Controversy Over Famosa Property Alive and Kicking at Peninsula Community Planning Board Meeting

by on July 24, 2018 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Land within red square is the original land grant for parks made to the city by DC Collier – the father of Ocean Beach. The Famosa properties in discussion is the lower righthand triangle of land with the other section of land just outside the red line near Nimitz Blvd

By Geoff Page

The controversy over the Famosa property was alive and kicking at the Peninsula Community Planning Board’s July 19 meeting.  This is the parcel of land bordered by Nimitz and Famosa Blvds. across the street from the Bill Cleator Park.

There are basically two sides to the issue.

On the one side is the San Diego Housing Commission that is planning to build 78 units of some kind of affordable housing.

On the other side is the community that wants it to remain open space or parkland.

The discussion of a new letter the PCPB proposed to send to Councilmember Zapf about this piece of land caused some fireworks. A little background is called for to understand the issue.

The parcel of land in dispute is owned by the San Diego Housing Commission (or SDHC) and the agency is planning to build 78 affordable housing units called “workforce housing.”

Where the controversy began was when the community only learned about the project after it was a year in the planning stages with no public comment.

In June of 2017, the PCPB sent a letter to Zapf and the SDHC recommending a look at the Famosa site for affordable housing.  The letter included a picture of the site and it was the only site the letter suggested. While some believe it was the PCPB’s letter that sparked the SDHC’s decision to get going on developing land it has owned for decades, that did not appear to be the case.  The timing does seem to be too coincidental but it could be.

Board members Jerry Lohla and David Dick are former members of the SDHC.  The impetus for the June 2017 letter appeared to be driven by board member Lohla.  Others wonder if Lohla or other board members knew about the coming development and the letter was intended to support that showing that the local planning was in favor of such a project.  And, perhaps it was intended to start breaking it to the public.

The problem was that the PCPB did not get community input on this idea.  At the behest of the opponents who prefer a park or open space, the PCPB admitted it approved the letter by mistake without enough information to make an informed decision.  To its credit, the board voted to rescind its June 2017 letter.  The opponents were very pleased with that outcome.  But, then the PCPB managed to anger the opponents again.

At the June meeting, besides rescinding its previous letter, the PCPB also voted to send the issue to its Long Range Planning subcommittee to look into it in more detail.  The subcommittee produced a letter it proposed to send to the city basically asking for more information on what was planned for the site. The letter can be seen here .

Several members of the public urged the board to table or not send the letter. The most vocal and passionate critic was Cameron Havlik, one of the organizers of the opposition to the affordable housing project.  Havlik explained that the board did the right thing at its last meeting by rescinding its letter and that should have been the end of it.  The new letter, Havlik and the other critics contend, just keeps open the housing idea and effectively ruins the previous action.

A reading of the letter does give the impression the PCPB is in favor of housing being built on Famosa.

The first three paragraphs were devoted to stating how much the PCPB is in favor of affordable housing in Point Loma ending with “the PCPB requests that you and your City Council colleagues encourage and support development of rental apartments in the Peninsula that would target low and moderate income work force families.”

The letter explains that the PCPB is aware of the SDHC project and requests information and updates on it.  While there is a sentence in bold font, the only sentence in the letter in bold font, expressing that the PCPB is taking no position in support or opposition to the project, the tone of the letter seems to say otherwise.

It isn’t until the second page that the PCPB mentions the opposition in the form of a letter from the Park Point Loma Homeowners Association HOA opposing the idea of affordable housing and promoting open space or a park for the property.  The letter closes with a request that Zapf’s office contact the Parks and Recreation Department to solicit its opinion of what it would be willing to do with the land, if anything.

One of the critics of the PCPB letter was Lucky Morrison, who ran for a board seat last March.  Morrison expanded his criticism to include the make-up of the PCPB itself saying there were too many architects, real estate people, and developers on the board.  There are three architects on the board but no board members are identified as developers, although the husband of one new member, Sarah Alemany, is a developer.

Morrison expressed that he was looking forward to the March 2019 elections and stated the goal was to replace some of the current board members.  Of the five members who have terms expiring in March 2019, two are architects eligible for re-election.  One of the five members is termed out while the remaining two are also eligible for another term.

After the opposition spoke, board member David Dick read the entire PCPB letter because it was apparent not all of the board members had read it – nor had the public seen it either.  When he finished, board member Dick expressed that the letter was exactly what he had expected from the subcommittee and made the motion to approve it.  The board voted to approve the letter to the grumbling and visible displeasure of the opposition.

In fairness to the PCPB, some of the public did not seem to understand that the PCPB believes it cannot take a stand on the issue because no project has come before it. The problem with this reasoning is that, by the time a project does finally come to the PCPB, it is so far along that stopping it is nearly impossible, the only thing that can be done is coerce some changes.

