Morena Community Fights City Plan With Lawsuit

by on February 25, 2021 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Joni Halpern / Special to the OB Rag / Feb. 25, 2021

CEQA:  The Last Guardian of the Communtiy

Two visions of the future have collided in a lawsuit set for trial April 9, 2021, challenging the Morena Corridor Specific Plan (MCSP). [The Morena area is just east of I-5 and just north of I-8 at the mouth of Mission Valley.]

Morena United, an informal association of residents and business owners in areas that will be affected by the MCSP, believe city officials have ignored their concerns about the harm the plan will cause.

They believe the City has aligned itself with development interests looking only to maximize profits through sales and rents to high-income residents, while producing only a minimal amount of affordable housing.  Even that amount of affordable housing, they say, will be to exclude lower-income households, while at the same time failing to provide for those with middle income.

The MCSP map looks like a gerrymandered voting district, taking in chunks of land that were once part of two other community plans.

One section, for example, bordered roughly by I-5 on the west, Friars Road on the south, Tecolote Road on the north, and a strip along Morena Boulevard on the east, once was covered solely by the Linda Vista Community Plan, which called for additional housing in the center of Linda Vista, not on the periphery, as specified in the MCSP.  That Linda Vista Community Plan envisioned growth, but with thousands fewer dwellings than proposed in the MCSP, which now overrides the Linda Vista plan.

The rest of the MCSP map snakes northward along the Morena Boulevard corridor, paralleling I-5, ending at Clairemont Drive, where it bumps into the Balboa Station Specific Plan (BSSP) an area adjacent to the MCSP area.  The BSSP straddles portions of Clairemont and Pacific Beach in an area that will absorb thousands more dwelling units.  Southwest of the MCSP, the Riverwalk project will add another 4,300 dwelling units.  Consequently, residents of new developments, as well as those of existing communities, will feel the effects of a dramatically increased population from all those projects.

One expression of the MCSP is in the published plan, available on the City’s website:

The Morena Corridor Specific Plan (Specific Plan) envisions the transformation of an auto-oriented commercial corridor into a pedestrian-oriented village with employment areas, retail, and residential uses linked by pedestrian and bicycle facilities adjacent to the Tecolote and Morena/Linda Vista trolley stations in the Linda Vista community. The Specific Plan implements the goals of the City’s General Plan and Climate Action Plan (CAP) by increasing employment and housing opportunities near transit, promoting walking and bicycle use as viable travel choices, and improving transit access and frequency.

Morena United claims, however, that this rosy portrayal of proposed changes masks problems the City has not addressed or simply refuses to acknowledge.  In prior meetings with city planners, council members and representatives, residents and business owners explained significant problems the MCSP would create for existing neighborhoods such as Overlook Heights and Bay Park, as well as for residents who will one day live in the plan area.

In the City Council meeting of August 1, 2019, in which city planners offered their final version of the MCSP, key areas of dispute between the plan and the community centered on density and height of the proposed development.

The MCSP would increase the number of dwellings in the area from what is currently about 1,000 to over 7,000.  The MCSP decreases the space devoted to commercial, employment and retail services from about three million square feet of floor space to about 2.5 million.  The plan also authorizes building height limits of 100 feet in the Tecolote district and 65 feet in the Morena district, considerably higher than the existing height limits of 30 feet by right and 45 feet by discretion.

Community members claim dramatic growth in such a tight area is sure to cause serious problems that will damage the environment and quality of life for all concerned:

  • Traffic congestion, already a problem, will be worsened, and air quality will be reduced.
  • Emergency response times for police and fire, already under stress, will be further impaired.
  • Public services and facilities, like the public library, will be over-stressed.
  • Affordable housing, one of the city’s pressing goals, will be minimally improved by the MCSP.  While the City Council ultimately increased the required percentage of affordable housing from the usual 10 percent to 15 percent – an increase initiated by Councilmember Jen Campbell and supported by Councilmember Barbara Bry – the MCSP requires that the 15 percent affordable housing be available to those at 80 percent of the Area Medium Income (AMI), now pegged at $92,700.  The developers can price the remaining 85 percent at whatever the market will bear.

