Faulconer By-Passed Midway District Planning Group in Proposal to Redevelop SPAWAR Property

by on January 17, 2019 · 9 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

You just have to wonder if city leaders are just plain stupid or just too accustomed to being devious.  That certainly occurred to this reporter sitting in the Midway Pacific Community Planning Board’s regular monthly meeting, Wednesday, January 16.

Last week we all learned that the mayor and SANDAG have a proposal to redevelop the property where the big SPAWAR facility sits on Pacific Highway.  They want to make it a transit hub with a rail connection to the airport. In fact, they are so far down the line that they visited Elon Musk’s Boring Company because the plan includes a tunnel.

Now, this reporter has been attending the Midway meetings for a long time.  This Faluconer/ SANDAG idea had never come up.  In the story about the October Midway Pacific meeting, the OB Rag described a Request For Proposal process the Navy was conducting to get proposals for developing the property.

The Navy does not need all of the space it has and wants to set up a Public Private Partnership that will have a developer build them a new building in exchange for development rights to the majority of the site.  Manchester and the Navy are doing this down on Broadway.  The mayor’s and SANDAG’s proposal will have to compete with other proposals that are all due January 18.

Back to the politicians.

It would appear logical to most people that politicians, wanting to drop their latest big dream project into a community’s lap, would have the good sense to at least talk to the local community planning group about the plan.  It would appear completely insensitive and over bearing to ignore the planning group and have them learn about a plan – that has clearly been in the works for some time – from a news story a week before the proposal would be submitted to the Navy. But, that’s exactly how the mayor and SANDAG handled this.  It was stupid or devious, there is not another possibility.

Redevelopment of the sprawling SPAWAR property is not just redoing a commercial lot somewhere. This will be by far the biggest redevelopment project within the entire Midway Pacific board’s boundaries. The property includes the big, long buildings on Pacific Highway and the large parking lots on Midway across from the old Post Office.

That the mayor and SANDAG did not think to involve, or inform, the planning board at all shows what little regard they have for local planning boards.

This is a real shame because the community planning boards are part of the city’s Planning Department.  The boards are comprised of people who volunteer their free time to help look after their communities. There was a SANDAG representative at the October board meeting looking for input on the Regional Plan Update but nary a word about this transit proposal.

The chair of the Midway board did send the mayor an email expressing displeasure with how this was handled.  Suffice it to say the board will be following up on this matter.

[Editordude: see Geoff Page’s earlier reports on proposals to develop the SPAWAR property, here and here.]

Closed Off Turns

One item that had caused a lot of uproar at Midway’s November meeting was the city closing off the left turn pockets on Camino Del Rio West at Moore Street.  Once the dust settled, the board offered to put the item on the January agenda and have a city traffic engineer there to discuss the issue with everyone.  Unfortunately, the traffic engineer could not be secured and the item was tabled.  The people who were clearly there for that discussion were disappointed but the chair said they would try again.  To read more about this closing and how it affected the local businesses, see the OB Rag story from that meeting.

Impact Fee Study

The board finished its work on the Impact Fee Study.  The Impact Fee Study is a lengthy list of possible infrastructure projects in the Midway area over the next several decades.  The city wanted the board to prioritize the projects based on their opinions of what is needed the most.  The fees are collected on developments and go into a fund to be used locally within the Midway area.  The development fees will never be enough to fund any projects but will go toward projects with the bulk of the funding coming from elsewhere.

The Midway board has worked on this for several months, even devoting a special meeting just to this in December. The end product was the agreed upon priority list that was voted on and passed.  The number one priority was to build the missing I5 south to I8 west and the I8 east to I5 north ramps to alleviate some of the traffic problems in the Midway area.

There was some displeasure with the process in general.  A comment was made that the plan seemed to have money for things that Midway did not want but also had no money planned for things they did want.  The Peninsula Community Planning Board went through the same process.  From the outside, it looked like a lot of effort for very little outcome.

New District 2 Representative

Jen Cambell’s representative for the Midway group introduced himself as Josh Coyne.  He replaces Conrad Wear who handled the duty for the former councilmember that lost the seat to Campbell, costing Wear his position.  Coyne did not have much to say other than to introduce himself and say that they are all very busy getting set up and settled into the job.

