Peninsula Planning Meeting – Where Residents Vent Support for Recycling Center and for Saving North Chapel at Liberty Station

by on March 19, 2018 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The March 15 regular Peninsula Community Planning Board meeting was packed with people because one of the agenda items was the Prince Recycling Center next to Stumps market on Voltaire Street.  This very divisive issue also attracted the news stations who filmed the proceedings and interviewed various people involved with the recent effort to oust the recycling center.  The action item on the agenda was to approve a letter to Councilmember Zapf asking for help but, as has happened frequently with this board, it was an action item that received no action.

Prince Recycling Center at Stump’s

Action Item 2 on the PCPB agenda, brought forth by board member Don Sevrens, stated:

“Update on Stump’s recycling center, facing eviction, and forum for community input. Letter to Council Member Lorie Zapf asking her to engage with San Diego legislative delegation to modernize siting conditions and other reforms, and to take the lead in finding a replacement recycling site in District Two that does not impact residential homeowners.”

This action item did provide an update and did provide a forum for community input and the input was a bit raucous.  It appeared that most of the people in the room were there for this issue.  James Prince, owner of Prince Recycling, was there with employees, family, and friends all holding signs in favor of the center.  At one point, a board member asked for a show of hands of who in the audience was for keeping the recycling center and who was against.  The hands raised in favor of the center vastly outnumbered the few hands of opponents. This seemed odd considering all the supposed opposition to the center, whose numbers have been exaggerated or just did not bother to show up.

Board member Sevrens began the discussion, by saying the PCPB had never taken a position on the recycling center. There was a reason why Sevrens opened with that, in this reporter’s opinion, as he is one of three board members, including Margaret Virissimo and chair Jon Linney, who are responsible for the blow up over the recycling center. It began with a poorly attended impromptu rally at Stumps on February 10. All three have said that they were not acting for the PCPB but all were regularly identified in the media as PCPB members – and without providing any disclaimers – this added to the public perception the PCPB was behind the opposition.

Sevrens gave an update and then the floor was given to James Prince. Prince explained what had happened to him as a result if all the negative publicity caused by the three board members.

Prince said that he was unable to find anyone willing to rent him a new space because no one wants to be in the middle of another controversy.  Had the matter been handled quietly and professionally, he said, there might have been a chance for a solution that satisfied everyone. Prince laid the blame squarely on the chair Jon Linney and Virissimo . He said that Linney had been constantly harassing him about moving – and not in a polite manner.  Prince excoriated Linney during the meeting pointing at him continually describing his treatment as Linney looked on tight lipped.

What Prince was looking for was support and he got it from the audience but not from the PCPB.  Board member David Dick spoke up and said that he did not think this was an issue that was something that fell within the board’s purview.  Dick said this was a private matter between Prince and the property owner.  Because of Dick’s opinion, the board decided to do nothing on the action item, something that has become a common practice with the PCPB. The only action before them was to send the letter to Zapf and the board decided it could not even make a decision on that.

The lack of this small action on the part of the PCPB was mystifying and disappointing. In the past, the PCPB has approved and sent letters about a variety of issues. (On the PCPB website is a letter to Catalina-Talbot Properties, LLC encouraging the private property owners to replace the Fresh & Easy store on Catalina with another grocery store when Fresh & Easy closed a few years ago. Plus the PCPB approved a letter supporting the Point Loma Summer Concert series, something that happens every year.)

Sending a letter to Zapf as described in the agenda clearly would have been within the PCPB’s past practices but no action was taken at all. Perhaps the difference was that the former Fresh & Easy store was in upper Point Loma at Talbot and Catalina and the concert series is popular with Point Loma but a recycling center does not appeal to the same folks who frequent that shopping center and attend the concerts.

During the meeting, things got very odd at one point. A member of the audience in favor of Prince Recycling kept making remarks out of turn. As it’s his role as chair to control the meeting, Linney appeared not to be up to the task – having some difficulty keeping things focused. In a highly unusual move, SDPD Community Relations Officer David Surwilo stepped forward and took control momentarily.  Surwilo’s motives were obviously well-intentioned, he clearly wanted to help regain calm in the room.  A police officer in uniform at the center of the room does get immediate attention. But, in this reporter’s opinion, this intervention, however well-meaning, was unnecessary and was jarring. This was not a place where anyone would expect a police presence, regardless of the motivation.

The meeting did allow the community to vent and there was palpable anger against those who had opposed the recycling center for driving a small business person, providing a needed service, out of business. The general feeling expressed was that the whole matter was handled badly and some felt the board members who engaged in the fight against the center should be held accountable.

