Midway Planners Presented Sports Arena Area Proposals

by on July 21, 2020 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The Midway-Pacific Planning Group held the largest planning board meeting this reporter has seen in over three years- and it was on-line.  Approximately 65 people attended the meeting using the ubiquitous Zoom software.  The meeting went well and there were none of the hacking attacks that Zoom users have experienced in the past, such as the OB planning board experienced.

The reason for the crowd was information about the redevelopment possibilities for the city property that includes the sports arena and lots of land around it.  The current Salvation Army Store is the easternmost parcel of the property.  To the west, and north, the boundary is Hancock Street.

The many parcels are being leased and the leases are of various lengths.  The shortest leases are on the east side including Dixieline and the Salvation Army with three-year leases.  The city is kicking Dixieline out, make no mistake.  There is no place for a hardware and lumber store in the new vision.  It would be like, to quote Raymond Chandler, a pearl onion on a banana split.

Requests for proposals on how to redevelop the area went out some time ago, four were received and only two were deemed “responsive.” This is a normal term for proposals, apparently the other two proposers did something wrong in their submissions and were not accepted. This is always something to watch carefully.  If one proposal is awful, the other will be the only choice and it may be just the choice the politicians wanted.

First up to present their proposal was the group named the Midway Sports & Entertainment District. [Editordude: when Geoff wrote this the upcoming link to the site was available, but apparently, the city has taken it down. Enough of public input! ] For a detailed look at their ideas go here https://sportsarenainput.org/#board-4-24.  There is no need to recap the whole presentation since it can be seen at the website in great, colorful detail.  This proposer brought a group pf people, about seven in all, maybe more.

The Midway Sports & Entertainment District stressed its vision for the area and focused on the open space and park-like atmosphere.  This is apparent in its on-line presentation.  But, this vision only succeeds if the 30-foot height limit is removed.  Otherwise, the park all goes away.  It was readily apparent that this is the main talking point for the developers.  They included a side by side rendering of the development with and without the height limit to drive the point home.

The problem with the argument is that both renderings are based on maximizing the build out in the community plan.  But, this is a self-fulfilling scenario.  The city, with the Midway group’s cooperation, included over 10,000 new residential dwelling units and 10 million square feet of non-residential building in the new community plan.  This projection was only realistic if the 30-foot height limit was lifted.  Well, now that the new plan is in place, the height limit must be removed, or all the plan cannot be built.  See how that works?

If the new development did not include building everything in the plan, the green space could remain with fewer buildings. There is no need to turn the place into an ant’s nest just because there was an unrealistic plan in the first place based on a future what-if. And, their plan includes building 80 t0 85 feet tall structures.

The Midway group is composed of a collection of very nice people, having observed them for several years.  They are correct that the area needs a face-lift.  The question is, why does it need such a huge facelift?  They are all in favor of removing the height limit.  But, should these board members be voting on something like this?  Most of them are business and landowners in the Midway district.  A development such as what is being proposed will benefit many of them financially as their businesses and land will all increase in value. While it may or may not be a direct conflict of interest, it is worth considering.

The Midway Sports & Entertainment District proposing group offered a few other tidbits.

  • They are deliberately not providing sufficient parking because they want to limit the number of cars coming into the area.  One spot for each dwelling unit, 1.5 for office space, and two for each 1,000 square feet of retail.
  • A temporary, modular soccer stadium for the San Diego Royals that will seat 7,000 to 10,000 people. The rendering shows it sitting on Dixieline.
  • $125 million upgrade to the Sports Arena itself. But, it will only seat 3,500, much less than the current arena.
  • 10% affordable housing on-site;
  • One billion-dollar price tag.
  • Oh, and lots of open space IF the 30-foot height limit is gone.

The second proposer was ASM Global. This group only sent one person, Zach Adams of Brookfield Properties. He spent most of his opening describing how local his group was and how they really cared about the community.  But, when you look up Brookfield Properties, there is no San Diego branch and the corporation is worldwide. ASM Global is even larger and even more global. The spiel lost most of its appeal after looking up the companies.