Adjusted for household size, 80 percent of AMI for a family of four would amount to $92,400.  Howard Wayne, a spokesperson for Morena United, urged the City Council at the August 1, 2019, meeting to require that 15 percent of the units be reserved for lower-income households, and another 15 percent for the “missing middle” – those with incomes from 80-120 percent of AMI.

Moena United claims there is no data to support some of the basic assumptions underlying the plan.  They say the MCSP is based on the unverified assertion that creating densely populated villages near trolley stops will convince people to give up their cars, resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled.

However, Felicity Senoski, a spokesperson for Morena United, told the City Council at the August 1, 2019, meeting, “No study shows that market rate and ocean view luxury residences support transit ridership or that there will be fewer cars because of proximity to transit stations.”

She said studies show exactly the opposite, that high-end units like those planned within the MCSP are associated with higher emissions and a bigger carbon imprint.  She said such residents will retain their cars.  Parking will spill onto the streets of adjoining communities, because residents will not have parking in the developments in which they live.

Some supporters of the MCSP have countered that Morena United is simply using the affordable housing argument as a ruse to stop any change in the density of their communities.  Morena United has adopted the slogan “Density with Dignity,” and contends its members have never been against development.  Instead, members insist, the City Council should recognize that over-development in the MCSP can destroy existing communities.

“Our members have never been against all development in this area,” said Wayne, in a recent interview.

“We do support increasing the density in the MCSP area, but just not at the level the City is imposing. The City has refused to consider any of our strategies to mitigate the harm this Plan would cause.  They have refused to consider reasonable alternatives we proposed.  It was like they were just meeting with us to ‘check the box’ so they could say they allowed the community to weigh in on the plan, but they had no intention of taking our concerns seriously.”

The claim that the City has failed to listen to the concerns of Morena United and other community members who oppose MCSP has been supported by City Councilmember Jen Campbell.  She publicly stated in the August 1, 2019, City Council meeting that even after years of meetings and other efforts developing the MCSP, her constituents in Bay Park and Linda Vista, two communities that will be profoundly affected by proposed developments, “stand on the outside of the process as others decide the direction of their neighborhood for the next 30 years.”

Developers contend that construction with lower densities will not “pencil out.”  They say building thousands of new residences in taller buildings is the only economically feasible way for property owners to participate in the MCSP and the only way for developers to make an adequate profit.

City officials and planners say the only way to make the best use of the massive $2 billion Mid-Coast Trolley line is to increase ridership. The City also believes the ambitious goals in its Climate Action Plan require investment in alternative mobility modes, such as the 3.3-mile safe bike path and protected pedestrian walkways planned to link communities.  The City says the components of the MCSP are designed to create “villages” in which people will have less need for cars.  (The MCSP had narrowed Morena Boulevard, a heavily trafficked road, by proposing the loss of one lane.  But the City Council restored all four lanes for the roadway.)

For almost six years, community members who oppose the MCSP in its present form have battled to convince city officials that planning goals can be accomplished with developments of lesser density and height.  But the alternatives community members presented for development of lower density with more affordable housing were rejected.

Ultimately, Morena United concluded, along with many other residents of the affected communities, that the City intended to go forward with the MCSP no matter what it cost existing neighborhoods, business owners, or future residents of the proposed developments.  Consequently, Morena United took hold of the community’s last weapon, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

What May Be at Stake Is Visible on Sparks Avenue

There is a street in Bay Park called Sparks Avenue.  To get there, you take the Sea World Drive turnoff going north on I-5, then briefly head east over the bridge to Morena Boulevard.

When youth sports are active, this intersection near the entrance to Tecolote Park, can be crowded and dangerous, for Morena Boulevard traffic is always brisk and dense.  Even now, during reduced travel caused by the pandemic, you can see drivers hesitate at the intersection, unsure of which lane obligates them to which turn.  A tingle of fear encourages drivers and pedestrians to wait one last second to see whether cars headed for the busy freeway entrance will honor rights of way.

Turning left on Morena, you come to Knoxville, where a plant nursery and other nearby commercial establishments can generate considerable traffic in the tight intersection, depending on the day and time.  On the right are remnants of a mobile home park in which dozens of residents who once inhabited the affordable spaces were evicted as the MCSP began to swallow their neighborhood whole.

