Peninsula Planners: Presentations on ‘Central Mobility Hub’ at Old SPAWAR and Residential Displacement at Marina’s Cove Redevelopment

by on November 24, 2020 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The two main items of interest at the November 19 regular Thursday monthly meeting of the Peninsula Community Planning Board were two presentations.  One presentation was by SANDAG titled the “Central Mobility Hub Project Update.”  The other presentation was by the company redeveloping the Mariner’s Cove apartment complex on West Point Loma next to the Barnes Tennis Center.

“Central Mobility Hub Project Update.”

SANDAG was up first and Gia Ballash gave a very polished PowerPoint presentation.  One thing that seems very clear is that the idea of large central mobility building on part of the old SPAWAR facility on Pacific Highway has moved far beyond the idea stage. Notice it was “Project” update.  Ballash’s presentation was about something that is steamrolling along, with SANDAG leading the charge.

That the process is moving along was evidenced by the $50 million SANDAG has already authorized to pay for preliminary engineering and environmental work.  And, this before an actual decision where the hub will go.  The clear favorite is at the SPAWAR site but a second, less favorable possible location is just south of Washington Street.

Ballash described SANDAG’s five “Priority Projects,” one of which is this central mobility hub.  The mid-coast trolley, the Del Mar Bluffs/ Lossan Corridor, and the Otay Mesa East improvements to the border crossing were three more projects.  The fifth was not actually a physical project, it was titled the 2021 Regional Plan.

Apparently, SANDAG formed an “airport connectivity” subcommittee in 2018 to study how to bring transportation the San Diego Airport. The subcommittee came up with four concepts, described later in this article, and resulted in the decision to commit the $50 million.

The terminology everyone uses when referring to the old Navy buildings on Pacific Highway is confusing, almost deliberately so it seems.  Most folks who know the big complex of buildings know it as SPAWAR.  The name was changed recently, confusing many in the process. The military explained that the name was changed from SPAWAR to NAVWAR because the word “space” was being dropped from “Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.” The new name is the “Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.”

So, now people are confused not knowing the two names refer to the same place.  Then, a third reference was included in the SANDAG presentation, the “Navy Old Town Campus (OTC).”  This name actually refers to the same site too.  SANDAG labeled this the “Navy Old Town Campus (OTC) Revitalization Project.”  The word “Revitalization” was not carelessly chosen, it was chosen to shed the best possible light on the project.

What this means in plain English is the Navy’s effort to get itself a new, free building on just a part of the site in exchange for allowing development of the rest.  This is called a Public, Private Partnership.  The Navy is not interested in revitalizing anything, it’s only goal is the new building to house the work currently being done there in cavernous, dated buildings.

SANDAG has signed a Memorandum of Understanding, referred to as an MOU, with the city of San Diego, the Airport Authority, and the Port to work together on this hub plan.  Ballash referred to it as something the region has needed for some time. Oddly, until word came out about the Navy’s plan to give up much of the old SPAWAR site, this reporter does not recall ever hearing about a need for a central mobility hub. This began to feel like a sales pitch intending to convince the community that one of these is needed.

Ballash described the four concepts the connectivity subcommittee came up with.  The first one shows the hub at the old SPAWAR site with a tunnel running in a straight line to the airport, under the runway.  The second concept is an above ground “people mover” that runs from the same hub location at SPAWAR down Pacific Highway to Laurel to Harbor Drive and to the airport.  Both of these terminate at a small transportation hub in front of the airport on Harbor Drive.

The third concept moved from the old SPAWAR site to a spot SANDAG calls the “Intermodal Transit Center Site.”  It is located south of Washington Street between I-5 and Pacific Highway.  Ballash described this as a site that SANDAG had been previously considering, clearly meaning before the SPAWARs site became a possibility.  A people mover mostly on airport property would parallel Pacific Highway, Laurel Street, and Harbor also terminating at the airport’s small hub.

The fourth concept was very briefly mentioned.  It included extending the existing trolley line to the airport’s small hub.  This idea did not include any sort of central mobility hub.  This one looked very cost effective, but not as sexy.

