Peninsula Planners: Board Rescinds 2017 Letter Advocating Housing on Famosa Site

by on June 25, 2018 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

Chair Robert Goldwyn and Conrad Wear of Zapf’s office. Photo by Geoff Page

By Geoff Page

The Peninsula Community Planning Board’s regular monthly meetings at the Point Loma Library are becoming one of the best shows in town and the June 19 meeting was no exception.

This time the show  was about an classic battle between a public agency and the community.  The excitement was over that piece of open land on the south side of Famosa Blvd. across from Cleator Park.  There was a large audience present, most of whom were there to express their displeasure with the San Diego Housing Commission’s plans to build 78 low income housing units on that site.

Community Displeasure With Planning Board’s June 2017 Letter Recommending Housing at Site in Question

Actually, the immediate displeasure had to do with a letter about “Affordable/Workforce” housing the PCPB sent to Councilmember Zapf and the San Diego Housing Commission in June of 2017.  The letter contained a picture of the Famosa site and specifically recommended the land as a good location for “Affordable/Workforce” housing.

The problem was that the PCPB did not involve the community in any discussion about the letter and the Famosa site.  This was a mistake on the board’s part and it clearly angered residents of Park Point Loma and others nearby. Adding insult to injury, it was only recently discovered that the Housing Commission was well along in planning to build on the site and they had not sought any community input and had, in fact, kept it quiet.

Those opposed to housing being built at this site are in a difficult spot.

How can you be against affordable housing?  That’s like being against cycling or native plants in this town.  But, just because you oppose something somewhere does mean that you are against the thing completely.

The residents took pains to explain that this was not opposition to affordable housing, but the main criticism from the other side was that these people were just against having low income housing next to their homes.  Surely, there has to be some of that, to be honest, but the opposition was about density, traffic, and a real need for open space or a park instead of a large housing development.

The discussion began with board member Jerry Lohla reading the full text of the PCPB’s June 2017 letter and explaining the motivation behind it.

This was followed by Adriana Economou reading the letter that expressed what the opposition wanted, a formal rescission of the PCPB’s June 2017 letter and support for keeping the land open space or park land.  There are three people who are heading up the opposition group: Katie B – who has been very active around the issue at least since March, Cameron Havlik, and Susie Besenbruch.

The ensuing discussion took some time and got heated too.  The most visible face of this issue before the PCPB has been Katie B. who spoke briefly explaining her efforts and what she thought. Other comments were:

  • A retired postal worker, retired at 58, described how hard it was to rent in this area and a homeless solution might be good for the site.
  • Michael Winn spoke against building on the site and promoted rent control;
  • Cameron Havlik – one of the opposition leaders – spoke passionately about the issue of community involvement, or the lack of it in this case;
  • Jarvis Ross mentioned the old housing failures from back east and worried this could become a slum;
  • Board member Lohla objected to Ross’s statement and said comparing this development to the failed HUD low income housing projects like Cabrini Greens was not fair.

While there were a few voices in favor of affordable housing, of some kind anyway, the vast majority of the crowd wanted the letter rescinded.  During the discussion, some board members acknowledged that they may not have put enough thought into the possible effects of the letter and had neglected to involve the community as they should have.

To the board’s credit, it voted unanimously to rescind the letter and send the issue to its Long Range Planning subcommittee for more study.

It appeared everyone understood that rescinding the PCPB’s letter would not stop the Housing Commission but it was a good start to the fight and it encouraged the citizen activists that took this on.

Before the Famosa discussion began, board chair Robert Goldyn explained how bus tours had been arranged for people to go and see some of the Housing Commissions existing projects for comparison.  It was not clear if there would be room for community members but contact information is available at

Mayor’s Proposed Short Term Vacation Rental Ordinance

The subject that followed was even more controversial on a larger scale.  Conrad Wear from Zapf’s office was there to explain the mayor’s short term vacation rental proposed ordinance that will be coming before city council on July 16, 2018.

As has already been well covered in The OB Rag, there is not much to like about the mayor’s proposal.

One curious fact was that there is a tax of $2.75 a night that will go toward affordable housing.  Wear said the projection is to collect $3 million the first year.  Doing a quick calculation, this works out to over one million nights of STVR rentals.  That seems like a lot.  Equally mind blowing is the obvious built-in incentive for the city to perpetuate STVRs and increase them. The board eventually passed a motion to oppose the mayor’s plan. Those opposed are encouraged to write the council and attend the July meeting.

Roundabouts on Rosecrans

Roundabouts on Rosecrans intersections, another issue brought by community activists, was discussed.  This one was headed by  community member Julie Dillon.  Dillon explained the work she and others had done to find ways to slow traffic on Rosecrans.  Speeding is a problem and in their research into ways of calming traffic, they hit upon roundabouts and they proposed three to the city.

The three would be “mini roundabouts” south of Talbot at:

  • Bessemer St.,
  • Owen St., and
  • McCall St.

The city said that Bessemer and Owen were feasible but McCall was not. The city told Dillon and her group that signatures were needed and they gathered them. The roundabouts would be similar to what is now along La Jolla Blvd. in the Bird Rock area. The board voted almost unanimously to support the roundabouts, with one no vote.