Residents of Sea Colony, near to Stump’s, had been vocal in their opposition to the recycling center but only one person from there spoke against the center, former PCPB member Norman Allenby.  He described the difference between a large and a small recycling center mainly being the number of truck trips a day.  He said Prince’s was larger at first with far fewer trucks coming and going but the city made Prince downsize his footprint. He said the same amount of recycling still went on only there were a great many more truck trips. He suggested that a petition to the city to allow the center to be larger again, which would cut down on truck traffic, would be an improvement.

A woman who identified herself as a Sea Colony resident said the addition of lights and cameras had made a tremendous improvement in the situation. And most of the comments were for the center, with only a few opposing it.  The complaint that the homeless population was causing problems has never been substantiated by the opponents.  Prince stated that the homeless were only a small part of his business and one of his employees said there had not been one police call to the site in the four years they had been there. Unfortunately, Prince walked out with nothing from the PCPB.  And, the PCPB did not discuss the actions of the three Board members.

North Chapel in Liberty Station

There was another agenda item that generated a passionate discussion, the North Chapel in Liberty Station. A number of the people in attendance were there to talk about The McMillin Company’s proposal to turn the old chapel into a restaurant. The people who came to talk about this item were all opponents of McMillin’s plan – except for one speaker.

A spokesperson for McMIllin presented the developer’s side explaining that the building was underutilized, meaning not making enough money. Those that want to preserve the chapel say the reason the building is not used more is that McMIllin is charging exorbitant fees to use it, not because of a lack of interest.  Apparently, Mc Millin made the same argument about the South Chapel some years ago as the reason to demolish that building.  Many people believe that McMillin has used this tactic of allowing buildings to deteriorate because of  a lack of maintenance in order to avoid its original responsibilities and then makes excuses for demolishing buildings that were supposed to be preserved.

An audience member claimed that some of the North Chapel is on the historic register, specifically the pews and the stained glass windows, but not the whole building. It was not explained how parts of the chapel were on the register but the McMillin representative agreed so it appeared to be true. This would complicate what could be done with the building.

Two small churches currently rent the chapel for their Sunday services because they do not have buildings of their own. They have been told they have to vacate the church by June of this year. It is during the week that the building is “under utilized” according to McMillin.

A representative from Save Our Heritage Organization spoke about the need to preserve the historic building. Church members wanted to know why they had to vacate so soon before work would begin on the building, if it goes forward.  One woman spoke for the change explaining in some detail what the chapel lacks in order to be a real functioning church.

Board members asked the McMillin representative about the approval process to make the change. The explanation was that the Liberty Station Precise Plan allowed McMillin to make this change.  McMillin’s representative explained that the project would not require public review if McMillin followed the Precise Plan and that it could be approved in a Process One Ministerial review.

After hearing this, Board member Dick made a motion to send this issue to the PCPB Project Review subcommittee for review and then back to the PCPB for its April meeting.  It was not clear what they would be reviewing or what action might take place at the next meeting but the PCPB made it clear that the public wanted a look at this.  There is an organized group fighting for the North Chapel, more information can be found here  .

PCPB Letter to City Attorney RE: 30 Foot Height Measurement

The effort to gain the PCPB’s support for a letter asking the city attorney to review how the Development Services Department of the City is allowing developers to measure the 30-foot height limit was finally successful. The letter explains that the DSD is allowing developers to raise the grade on a site before measuring 30 feet and has compounded the problem by allowing developers to measure height from inside of tall planters a developer builds on its project.

This reporter began this effort late last year with the goal to obtain support from as many of the planning boards in the areas within the Proposition D boundaries as possible. This support is needed to show the city attorney that this is an issue all of the areas under Proposition D take very seriously. So far, the letter has received support from Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla.  Although it took four times presenting the letter, the PCPB voted to support it also.

New Development on Voltaire and Mendocino

A new development project on Voltaire Street next to the Reunion bar on Mendocino Avenue was discussed.  The lot is a fenced off steep slope and has been for years. The proposal is for a small mixed-use project with four one-bedroom apartments. Board member David Dick spoke against the project because the design was for one-bedroom apartments with two bathrooms and an “office” the size of the bedroom. It was painfully obvious that the “office” was, or would be, a bedroom. In order to be officially considered a bedroom, a room must have a door and closet, both of which are easy to install later. This design was clearly done to get around the parking requirements had the offices been counted as bedrooms. This has been seen several times over the years by the PCPB.