This group has three master plans in its on-line presentation, which can be seen at the same link above. [Editordude: see my comment above. ]

Both proposers envision making this area a destination experience. One likened it to the LA Live complex and other places around the world like that.  Examples are in the on-line descriptions. The redevelopments are just concepts at this point, but the word “concept” is what matters.  This isn’t just building homes and office space and stores, it is to be an integrated scene built as one concept from the ground up.  Ambitious is a word that does not do these visions justice. The city is drooling over the money it will make on these properties.

In other news…

City Council will vote on July 21 about putting the height limit on the ballot.  Considering that our own District 2 council member made the ballot proposal, it will surely be passed in council.

There is a slew of legislation coming all designed to make building more housing easy to do at the expense of us all.

  • SB 899 – That law allows a development proponent to submit an application for a development that is subject to a specified streamlined, ministerial approval process not subject to a conditional use permit if the development satisfies certain objective planning standards.
  • SB 995 extends AB 900 that streamlines CEQA challenges
  • SB 1085 – density bonus for developments
  • SB 1120 – This bill would would, among other things, require a proposed housing development containing 2 residential units to be considered ministerially, without discretionary review or hearing, in zones where allowable uses are limited to single-family residential development if the proposed housing development meets certain requirements, including that the proposed housing development would not require demolition or alteration requiring evacuation or eviction of an existing housing unit that is subject to a recorded covenant, ordinance, or law that restricts rents to levels affordable to persons and families of moderate, low, or very low income.
  • SB 1385 – This bill, the Neighborhood Homes Act, would deem a housing development project, as defined, an authorized allowable use on a neighborhood lot that is zoned for office or retail commercial use under a local agency’s zoning code or general plan.

Driver’s license renewals are all eligible for a one-year extension due to COVID-19

Lastly, there was information from SANDAG.  They are moving ahead with what they call the OTC Revitalization project.  Having no idea what that was, this reporter looked it up and it stands for Department of the Navy’s Old Town Campus (OTC).  It is interesting how the Navy renamed the old SPAWARS site NAVFAC when all the redevelopment talk began and now SANDAG is using another name for the same site.  This is called obfuscation.

SANDAG is pursuing the Grand Central Station concept with connectivity of some kind to the airport. They said they are moving ahead with a PPP contract, a Public Private Partnership, and a third party contract with consultants to help them through all this. There was no information as to who has been selected to develop the property or even if anyone was selected.

However, something must be known because they plan to have an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS done by the end of this year. What was most telling was that SANDAG stated it would be involved no matter what happens with the selection process.  To some, that is not good news considering SANDAG’s sorry past performances.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Muir Avenue Ale July 21, 2020 at 11:31 am

Hoo-boy. First of all, please stay on this Geoff and post updates. There are so many things that bother me about this I don’t know where to begin.

For a piece of property with this much potential, why only two proposals? Doesn’t the city coach the bidders to ensure they dot all the i’s & cross all the t’s to get their bids accepted? Don’t know whether it’s an urban legend, but I remember hearing the city once rejected a bid because it wasn’t submitted in a three-ring binder! We need more proposals, more creativity.

It galls the hell out of me that a developer would submit a proposal that completely ignores the underlying land use laws. How can the city and Midway spend years, millions of dollars, emotion, energy and thought updating the Midway Community Plan, only to see it so easily dispensed with?

Geoff, you were there when the plan was being updated. I assume any citizen had the chance to weigh in on whether to favor the 30-foot height restriction and take part in what must have been a robust debate. It must be quite demoralizing to be a planner . . .


Geoff Page July 21, 2020 at 2:26 pm

The city does not coach the proposers in any way, or at least they are legally not allowed to do that. They present the proposal requirements and the professionals are supposed to get it right by themselves. That three-ring binder story is not urban legend, proposals have been rejected for even less than that. We don’t know at this point what happened to the other two but I do intend to get an answer for that.

Keep in mind that the proposers presented plans to develop under the 30-foot height limit and without it. The city directed that because they knew the item will be on the ballot in November and they wanted to be ready to go based on the outcome.

