Peninsula Planning Board Approves ‘Nimitz Crossing’ Conversion of Retail to Residential

by on July 29, 2021 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

Conversion of retail space to residential space was the topic with the most far-reaching consequences for the community at the Peninsula Community Planning Board’s July 22nd regular monthly meeting.

Nimitz Crossing

The new development, Nimitz Crossing, is just east of Nimitz on Voltaire. This project would be the first one on the peninsula to take advantage of new rules allowing this kind of conversion.

The “mixed-use” type of project has been the favorite development fad for the past 15 to 20 years and it has proven to be a disaster.  There are three of these projects within a quarter mile of each other on Voltaire and the retail parts of the mixed-use buildings have never been filled. The Famosa project on the corner of Catalina and Voltaire briefly had a coffee shop in their space but it has been vacant for years since that closed.

Because the mixed-use model did not work for Nimitz Crossing, the owners want permission to convert the unused retail to a series of studio apartments.

The crux of the matter is this. The mixed-use model was badly overused. Many owners of these buildings are looking for a bailout from a bad bet. As luck would have it, there is a housing shortage, just in time. While the conversions are an economic benefit to developers who gambled badly, it is being couched as a way to help solve the housing shortage. And who can argue with that noble goal?

The commercial space at Nimitz Crossing measures 12,000 square feet. They want to create 12 studio apartments in that space. The new ordinance allowing this has a number of requirements, the main one being a 10-year limit on the conversion. At the end of that time, the permission to remain residential will be reassessed. So the city says.

It is laughable to believe that the city will require returning the space to retail use in 10 years. As board member Paul Webb said, “I don’t see these units ever going away.” The developer said they were spending $1.2 million for the conversion. They will need to recover that.

Rudy Medina represented the developer and the project was presented by Kathy Riser. Riser works for Marcella Escobar-Eck’s firm, the Atlantis Group.  This firm has been involved with a number of controversial projects most people have heard of such as One Paseo.  Engaging this firm represents a high-pressure approach to this conversion project.

Rudy Medina is listed as a Development Advisor for the development firm, Next Space Development.  Nimitz Crossing is listed on their website as luxury residences. They list a 950 square foot unit, two bedrooms and two bathrooms for $3,195 per month.

The advertisement on the building was for 24 master suites consisting of two master bedrooms and bathrooms. There are different configurations of this concept in the building, which can be seen here . This project is clearly not designed for families. Medina said two of the units were affordable but did not give specifics.

Medina has fans on the planning board.  Board member Virissimo was clearly in favor of the project because she thinks so highly of Medina personally. The board chair and 2nd vice chair expressed similar opinions of Medina.  Personal opinions of the developer should not have come into play when examining this extremely important, precedent setting retail-to-residential issue.

The board should have considered how permitting this conversion would affect all the other mixed-use projects such as the other two on Voltaire. These projects all went through a long design, review, and permit process based on the mixed-use assumptions. Allowing these conversions requires a careful look at how the change will affect the community. Forgoing that effort in the interest of promoting more housing to help the housing “crisis” was the easy way out. And Medina is a nice guy.

Medina came before the PCPB in 2014 for a project on Rosecrans. He showed a different side when challenged on that project. This writer posted an OB Rag Rant about that one.

Medina said they would build four studios first and that it would take four to six months for the conversion because trades people are hard to find right now.

Board member Paul Webb was the only critic saying the change needed to be made by changing the zoning and amending the community plan. This happened in the past with the community plan and is the proper procedure.  This allows for a careful study of such a change because it takes more time.  This project is clearly being fast-tracked.

In the end, board member Virissimo curiously declared the project to be a “beautiful project!” Curious because the only changes will be inside the building, the outside of the building will not change.

The board voted almost unanimously in favor of the conversion. Anyone living near a mixed-use building that has not managed to lease its retail space may be seeing this happen soon too, this has started the new trend.

Famosa Canyon

Community member Cameron Havlik, who has been active all during the community effort to save Famosa canyon from development, provided an update. Unfortunately, there was only bad news. There was also a list of complaints about how the city and the District 2 council member handled everything.

The first complaint from many folks was insufficient notice of the council meeting hearing on the canyon. While the notice may have have satisfied the Brown Act technically, it appeared that all the normal email notifications from city officials to interested parties did not happen. The feeling was this was intentional.

Havlik related that previous meetings on Famosa had generated 180 to 220 calls in opposition to the development and that the volume caused the city’s system to crash. Perhaps as a result of that response, Jen Campbell, council president, changed the rules to allow only eight speakers now.

