The Crusade for a Legal Opinion by City Attorney Against Current City Practice of Enforcing 30-Foot Height Limit

by on February 9, 2018 · 10 comments

in Ocean Beach

Geoff Page at OB Planning Board, Feb. 7, 2018

Geoff Page appeared in front of the Ocean Beach Planning Board last Wednesday night, Feb. 7th, and gave a brief presentation of a crusade that he and a handful of other Peninsula members are waging in efforts to maintain and protect the 30 foot height limit. (“Crusade” is my word, not his.)

Geoff has been a Peninsula activist for years, sat on the Peninsula Community Planning Board, is an environmental-friendly small developer and consultant, plus writes for the OB Rag. And, in particular, Geoff has been a stalwart fighter for the height limit and its empowering citizen-run initiative Prop D back in 1972 which established 30 feet as the limit for all buildings west of I-5.

Quickly getting into the substance of his efforts – Geoff is in the process of going around to all the local community planning committees and urging them to join in a request to the City Attorney of San Diego for a legal opinion critical of the City’s Development Services Department current interpretation of Prop D and its enforcement. Page and others believe the department’s current practice allows developers to flout the law and the height limit by illegally raising the grade.

The current practice, Page said, results in such fiascos at the Emerson-Evergreen project in Roseville in Point Loma.

It’s all about where the height is measured from; Prop D mandates one place, but Geoff says, the department is allowing developers to use the inside of tall planters, artificially built up with dirt, as the “finished grade” to take their measurements. Geoff said this was announced as public policy in January 2017 by Robert Vacchi, Director of the department, when he attended a meeting of the Peninsula planners.

In the belief that a serious legal analysis of the intent of Prop D by the City Attorney will result in an opinion critical enough of the departments’ interpretation and practice, that it be forced to cease the practice and abide by a more historical interpretation of – what some see as “sacred” – the true 30 foot height limit.

And that’s why it’s a crusade – for Geoff and his compatriots – and as it was for all those back in the early Seventies who took it upon themselves to get the signatures to place Prop D on the ballot and for all those who got out the votes so it could pass overwhelming by the citizenry, and for all those who continued to fight the court battles thrown up to block Prop D’s original implementation – it is and was a crusade.

Geoff and friends have taken the letter to the Peninsula board, now to OB – the OB Planning Board passed an approval of it the other night -, La Jolla did likewise recently, and the planning committees of Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are on their calendar.

Here is the text of the letter:

The purpose of this letter is to request an opinion from the City Attorney regarding what we feel is a gross misinterpretation of Proposition D by the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department (DSD).  As you are certainly aware, citizen initiative Proposition D passed in 1972 establishing a 30-foot height limit for certain areas of San Diego west of the I-5 freeway.

The DSD has interpreted the Proposition D ordinance in a manner that we believe is incorrect, is contrary to the intent of the ordinance, and is allowing projects over 30 feet tall within the affected area.

According to the DSD, Proposition D allows a developer to raise the grade on a project and then measure the 30-foot height requirement.  To add insult to injury, the DSD has taken the position that a builder may measure the 30-foot height from the inside of tall planters that the builder places adjacent to the new structure calling the grade inside the planters “finished grade.”  This is, frankly, absurd.  This position was stated publicly by Robert Vacchi, Director of the DSD, at the January 2017 Peninsula Community Planning Board meeting.

The DSD has approved and is currently approving, projects using this interpretation the result of which are buildings that exceed 30 feet in height within the area of Proposition D.  It is the opinion of many citizens within the affected area that the DSD has wrongly interpreted Proposition D and an opinion from the City Attorney on this matter is now imperative to stop the DSD from permitting additional structures taller than the 30-foot maximum.

We are asking the City Attorney to solicit the DSD’s official interpretation, to review the ordinance, and to provide an independent and objective opinion on the DSD’s interpretation of what is allowed under Proposition D.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page February 9, 2018 at 2:16 pm

Two minor corrections. I went to the La Jolla Planning Group and spoke at non-agenda public comment as directed by their president (La Jolla uses different terms for its officers, president = chair). I asked to be put put on the next board agenda and received an enthusiastic response and a promise to be on the March 1 agenda. Until then, I can’t say for certain that La Jolla has officially supported this request.

Also, I received support from the Pacific Beach Planning Board two weeks ago. This will be on Peninsula Community Planning Board agenda for monthly meeting on January 15 for the second time. I will be going to the Mission Beach group on January 20.


Geoff Page February 9, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Correction to my own correction. A friend pointed out where I said it was going to the Peninsula Community Planning Board January 15, I meant February 15 and Mission Beach is February 20 not January 20.


Porter Deb February 9, 2018 at 5:32 pm

I’d like to help .. I believe DSD is wholly owned by developers. Please count me as one of the supporters of the 30 ft. limit… as determined by being measures from the original calculation. deb porter


K.B. February 12, 2018 at 3:47 am

Geoff Page you thank you , thank you! For decades the city has been trying to eat away the Coastal 30 Ft. Height Limit law that was put in by the voters and upheld by the courts. The VOTE group had the insight to know that to keep our coastline beautiful and accessible that we needed this law. Our elected politicos always say they will uphold this law, but soon forget when they go into office. The name “Development Services” has becomes giveaway on what they are about. Help Geoff and others preserve this important law!


Christo February 12, 2018 at 8:22 am

Looking at the current construction project progress at Del Mar and Ebers, I wonder if the grade is being measured behind the new retaining wall.


Geoff Page February 12, 2018 at 9:37 am

Thank you Porter Deb and K.B. for your support.


kh February 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

Thank you Geoff for your continued efforts on this. The abuse of the 30-ft limit needs to stop.

DSD needs to grow a spine and stand up against developers who violate the code.

30 feet is 30 feet, whether its achieved with a dirt pile or 2x4s. I think even a child could figure that out.


John Gallup February 14, 2018 at 7:53 am

This is important work. Thanks to those who are pursuing it.


Geoff Page February 14, 2018 at 1:13 pm

Thank you for the good words, kh. But, I have to say one thing, the DSD is the problem, they are enabling the situation with their interpretation of Prop D.


micporte February 15, 2018 at 8:28 am

free ocean air to the inlands, free access to the beach, free the hearts of the developers and the city enablers, less is more in coastal zones… and that means all of San Diego… that’s why we, the people, without being paid 10$ a signature, enabled the 30ft height limit in 1972, by petition, for us, the people, get a clue you newly elects and city attorney…


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