The new community plan made no mention of removing the 30-foot height limit. The plan is based on the current limit. But, the city made sure the pressure would be on by getting that high density in the plan. Now, they are holding up the plan saying the only way to have the density is to remove the limit. They did not plan a density that would accommodate the 30-foot limit. If the ballot measure fails, they can say, well, we tried and we could have had a lot more housing if only the citizens had cooperated, now it’s the community’s fault.


Geoff Page July 21, 2020 at 11:42 am

Public comment on the proposals ended on July 20 but there was no indication that the city would take down the site containing the proposals. Campbell was the presenter for the site, I’d suggest everyone write her and tell her to get the site back up so people can see the proposals. While they might not be taking comments any longer, they certainly could leave it up for people to have a look at.


Paul Webb July 21, 2020 at 2:33 pm

Geoff, once again you have my thanks for attending meetings that I find that I can no longer stomach. My thanks also for providing a summary that is clear and concise.
I did review the proposals and thought that I was going to be able to provide some input regarding the use of the site. What I was offered was a process provided by the City that I found insulting. The process does not start with the question of “what types of development is appropriate for one of the largest city-owned properties”, but rather as “chose from these two proposals.” There are no options for judging what scale of development is appropriate for the site. This is not meaningful public participation.

The real questions that need to be answered are:

1. Is private development of this publicly owned property the best use of this land?
2. If private development is to be allowed, what is the acceptable scale and intensity of use?
3. In the time of a global pandemic that has limited the activities of nearly all Americans, what is the appropriate process for vetting a development proposal given the inability to hold design charettes, public workshops or other appropriate public participation?

The City’s process does not allow for any of these questions to be raised. One wonders what justifies the headlong rush to choose a developer before we even have the conversation over the appropriateness of the types of development to be proposed.

I realize that the updated Midway Community Plan calls for development of the site, but those decisions were undertaken by the Midway planners without regard for the surrounding communities or the City as a whole. Very few, if any, of the Midway planners actually live in the Midway community plan area. Like some other planning groups, notably Mission Valley, the planning group members trend toward business owners. Unlike other planning groups, e.g., Ocean Beach and Point Loma, they do not have their own web site independent of the City, they do not publish their minutes and they do not identify their members or provide biographies of members. While I applaud anybody who is willing to devote time and energy to the community planning process, I am always concerned by lack of transparency. I would also note that the council policy that establishes the planning groups requires that minutes be taken and provided to the city, but neither the city of the planning group provides the minutes to the public.

There is very little chance that a flawed process can result in anything other than a flawed product. We need to start over and have an inclusive process that recognizes that our individual communities are all connected and that what happens in one community can have drastic implications for all our communities.


Geoff Page July 21, 2020 at 3:02 pm

Very well said, Paul, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said here.

I do want to defend the Midway group in one respect. I attended the Mission Valley planning group meetings a few times and it was a joke. Big developers, big real estate companies, big financial institutions, it was baldly apparent they all had a common agenda – to make money. The Midway group does not demonstrate any collusion or what I saw in Mission Valley. Yes, these folks are business owners and landowners and they stand to benefit from the development. But, the feeling you get is this group is tired of tired old Midway and would love to see some real improvement. While I can’t say for sure, it appears to me that many of them have been involved personally in the Midway area for many years, even to earlier generations of family. In other words, they have a long history there unlike the people on the Mission Valley board that have swooped down in recent years and who will leave once they’ve made their money. When you look at the place, you can sympathize.

Yes, they need a website but I don’t think they have done without one deliberately, they are just very late in getting on board. They’ve been talking about one for over two years, why it has not been accomplished is probably due to inertia, not deviousness. But, you are absolutely right, they need one to show they are being transparent and open so folks won’t be suspicious of their motives. Considering what is happening now, it is even more urgent.