Board member Angela Vedder added to that story relating that Campbell cut the two minutes allowed other speakers to one and a half minutes for those speaking on Famosa.

The city approved negotiating with a company, Bridge Housing, to develop the site. It appears that the “housing crisis,” and in this case, affordable housing crisis, has steamrolled the opposition. The loud, clear, and numerous voices against the development were ignored in the end. The tidal wave of the housing crisis will leave a changed land in its wake.

Airport Letter

Prominent among a list of letters the board had on the agenda was one authored by board member Paul Webb. The letter contained the board’s comments on the airport’s Draft Environmental Assessment for the “Airfield Improvements and Terminal 1 Replacement Project.”

Fortunately for the community, Webb has an extensive background in airport issues and volunteered to review the voluminous document and draft the board letter. The letter summarized the airport’s plan:

  • A complete replacement of Terminal 1 and increasing from 19 gates to 30 gates.
  • Taxiway relocations and a new taxiway
  • Reconfiguring the overnight aircraft parking area
  • Construction of a new on-airport roadway for inbound vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic and new on-airport circulation roadways to serve the proposed new terminal, with grade separated arrival and departure curbs

The letter expressed concerns about the scale of the project and the number of new gates.  The numbers really bring it home. The existing terminal is 284,300 square feet and the new one will be 1,210,000 square feet. The new building will be more than four times the size of what is there today.

Webb’s letter stated that the EA did not discuss alternatives to the project so it did not have to be so massive. Some alternative suggestions were included in the letter.

“The need for additional terminal space and gates described in the Purpose and Need section of the EA could also be achieved through the renovation of the existing terminal and construction of a new, smaller terminal located in the vicinity of the former Commuter Terminal. While this alternative might not achieve the additional 11 gates proposed in the Preferred Alternative, it could achieve the goal of providing improved passenger service without resulting in the enormous increase in building scale and bulk compared to the Preferred Alternative.”

“We also find the off-site alternatives analysis lacking in its evaluation in the use of other airports to alleviate congestion at SDIA. The Cross Border Express serving Tijuana International Airport (TIJ) has proven to be successful and, given its planned expansion, could further serve flights currently served by SDIA or forecast to serve the San Diego region in the future. The alternatives analysis should have given greater consideration to the use of Cross Border Express and TIJ to serve the San Diego region’s air travel needs.”

In a section about air quality concerns, the letter suggested “use of low- or no – emission ground service equipment, pre-cooled air at boarding bridges, ground power to minimize the use of auxiliary power units and the use of electric on-airport shuttles.”

A section of the letter also addressed airport noise by encouraging the airport to accelerate its efforts in the residential sound insulation program, commonly known as Quieter Homes. Webb’s letter stated that only about half of the homes that qualify for sound attenuation in the form or windows, insulation, and air controls have been completed.

Community member Havlik made a telling comment during this discussion. He said that in order to keep the sound out of his home that was retrofitted by the airport, he had to keep his windows and doors closed necessitating running air conditioning or heat.  This resulted in a very high energy bill negating any benefit from sound attenuation.

At a prior meeting, Havlik made a suggestion that the airport’s sound attenuation plan also include credits to help residents with those higher bills. This actually makes sense. Any effect the airport has on residents, relative to sound, should be included. If a home needs the retrofit, and the windows and doors have to be closed for the sound to be attenuated to a certain level, why shouldn’t the energy cost be considered? The only reason for the higher bills is the noise.

The board voted to approve Webb’s draft letter with a vote of 6 to 2. It was not clear why two members voted no. Of the many letters that have come from this planning board, this writer can attest that this one was excellent because it demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter and it provided detailed, reasonable alternatives to the massive project the airport wants to build.

Traffic and Transportation

The board considered another letter to the city about crosswalks on Rosecrans and on Scott Street. Approval of this letter was tabled until the next meeting. One reason was that information had recently come to light about a pedestrian crossing system called HAWK, an acronym for High-Intensity Activated CrossWalK beacon, that the board wanted to explore. This is a kind of traffic light that allows for safe pedestrian crossing of a street that stops traffic only as needed. It is used on marked crosswalks.

Apparently, there is one of these on Camino Del Este in Mission Valley.  A crosswalk that is part of the river walk system crosses the street at this point. It only stops traffic when a pedestrian activates it using a button.  This particular road is not heavily traveled, how it would work on street as busy as Rosecrans is unknown.

Board member Herrin reminded everyone that a very expensive system of “smart” lights was installed on Rosecrans, that Herrin says works very well, and something like an on-demand crosswalk would have to somehow fit into that existing system.

