Crowd at Peninsula Planners’ Meeting Disappointed by City Presentation on 30-Ft Height Limit

by on January 24, 2017 · 4 comments

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

By Geoff Page

A sizeable crowd attended the Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB) regular monthly meeting last Thursday, January 19, 2017, at the Point Loma/Hervey Branch Library.

Usually it’s a sparse audiences for planning board meetings, but of particular interest to many in the in attendance was the appearance of Robert Vacchi, Director of the Development Services Department (DSD) – there to make a presentation on the 30-foot height limit.

Vacchi Presentation on 30-Ft Height Limit Disappoints

During Vacchi’s presentation – which was listed as the second information item on the otherwise non-crowded agenda  – he explained that the city had performed a height analysis on the controversial Emerson and Evergreen project in Roseville and determined the project met the requirements.

Vacchi said Proposition D that codified the 30-foot height limit in 1972 allowed a developer to raise the grade on a site and then measure 30 feet.  He also stated that he believed measuring the height of a new building from the level of dirt inside new planters was acceptable as the dirt represented finished grade. From this reporter’s experience, I know many people believe this position is wrong and that it goes against years of past practices.

Before Vacchi began his presentation, the chair, Jon Linney,  announced there would be 15 minutes for it.  Vacchi spoke for 8 minutes and the chair told the board and the audience there would only be seven minutes of questions and the chair cut off questioning after seven minutes.

It was clear that many members of the audience were disappointed because many had apparently come to question the DSD head about the way the city interprets the 30-foot height limit and projects that were approved that were over height.  There was only time for a few questions.  This reporter had some definite opinions about how this was handled that will appear in a separate piece, this article is intended to be just a report on the meeting that was held.

During the Q and A, Vacchi read off a list of seven projects that were supposedly approved before the recent Municipal Code language addition that Vacchi claims “fixed” a loophole that allowed 40-foot tall buildings within the 30-foot height limit boundaries. These projects were:

  • 2912 Jarvis St. and
  • 3030 Jarvis St.,
  • 3020 Fenelon St.,
  • 3015 Carleton St.,
  • 3144 Emerson St.,
  • 3141 Garrison St., and
  • 3143 Hugo St.

It was after this list was read off, that the chair cut off the discussion.

Action Item : Emerson and Evergreen

The controversial project on Emerson and Evergreen in Roseville drew the most discussion as one of the action items. Approval of a map waiver for the project was the issue.

The project was begun as apartments, but by the developer applying for a map waiver, that would allow the project to be changed to condominiums.  This is a common maneuver that allows a developer to get approval for a project without public review or input because the approval process for an apartment building does not require it.  If the project starts out as condominiums, it does require public review and comment.  The board expressed frustration with this mechanism that is regularly used by developers.

The Project Review subcommittee voted to approve the map waiver for the project but added conditions about the height of rooftop parapet walls and the eight foot tall retaining walls the developer built right on the property lines of two adjacent properties.  After discussion, the full board voted to deny the map waiver, which was more of a symbolic gesture because the PCPB is only an advisory body and its opinions can be, and often are, ignored by the city.

 Action Item: Does 3804 Bernice Drive Qualify as “Historic”?

The last action item issue was a property at 3804 Bernice Dr. that may be designated as historical.  Board member Bruce Coons, Executive Director of Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) believes the home qualifies as historical and will pen a letter to that effect.

San Antonio in La Playa Project

During the Board’s information items, the first was a project at 405 San Antonio in La Playa.  Approximately 20 to 25 minutes were devoted to a presentation of the project by the developer and then questions from board members and the audience.  It became apparent that the project was in its initial stages and had not come before the PCPB’s Project Review subcommittee.

Devoting time to one private development in this manner was unusual and beyond the normal board procedure for proposed projects.  The chair was asked why this happened and said there was a lot of community interest about the project.  However, the public always has two opportunities to voice opinions on a project, during the Project Review subcommittee review and during the full board meeting that follows.

Other News / Info From the Board

The board had moved quickly through approving the agenda, approving the November 2016 meeting minutes, and reports by the secretary, treasurer, and chair.

March Board Election It was mentioned that there would be an election on March 16, the day of the regular March meeting, for five board seats. There would be candidate forum on March 2nd.  All of this will occur at the Point Loma Library. Board members encouraged people to run for a seat.  The board voted to form its election subcommittee to handle the March election.  The subcommittee will be made up of three current board members.

During non agenda public comment, Nicole Burgess, a former board member and bicycle activist announced she was going on a 250 mile ride across Death Valley to raise awareness about cycling as an alternative form of transportation.

Navy Pipeline Replacement Project – Jim Gilhooly, a Peninsula resident who has been closely following the Navy’s pipeline replacement project on Rosecrans since the beginning, gave an update on the progress.  Gilhooly said that Kellogg Beach was soon to be closed for two months because the Navy had pipeline work to do there.  The other item of concern to Gilhooly was that the Navy was using steel pipe made in Korea, which appeared to violate the Buy American rule for federal projects.

Update from Zapf’s Office

The meeting moved on to Government Reports.  There were two on the agenda, Councilmember Zapf’s office and the Planning Department.  Only Zapf’s representative, Conrad Wear, was there.  Wear gave an update on work coming up for Wabaska Drive saying it would be repaved in February and parking would be changed to a diagonal, rather than parallel, system.