Ballash went into the Navy’s “Revitalization” project explaining that there are five “alternatives” for the site, two of which envision a transit center.  Because of this, SANDAG is considered a cooperating agency in developing the environmental impact statement.  So, SANDAG is now involved with this project too.

Comprehensive Multi-modal Corridor Plans or CMCPs are another effort SANDAG is undertaking, also connected to the Central Mobility Hub.  SANDAG is studying 12 “corridors” in the San Diego region in the next five years aimed at improving transportation, providing mobility options, and working at reducing greenhouse gases.  The idea is to make the world more “liveable, walkable, bikeable” for us all, more if there were any more “-ables” that could be used.

One of the 12 corridors includes the Central Mobility Hub site.

The EIR process is expected to start in the spring of 2021 and Ballash stated there would be a number of opportunities for public input.  But, it seems very apparent that the ship of public opinion on the main idea of whether or not SANDAG should be spending time and resources on a Central Mobility Hub at all has sailed.

When the presentation ended, board member James Hare asked about funding for the project.  Ballash replied, “The short answer is we still need to determine that.”  She explained they would be seeking state and federal funding or maybe tax implement measure, translated as a bond measure.  SANDAG’s last trip to the well went down in flames.

Then, for the first time, instead of speaking of it as a done deal, Ballash said it was “simply conceptual at this time,” no set funding and no timeline.  But, $50 million has been allocated as previously described.

The presentation can be seen on the PCPB You Tube site starting at 48:31 on the recording here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIYKAzKfS1U&t=4296s

Mariner’s Cove

In the spring of 2022, the owners of the Mariner’s Cove apartment complex plan to begin a phased total demolition and rebuild of the site increasing the number of units to 772, which will be 272 more than are there now.

The new plan will create eight new “neighborhoods” with names like Vega and Astra.  There will be 361 one-bedroom, 311 two-bedroom, and 57 three-bedroom apartments plus 18 townhomes. The big question was about the current residents.

The site is a mixture of affordable and market rate apartments. Those current “affordable” residents will be allowed to remain on the site during construction.  As the other structures are demolished and rebuilt new, the “affordables” will be moved into those.  The company says it will pay for and handle the relocations. This next part of the presentation deserves direct quoting:

“Market Rate Residents”

  • Aimco has successfully relocated thousands of residents during redevelopment
  • Mariner’s Cove has 50% turnover per year
  • We work with residents individually to meet their needs
  • Resident relocation specialist onsite
  • Offer relocation to other Aimco properties

o   In San Diego – 7 communities with 1800 apartments

  • Current residents have first opportunity to rent at new community”

Here is a translation of those bullet points:

  • We know how to move ‘em out when we need ‘em gone
  • Hey, there’s a big turnover anyway, no big deal
  • We will come after each and every one of you
  • One can only imagine a spare office somewhere with a table and two chairs and the guy sitting there in a uniform of some kind flanked by muscle.
  • They will be displacing hundreds of residents, how many of the 1800 are available?
  • First opportunity to rent an apartment that will very probably not be at the old rate or anywhere near it.

The owners have every right to rebuild their property, the shame of it is the displacement of many long-time residents, very probably permanently.  As was pointed out by a board member, the project is not really designed to attract families with almost half of the new units being one-bedroom and almost as many being two-bedroom. What effect 272 additional units at the site, a fifty percent increase, will have on local traffic is unknown, but there will be an effect.

To see the presentation, go to the same site referenced in the SANDAG section for the PCPB You Tube site and the presentation begins at 1:10 on the recording.

Other news

The board is still waiting for the Planning Department to decide how yearly elections can be held during the pandemic.  March elections are up in the air. The board decided to have the election subcommittee meet and prepare a plan for holding an election to present to the Planning Department. This seems like an exercise in futility since the Planning Department has provided no guidance.

Councilmember Campbell will be holding a year end meeting with the OB, Peninsula, and Midway planning boards for one hour on December 16. Just one hour.  For three planning groups. See the city website or Campbell’s Facebook page.

