“Is the City Hard of Hearing or Just Slow?” – Residents Urged to Turn Out for Peninsula Planners Meeting on Showdown With City Over Height Limit “Loopholes”

by on July 20, 2016 · 4 comments

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

PL Emerson proj meet 6-27-16

Town Hall meeting, June 27, 2016

By Jon Linney

Is the City hard of hearing or just slow?

Four-story duplexes going up in the three-story zone of the Roseville neighborhood at Emerson and Evergreen created almost universal community outrage.

Citizens turned out to protest. TV stations, social media and print publications such as the OB Rag, The Reader and The Beacon took note.

Community advocates such as Elisa Brent, Babita Souza and this writer – organized a Town Hall meeting on June 27. Some 250 people attended and donated a third of the money necessary for a legal campaign in just five minutes.

The mayor heard. Kevin Faulconer issued a stop-work order on the project the very next day.

But that wasn’t enough, the broader issue of all the other potential height violations remained unaddressed.

The community advocates pressed hard for a meeting at City Hall a day later. The mayor agreed. At the meeting, some 24 City staffers were in the room and there was no mistaking how the mayor felt.

The community advocates presented our case quite effectively. The mayor agreed to eliminate loopholes to the height limit the City created in 2013. Then he went before cameras to pledge an end to an obscure technical bulletin, either through an opinion of the City Attorney’s Office or by putting an item on the council agenda.

How did we get to this point?

Voters in 1972 overwhelmingly passed a citizen initiative setting a 30-foot height limit for most of the area west of I-5. It worked pretty well for 41 years, until 2013. Attorneys we have consulted with say the City cannot weaken or change the Prop. D height limit without a vote of the people.

But in 2013 an obscure City body did just that, writing a technical bulletin on how to measure in applying the height limit. It opened loopholes.

The Peninsula Community Planning Board took note. In the fall of 2014 it sent a well-crafted letter to Mayor Faulconer and to Council Member Lorie Zapf opposing the loopholes. Nothing happened.

Violations starting popping up, including the current one where the developer was building an above-ground garage below three other stories, pushing some dirt around it and claiming that it does not count toward the height limit.

The Peninsula Community Planning Board will take up the broad matter and how to resolve it this Thursday night:

Peninsula Community Planning Board
6:30 p.m. Thursday July 21
Point Loma Hervey Library, 3701 Voltaire St.

The most important matter on the agenda, in the opinion of many, is a draft letter to the City calling for elimination of the loopholes.

How disappointing then, that Lorie Zapf’s office says no City staffer will be available to present or answer questions at the meeting. How disappointing that Zapf’s office reports that in the 24 days since the Town Hall that no progress worth talking about has been made in drafting a solution.


This controversy is not about one project or one neighborhood. John Ambert gets that. He’s chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board and personally backs our effort. So do community advocates in La Jolla, upset about attempts to violate the height limit there. Robert Tripp Jackson gets it. In his final days as president of the Point Loma Association he was everywhere on our behalf. We have been in contact as well with Clark Anthony (Burlingame), the new PLA president.

The Emerson and Evergreen project, like many others, never came before the advisory planning board. It didn’t have to. That’s a big part of the problem – projects that change the neighborhood are approved by the City without ever a public hearing.

That’s wrong, dead wrong.

So Thursday night is your chance to stand up for your neighborhood, your community. Consider this a formal invitation. This issue is moving fast. So fast that members of various organizations are speaking only as community advocates, not as official representatives on behalf of their groups. Their boards have not had a chance to meet.

Jon Linney, speaking as a community advocate, is chair of the Peninsula Community Planning Board.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Linney July 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Good Afternoon,

I just wanted to clairify with everyone that the San Dego Mayor and CouncilMember Zapf said in the meeting we had three weeks ago, that they will have someone at the meeting for the PCPB. I would also like to thank the mayor and Lori Zapf on putting a stop work order.

Jon Linney


Geoff Page July 20, 2016 at 4:08 pm

“But in 2013 an obscure City body did just that, writing a technical bulletin on how to measure in applying the height limit. It opened loopholes.”

I am going to keep repeating this until everyone gets it. It was not an “obscure City body.” This was the Development Services Department (DSD), a major department in the City of San Diego. They developed this new, twisted interpretation of Proposition D that originally set the height limit at 30 feet. I’ve heard this interpretation called a mistake and a loophole and it was neither. This interpretation was deliberate and calculated. It was designed to benefit the development community that hates the 30-foot limit.

And, this is just the tip of iceberg, the DSD is making these same twisted interpretations about a number of things, all in favor of developers to the detriment of the communities it is supposed to be protecting. The immediate problem is this one decision, the larger problem is the DSD itself. We need an independent citizen advisory committee to look into the DSD and how it operates.


RB July 22, 2016 at 7:20 am

California is littered with un-elected boards and commissions making laws. We should not be surprised when a city department and the local, un-elected bureaucrats decide to make law. I expect the Development Services Department employees are just doing their internships before they move to private development jobs.


Local One July 22, 2016 at 6:12 am

I attended the PCPB meeting last night and listened intently to the presentations made by Mayor Faulconer’s representative and the head of the Developmental Services Department. Boy oh boy, what a bunch of packaged lies we were feed last night. The people can see with their own eyes that the community is being snookered with regard to the lack of enforcement, and continuing DSD approval, of numerous violations of the existing MC defined 30′ coastal height limit.

Speaker after speaker last quoted directly from the Municipal Code in which the law is absolutely clear with regard to measuring the 30′ height, but City representatives from the Mayor’s office and DSD kept insisting that the City Attorney’s office interprets the voter approved Proposition D very differently than any common sense reading of the law. Further, the Mayor and DSD shut down the Emerson Street project based on a violation of the FAR standards, NOT the obvious violation of the 30′ coastal height limit. This just proves again that the Mayor and DSD are trying to pull the wool over our eyes again and falsely assume the community is dumb enough to believe in their delay tactics.

The Mayor and Lorie Zapf promised to address the violations of the 30′ coastal height limit within a matter of weeks, following the recent protests, but last night reaffirmed they aren’t doing jack for our benefit. They asked for our patience in allowing them more time to find a solution (i.e. help developers like the Jacobs family squeeze in some more violations at the community’s expense). Be vigilent people.


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