Reader’s Rant: ‘Why I Voted to Support Development at the Famosa Site’

by on September 4, 2019 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach

Peninsula Community Planning Board special meeting, Aug. 28, 2019. Photo by Geoff Page.

By Jim Hare

The Peninsula Community Planning Board, of which I am a member, has considered the matter of a potential 78-unit workforce housing development on Housing Commission Site #428.  The site is off Nimitz Boulevard near the end of Catalina Boulevard in Point Loma.

While the potential project is unknown except for a site feasibility study, many in the community and some members of our Board have sought abandonment of the project and dedication of the property to open space. That position prevailed by vote at the PCPB on August 28th.  I cast a vote against the action based on these thoughts:

I deeply respect everyone’s views and interests, especially those of nearby neighbors – they are absolutely entitled to pursue their opinions, reasoning and demands.   The airing of community concerns is the primary purpose of the City’s planning group program.

I believe the PCPB review process has been a success, in that no prospective developer of the site will be unaware of the magnitude of neighborhood opposition nor the particular impacts and response measures that the PCPB committees have brought forth.

I will support every effort of the PCPB and the Peninsula community to demand the highest quality analysis of feasibility and evaluation of environmental effects for any potential use of the land. If and when a project comes before us, we should continue to make every effort to assure that its design and functional plan be of the highest aesthetic and operational quality.  We have an excellent project review process, and, unlike private development projects, we have the influence of the City’s ownership to shape the project beyond the zoning criteria which is usually our only tool.

I deeply support the creation of workforce housing.  Regionally, we cannot grow as a science technology leader –with a well-paying core of jobs and the spinoff of supporting enterprises — if housing costs make recruitment of skilled talent untenable.  As a community, we must welcome as our neighbors the service workers who make our quality of life possible.

I do not accept that we can’t build our way out of our housing affordability problem.   Each of San Diego’s periods of economic advancement has been coupled with residential growth.  We were challenged to provide post-war housing for aerospace workers, and built Linda Vista and Clairemont.  In the ‘70s, we were challenged by the Boomer generation families and we invented growth management and developer financing rules to build fiscally-responsible communities in the I-15 corridor.  The challenge we must meet today is to provide efficient and sustainable housing within all our existing communities.

I do not accept the argument that any one project is too small to matter.   As a society we recognize that dealing with large problems requires a collective array of small contributions.  We progressively embrace at the individual and community level responses to global matters through such actions as recycling, water conservation and working to curb the man made effects of climate change.

I do not accept that Peninsula is not an appropriate area for affordable units and that it would be better placed elsewhere.  We must have an inventory of workforce housing types at locations across the region.  Moreover, the poor track record of coastal communities in rejecting infill housing is at the heart of the current legislative proposals to override local zoning.

I do not accept that the site is an inappropriate location for affordable units.  The property has long been zoned for multifamily residential use similar to that of its adjoining neighbors.  That zoning could yield densities far exceeding the current proposal.  Its ownership by the Housing Authority and potential for use for below-market development has long been a matter of record.

I do not accept that the site should be dedicated as park based on the Collier gift or any other fault of title.  A planning board is not the place to adjudicate such matters. Nevertheless, it is pretty clear that in 1956 over two-thirds of San Diego’s voters approved the disposition of the Collier lands at the discretion of the City Council.  The vast majority of the land now supports a natural park, recreation, a school, a YMCA, and even an existing small affordable housing development.  The two-acre remnant of the grant and other adjoining land has been dedicated and deed restricted to low income housing by the City Council since1978.

I do not accept that the site is a critical open space on the basis of community aesthetic.  We live among an astoundingly diverse inventory of open spaces, shoreline, parks and wetland preserves, much of it within walking distance of the Famosa site.

I do not accept that holding the site as open space is indisputably the best outcome for the environment.  Absent necessary studies and specific mitigation proposals, it is wildly speculative to make a habitat and watershed value judgement. But we do know that the project development pro-forma anticipates on-site mitigation coupled with purchase of like wetland and funding for its rehabilitation and management.  Absent the proceeds from development, the site will remain in its current unprotected and degraded state.

I do not accept that 78 new units would gridlock traffic.  Freeway access via Nimitz is one intersection away.  And while I understand that long term residents have experienced change in traffic, city count records show that average daily trip rates on Rosecrans, Nimitz and Catalina have been essentially flat over the past decade.

Ultimately, the Famosa workforce housing project may never come into being.  The feasibility analysis conducted by the Housing Commission may be overstating its viability, or the energized opposition to the project may well convince the City to withdraw.  But our job as a planning group is grasp the issues, hear from our neighbors and make informed recommendations for appropriate actions.  While I must and do accept the action of the PCPB as a member, it is my personal opinion that to summarily oppose a potential workforce housing development on Site #428 at this time was premature and irresponsible.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ZZ September 4, 2019 at 10:59 am

Jim, thank you. I agree with everything you write. My only qualm about the project is 78 units seems quite a lot, and too many of them are 2-bedrooms, which is already the focus of private development. I’d like to see more smallish 3/4 bedroom apartments as well as studios.


Kirk Mather September 4, 2019 at 11:04 am

Thank you Mr. Hare for a thoughtful and well-reasoned factual statement regarding Site 428. A lot of emotion and hyperbole seems to surround most discussions of this piece of property. California law prohibits the gift of public funds (in this case property) so any use other than that proposed by the Housing Commission would seem to necessitate purchase of the land. The community, via the Planning Board is spending, I believe, $800,000 to develop a park at Avenida del Portugal and Cañon and I think this is the last descretionary funds for parks. Therefore if purchase for an informal bike park is the community preference money will need to be raised.


Pete R September 4, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Great column. So much more rational and reasoned than most opinions on this issue.

And from a writing perspective, you express your reasons very directly and cleanly. This level of clarity is sorely lacking in many of the rambling pieces often seen on this site. Thanks.


Geoff Page September 5, 2019 at 8:27 pm

It wasn’t enough to compliment the writer, you just had to make a dig at The Rag too?


Vern September 5, 2019 at 6:30 am

“… Ultimately, the Famosa workforce housing project may never come into being. ..”
This would clearly be a reasonable and fair outcome.
The city could then get to planting more trees & flora for the well-being of the community and the region.


hOBie September 5, 2019 at 11:19 am

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell: “They paved paradise and put up [78 apartments]”

We are fortunate to have a thoughtful, reasonable volunteer like Mr. Hare on the PCPB. But I respectfully disagree.

This is singular issue re: open space. All of the rest – SD housing affordability, traffic, the intent of a “for the children” land grant made 110 years ago, etc. – is noise.

The affordable/workforce housing issue is giving this proposed project cover. And I wonder: Would the same people that support this project also support a project of 78 condos priced at say, $700K each? If not, then my assumption is that they also believe that we can simply “build our way out of our housing affordability problem.” Though I respect Mr. Hare’s credentials as a planner, I simply do not believe this. And my worry is – where does this line of reasoning end?

Cue the NIMBY comments. But just as I value the 30 ft height limit, I value pockets of open space and do not believe all open spaces must be designated and “managed” park space. Otherwise, we are simply advocating for build-baby-build. Build-out that granny flat; see if you can get plans approved to put 4 units on your lot instead of 1; take that ugly 2 acre lot and convert it into 78 units, etc., etc.

The shortest issue addressed above is open space. There is no doubt a “diverse inventory of open spaces” around us: the ocean to our West and desert to our East. But that does not justify paving-over everything in between.


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