Commission on Arts and Culture

Tracy Dezenzo of the OB Planning Board gave an update on the Commission for Arts and Culture. She explained that the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture announced 174 funding awards for FY22. “More than $7.7 million will be distributed to nonprofits that make meaningful impacts in communities and expand access to arts and culture throughout the city,” she explained..

Almost $500 thousand was awarded to District 2 organizations. A complete list of funding recipients along with more information about the funding programs can be found here.

Of that total, a little more than $400 thousand went to 16 organizations in Ocean Beach and Point Loma and the Midway area.

Additionally, San Diego Practice, an art initiative launched last year by the Commission, purchased nearly 100 artworks from local San Diego artists. The artworks are being displayed in two galleries, the San Diego Art Institute and Bread & Salt. The pieces will be on view together from July 10 to September 5 at the galleries after which they will be dispersed throughout the city. Read more here .

Other Items

  • The board approved a plan to encourage participation by high school students in the planning board work
  • After a discussion of having i-person meetings, the board decided to continue the Zoom meetings for the near future for health safety reasons



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler July 29, 2021 at 12:33 pm

I hope they at least keep one of the retail spaces in Nimitz Crossing open. They actually build the spaces with outdoor seating in mind, and I am kind of shocked that no one has tried to do something similar to Cesarina. Residents are practically begging for more dining options in the neighborhood, and Nimitz Crossing actually has parking. As for the other two developments, I hope they pursue conversions as their retail spaces have little chance of ever being filled.

Also just an FYI – I noticed a kids bunk bed in one of the Nimitz Crossing units the other day as I walked by, so I wouldn’t say it’s not designed for families. Kind of a stretch statement, although clearly looking for young professionals.


Geoff Page July 29, 2021 at 2:20 pm

Actually, Tyler, the developer said that Cesarina looked at the space but it was too expensive.

There is nothing family friendly about the building or the design and certainly not the price. As you said, it is designed for young professionals, not just young people but young professionals who make very good salaries. The bunkbeds could mean a lot of things, it could be a guest room for the grandkids when they come to visit.


korla eaquinta July 30, 2021 at 10:28 am

Unfortunately the city failed to include affordable in this retail-residential commercial conversion concept. Nimitz Crossing will NOT be affordable and what we don’t need is more luxury units! In committee, we learned the studios would rent for $2000 to $2500! One of our young government representatives at the meeting talked about how he might have to move out of our area due to high rents.
And let me remind everyone how this developer tried to “game” the system on several levels with Bella Mar. NO affordable. His architect routinely yelled at committee and board members during the review process. They did NOT have enough parking and had to make major changes to the design.


OB man July 30, 2021 at 10:37 am

The Nimitz thing… they should provide proof of marketing, outreach and any and all inquiries and the specs and asking rents before any allowances are made.

At a conservative $2000 a month for each of 12 studio spaces that is $288000 a year, no problem to make up the alleged $1.2 million conversion cost.
Wonder if it was built with a conversion in mind.
If they are part of any REITs etc they should provide the info and decsription of how they represented the property too, ie, as all residential (showing this was always the plan) or mixed use, etc.


Will September 15, 2021 at 9:05 pm

I am sad that there hasn’t been restaurants on the lower level in these newer buildings. They must be very expensive to be vacant. I find it hard to believe they are competively priced. I would love to have more walkable options. Royale closing during the pandemic was certainly disappointing for our family. Not especially pumped on more luxury apartments. They replaced a working beer cave to build these units.


Geoff Page September 16, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Will, I don’t believe any of this space was ever intended for a restaurant. Those kinds of business have a high volume of traffic, as opposed to many other types of commercial ventures. These projects are not designed to provide for a large amount of parking and the street there is no better. If you recall, a coffee shop tried the space at Catalina and Voltaire but failed probably because they needed a high volume of traffic to make money.

The “mixed-use” fad was just something developers cooked up to build more infill and it has failed miserably in most locations. Now, they are all trying to do this. More housing is fine but at the price these places will go for, it does not help the housing problem.


kh September 17, 2021 at 5:23 pm

So much for bringing back the concept of walkable communities…. live/work environments, and whatever environmentalist cliches are used to justify increased density and less parking.

The fact is, nobody can afford rent there on a barista or server’s pay, or whatever other type of shops that might occupy the commercial space below, if not for the clearly inflated lease asking price.

Converting more commercial space to residential will just put more pressure on the remaining commercial zones, which are already difficult for most to afford unless they are selling alcohol and $25 meals to tourists.


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