Despite this obvious trick, a motion was made to approve the project and it failed. The board was then reminded that just not approving a project is not complete enough for the planning commission – there must also be a recorded vote to deny the project. This appeared to throw the board for a loop. After some moments of silence, what they did next was worthy of the old double take.

Board member Dick, who had spoken against and voted against approving the project, said he did not favor making a motion to deny the project because he actually liked it. He made a motion to approve the project with the notation that the city take another look at the parking situation and that motion passed almost unanimously with one dissenter. So, the project they had just voted against approving was then approved minutes later with some mild language to the city that will be ignored.  It’s almost as if the board had a schizophrenic episode.

Some other items of note:

  • The PCPB decided to fill a vacancy that occurred just the day after the Candidate Forum on March 1 by using the by-laws provision for filling vacancies.  It was suggested having the sixth highest vote tally in the PCPB elections fill out the term seating someone the community actually voted for. Instead, the seat will be advertised and candidates may apply but will be elected only by the board members.
  • During non-agenda public comment, Byron Wear spoke about the effort to put an aquatic complex at Liberty Station, something that has been in the works for many years.  It appears that the San Diego Unified School District is kicking in $5 million in bond money and there are other funds in the city treasury.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

kriz March 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Another great example of Jon Linney hard at work.


ZZ March 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm

Yes to an Aquatic Center, San Diego has very few public pools for a city its size! I took many swimming pool “field trips” as a kid, it was great and everyone learned to swim by fifth grade.

As for the chapel, OB/PL has tons of churches already, quite often sprawled over a huge lot but barely used except for a few hours on Sunday and an special event here and there. Maybe 10-15 hours a week total seems typical. If the tenant can’t pay market rent, replace it with something useful. Us non-religious people already subsidize churches through property and income tax exemptions, we don’t need to subsidize them even more with below-market rents.

The best use for the site, assuming it isn’t for the aquatic center, would be a spot where a large company could build a new infill office to suit its specific needs. That would likely create more jobs with higher pay than yet another restaurant. Much of the Presidio in SF is like that. LucasFilms for example has its HQ office there.


David Dick April 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Since I’m mentioned a few times in this article, and even though its almost a month old now, I thought I should explain a couple of things.

I opposed the letter regarding Prince Recycling being sent to Councilmember Zapf due to the contentiousness of the matter and the fact that, as I observed at the time, it should be a private matter between the property owner, the owner of Stump’s Market and Mr. Prince. The recycling business is legal. By all accounts its legally located (some would say it is legally required). I didn’t see a proper role for PCPB or the City in the dispute. So I declined to support sending a letter seeking City involvement and suggested the private parties resolve the matter among themselves.

I have supported other letters regarding matters that were either non-contentious (the replacement of Fresh & Easy, Point Loma Summer Concerts) or where PCPB and the City have clear responsibility and interests (Proposition D interpretation). Neither of those applied to the Prince matter.

I advanced the conditional motion to approve the Voltaire St. development with great reluctance and, in part, because I didn’t see anyone else fashioning a solution in the face of having to do “something.” In retrospect, I should’ve simply opposed the project. I have since come to learn that, under the Municipal Code definition of a “bedroom” there is no requirement for a closet, just a door or some other way of closing the room off from other common spaces of the residence. These units clearly have 1 bedroom and 1 future bedroom – but parking only for 1 bedroom units. We’ve seen the trick before.

I hope I am wrong and the applicant (who seemed like a credible, trustworthy and honest gentlemen) adheres to his agreement that these are 1 bedroom units designed for people who I guess don’t want to share bathrooms (as he said he and his wife do not). I’ll be curious see how things play out in reality since I am sure, as the article’s writer suggests, the “conditionality” of the approval will be ignored by the City.

Finally, regarding North Chapel at NTC. The referral to Project Review (notwithstanding the absence of a “project” to review) was simply to allow PCPB to continue to study an issue that was clearly of great concern to the community and continue the conversation at our next meeting. The matter could’ve just as easily been sent to Long Range Planning. And perhaps its time for PCPB to reinvigorate its Liberty Station Committee given this and other changes (e.g., Aquatics Center; changes to the Loma Club/Sail Ho golf course) that appear to be coming.

I don’t know if anyone will read this clarification given how old the article is. But I hope anyone who does has a little better feel for what happened at the last PCPB meeting and why – or at least my view of it.


Frank Gormlie April 13, 2018 at 2:54 pm

David Dick – thank you for adding to the conversation.


Geoff Page April 16, 2018 at 10:34 am

I will second that, thank you for the additional information on those issues.


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