Paul Webb July 22, 2020 at 10:32 am

Geoff, I didn’t intend to attack the board members, just to point out that they do not seem to follow the rules mandated by the city and do not offer anyone the ability to look into their motivations and processes. When I was first elected to the Peninsula board, I undertook an effort to visit every planning group in the city so I could see how the groups operated and see if there were any best practices that PCPB could adopt to work better. I didn’t get to as many as I would have liked, but it was very educational, particularly my visits to Mission Valley and Otay Mesa. They were dominated by developers and their consultant shills. I saw on Mission Valley’s board a consultant (who was a former intern of mine!) who lives in Idaho! A real eye-opener.
I agree that this is not the case in Midway, and I also recognized that Midway could be a lot better than it is. I do not, however, believe that the update to the Midway plan is the appropriate vehicle for redevelopment.


Geoff Page July 22, 2020 at 10:43 am

Understood, Paul, I know you are not the attacking type. I was defending them in general from these kinds of accusations that have occurred before and I think some folks might have construed what you wrote in the same manner if they did not read you comment carefully enough. What you described were factual failings of the group a this time, such as the lack of a website and information that can be seen as a lack of transparency, as you mentioned. I just wanted to clarify that lack does not appear intentional to me, in case people interpreted it that way.

I never knew you attended all of those planning board meetings, that was an amazing effort. Most people who get on the PCPB have rarely even attended one meeting of the PCPB or only one at most. I think that is commendable.

I’m curious about your final comment that you don’t think the Midway Community Plan is the appropriate tool for redevelopment. Can you elaborate on that a bit?


Paul Webb July 26, 2020 at 4:23 pm

I think that what I was trying to say is that the update, as written and approved, is very flawed in its push for large amounts of residential, lack of circulation improvements and failure to examine the external impacts on surrounding communities. I wasn’t trying to say that a plan update shouldn’t be used to guide redevelopment, just this plan update.


Geoff Page July 26, 2020 at 7:43 pm

I see, thanks for the clarification, Paul. Interesting you mention circulation. That actually came up several times in the discussions. Their biggest concern, anyone’s who drives in that area, was traffic, specifically Rosecrans and the freeway access. They floated ideas like a tunnel under Rosecrans or an elevated roadway. They were told the freeway stuff was a Caltrans issue not a community plan issue. In the end, they did not actually put the tunnel or flyway into the plan but left it open to be able add something later. Very mushy. But, the cost of either plan is prohibitive, what is needed is better mass transit.


Mary Witzell July 21, 2020 at 9:58 pm

Somehow I thought rebuilding the Sports Arena was the reason to lift the 30 foot height limit. Since neither proposal does this there is no reason to lift the height limit other than so some developer can make buckets of money. I would love to see the Midway area renovated but this seems unimaginative. Somehow they come up with beautiful plans for the whole area and then do it bit by bit with no consideration of the whole area. I do not believe that lowering the parking requirements will mean fewer cars so we will just have cars parked all over the place.

Another question I have is so they leave the Sports Arena and build all these buildings. Then in 5 years do they declare it obsolete and build some more where it is? Isn’t that somewhat the same as the Chargers did with the stadium?


Geoff Page July 22, 2020 at 1:33 pm

For some reason, one of the proposers sent me an email asking for support and links showing what they propose so we have a live link now. https://mailchi.mp/08eab02c4035/watch-whats-ali-and-a-new-12-acre-park-have-in-common-1976433?e=ddd691b236


unwashedWalmartThong July 26, 2020 at 12:29 am

Both designs above are ugly and do not display even a hint of imagination. Limited. Limited. Limited. Are all the designers limited by the straight line of a ruler. Are there no French curves at the drafting table anymore? What? Trying to make 10 or 20 thousand bucks from a rendering?
So we have a truncated triangle–do something with a bit of design creativity. Or just make it look like every single other mall in the USA. We could name it The Cookie Cutter Mall of Midway. (No parking was included. Please park in Santee and walk to the mall.)
I wouldn’t raise the height limit for crap like this.
Typical salesmens’ ploy: Buy what I have in my right hand because my left hand is empty.


Debbie August 16, 2020 at 9:46 am

How can this city think about building any more anything when there is not enough energy to handle what we have right now?

“Rolling blackouts are a last-resort measure used by an electric utility company to avoid a total blackout of the power system. Rolling blackouts are a type of demand response for a situation where the demand for electricity exceeds the power supply capability of the network.”



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