Bike Lanes on West Pt. Loma Blvd?

Cycling advocate Nicole Burgess presented a proposal to make major changes to West Point Loma Blvd. from Nimitz to Sports Arena Blvd. that involved taking away one of two lanes in each direction to facilitate biking.  Burgess said the first step was to change the classification of West Point Loma Blvd. from a major road to a collector street.

Burgess appeared to imply that this was simply a decision made by the city to reclassify the road when, in fact, roads are classified by usage.  West Point Loma Boulevard is very busy and unless an effort was made to decrease traffic on it and move it elsewhere, it is difficult to see how the road could be reclassified.

Burgess’s proposal was not well received; the idea of removing two lanes on such a busy road met understandable opposition.  Burgess emphasized  that she was only seeking approval for a feasibility study but that did not seem to mollify the board. Because this is a potentially complicated issue and it was brought to the board with no advance preparation, the PCPB voted to send the issue to its Traffic & Transportation subcommittee for a more detailed review.  It was not clear why this did not happen in the first place as Burgess is a member of that subcommittee.

Land Use Project: Rosecrans

There were two land use projects and, in the tone of the evening, one was an epic battle between a Point Loma resident and a developer of a project on Rosecrans.  Literally a real battle, the opponent of the project said he and his wife had spent $200,000 in legal fees fighting the project. The neighbor’s problem with the project was its design and its violation of a condition on the deed for the property.  Apparently, a height restriction, based on a measurement from sea level, was placed on the deed for the property where the new house will go many years ago. The developer is exceeding the height by seven feet – obstructing the views of properties behind the proposed house. The neighbor believes this is illegal.

The developer has chosen an ultra modern design that does not fit with the character of the area.  This reporter is not a fan of modern architecture but this particular design seems bad even for modern design.  It was revealed that the developer only plans to build the home and then sell it, so there was no motivation for a community consensus.  After some discussion, the board voted to table the project until the next meeting and allow more time for review.

Land Use Project: Absence of Applicant Not Issue for Board

The second land use project was an application to build a second unit on a private property.  The applicant was not at the meeting.  The only board members who saw the project and heard from the applicants were the members of the Project Review subcommittee who voted approval of the project.  Despite having no presentation from the applicant and no renderings to see, the board decided the subcommittee’s recommendation was good enough and unanimously approved the project.

In the past, an applicant had to be present for there to be any action on a project before the PCPB.  The reasons for this were obvious.  The majority of the board members, who are not on the Project Review subcommittee, need to see the project.  And, the community needs the opportunity to see the project and ask questions.  The Project Review subcommittee meetings are held at 1:30 in the afternoon, a difficult time for many people, while the main board meeting is held at 6:30 p.m.

Emergency Measures for Ladera Street Bluff

The last item of interest was a brief explanation of how the city is going to perform emergency stabilization measures to the bluff area that has kept the Ladera Street stairs closed for some time.  The goal is to make the area safe so the stairs can be reopened.  The city can do certain things under an “emergency” scenario but more permanent work will require time and a permitting process with the coastal commission.  The work will be taking place soon.

Appointment to Board and Former Chair’s Adult Decision Not to Be Candidate for Own Vacancy

Finally, the PCPB voted to fill a vacancy and elected past board member James Hare to the open seat.  Hare was one of three incumbents that was defeated in the March election largely due to efforts of sitting board members Virissimo, Sevrens, and former Board chair Jon Linney – the one whose seat Hare was elected to fill.

The three acted in direct violation of the rules that govern planning boards and complaints were filed (including one by this reporter) but never acted on because the former chair, Jon Linney, was one of the three. Linney, whose resignation just two months ago resulted in the vacancy election, had submitted an application to run for the same seat he vacated.  Apparently, he had a change of heart when he was the first candidate of three given the opportunity to speak.  He announced that he going to be an adult and stick to his decision to resign.  He withdrew from the vacancy election and said he would look to next March’s election.

With Hare’s election to the seat, two of the three incumbents defeated in March were back on the board, Hare and the current chair, Robert Goldyn.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew Barnes June 25, 2018 at 12:56 pm

“Michael Winn spoke against building on the site and promoted rent control;”

Okkkkaaay. So not only does this guy not want housing built, but he wants rent control – which, as we all know, will further diminish the available housing.

Yeah. That’ll help. Are people *honestly* this clueless?


Richard Ross June 29, 2018 at 11:57 am

Excellent article by Geoff Page. The biggest problem in this city is old school comment “Connecting the Dots.”
Most of the developer related workers in this city ignore the fact that the area of San Diego was once a desert. They are mainly focused on $$$ by tearing down, taking open space and building structures. How many are paying attention to 2019 and the state imposing more restrictions on water uses? Low income housing and affordable housing is the current bantor by developers. Has anyone said do away with the phony “In Lieu of fees” that block inclusionary housing? Those fees don’t build anything and are passed on in the price of the units sold in that development.
We don’t need the SDHC …the city’s Developer Services Department already promotes unwanted projects.


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