Planners’ Meeting Heats Up Over Housing Numbers for Midway Community Plan

by on June 26, 2018 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

Tribalism. It is a vestigial feature, much like an appendix.  It once served the purpose of self-protection but has long since out-lived its usefulness. It is, in fact, harmful in an advanced society. But, unlike an appendix, it is not easily excised; it seems to be an indelible imprint on the psyche of homo sapiens.

This was demonstrated clearly, and sadly, at the Midway/Pacific Highway Community Planning Group’s regular monthly meeting on June 20 at the San Diego City College – West City Campus on Fordham Street.  It seems that the planning group boundaries now are tribal boundaries.

Meeting Heats Up Over Midway Community Plan

The meeting got heated over Midway’s Community Plan that is on the verge of final approval after many years of effort.  Some audience members from what appeared to be the Peninsula area were decidedly unhappy over what they had heard about the Midway plan.  It has been in the news lately that the new community plan calls for adding quite a bit of residential housing over the life of the plan.  Numbers like 5,000 residential units and 27,000 people have been heard and ignited some unhappiness in the Peninsula area and probably OB as well.

Having watched much displeasure on social media about this, it appears to this reporter that the problem is perception.

The Midway plan is a 30-year document.  It seems that many people feel this will be happening very soon and that is not how the plan is laid out.  There is nothing perfidious about the numbers. The plan calls for rezoning certain areas to allow for residential development.  The total number of possible housing units is just a calculation based on the zoning.  Whatever the density is for a certain zone is applied to the available land area in the zone.  This just provides a maximum possible build out that the zoning would allow, it does not mean that many housing units will be constructed.

A question was put to Vicki White, the Midway group’s Planning Department representative, asking if the Midway plan had some kind of timeline within it that people could look at to see how this development might progress over time.  Apparently, the plan does not have a timeline.

The follow up question to White was if the city could provide an estimate of how this might be developed over time.  This time, the response was surprising.  The answer was that the city could not predict how the development would evolve, that it depended on how private development progressed.  The surprising part was hearing a professional planner say there was no way they could even estimate the development, because that is what planning is all about.  Planners use data to plan for the future, to plan for growth.  The answer was a bit disturbing.

White also offered the information that the city envisioned “only” 1,400 housing units for the Sports Arena site.  It is still not entirely clear what will happen with the Sports Arena site.  The talk is about retaining an entertainment venue and developing the huge parking lot around it.  But, there is also talk about moving this entertainment attraction downtown.  There just is no definitive word.

But, what remains to be true is that all the Midway development, if it ever builds out, will take place over many years, and, considering how San Diego grows, 27,000 new people in 30 years would probably be a small chunk of the growth.  The concerns from the audience, on the other hand, were real and the main one was traffic.

Traffic Is Everybody’s Concern

Traffic is everyone’s concern. White explained that the community plan stalled in the City Council’s Smart Growth Land Use because of concerns about mobility, or rather the lack of much in the plan about mobility.

When the Midway group did finally vote to approve the plan this spring, the chair expressed that her biggest disappointment about the plan was the same thing, not any thought about mobility.  She was assured that adopting the plan did not preclude making changes later for mobility improvements.

So, unfortunately the two vocal members of the audience were actually arguing with people who agreed with them but a real tribal vibe was in the room.  It was a shame because planning board boundaries mean nothing, Midway, OB, and the Peninsula need to work together, they are all inter-related.

Infrastructure was the key word, everyone wants infrastructure first and then development.  The Midway plan, adding to the unpopular opinion, expresses that there are no funds for infrastructure.

According to White, the city needed SANDAG and CALTRANS to step up and help solve the traffic problems.  Unfortunately, SANDAG is broke because it spent its previous bond in less than half the time originally planned, then lost the last bond initiative.  CALTRANS could do some things to help out but getting them to do anything is challenging.

The City Council vote to finally approve the Midway Community Plan has been postponed for an unknown period of time while the City Council’s committee members look into the mobility issue.

Bicycle-Improvements Along Sports Arena Blvd

Dogged mobility advocate Nicole Burgess was there to request support from the board for a bicycle-related improvement along Sports Arena Blvd. from Kemper to Midway.  Burgess is a cycling advocate and she wanted support for removing about 20 parking places on Sports Arena on the Home Depot side of the street.  Burgess explained that this area was a dangerous stretch of road that did not have a dedicated bike path.  There are “Sharrows” in the right lane but traffic moves fast and it’s very busy.  If the parking was removed, there would be a lane for cyclists.

Some of the board members expressed concerns about removing parking.  This piece of road is a good area for parking large trucks, one member explained, and there are not many like it in the area. In the end, the board voted 5 to 4 to support the request to remove the parking.

Feedback About Tent for Homeless Vets

A representative from the Veteran’s Village of San Diego or VVSD, was there to seek community feedback regarding the large tent for homeless veterans that they manage for the city. The tent has been up since last year and the VVSD wanted to know what people on the Midway board thought or had heard.  The board’s comments were almost all positive, no real negative comments were heard.

When asked how successful the effort has been, what was termed “bridge housing” before moving people into permanent housing, the VVSD rep provided some statistics. He said that they had 700 “pass throughs” but he then explained that did not mean 700 separate vets because there were many repeat visits.  He did not have a number for how many individual vets had passed through, which would have been the most telling statistic.

When asked how many vets had been placed in permanent housing, he said 50.  That is, unfortunately, a small number but he correctly explained the difficulty with expensive rents and other problems one of their charges face outside the tent.  The idea of a temporary facility, and calling it “bridge housing” instead of a homeless shelter making it more palatable, that would get vets off the street and get them into permanent homes was either noble or political.  Noble ideas often fall victim to reality.  Political ideas serve a purpose, someone’s purpose.

 

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Avatar Parks4US July 4, 2018 at 2:37 am

I understand to certain extant why the planners couldn’t commit to numbers because it’s market driven and who knows what the market will produce. But, she could’ve at least provided target that the city wants to achieve (but, maybe that is more of a political position, i.e. elected leaders need to decide, and not something the planners can really advance). As for the infrastructure, it is kind of chicken-and-egg problem: do you build the housing and let resulting political pressure drive the road construction or do you build the roads to alleviate the inevitable congestion and the community. In reality it will probably be a little of both. Develops will advocate better roads to maximize the selling point and community pressure will cause the politicians to make it a priority but it’s not going to go fast and probably a bit lagging in terms of the development. Overall, I am in agreement with re-developing the area.

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