Midway Planners Get on Board ‘Remove 30 Foot Height Limit’ Train

by on April 20, 2020 · 17 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The midway-Pacific Community Planning Group decided to try and a hold a meeting on-line, Wednesday, April 15, much the same as the OB Planning Board did using the Zoom meeting software.  The meeting went off without any of the interruptions the OBPB suffered on their first try.

The motivation for this effort was very clear as there was really only one item of interest on the agenda, changing the 30-foot height limit in the Midway area.  Council members Campbell and Cate are pushing to have measure on the November ballot to effect this change.  The Midway group wanted to support this effort and they did with a unanimous vote from a quorum of six people.

The ballot measure was covered in detail in the OB Rag in February

That our own council person is one of the two pushing this change, is a surprise to many. When asked during her campaign about the 30-foot height limit, Campbell answered as any politician had to and said she believed in it and would protect the provision.  Now that there is a big push to redevelop the Midway area, Campbell changed her mind at least for that area.

It is interesting that the “developer” that is most interested in this change is the City Of San Diego because a big portion of the land that will be redeveloped belongs to the city, including the Sports Arena, all of the parking lot around it, and leases from the old Pier One imports to the east and the land under the shopping center on the west side of the arena. Now that the height limit is a problem for the city, they figure it is time to change it.

The Midway agenda item was just to support Campbell’s motion to put this on the ballot.  This support will be held up high for all to see to show that the Midway people are in favor of this.  If they had opposed it, nothing would have been heard about that.  But, is this really the case?

The Midway group is made up mostly of business people who own property or businesses in the Midway area.  After having attended these meetings for more than three years, this reporter can say that this is a nice group of people, they are not a rapacious group of developers like the Mission Valley planning group.  The Midway people have good reason for wanting to see the area improved, anyone who has spent any time there would understand. But, many do have a vested interest in the future development.

Holding a meeting on-line to discuss such an important issue was questionable because the public really did not have a chance to participate.  The meeting was advertised properly but because of how it had to be held, very few people had a chance to be heard and those who spoke were all in favor of this change.

What was the hurry?  Chair Cathy Kenton explained.  There is a deadline for getting something on the November ballot.  There was supposed to be a council Rules Committee hearing the same day about this issue and Midway wanted to get its forgone conclusion of support in for that discussion.  As it developed, the meeting was postponed until May 13.  Because of that, the deadline for getting something on the ballot was extended.

From the Rules Committee, the issue goes to the council.  If they send it forward, it goes to the city attorney to ensure the ballot language is acceptable.  It then goes back to the council for a vote.  Kenton explained the two processes for getting something on the ballot.  The council can vote to put it there or it can be placed on the ballot by a citizen’s initiative that requires gathering signatures.  Because of the tight time frame, there isn’t time to do a citizen’s initiative and as Kenton stated, they don’t want to wait another two years to get this voted on.

Kenton explained that their group cannot campaign for this ballot measure, they can only vote to support putting it on the ballot.  The operating rules for planning groups would not allow them to be politically involved as a group but as individuals, they could.

Kenton characterized this change as “correcting a mistake” when the Midway area was included in the 1972 ballot measure that established the height limit at the coast.  She said the boundary for the proposition was “arbitrarily” drawn to include Midway and that no value was added by doing so because the area is so far from the coast.

Another board member said it was her understanding that developers needed the height change in order to consider participating in proposals for the new development.  Of course, developers have hated this restriction ever since it went into effect.

The main argument for changing the height limit is that it would allow taller buildings for the added residences and leave more land on the ground for parks and open space.  The claim is that, if the limit was in effect, the land would have to be covered in buildings to accommodate the planned density.  Of course, it is not written in stone that all the planned density has to actually happen but the argument does have merit.

It is highly probable that the council will vote to put it on the ballot because the councilmember with the affected district is in favor of it.  And, six people representing the whole Midway area voted to support it.  The devil will be in the ballot language.  If it is clearly crafted to only affect the Midway planning group borders, it might fly.  Everyone needs to read the measure carefully to be sure there is no poison pill in there that will open up the rest of the Prop D area to this same change.