San Diego Police Department

The always affable and helpful Community Relations officers David Surwilo and his partner Ricardo Piñon were in attendance.  Surwilo explained that they have been pulled from their regular duties for some of their time to help with patrols, due to well-known current staffing shortages, making it a bit more challenging to attend the various meetings they normally attend.  But, Surwilo assured the board that they are making every effort to keep up with those responsibilities as well. Surwilo also fielded questions about the homeless problem that come up at every Midway meeting.

Open House San Diego

During non-agenda public comment, a representative from Open House San Diego, or OH! San Diego, explained an event on March 23 and 24 that consists of touring to “Celebrate architecture, urban design & the built environment.”

There will be over 100 historic and contemporary sites including schools, hotels, fire stations, research laboratories, theaters, galleries, and more open for tours.  A range of tours is offered that can be self-guided, guided, or expert guided and it’s all free.  The sites will be downtown, Bankers Hill, Barrio Logan, Point Loma, and La Jolla.  Go to sdarchitecture.org/program/openhouse to learn more.

This is new to San Diego, apparently only three other cities in the country do this – although it is more widespread in Europe.  For anyone who loves building and architecture, this sounds like a great chance to see things a person might not normally have access to.  How many people normally get see a research laboratory?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar ZZ January 17, 2019 at 12:26 pm

“The number one priority was to build the missing I5 south to I8 west”

Creation of a major freeway interchange just so people can exit on Nimitz or Sunset instead of Sea World Drive? SWD does not have serious traffic issues, and further has plenty of space to add additional lanes, either a third lane the whole way or more modest addition/expansion of turn lanes. There are a few spots where people needlessly wait to turn right because of a lack of a turn lane.

I think if there were a cheap and simple solution, a proposal would at least be on the table after many decades.

I also don’t see how this impacts Midway that much.

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Avatar Geoff Page January 17, 2019 at 1:36 pm

ZZ, Not sure you got the gist of the freeway ramps. Take another look. This won’t be an interchange, this will be finishing the I5 and I8 interchange that was never finished. This won’t be anywhere near Nimitz or Sunset Cliffs.

You say that Sea World Drive doesn’t have traffic issues? If not, it is probably because the road is such a mess and drivers have to go through several traffic lights to finally reach the ramp onto I5 north. Drivers have to constantly stop at the Sea World entrance light, especially during the summer. That road sits on very unstable ground and it has to be rebuilt periodically, it is in need of another rebuild now. The reason it impacts Midway is that people use the freeway entrances from the Midway area instead of dealing with Sea World. The ramps would help that area a lot.

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Avatar Vern January 17, 2019 at 1:57 pm

SPAWAR – Perfect place for high density, low income housing. And the Mayor can ride the bus to his office from there!

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Avatar Paul Webb January 17, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Geoff, as always I am grateful for your reporting on the various planning group and other meetings that I know I should attend but for which I have lost my appetite (and nearly my lunch, on several occasions).

Regarding the proposed transit center, there are a number of issues that spring to mind (in addition to the secretive planning process, lack of public involvement, the spectre of another public/private partnership that will undoubtedly result in the hosing of the public, etc.). Among the first that come to mind are the purpose and need of the proposed project. I used those terms intentionally, as defining the purpose and need of a project are a integral part of the federal environmental review process and which will be examined if federal funding is required.
When you look at the two airports in California that have rail connections to the airport, San Francisco and Oakland, recent reports have indicated that ridership has dropped at both airports in recent years, even as air passenger traffic has increased. Given the popularity of ride sharing apps and the possible coming of autonomous vehicles, this may be the perfect time to take a pause and forecast whether a very expensive link between the trolley and the airport is even needed. I know that among one portion of the population, this is the biggest “no brainer of all time” (along with building a monorail), but this just might be a huge and unnecessary capitol improvement boondogle. Let’s do some sophisticated and focused forecasting to determine who and how many will used this link. It may be cheaper on a per passenger basis in the long run for the City and SANDAG to pay for Uber/Lyft rides to the airport. Of course, this way no contractors or developers will profit. Just sayin’.