There will be recycling pick up delay of one day for some people.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Paul Webb November 24, 2020 at 12:12 pm

A couple of thoughts, which will probably reinforce opinions that I am perpetually negative about Sandag and its attempt to build the transit hub. First, the airport did a study back in the 2000s regarding placing a mobility hub south of Washington as described. At the time, my general feeling was that it was only done to appease Sandag, the city and Caltrans, who opposed any parking structures or additional parking at the airport. Their stated opinion at the time was that there should be no private vehicle trips to the airport – all travelers should use public transportation. This from the people whose offices were located on a bus line that went directly to the airport at 15 minute intervals but who drove private vehicles to airport meetings and expected to have their parking validated by the airport. There were a whole host of problems associated with this, primarily the involved entities wanted the airport to pay for it all and, oh by the way, the airport can’t do that because of FAA rules.

Second, there are two California airports that have rapid transit that either connect directly to the airport (SFO) or are connected by a people mover (OAK). Even before the pandemic disrupted travel, both systems were experiencing significant decreases in ridership to the airports. It seems foolish to me to commit to a very grand and expensive project when travel patterns may continue to be disrupted and when things like self driving cars may change the entire transportation world. It may just be a time to take a deep breath and let things shake out.

Third, there is the cost. We know what a people mover to the airport will cost in general terms. LAX has budgeted $4.9 Billion for its proposed system, which is currently under construction. These things are enormously expensive to build and operate and with the loss of riders SFO and OAK are experiencing, you have to wonder at whether the expense is justified.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of an efficient transit system that goes directly to the airport, I just don’t think that we are ever going to get one here. I was in Seattle a couple of years ago and used the new light rail line to get to and from the airport, and utilized public transit for my entire visit. It worked very well for my needs. There is one thing about Seattle that San Diego lacks. They studied travel patterns and determined where people travel, then designed the system to accommodate those needs. In San Diego we always seem to go forward in kind of an ad hoc manner – we have this rail line, let’s build a transit system! Oh, there’s this piece of land that the Navy needs help with, let’s build a grand central station! Planning? That’s for sissies.

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Avatar Geoff Page November 24, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Paul, thanks for adding your experience and information to this discussion. Very well said.

I personally believe SANDAG is just anther version of the Centre City Development Corporation, an entity originally created for good, specific reasons but became something much more far reaching than planned. These things seem to have a life of their own, and like a black hole, they swallow up as much as they can to sustain their existence. There is a piece out there today in the news feed that says the majority of people arrested in San Diego have smoked pot – based on a SANDAG study. What does this have to do with transportation infrastructure?

SANDAG got a big shot of money in 2004 with a bond measure that eventually did not “measure up.” They came back to the well in 2016 to get a half cent sales tax increase that failed. SANDAG is low on funds. Now, they are spending time and money on this hub idea they do not have the money to build. But, this effort keeps all of them working busily on the tax-payers dime.

It might be time to look at SANDAG in the same light as was focused on the CDC.

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Avatar Paul Webb November 24, 2020 at 1:15 pm

Geoff, Sandag started out as the Comprehensive Planning Organization. One of its functions that it carries out to this day is serving as the regional criminal justice clearinghouse. That’s why they report on things like arrestee drug use.

Originally, Sandag had no responsibilities for constructing or financing transportation projects. That was either local government or Caltrans. Even though I was in San Diego and working as a planner at the time and actually kind of paying attention to what was going on in the region, I am still confused as to how the agency morphed into being the transportation infrastructure czar it has become.

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Avatar Geoff Page November 25, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for the clarification, Paul. What a leap from a criminal justice clearinghouse to masters of the roads.

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Avatar Paul Webb November 26, 2020 at 9:38 am

Just to clarify a little more, CPO did more than just function as a criminal justice clearinghouse. It also produced the regional plan, and was the steward of a lot of data, particularly geographic and demographic data. Then even had a project called the DIME file, which we would recognize today as a forerunner of GIS.

BTW, I worked on the DIME file as a temp for a brief time (before I got fired, but that’s a different story).

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