More on Peninsula Debate on 30-Foot Height Limit – “Square footage has noting to do with height.”

by on September 9, 2016 · 3 comments

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


The Emerson – Evergreen project. Photo by Barbita Souza.

By Geoff Page

I have to clarify something about a very important issue surrounding the 30-foot height limit debate here in Ocean Beach and Point Loma – because the issue has become muddled.

Square footage has absolutely nothing to do with height.

What happened on Emerson was that residents saw how tall the building was and rioted. The city issued a Stop Work Order that people mistakenly believed was due to the height complaint but the Stop Work Order says nothing about height.

PL Emerson Project gp 02

Photo by Geoff Page.

We originally believed the developer was artificially raising the grade to get a taller building when, in fact, the city granted a permit for a 40-foot tall building that the city still believes is perfectly legal. What they cited the developer for was artificially creating a subterranean garage by building retaining walls and raising the grade around the garage.

Although, keep in mind, the Development Services Department (DSD) approved the plans that clearly showed what the developer planned to do. They are lionizing the developer when the DSD is the culprit.

If a garage structure is considered subterranean, it is not counted against the Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The developer did this because the lot is small and they could only get so much square footage based on the formula. The developer can still build a skinnier 40-foot tall building if they wanted to, with the correct square footage.

The big issue now is to correct the city’s idea that Prop D allows a developer to raise the grade and then do the 30-foot measurement. The DSD believes this is correct, the director of the DSD, Vacchi, said so at the Peninsula Community Planning Board meeting in July. This is ridiculous because the Uniform Building Code (UBC) that the Prop D references is a DESIGN and construction document. Vacchi is saying design first then measure, which is backward. Measure first and design to that is the correct way. Everything else is done this way, the size of the footings, the size of the framing, the materials for siding, the plumbing, etc. are all taken from the UBC to DESIGN a building so why would this one item, the height, be treated differently.

We need to fight this amendment they want to put in the Municipal Code so that the current projects cannot be built and we need this raising of the grade idiocy to stop. The city is relying on a city attorney memo that is over 30 years old that I am sure would not hold up to legal scrutiny today. And, when that memo was issued, the City Attorney proposed language to put in the Municipal Code to clarify Prop D meant “existing grade” which I believe is also unnecessary but not harmful except that adding it would exempt all current projects from redesign. This memo and language is in the file I obtained from Vacchi but oddly enough, the city is not proposing this language as a Municipal Code amendment.

This battle is far from over.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

kh September 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Interesting. So did the city approve it at 40′ because it’s not in the coastal zone? I noticed that particular area is unique because it appears to be OUTSIDE of the Coastal Zone (Coastal Commission boundary), but its INSIDE the 30′ Height limit overlay zone (Defined by SD Municipal code). They are not one in the same. And by being outside the coastal zone perhaps it didn’t have to go in front of the planning board either.


Geoff Page September 9, 2016 at 3:27 pm

We believe the city erroneously approved it. That particular multi-family zone allows for a 40-foot tall structure but that is for the entire city. When you go to the sections of the Municipal Code that describe how to measure height, there is a section that points out the exemption for the Proposition D area that allows only 30 feet. Being outside the Coastal Zone is one reason why it would not come before the planning board. The other reason is another big problem with the Municipal Code. If the new structure is to be apartments, it does not require planning board review. So, they start the process and construction as apartments and during construction they apply for a “map waiver” to convert the structure to condominiums. If it started as condos, it would have to come before the planning board. This has been going on for years. This loophole and the 50% rule are two area of the MC that really need to fixed. Under the 50% rule, the project also does not have to come to the planning board.


oBdadA September 13, 2016 at 10:36 am

StoP OB GentrificatioN…


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