Councilmember Jen Campbell Appears Too Eager to Please the San Diego Establishment

by on May 18, 2020 · 24 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

No one who knows me would ever describe me as an eternal optimist.  And, the supply of optimism a person comes into this world with dwindles with the passing of many years.  Yet, I can say, a flicker survives and is fanned occasionally by events.  Mine was when a Democrat was finally elected mayor of this city and by some of what he began to do before the establishment destroyed him, with some help of his own.  But, he never stood a chance.

Then, another event fanned my flame when a Democrat defeated the incumbent Republican for the District 2 city council seat.  Yes, the city council is supposed to be non-partisan, but it ain’t.  While I did not vote for Dr. Jennifer Campbell, enough people did and she was elected to the seat, ousting Lorie Zapf.  This was good for two reasons: anyone else would have been an improvement over Zapf, and, a Democrat replaced a Republican. Or so we thought.

What we have now is a council person who is in lock step with the mayor and the power establishment in San Diego. Her recent action was, not just support for changing the sacred 30-foot height limit, but initiating the move, leading the charge.  This from the council member whose district includes the entire Prop D area.

Every person who ever runs for the District 2 council seat is asked about the 30-foot height limit and Campbell, like all the others, pledged to defend it. But, like politicians everywhere, once in office, all bets are off, even for something as serious as the 30-foot height limit.  Campbell is not serving her constituency, she’s serving other interests.

Another one of her actions that hit close to home was her position on the ridiculous Dog Beach disabled sidewalk and ramp.  The city was sued over the condition of the walkway.  They settled for $50k and determined they needed to replace the whole walkway for over a million dollars.  Lots of people spoke up saying this was a ridiculous expense and a flawed design.  The OB Planning Board got very involved.  People wanted the city to consider alternatives.

It came before the city council and people from OB came to speak, including the chair of the OB Planning Board, Andrea Schlageter. After public comments, the council discusses the matter and a motion is made. Discussion was brief, Campbell made the motion to approve and it passed. In moments.

Campbell stuck to the party line that the lawsuit required the walkway to be rebuilt, as is. That was a lie. The lawsuit did not contain any conditions at all, just $50k and they went away.  Further evidence that the suit did not require this is the walkway itself, which remains untouched more than a year later. It has been a daily liability ever since. Campbell did not listen to anything the community had to say, she ignored them and has ignored the unchanged liability that could be the subject of another lawsuit.

Then, there is Midway. The Navy is working on a deal to redevelop the old SPAWARS property.  Last year, the mayor and the new head of SANDAG announced they were pursuing a plan to obtain the property and build a “Grand Central Station” transportation hub there.  The announcement was in the media, which was where the Midway-Pacific Highway Planning Group first heard about it, not from the city.  They were not pleased.  This project has been a source of anger and frustration for the group as they have been ignored.

Campbell came to one of the Midway groups regular monthly meetings.  In the very beginning of her opening remarks, she exclaimed how excited she was about the plan to build the Grand Central Station. Kind of reminded of how an audience reacts when a rock band yells how happy they are to be in Cleveland when they are in Philadelphia.  It was crystal clear that Campbell had no idea how the Midway group felt about the project, or more importantly, about how the city had completely ignored them.

The picture of Campbell that has emerged for me is person who is thoroughly enjoying the spotlight and eager to please the power structure to ensure she stays in that spotlight. She surely would never have stood a chance running for office with a proposal to change the 30-foot height limit.  Part of the problem is that Campbell does not live in the 30-foot height limit area, she lives in Bay Ho on the east side of the 5 freeway.  She has no history with coastal issues.  But, even worse, she seems to have made no effort to learn about the coast or Midway for that matter.

The voters were hoodwinked, there is no other way to put it.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Oscar T May 18, 2020 at 11:03 am

I personally disagree with this article and believe that Councilwoman Campbell is taking the right actions to ensure the prosperity of the district. By removing the height limit more housing opportunities will allow people to live in the area and better infrastructure investments will resolve the current problems the area as. I agree with the idea of supporting a new structure on the current eyesore of the SPAWARS property as it will bring construction jobs and new housing/job opportunities once it is completed. It is archaic to think that we need to keep a height limit in an area that is overpopulated and often neglected because previous representatives listened to the few that had $ and wanted to keep their views. Jen’s doing a great job


Frank Gormlie May 18, 2020 at 11:21 am

A couple things, Oscar T. The Midway is not “overpopulated” – yet. And it wasn’t the $ people that drove the 30 foot height limit resistance to the push to make San Diego’s coast the new “Miami Beach”. So, if these two points are the basis for your argument, then it fails.