Heading east, Knoxville is bordered on the left by well-tended houses, most of them modest-sized, but dotted with some two-story renovations.  A yellow street sign warns drivers that a deaf child lives nearby.

Turning right on Gardena, you enter the neighborhood of which Sparks Avenue is a part, a place of quiet streets and cul de sacs with many older homes and some newly renovated, a community where older people have remained after raising their families, and new families have taken hold.  The neighborhood stretches along straightaways and climbs up hills.  Sparks Avenue is on the lower part of a hill.

On a lonely Friday evening last summer, when people everywhere seemed fed up with the isolation of the pandemic, a lone man carrying a lawn chair walked toward the cul de sac on Sparks Avenue.  He was soon joined by a woman wearing a summer hat , also carrying a chair.  Almost as if a bell had rung, mothers and fathers, kids, and older people with friends or alone, opened their front doors and carried their chairs to the cul de sac.  There were so many residents from Sparks Avenue and adjoining streets that there wasn’t enough room to gather close to the curb.  People began to set their chairs in the street at a proper social distance.  Everyone wore a mask.

At one edge of the cul de sac, the rounded, raised lawn of one home became a stage.  A neighbor helped set up speakers and a microphone, then took his seat and picked up some bongo drums, waiting for the star of the show.  A smiling fellow with a guitar took center stage and began to play.  He explained between songs that he sorely missed performing for audiences, so he arranged weekly appearances on people’s front lawns, performing free of charge, but accepting any offerings in a tip jar at the curb.

The pleasant evening was filled with neighborly greetings and lots of laughter, kids dancing around a tree, people clapping to the beat of the music or singing along with familiar tunes, and everyone applauding loudly after each song.  There was gratitude among the crowd for interrupting the isolation of the pandemic and restoring some semblance of fellowship.

The Sparks Avenue neighborhood is a network of caring.  The widow who struggles with yard work is touched by the kindness of children who help her, and by the fellow down the block who washed her car.  She brings food and runs errands for the retired professor struggling with illness.  He hosts a friend or two in socially distanced gatherings when he is able.  Two little shih tzu dogs called Cello and Tuba visit with everyone while taking their daily walk.  A fellow who has terraced his garden all the way up a hill shares his crops with neighbors.  He and his wife help neighbors with gardening chores and other tasks.

The Sparks Avenue neighborhood is walkable, talkable and warm.  But Sparks Avenue and every existing neighborhood affected by the MCSP will have to absorb the effects of thousands more people living in small spaces; walking, biking, and driving on crowded thoroughfares; sightlines interrupted by increased height limits; cars spilling over into existing neighborhoods as new residents who cannot or will not give up their cars try to find parking; quiet streets gone, air quality reduced, and new burdens to bear for every resident within and outside the MCSP.  And the elusive promise of affordable housing that accompanies new developments remains, as always, elusive.

Community Efforts to Address the Looming Problem

Morena United came about as an effort to harvest the strength of a community, to galvanize its residents, unite their efforts, and keep them informed during the long struggle to make the voices of residents and business owners heard in the planning process that led to the final EIR for MCSP.  Morena United is not a formal nonprofit, but an organization whose mandate and support come from residents within communities affected by the plan.

There have been other community voices against the high-density development of the MCSP.  One of the most prominent has been that of Raise the Balloon, an informal community organization founded by James LaMattery, a local realtor, who has argued, among other things, that the MCSP falls far short of levels it should achieve in affordable housing for working people.

To date, residents have been notably unsuccessful in changing the most contentious aspects of the MCSP.  Their efforts to understand the City’s plan and weigh in with community concerns were ongoing from 2015 to 2019.  But when the City Council finally approved the MCSP and certified the EIR on August 1, 2019, after bypassing the community’s critical concerns, community members urged Morena United to file suit.  The lawsuit is sustained entirely by donations from residents and business owners.  Bills are mounting as lawyers prepare for trial on April 9, 2021.

Morena United is asking residents to continue to donate whatever they can, so a court  can decide the merits of the case.  Wayne advises donors to make checks payable to  Delano & Delano (the law firm handling the case), but to send the checks to Carol Baker (P.O. Box 82476, San Diego, CA 92138-2476), who will ensure the donations are given to the law firm.

