Lawsuit Holds Up ‘Last Large Development Project’ in Mission Beach

by on February 6, 2018 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

Former MB Elementary school site – now targeted for 59 condos.

Lawsuit seeks to block 59-home Mission Beach project to be built on former elementary school site

Residents have filed a lawsuit to block the “last large development project” of Mission Beach – a 59-unit project slated for the site of a former elementary school, approved by the Coastal Commission in October 2017.

The suit by Mission Beach Residents for Responsible Development claims the Coastal Commission approval actually violates the state Coastal Act and state environmental law, in that the 2-acre development would be overly dense for the area and that it does not provide enough park land.

More specifically, the suit contends the project does not provide enough park space for the anticipated population and that the lot sizes have been artificially inflated to allow more density than the city’s municipal code allows.

Mission Beach residents have been battling this project for the last several years. Ever since the May 14th, 2013, sale of the former Mission Beach Elementary School site to private developers by the San Diego School Board, locals have been leery. Even when the school board voted 4 to 1 to cement the controversial sale of 2.23 acres of prime public school land, a half block from the Pacific Ocean and mere yards from Mission Bay, the move was opposed by residents, community planners and civic activists – and even the then-San Diego mayor.

Opponents pleaded with the board to keep the land in the public arena, and work with either the City or developers on alternatives. Yet, the site was sold for $18.5 million to duo of developers, doing business as McKellar-Ashbrook LLC, registered in La Jolla.  The school had been closed in 1996 because of declining attendance.

McKellar McGowan had originally proposed a project with a total of 20 buildings housing 63 individual units in a mix of duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and one single-family residence on the project site, with each condo unit with 2 dedicated parking stalls in a private garage.

It was in September 2015 that the Mission Beach Town Council passed a resolution urging the city to require the developers to create “a true community park”, which opposed the “green strip” along Mission Boulevard being planned then by the developers.

Plus, the Mission Beach Precise Planning Board has been fighting the project because, they say, it’s bigger and out of character with the area that was precisely planned by John Spreckels in 1914. They argued the project violated the community’s Planned District Ordinance, the community’s blueprint for development, and that the project took liberties with lot sizes, which have remained unchanged since the community was first developed. Mission Beach’s zoning was laid out in the early 20th century by San Diego developer and sugar heir John Spreckels.

Mission Beach was created on a sandbar purchased by Spreckels. He designed a neighborhood squeezed between the ocean and Mission Bay on 30-foot by 80-foot lots, with larger buildings on the corners. Its elementary school was built on a cluster of those lots and operated until 1987, when the San Diego Unified School District closed it.

Despite all the local opposition, the City Council voted 6-2 in favor of the condo project on April 11, 2016, overriding concerns about traffic, parking and alteration of Mission Beach’s character.

Then, the same group that just filed a lawsuit, filed one in May of 2016 challenging the adequacy of the condo project’s environmental impact report as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Yet, locals’ hopes were dashed on October 12, 2017, when the California Coastal Commission’s unanimously approved the project.

As reported in the San Diego Reader:

Coastal commission staff reviewed the plan….  The staff asked for fewer units and more park than city planners approved. The developers complied, eliminating four living units from the north part’s original 51 and increasing the park size by 59 percent to about a third of an acre. At the commission’s bidding, they reshaped the park from a long triangular strip along Mission Beach Boulevard to a rectangle that will look like a courtyard to project residents on three sides.

The commission also required the park to be dedicated as a city park forever; and they required a traffic study done during high tourist season (the city accepted one done in winter months, which found far less traffic). But they rejected the planners’ technical arguments that developers had used public right-of-way in the calculations for how big each unit could be; the commission also disagreed with arguments that the three-story buildings will be bulky and look out-of-place.

And therefore, this last rally of litigation. The concessions wrung from the developers have not convinced residents to support the project. A hearing in the lawsuit against the city has been set for February 16th but no hearings in the lawsuit against the Coastal Commission have been scheduled.

San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Reader


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Toolpusher February 8, 2018 at 4:48 am

This seems like classic NIMBYism. I am generally favorable to reasonable development; especially of housing in a market with a housing shortage. I do get and agree with restricting development too in some cases. If you buy a home with a million dollar view you don’t want it ruined by someone else’s big plans. Also, I completely agree with getting reasonable concessions out of developers to address community concerns and holding them accountable (including making some units affordable housing among other things and sometimes you have to get creative). This seems to have happened in this case they reduced the scope (not necessarily a good thing IMO) and got a park (yeah! albeit small). But, the community has one of the biggest aquatic parks in the world right on their doorsteps (if not the biggest as is claimed). So, will developments like this actually help with the housing shortage; seemingly, adding more housing and you tend to reduce the shortage. I suspect the housing rental market tends to be sticky, even with more inventory existing houses are not likely to lower rent in the short term especially if they have a long term lease locked in place. But, over the long term more inventory will adjust the market (supply and demand) with the trick keeping up with the demand; especially San Diego because maybe if you build it more will come (so maybe we need to get a little creative but and you have to start somewhere). In this case, the Mission Beachers seem to be complaining (whining really) about park space (despite Mission Bay park right there and the developers concession to build a small park) and the proposed building being out of character with the neighborhood. I get that to a point but it’s called negotiate concessions and besides what is Mission Bay a HOA.


sealintheSelkirks February 11, 2018 at 12:45 am

I had no idea that my school was still there. Never seen it from above before.

I look at the picture from the air that takes in just how narrow that strip of sandbar really is, how close to sea level (it would have washed away long ago except for the Boardwalk wall), and all the sand that was pumped from the dredging of False Bay to create that man-made sand castle and I think about what the climate is doing and how much quicker the worldwide ocean is expanding and how much worse the storms are becoming in all the different sections of that worldwide ocean.

Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking out loud…



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