Geoff Page May 18, 2020 at 12:25 pm

Yea, really Oscar, you’ve demonstrated that you have no knowledge of the issue. The “previous representatives” had nothing to do with the height issue. In fact, in order to get it into law, the citizens by-passed the representatives and through the amazing hard work of unpaid volunteers gathered enough signatures to have the initiative placed on the ballot. The decision was made by the voting public. It had absolutely nothing to do with greedy people wanting to preserve their individual views. One of the main volunteers was Mignon Sherer who lived in a house that had no view at all, I know because I visited her home several times.

And, as Frank pointed out, Midway is not over-populated today but it certainly will be if the city gets its way.

No one would argue about improving the old SPAWARS site. But, you missed the point. The point was the city moved ahead with a major project in the Midway-Pacific Highway Planning Group area barely one year after updating the area’s community plan but never included the Midway group in the discussion at all. Considering the major impact this would be to the Midway area, you’d think they would have been included.

You said “I agree with the idea of supporting a new structure on the current eyesore of the SPAWARS property as it will bring construction jobs and new housing/job opportunities.” I’ve been in the construction business my whole career and I get really tired of the construction jobs argument because those are temporary and fleeting. The current plan for a transit hub does not include a housing feature.


Paul Webb May 18, 2020 at 3:25 pm

A couple of thoughts on this matter. First, I continue to be puzzled by Dr. Jen. Did she deliberately mislead us on key issues like the height limit or is she essentially politically naive and being led down the path by the voices that are traditionally louder than those of the communities that she serves? I find myself thinking it is the latter, as I have heard her say things about the issues and the processes that are just not true, as though someone is feeding her talking points and she is blindly repeating them. I remember a Peninsula planning board meaning where she got the process for handling initiatives completely wrong and stubbornly refused to acknowledge the corrections from the members of the audience. I thought that did not bode well for our community. I find that my misgivings were largely correct.

Second, I think that we can all look at the Midway area and feel that we could do better. The question, as always, revolves around what intensity of use results in “better.” I personally do not fear a proliferation of downtown or Miami Beach type high rise buildings. I think that what would be a more likely outcome of removing the height limit would be an extension of Mission Valley, with more buildings of mid-rise height with, perhaps, a few high rise buildings. I’m thinking of the recently constructed development along Hotel Circle North, or the christian theme park and hotel along Hotel Circle South. In any event, I don’t think any of use want a second Mission Valley rising up in Midway.

Third, I know I’m repeating myself, but both the Spawars and height limit decisions should be following a process that cannot be followed in the era of social distancing. The public has no meaningful way to participate in the decision making process. We really need to hit the reset or pause button. There is no time bound reason for rushing through the process, unless the opportunistic use of the pandemic to short circuit citizen participation is the reason.


Geoff Page May 18, 2020 at 3:30 pm

I remember that meeting of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, Paul, you recounted it just as I remember. It was not encouraging. And, I second you point that now is not the time to make big decisions the public cannot easily weigh in on.


Don May 18, 2020 at 5:32 pm

To combat global warming, we need to increase the number of people using mass transit in SD. To increase the number of people using mass transit, we need to increase density of housing near transit options. Do OB and the coastal communities have a role in increasing density? What is OB’s role in combating global warming?


Roy McMakin May 19, 2020 at 6:13 pm
since 1971
If you want more info on OB’s role in being a community of good global citizens lemme know.


Don May 19, 2020 at 8:01 pm

Thank you Roy. Do OB and the coastal communities have a role in providing affordable housing? If so, is there a way to do this without increasing density in areas near mass transit like the Midway area near the Old Town Transit Center and future Grand Central Station?


Roy May 19, 2020 at 8:32 pm

Often the most affordable and environmentally sound housing is existing housing, which OB folks have shown they support that. Regarding the Midway area, is the issue density or height, seems they are not the same issue. And I don’t really get the Grand Central Station concept, why isn’t it downtown? Do we need to transit centers right next to each other?


sdurban May 24, 2020 at 11:40 am

I agree that preserving or retrofitting existing housing is often sensible, and good for the environment. However, how does that allow for the tens of thousands of additional housing units we need?


Roy May 19, 2020 at 8:41 pm

Housing issues and environmental issues, while connected in a variety of ways, are not the same issue. It might be useful/helpful to discuss them separately as well as connected.


Sam May 19, 2020 at 11:01 pm

Don – It is laughable to think that there will be affordable housing ever built west of the 5. Let’s call this what it is, a cash grab for the builders and politicians. Can anybody say kickbacks? How much money will these people pour into Campbell’s election coffers for this “favor.” This stinks from the head!