A Sampling of the City’s Concerns

For the City of San Diego, the MCSP is only one portion of a citywide planning mosaic envisioning the future.  In that mosaic, certain focal points seem to drive planning strategies.  Among the most important is the Climate Action Plan, which seeks, among other ambitious goals, a dramatic reduction of harmful emissions, which will require a marked decline in reliance on personal vehicles.

The City also must concern itself with state-mandated housing construction goals.  Beginning in 2021, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goal for this area is an additional 108,000 housing units over the next eight years.

Like opponents of the MCSP, the City is deeply concerned with the urgent need for affordable housing.  In 2018, the median price of a home in San Diego was over $500,000.  According to Core Logic, that price is expected to increase to almost $800,000 by November 2021.  The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “low income” for a family of four as a household earning up to 80% of San Diego Area Median Income (AMI).  However, a great many households in San Diego have much lower earnings.  A very low-income family of four would have income from about $58,000 to $63,000, and one with extremely low income about $31,000.

The City has some influence, but does not control, many of the factors responsible for the inadequacy of incomes in working households.  All across the nation, income inequality has been increasing over decades.  The Center on Policy Initiatives reports that in 2018, the top one-fifth of income-earners in San Diego accounted for almost 51% of aggregate income, the middle fifth had about 15 percent, and the lower two-fifths had less than nine percent.  Those figures likely have worsened during the pandemic.

Apart from considerations of income, low-income housing problems across the nation have been worsened by a national political dialogue that, for decades, has disfavored robust investment to help cities address subsidized housing needs.  Cities have had to cope with federal housing resources that have proportionally declined over the past 40 years, rendering local government without the means to address the magnitude of housing needs among low-income households.

Park and recreation facilities are also priorities for City planners envisioning the future.  The City is considering changes to the way it funds and evaluates park and recreation needs, but critics say these changes will only mask what is already a shortage of park land and facilities for existing communities, let alone what is needed to serve new developments.

All of these and more are priorities pressing upon the City’s planning of future development.  The City has embarked in recent years on new planning goals, pulling together an ambitious new planning vision built upon changes in ordinances, zoning, developer fees and requirements, building size and design, street changes, alternative mobility methods, and ultimately, changes in how existing and new residents experience life in a more crowded environment.

However, Morena United and other critics of the MCSP believe some of the assumptions underlying the proposed changes in the City’s new planning strategies seem not to have been piloted or tested in real San Diego neighborhoods.

Where planning changes have been implemented in neighborhoods such as North Park, they often have created other problems of traffic congestion, crowding, insufficient parking and a feeling among many residents, new and old, that neighborhood character either is absent or has been lost.  In some cases, neighborhoods that were brought to life by the implementation of new planning have experienced a diminished quality of life, due to loss of funding or changing priorities among funding sources.

Nevertheless, City officials have settled on their vision for addressing the myriad of planning imperatives, and they are sticking to it.

The MCSP is merely one example of how that vision will be realized.  Developers and the building trades seemed content with the potential for profit and wages implicit in the City’s vision.  Renderings of walkable, village-like, high-density developments pleasantly portray orderly multi-story housing flanked by palm trees, with some tiny stretches of linear parks, safe bike paths and pedestrian walkways, and transit nearby.

The City seems satisfied that its plan will work overall, that the benefits will outweigh any real or potential harm to the existing or proposed community, and that, if they grit their teeth and ride out community complaints, everything will be all right in the end.

But many Sparks Avenue residents are not convinced.  Neither are a great many residents and business owners in other areas who will be affected by the MCSP. Thus, the City has become the defendant in Morena United v. The City of San Diego.

The Weapon of Last Resort for the Unheard

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), passed in 1970, was designed to protect the rights of the public to be informed about the reasons for land use decisions, the necessities that gave rise to planning choices, and the efforts that will, or should be, made to mitigate or avoid substantial undesirable or harmful impacts of those choices.

CEQA also requires the public to be given the right to offer reasonable alternatives that could achieve planning goals without harm to the community.  CEQA allows the public to offer strategies to  ease the burdens a plan might impose on the health, safety and well-being of residents and the environment.

