to say how tall a room’s ceiling is, but no, we’re not going to measure that from the floor, we are measuring it from this table-top right here. It defies logic and the rules of basic math.

The original commented came back, however with this:

Well, measuring height isn’t quite as simple as you say; on any property with sloping land you cannot simply “measure from the floor,” because the floor is uneven.

My understanding is that the 7th Update was intended to further clarify how to measure height on these types of properties. For instance, if you have a highly sloped property, the new provision allows you a little more flexibility to account for the grade differential of your land, rather than forcing you to measure from the lowest point.

But even this commenter agreed:

that the use of a planter or retaining wall as the base of measurement is highly questionable. Even with the changes from the 7th Update, the Municipal Code does not appear to allow a new structure to act as the base of measurement. (And in any case, the lot in question is not steeply sloping, so the additional flexibility granted by the 7th Update should not apply here.) I would be curious to see the actual explanation from Development Services justifying their base of measurement.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

While I have nothing against the term “urban planner,” Mr. Editor, I have to say that description is not applicable to me, I’m a construction guy, I leave planning to others. But I will reiterate that this is not a problem with any revisions to the Municipal Code, in my opinion. This is simply a case of the City reviewers allowing measurement from a future planter, not existing grade. You don’t measure a building after it is built, which is what the City, in effect did. This building is illegal in height, there is no doubt of that.


editordude October 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Geoff – made the correction – and thanks for your commitment to consistent commentary.


Seth Connolly October 7, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Thanks, Frank. Appreciate the research that you and others have put into this.

As a reply to the issue of measuring height, I would just clarify my comments to say that the concept itself is, in fact, a very simple one. Here’s the ground, and here’s the top of the structure. Is the latter more than 30 feet higher than the former?

Obviously, no one is going to build a roof that slants according to slope and topography, and implementing effective code that accounts for the pragmatic realities is all well and good. While that can be more complicated and illogic than necessary (I believe the unincorporated county measures building height by the mid-span of the roof, meaning a narrow a-frame could legally be well above what most would consider the heigh limit), it could very well be the case with this update, or at least it seems to be.

There may even be some justifiable wiggle room that exists in terms of interpreting how that code is applied, and how exactly to determine what the existing grade is on a property that slopes. I defer to the people more familiar with this project than myself, but that does not seem to be case here. A planter on top of a retaining wall near the structure is existing grade? Is that the argument here? If so, LOL is all I have to say about that.


Korla Eaquinta October 8, 2014 at 8:42 am

The community has been trying to get some attention on this project from the beginning. Unfortunately, it is built and the majority of the units are sold.

We now have a project on Carleton St that is being built as apartments. They have been for sale for over 2 months and I just received notice for a map waiver to convert to condos. How does this happen? How can you sell something you don’t have permission for in the first place?

Someone, somewhere isn’t paying attention and they do NOT represent the community!


Point Loma Local October 9, 2014 at 9:28 am

F**k these builders not respecting the law. They are doing the same shit right next to Hector’s Mexican food, across from West Marina. Don’t let them build on the old Blockbuster lot either!


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