There was a film once that showed how people, who needed to get cattle across a river full of piranhas, would kill one cow and throw it in the river.  While the fish were devouring the carcass, they could get the rest of the cattle across unharmed.  Maybe Midway could be that cow for the developers and leave the rest of the Prop D area safe.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb April 20, 2020 at 1:35 pm

I have said this before on this forum but I will repeat it again: I am extremely disappointed in Councilmember Campbell’s performance and her positions on key issues that impact the peninsula communities. Dr. Campbell, the member of the city council, does not appear to be the same Dr. Campbell who was the candidate. She has abandoned some of the positions that were important to the voters, including the 30-foot height limit.
You have to remember that the height limit does not just cap the height buildings – it also caps the intensity of development. Increasing the allowed height of structures increases the traffic, the demand for parking, the number of users of the proposed parks and open space, etc., unless, of course, strict limits are placed on residential density, floor area ratios and other means of limiting intensity of use. Given the push for increasing density in existing neighborhoods, I can’t see that happening.
What the increased height limit will give us is worse traffic, minimal increases in park land, unavailability of parking and a generally decreased quality of life. Of course, if sensible restrictions were placed on the new development, it would be different. That is just not gonna happen in San Diego.


Paul Webb April 20, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Oh, and I almost forgot: kudos to Geoff Page for his reporting on the various planning board meetings. Given the current restrictions on gatherings and the extremely limited public input these restrictions impose, it is of even greater importance to have someone like Geoff keeping the rest of us informed!


retired botanist April 20, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Always kudos to Geoff for reporting, especially on the Midway goings-on, which many neighboring districts tend to tune out on. I’ve always felt the Midway planning folks really need the support of neighboring Planning Boards… the Midway district is the conduit to OB, Point Loma, etc. The Midway district has a lot of potential, but has never had adequate, green, sound representation. I’m appreciative to anyone who ‘leans in’ on the plans and goals there!


Geoff Page April 21, 2020 at 8:24 am

Thanks you Paul and retired for the nice words. Let’s also extend that to Frank and his OB Rag too.


Doug Blackwood April 21, 2020 at 12:30 pm

Campbell reeks of politician spin speak: I am very sorry I voted for her!


Deb Porter April 22, 2020 at 10:17 am

Me too……………… .. Dr. Jen, please vote to keep the 30 ft. height limit!


Geoff Page April 22, 2020 at 10:20 am

Campbell is initiating this, she’s hardly going to vote against her own proposal.


Doug Blackwood April 22, 2020 at 12:19 pm

Anyone in the wings to defeat her/


Sam April 22, 2020 at 4:19 pm

Maybe Frank Gormlie should run against her!


Frank Gormlie April 23, 2020 at 12:58 pm

Thank you Doug for your donation. It helps to keep us going.


sealintheSelkirks April 22, 2020 at 1:04 pm

First they came for Midway, but it wasn’t me so I didn’t care
Then they came for Morena District but I didn’t live there so…
Then they came for inland PB since it wasn’t ‘really’ on the coast.
Then they came for the bay side of Pt. Loma since it wasn’t actually on the Pacific Ocean…

Like our Bill of Temporary Privileges in the Constitution, just agree to one LEEETTTLE change and watch the wrecking ball come flying….

If it gets on the ballot, SMASH THEM FLAT!



Frank Gormlie April 22, 2020 at 4:07 pm

Seal – this is the best comment you’ve ever submitted! Simply great, dude. Thank you – and I may use it soon.


korla eaquinta April 24, 2020 at 10:04 am

I too am disappointed in this attack on the 30′ heigh limit. It IS sacrosanct.
Because of the Pandemic, I believe new conversations on density need to be had. When we look at New York, Boston and other dense cities we need to be thinking how density will affect health in San Diego and how to balance it all with the environment.
I don’t have the answer but the conversations need to be had.


Paul Webb April 24, 2020 at 11:40 am

Korla, a close friend of mine, who is also an urban planner and who once worked at the Coastal Commission when I did, and I have been having this exact discussion over the last couple of weeks. I know that I have very little appetite for using public transit now and probably going forward. Our city’s and Sandag’s position is that transit and higher densities are not just inevitable but desirable. I wasn’t convinced before and now I actually fear the future as they have envisioned.


Geoff Page April 24, 2020 at 11:47 am

And, in a nod to Mignon Scherer, one of the originators of Prop D, in her last years she kept asking, Where will all the water come from for this increased density?


korla eaquinta April 24, 2020 at 1:52 pm

Let’s not forget Jarvis Ross here! That was one of his signature statements!


Geoff Page April 24, 2020 at 2:01 pm

Yes, Jarvis shared Mignon’s concern and kept it alive to the very end.


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