In the past few years, the statewide public dialogue has been seeded with criticism that CEQA has been improperly used to block, delay or promote purposes that have nothing to do with protecting any aspect of the environment.  Yet in critical cases, CEQA has been the only barrier between errant planning goals and community harm.

Dana Middle School, for example, is a stoutly constructed building with auditorium and fields that in the early 1980s was targeted for sale to developers.  The plan after sale was to build 273 condominiums on the site, a corner property situated at a busy intersection, bordered by one of the busiest streets on the Peninsula.  At the same time, the District planned to sell the property on which Pacific Beach Elementary School stood.  This property also would have been replaced by dense development.  It was highly unlikely that public coffers could ever again have afforded the purchase of any similar property for any public purpose if the school sites were lost.

For months, residents of Pacific Beach and Point Loma did everything possible to make their voices heard about the unnecessary loss of precious assets.  But school district officials had become wed to their plan, and nothing the community said made a difference.  Not packed public meetings, comments, criticisms, petitions, begging or pleading.  Nothing.  A lawsuit under CEQA was the last resort.

The leverage gained by the lawsuit gave residents the clout they needed to make their voices heard.  Dana Junior High remains standing and has even been renovated.  The school was reopened; its sports fields now host practices and competitions, and its auditorium has become home to churches and other gatherings. Although Pacific Beach Elementary was closed, the property became the site for a public library and a park.

In those instances, CEQA was the community’s weapon of last resort to save precious public assets that have contributed to the local and larger community.

An Uncertain Outcome

Morena United acknowledges the outcome of its lawsuit is uncertain, but its members feel this is their chance to be heard concerning the vital interests they believe are at stake in the MCSP.

Here’s a link to Morena United.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie February 25, 2021 at 10:37 am

Check out this major breaking news story about the Morena community fighting back against the city plan for their area. Sound familiar?


triggerfinger February 26, 2021 at 10:40 am

Interesting comment by 2019 Campbell. I wonder what 2021 Campbell would have to say about this.

“She publicly stated in the August 1, 2019, City Council meeting that even after years of meetings and other efforts developing the MCSP, her constituents in Bay Park and Linda Vista, two communities that will be profoundly affected by proposed developments, “stand on the outside of the process as others decide the direction of their neighborhood for the next 30 years.”


Frank Gormlie February 26, 2021 at 11:30 am

Yeah, noticed that. The Campbell of 2019 said a lot of things.


Barb February 28, 2021 at 8:05 am

That’s how you get elected… tell the people what they want to hear and then do the opposite.
City officials seem to be doing that weird, magical thinking thing we’ve seen so much of in the past 4 years; make up something, treat it as fact, then move forward on it despite the obvious, inevitable problems that their fantasy caused.
Cramming more people into existing areas is profitable, yet bad in the long run. Their dream of people using public transportation is absurd. The only reason it works in San Francisco is because the city is on a peninsula, traffic and parking are horrible, and suburbia is outside the peninsula.
I especially like our city’s scheme to force people to park on the street. That will be a buffet for car burglars, as these newer ‘computers on wheels’ are just stuffed with expensive trinkets and precious metals.
The city is ignoring the limited resources we, in a desert environment, rely on. Water, infrastructure, security, trash collection and schools are just some of the issues the city doesn’t seem to be addressing. A tunnel through mountains is as stupid an idea as it was when the city was considering an airport in Borrego. Upstream cities are also experiencing a growing population, so “surplus water” is not going to be a thing in the future.

In conclusion, as my friend said, “Puto! Yo muevé a Baja.”


Chris February 28, 2021 at 11:55 am

“Their dream of people using public transportation is absurd.” I am no fan of Campbell and will absolutely sign the petition to get her recall on the ballot and assuming that happens I will vote for her recall. That being said, I would love to be able to use public transportation on a daily basis to get to work and back. It would be awesome to have the option of using my vehicle far less. Improving public transportation and getting people to use their cars less often is something we should be striving for.


Thomas March 5, 2021 at 8:30 pm

Barb, I hope you also are referring to rampant water use to keep a patch of grass green even if no one is using it when you discuss water issues here.