The PCPB cannot stop a project, only the Planning Commission and City Council can do that.  The very idea of voting against an affordable housing project would cause any council member to sweat profusely.  If the PCPB won’t join the opposition unless it has a project to look at, the PCPB is not helping.

Planning boards take positions all the time on issues that do not involve a specific project.  The PCPB took a position on controversial improvements to Balboa Park a while ago, for example.  It appears this board is as reluctant to take a stand as city council would be to vote against affordable housing.  It’s kind of a sacred cow like cycling and native plants, there are some things you just don’t want to be publicly against even if the alternative is a park.  It’s a tough decision but it should be made.

West Point Loma Boulevard Evaluation

There were six other action items on the agenda but only one was of interest to the community as a whole.  This was a proposal by the city called the West Point Loma Boulevard Evaluation.  The goal was to “remove and revise” parking on the south side of West Point Loma from Nimitz to Midway.  This is part of a big push to create a bicycle lane from the beach to the Old Town Trolley Station.

The first inkling of this plan occurred at the June PCPB meeting when cycling advocate Nicole Burgess, described a potential plan for West Point Loma from Nimitz to Midway that involved reducing the road from four lanes to two and declassifying the road.  This idea did not get a favorable reception at that meeting for obvious reasons.  This subject came up with the city’s presentation at this meeting and the city was told that this was not an acceptable plan.

But, the current plan was not calling for this drastic a change because no studies have been done yet.  The current plan appeared to be a patchwork of areas where parking would be removed to accommodate a bike lane now.  Burgess brought another proposal to the Midway Planning Group that voted to approve removal of parking from Kemper to Midway on the south side of Sports Arena Blvd.

There is obviously a serious push to create this bike path that Burgess said was needed to get to the trolley. That the trolley station on Napa St. can be reached by existing bike paths did not come up.  The PCPB was not inclined to support the issue because they did not feel they had enough information.  The PCPB wanted to know that the people who would be affected by the removal of parking would have a chance to know what might happen and to voice their opinions. In the end, the PCPB asked the city to come back when they had more information.

San Diego Airport Environmental Impact Report

The last item of interest was a presentation about the San Diego Airport Environmental Impact Report that is out for public review now and will be for 45 days.  The lengthy Executive Summary that describes all the improvements the airport is planning under this EIR can be found here

There is a lot coming including replacement of Terminal One and a number of transportation projects in and around the airport.

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar kh July 24, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Thank you again for the coverage!

Reply

Avatar ZZ July 25, 2018 at 12:39 pm

“Burgess brought another proposal to the Midway Planning Group that voted to approve removal of parking from Kemper to Midway on the south side of Sports Arena Blvd.”

Yes Yes Yes. This is a very high traffic road, and the only people that park there seem to be unlicensed contractors looking for work from home depot, and they seem to use the area for long-term vehicle storage. Their big trucks slow down traffic in the area, which would flow much better if bikes had their own lane, and people could line up to turn right into the Home Depot lot earlier.

The trucks that always park there also reduce the visibility of the various homeless people who regularly wander into traffic on Sports Arena Blvd and Midway. I have seen far too many close calls involving them. Sports Arena Blvd is lined on both sides with very ample parking, there is no need to obstruct it for the convenience of like 6 unlicensed contractors.

Reducing W Pt Loma Blvd to a two lane road is just nuts as well. The street parking in that area appears to be packed from residents of the large complexes than did not build enough parking. Tough situation there. In the end though, I think we need to favor bikes lanes over street parking.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 26, 2018 at 1:09 pm

kh,

I have to say that I don’t agree with your characterization of this piece of roadway. I was talking about parking on the south side of Sports Arena from Kemper to Midway. I walked the whole stretch and there were a lot of regular cars parked there and some larger trucks but not many. It sounds like you were referring to Kemper itself. I measured the whole route and it will remove from 25-30 parking places and that is significant for that area. This will just push the parking elsewhere. It is easy to say to favor bike lanes over parking but it is much more complicated than that. Here is a link posted to Nextdoor about Seattle. It is very illuminating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjy3xjaPW_s

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Avatar Michael Winn July 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Geoff Page, expresses more tolerance of infill development than Point Loma can afford. Perhaps, he takes a 1970s view of congestion arising with over-development and I haven’t heard Geoff describe Point Loma as a fully built-out community. This declaration is the only legal resistance to infill used by every community in California that doesn’t want to end up like Los Angeles in 10 years. His description of the Famosa dustup ignores relevant facts: PCPB member Dick, a former Housing Commission member and PCPB member Lohla, who used to manage the Commission’s portfolio, wrote the 2017 letter asking them to develop Formosa–the city wasn’t looking at the property. In the relatively short time I’ve observed it, the PCPB I’ve seen views the Brown Act as inconsequential.

There’s money in this and the greatest problem with this board is revealed in the first page of this letter, which mis-states the purpose of Measure M in an attempt to justify infill on the peninsula–and logically 24,000 more people on the Midway side.

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