Wear recapped the mayor’s state of the city address.  The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) figured prominently in what the Mayor says he wants to do. Wear said the mayor wants to increase the TOT to 15% and use the additional funds for three things: provide permanent homeless housing; expand the Convention Center; and repair roads.

The idea to use the money to expand the Convention Center was a surprise because using money to fund a specific project this way would constitute a tax requiring approval by two thirds of the voters. If the money went into the General Fund, where it could be used for many things, it would only require a voter approval of 51%.

Wear said there is still a $45 million pension deficit that has to be dealt with and that some city departments were having to cut budgets.  Wear did not indicate that the TOT money the mayor wants to raise would be used to prevent these cuts.

He said plans for the new Ocean Beach lifeguard station were moving forward. Wear said that design for the pocket park on Canon Street would begin in March and would include workshops for public input.

Wear explained that a new traffic signal system was put in place for part of Rosecrans called adaptive controls. The new system would analyze and adjust signals to meet real time needs.  Wear said that the signals could now be controlled using a laptop and would not require someone to go to each light and make physical changes as in the past.  The system was expensive, Wear explained, which was why it is only in place for a limited area.

Concluding, Wear explained about upcoming paving to major roads in the Peninsula including West Point Loma and Newport.  Wear said go to where there is an interactive map to look for what is planned in the area.  (An attempt by this reporter to use the site was not successful.  The website states “StreetsSD is currently in Alpha phase. That means it’s brand new software and stuff can break. Pull Requests / comments welcome on Github!”)

Report from Community Relations – SDPD

Despite not being on the agenda, the chair invited Community Relations Officer David Surwilo of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) to speak.  Surwilo talked about the recent shift change the SDPD had and explained that officers might not be immediately up to speed as they had to learn their new shifts.  Surwilo talked about the homeless situation fielding a few questions from the audience on the subject.  He was asked about panhandlers and explained that it was not illegal but made a distinction about aggressive panhandling.  He said the SDPD could react to complaints about overly aggressive approaches for money.

Sub-committee Reports

The subcommittee reports were last, the first of which was the Airport subcommitteePaul Webb, subcommittee chair, discussed some of what he had learned from the airport meetings including that curfew violations were down and early turns and missed approaches were up.  Noise was discussed as it is always an issue and it was mentioned that curfew violations may not have reduced, that what seems to happening is people are getting used to these and are not complaining.  Webb said noise complaints are now coming from as far away as Bird Rock and La Jolla and that had never occurred in the past.

Webb recounted that there will be a change in the departure procedure and that there will be informational meetings including one on February 2nd conducted by the airport.  The public was encouraged to check the airport website for meeting information .  Finally, it was stated that the Quieter Homes project, the airport’s project to soundproof homes in the flight path, is out of money.

The Traffic and Transportation subcommittee reported that the city is considering traffic circle at the intersection of Chatsworth and Catalina Blvd.  A stop sign on Del Mar St. was also announced.

There was a report by the Parks and Recreation subcommittee, which was not a subcommittee listed on the PCPB website until after this meeting.  Board member Don Sevrens gave the report and proceeded to talk about an ad hoc subcommittee to review the city’s project approval process and issues such as the map waiver mechanism.  It was not apparent what this had to do with Parks and Recreation and this was pointed out to Sevrens by other board members.

The meeting adjourned at 9:00.



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

CliffHanger January 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm

From the Department of Alternative Facts: the building height is under 30 feet if there’s a pot of dirt on the roof.


Geoff Page January 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Good one, I like that, Cliffhanger. Just hope the DSD doesn’t read it and get any ideas.


Paul Webb January 29, 2017 at 11:54 am

Geoff, I did not report that the quieter home program was out of money, in fact I don’t recall talking about QHP at all. If I had reported on QHP I might have talked about the program stalling due to a disagreement between the Airport Authority and the FAA about details regarding electrical systems upgrades, HVAC systems and the testing of homes for eligibility for the program. This has been going on for months and I have reported on it in the past.

Also, not to pick on you, but I did not say that the Authority is holding a workshop, but rather that the FAA is holding it. Information can be found by googling FAA SoCal NextGen. The meeting will be at Solana Vista school on February 2. The changes in the departure procedure will likely have the greatest impact on Mission/Pacific Beaches, as it affects flights departing to the north. I haven’t studied it in great detail as it does not appear to have significant impacts on the Peninsula.

Finally, curfew violations are down. Curfew violations are not connect to noise complaints. Curfew violations result from planes taking off during the curfew period. Absence of complaints does not mean the plane did not violate the curfew or that the airport will remove them from the complaint list. Frankly, the biggest factor in the reduction of curfew violations stems from the return to standard time from daylight savings time. The British Air flight to London has been one of the worst violators of the curfew. The UK does not do daylight savings time, so the BA flight arrives in and departs from San Diego one hour earlier in winter months, giving them a greater cushion from the curfew.


OB Dude January 30, 2017 at 11:25 am

A curfew is curfew. There is no room for excuses or leniency in curfews. If they cannot follow the rules remove them from operating at this airport.


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