When it comes to infrastructure, San Francisco kept almost all of it’s pre-WWII built areas intact, unlike many cities in the US. Here in San Diego we developed much more after WWII and that was primarily driven (no pun intended) by the use of automobiles. This necessitates more land and more infrastructure to service the same number of people. Using the neighborhood outlined in the piece (which has no bay or ocean views from public available imagery), one needs to traverse a much longer distance to get to single-level, detached homes as opposed to rowhomes (think brooklyn brownstones). Having 20 single-level detached homes on a single block with a minimum of 5000SF lots (at 50 feet wide) will require 500 linear feet of right of way, as opposed to attached rowhomes at 25 feet wide , which would require only 250 linear feet of street.

The above example shows just how much additional land is needed to have the same number of homes depending on how you design and develop the neighborhood.

When discussing parking and the number of cars on the street, one must take into account how many trips are needed out of the neighborhood to service daily life. At a bare minimum you need work, groceries, bank, pharmacy, child care (if you have kids), school, and recreation. If you can build in a way so you don’t need to make 4 of those trips, perhaps that lessens the burden on a family so they only need one car instead of 2. As Chris mentions in his response to you “improving public transportation and getting people to use their cars less often is something we should be striving for.” I wholeheartedly agree, and that is what the Specific Plan is aiming to do. Will it solve every single issue in the City by itself? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.


Frank Gormlie February 26, 2021 at 11:36 am

I wonder how this headline will have an effect on the issue: Danger posed by earthquake fault will lead to tighter San Diego building restrictions – talking about the Rose Canyon fault.


sealintheSelkirks February 28, 2021 at 3:25 am

My ex still owns her old (tiny) home on Gardena which dead-ends at Tecolote Park. It’s been a rental since they moved in with me in 1990 after her divorce in 1988. Bought in the early 1980s when the family moved from Longbranch in OB with an absolutely huge back yard that butts up against the country club fence (is it still there?) also with a large front yard. If the city neighborhood destroyers get their way (and when do they not?), she stands to make a huge profit as land prices spike since she’ll never move back south from Mt. Shasta nor would any of my three stepkids. I can easily envision a massive multi-unit apartment/upscale condo complex on that piece of property.

And since when did rich people start using public transportation? Are these educated people making these assumptions stupid or just pretending to be? Do THEY use public transpo? Probably NOT! The wealthy do not get on city buses/public transpo preferring instead their status symbol vehicles in all cities in this country…so traffic will become a Dante’s Inferno of stalled angry drivers screaming for relief by the city in this area. Last time I was driving that area in 2001 it already was! No surprise to anybody that has a smidgen of critical thinking skills.

And Frank, the Rose Canyon Fault article shows that the longer we study earthquakes, the worse the potential disasters becomes. The faults always seem to become worse with more knowledge, and we know that human memory is very short-lived. Since much time has gone by (relative to a very short-lived species such as us) since the earth moved there, the less people will pay attention that it is due to move again when it comes to them making money vs safety of others. That seems to never change, does it? Why keep rebuilding in a flood zone? Because you can get rich doing so. Earthquake zones aren’t any better.

We can feel a 3.0 rolling the ground under our feet, and a 6.0 is 1,000 times as powerful as a 3.0. Nearly a 7.0 is possible which 10,000 times as powerful as a 3.0. Sure, go ahead developers, build taller and taller buildings on or near faultlines, then take the money and run. That’s what you always do.

Ever seen how people react in a somewhat big earthquake. They tend squawk like chickens and run in circles flapping their arms as thing crash down when the ground under their feet turns liquid. I’ve seen that happen.

After the Anchorage quake when we were evac’d from Mission Beach due to the potential tsunami, my family started keeping ‘earthquake bags’ for each of us ready from then on. Not just in the house but in the trunk of the cars, too. How many people reading this have an earthquake bag? How many even know what an earthquake bag is supposed to have in it? You ALL live where a bad earthquake will happen, ya know? Only a matter of time!

Funny how childhood habits stay with one. I have had a ‘wildfire bag’ packed since I moved off OB into the mountains which is a bit different than an earthquake bag but not much.



Frank Gormlie March 1, 2021 at 10:08 am

Here’s a link to Morena United.