Geoff Page May 18, 2020 at 6:03 pm

In order to get people to use mass transit, you need to first have a good mass transit system, which San Diego does not have. The bus systems I used all over Mexico and Central America were much better than anything San Diego offers. What good is increasing housing density near transit options when there is no viable connection from those centers to work, shopping, and recreational opportunities?

Do OB and the coastal communities have a role? Everyone has a role but it’s not all about housing density. Moving to all electric cars, buses, and trucks and renewable energy to fuel those machines will have a much bigger impact. Density as the solution is the new development mantra because what was done in the past, sprawling development throughout open country, is no longer possible. This is what the development community is moving toward and pressing hard on. More density means more people, maybe that needs to be rethought for a city in a desert.


unwashedWalmartThong May 18, 2020 at 7:24 pm

Could there be a compromise on the 30 foot height limit? Let’s say it’s raised 12 or 15 feet. Raise it for the Midway area for the redevelopment & no further. Delineate to the exact inch where the limit is to be raised; delineate from one exact point where all survey originates on each parcel before any construction begins. That way developers can’t bulldoze rocks, dirt and debris into a pile on a parcel & measure from the top. Pick an existing high point, let that be the benchmark, survey all development from that point; no cheating.


Paul Webb May 19, 2020 at 9:52 am

The problem with making any kind of compromise is that there will be loopholes and there will be developers that take advantage of them, with city officials giving them a wink and a nod. The experience in Roseville where developers were building planters and using that as “existing grade” to measure height was blessed by Development Services, although clearly inconsistent with forty years or practice in areas subject to the overlay zone.


unwashedWalmartThong May 24, 2020 at 10:29 am

What’s a loophole? (wink wink)


unwashedWalmartThong May 24, 2020 at 10:12 pm

Are there any precedents where the limit was set aside for the construction of a structure since the height limit inception?


Peter from South O May 25, 2020 at 3:08 am

Sea World’s exemptions come to mind.


Frank Gormlie May 25, 2020 at 12:48 pm

See this seminal piece on the undermining of the 30 foot height limit.


korla eaquinta May 18, 2020 at 7:44 pm

I agree with the disappointment in Dr. Jen. I too remember that meeting and chalked it up to inexperience. I think I was wrong.

It is certainly a slap in the face for the Midway Planning Group to be excluded from earlier discussions. There is no way we can participate in the process now as it seems City Council is using the Pandemic to exclude us all and push through an attack on the sacrosanct 30′ height limit. I can think of better ways to spend city money right now than this.

I started my involvement with the PCPB over density. I acquiesced over time and began to accept it. However, this pandemic shows me that a conversation needs to be had about that density. Will the trade-off be health? Dr Jen?


Roy McMakin May 18, 2020 at 10:36 pm

We’re going to hear a lot of folks saying the 30′ height limit exists to protect rich folks views (which is nonsense). And that tall residential view towers are the only way to combat climate change. There clearly is a talking point memo going around. Of course the height limit in many ways is about the opposite of preserving views, its about preventing the monetizing of views at the price of communities. And of course preserving existing structures and building low to mid rise wooden structures is most likely is a way more environmentally smart way to add housing. And of course we could also just stop eating cows, or having fewer kids, etc.

This is what the take over of the Dems by the money that used to go to the Republicans is going to feel like in SD. Bike riders yelling at and making fun of old people. Fun.


Sam May 18, 2020 at 11:40 pm

Perhaps its time for a recall?

Recall Process
A guideline prepared by the Office of the City Clerk

The following information is provided as a general guideline to the recall process in the City of San Diego.

For legal provisions, see SDMC, Chapter 2, Article 7, PDF icon Division 27

Officials Subject to Recall

1 – Any official elected by Citywide vote who has held office for six (6) months or more, and against whom no recall petition has been filed within the preceding six (6) months, may be recalled by a majority vote of the voters of the City.

2 – A City Councilmember who was elected by district vote and has held office for six (6) months or more, and against whom no recall petition has been filed within the preceding six (6) months, may be recalled by a majority of the voters in the district represented by the Councilmember.

3 – A recall petition may not be filed if the elected official’s term of office will end within six months or less of the date the petition is presented for filing. (SDMC 27.2701)


Charles Best May 19, 2020 at 3:24 pm

Where does one volunteer to work on the recall?


korla equinta May 31, 2020 at 1:04 pm

Young and Rich people are now moving out of cities. This it the new “normal” from the Pandemic.


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