Added thought: I don’t know anybody who rides transit to the airport regularly. I live less than one block from a bus stop on the 923 route that goes to the airport, and have never taken the bus. Given that the 923 does not have luggage racks or other ways of dealing with luggage, it is not easy or convenient. I’ll take Lyft. Oh, and when I worked for the airport, we had frequent meetings with City, SANDAG and Caltrans people at the airport. Guess how many took transit and how many drove single-occupant autos.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the intermodal transportation center will be something like 3 1/2 miles from the terminal complex. This, of course, could be handled by the tunnel the City and SANDAG seem to be comtemplating, but there are problems. The water table under the airport is something like seven to eleven feet below the surface of the runway. The presence of the water this close to the surface leads to problems with the existing runway due to the hydrostatic pressure of the landing of large, heavy airplanes on the runway over the shallow groundwater. Those forces are likely (I’m waffling a little here because I’m not an engineer) to create problems for a tunnel located underneath the runway. Certainly a tunnel can work (see BART), but it’s not going to be as easy as just running a tunneling machine as Elong Musk has done in Hawthorne. Again, maybe there should be some actual planning done before commitment to this course of action.
Of course, this all ignores the intermodal transportation center of the whole project. Some years ago, the airport and SANDAG did a study of placing an intermodal transportation center in the vicinity of the consolidated rental car facility. This would have brought the trolley, Amtrack, Coaster, airport connection and high speed rail to Little Italy. It never seemed to me then and does not seem to me now to be a very good location. I would guess the most likely routing for HSR, if it comes to pass, would be down the I-15 corridor (not the coastal corridor as with current Amtrack), as was proposed in at least one iteration of the environmental documents for HSR. If that turns out to be the case, if HSR is ever completed, then I don’t see a path for HSR to Little Italy from Mission Valley that works. Maybe a combined SDSU extension/transportation center/stadium complex in Mission Valley? This would be much closer to the population centroid of San Diego County than Little Italy, which seems to have enough going on as it is.
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough for one afternoon.

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Avatar Geoff Page January 17, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Paul, thanks for adding all of that information to the story. Your past experience and expertise are a valuable resource to the community. I agree with your comments entirely. It looks like the mayor is searching for his “signature” project that will provide a legacy for his time in office since he lost the stadium deal and seems bogged down on the convention center expansion. I think on of the most telling comments you made was about how transportation will change for us all with ride sharing and automated cars. In my opinion, the SPAWARS property would be a great place to provide additional housing considering its location.

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Avatar Paul Webb January 18, 2019 at 10:23 am

You know, I find myself really torn on this issue.

On the one hand, I find myself in cities all over the world where I can take a train or metro directly to the airport. I love the convenience and it gives me the feel of being in a real urban environment. This is the way cities should be constructed.

On the other hand, we really built ourselves into a corner with respect to transit. We built a trolley line not because it goes where people want to travel (unlike cities like Seattle which spent a great deal of energy and time to study actual travel patterns) but rather build it as cheaply as possible on an existing rail right-of-way that served the communities south of downtown (and Tijuana!) reasonably well but ignored the rest of us. The more recent extensions helped, but the initial core of the trolley just didn’t get to where it needed to go, i.e., the aiport, the beaches, etc.

Given the coming advances that may change the transportation landscape entirely, it just seems unwise to me to invest in what may be outdated modes of transportation. We really should hit the pause button and think about what we really will need in the future.

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Avatar Geoff Page January 18, 2019 at 11:36 am

I agree with the trolley comments, Paul. All it does is follow the major road arteries. No connections to the beaches, North Park, the zoo, the bay front. Even if it does go to the airport, the total effort of getting to a trolley station, which would probably require a car, and loading luggage onto the trolley for the ride to where? Will there be an extension to each terminal? Most people would rather drive, or be driven, and go right to the part of the terminal they need to get to. I think pausing and really studying the future of transportation will show this would be a very expensive venture we may not need. The tunnel is something that could be engineered and built but it would be incredibly expensive considering the geotechnical makeup of the soil and water table under the airport that you mentioned.

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Avatar retired botanist January 17, 2019 at 2:49 pm

On the latest scooter litter: I don’t have a smart phone and I’m not an app user, so if this sounds neanderthalian, sorry to the “modern” folk. My questions is this: If the app allows one to buy scooter time and be charged for it, why can’t the app also track that the scooter is returned to some appropriately designated location ( off the sidewalks and out of the ocean), otherwise the user is charged for the “clean-up or retrieval”? Seems simple enough.

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Avatar retired botanist January 17, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Sorry- this went in the wrong column! :-)

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