Carolyn Chase March 1, 2021 at 11:59 am

Best wishes to them! Friends of Rose Creek sued the City over the Balboa Station Plan (one station up from Morena) but couldn’t raise enough $$ to keep it going. The CEQA rules that developers have gotten reps to pass mean you have to raise in excess of $50-100K to keep it going – and quickly. The City knows most community groups can’t raise that kind of money – especially on the short timelines involved – so they don’t even negotiate anymore. In this area PB Elementary would have gone to more housing!

Development Uber Alles has always been powerful around here, but it’s reached new heights (literally and figuratively) as they push the so-called solution to affordable housing: more market-priced housing – with a small percentage of affordable requirements. This supply-side approach is really just a way for developers to make more profits, since it’s not their business to building enough units to ever lower prices. So the upzones are given away for free instead of capturing any public benefits.

Those upzones go right to the bottom lines of property speculators – which have grown more than ever due to low interest rates. There are only two ways to lower housing prices: 1. rent control – i.e. contractual agreement that limit the price over time and 2. reduced quality of life, i.e. more traffic, fewer parks and reduced services. The City is strongly behind option 2.

As for changing to transit, even a vaccinated public will have decreased interest. The main issue there is that the NETWORK is insufficient for most people to be ABLE to give up their cars – and it’s also expensive – both to ride and to build the way it’s currently being done. Trollies have their fans, but they are extremely expensive and inappropriate to most of our city’s terrain. Morena United isn’t opposing some densification, but the City is committed to ignoring them and using the public Attorneys against the public.

The City has increased available housing capacity already by about 100,000 units (!). Prices continue to rise as new units are put onto the market and existing NOAH housing (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing) is displaced (like Sparks neighborhood). The position of the City is: change happens. But they are actively pushing specific changes by specific interests and ignoring all other calls for sufficient infrastructure to support it.


Joni Halpern March 1, 2021 at 1:16 pm

You make two very important points, Carolyn, among others that are well-expressed. First, public transportation in the city and county of San diego is impossible to rely on for most residents, even if you want to depend upon it. I know many low-wage workers whose variable hours render them unable to take public transit to or from work. I know many people who have lost their jobs because of it. So your point about improving public transit to the point where it can be relied upon is imperative. And of course, overcoming the fears caused by the pandemic will also be part of making the system usable.

But the second point is equally important. For decades, the City and the County have promised to put affordable housing on the front burner. Yet their answer has relegated it to the back burner. Development planning throughout this region has focused on allowing maximum market-rate housing at the expense of affordable and low-income housing. When developers build large complexes along what is really part of the “American Riviera,” they do not want people on the lower end of the economic spectrum living among their high-end buyers or renters, and their customers may feel the same. So the prescription that we can only obtain affordable housing by allowing developers to reduce costs by cutting developer fees, parking requirements, and other amenities is really just an illusion. It has led over decades to a profound and growing shortage of affordable housing. As for low-income housing, I am beginning to think maybe the underlying, unspoken plan is to house all low-wage service economy employees in Imperial County or even Yuma, with a “fast train” to take them to their jobs, where they can provide service to those who prefer not to live within sight of them.


Chris March 8, 2021 at 8:57 am

As I have mentioned several times in past articles, there are a lot of condo/apartment complexes in and around Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Downtown that have been in place for the past 3 or 4 years and are sitting two thirds to thee quarters empty. There are just not enough people who can afford them or if they can that are willing to pay that much for the around of space they get. Despite that, the asking prices are not going down (in some cases going up). I can’t understand how this never gets addressed. It’s common knowledge this is happening but never a mention.

As to residents who don’t want lower income people living amongst them it’s interesting. I live in what’s probably the most progressive leaning neighborhood in SD (Hillcrest) and it’s astonishing how many people here who have dealt with bigotry and discrimination their whole lives say things like “I’m not a big fan of the less fortunate”, especially among newer residents moving in.


Paul Johnson March 5, 2021 at 8:09 pm

I live in the Morena District and parking on my street is already so crowded during the day from people working in the area with inadequate parking or students attending USD. I shutter to think what the situation will be like if They put in 100,000 more units in the area without on site parking. I am opposed to high rise development in the area, but if the City insists on pushing this project through, and the planners really believe that the new residents will not need on site parking because they will all use the trolley, they should put in writing that as condition of living in these new high rises residents are precluded from owning or operating cars. How do you think that would fly?


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