The Tide May Be Turning on Pro-Developer ‘Rise Uptown’ Type Slates in Local Planning Group Elections

by on July 13, 2021 · 40 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Mat Wahlstrom

As any regular reader of the OB Rag can tell you, the undertow of all San Diego politics is not just money but developer money. With the meltdown of the Republican Party and the rise of California as a de facto one-party state under the Democrats, developers and former GOP influence peddlers pivoted to rebrand their same trickle-down policies as “progressive.”

Their success at this has meant that most every politician and pundit regardless of party now self-identifies as YIMBY, for ‘yes in my back yard.’

Consider how this has been playing out at even the local level.

Sometime before 2019, the city attorney’s office decided to make a quiet but very consequential change in how it would interpret the law governing community planning groups (CPGs). Before then, Council Policy 600-24 was understood to clearly forbid “slates,” but word was privately put out that the city would no longer consider this to apply to candidates – only current board members. Until then it was the norm for individuals to run as individuals.

This led to the organization in late 2018 of Rise Uptown by members of BikeSD and Circulate San Diego. Running a well funded and professional electoral campaign, they managed to sweep all seven seats open on Uptown Planners the following March – to much media fanfare .

(In response to a lawsuit in May 2019 against the Peninsula Planning Board challenging the “slates” ban, the city attorney made explicit its previous reinterpretation of 600-24 and the council that September voted to suspend all bans on slates for either candidates or seated members.)

With the success of Rise Uptown in 2019, an accessory group, Rise North Park, was organized to achieve the same wins there. And by using online-only voting this March, they succeeded in capturing all of the seats on the North Park Planning Committee. (Both CPGs had their scheduled 2020 elections postponed due to COVID.)

Meanwhile, due to members of the Uptown community justifiably wary of the potential abuse and inherent bias of online-only voting, it was agreed to schedule for when in-person voting could occur and to provide more dates for people to participate.

And when all the votes were counted on July 6, the result was striking: a record turn out and all eight open seats won by the “non-Rise” slate, Uptown for All. We were a coalition of independents united by a shared belief that community planning groups should uplift community voices — not developer talking points — and that it takes a slate to beat a slate.

Affluence always attains influence. But it can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

After two years of people finding out what YIMBY really means, I believe they have become aware of the consequences of allowing those with an inimical agenda to represent them or set the terms for how they can participate. As one of the successful candidates, I can attest that our easiest endorsements came from what the Rise supporters stridently advocate on social and other media.

They cheer the elimination of over 400 parking spaces along 30th Street in total disregard for businesses and residents, and express open contempt for anyone voicing support for preserving existing housing or historic resources.

They share a refusal to require new projects to offset the impacts of added height and density, lack of parking and affordable housing, and strains on park space and emergency services that result. And with their support of the proposed Plan Hillcrest scheme’s ‘Mobility’ element, they’re pushing to remove parking and even personal vehicle traffic from University Avenue.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Despite the mainstream media cheering their win as the wave of the future in 2019, it’s likely this is the first you are hearing about their loss.

Already Rise affiliates are saying they lost only because elections are inherently unfair and are agitating for changes to allow for appointed board members — the same claims made by Circulate. And they’re alleging that we won because we were “well funded” — without mentioning the many taxpayer contracts from former Councilmembers Sherman and Ward and the city’s Police and Sustainability Departments with Circulate in 2019, or the roster of developers funding them.

Please, if you have not done so already, sign up with the city for updates on what your local community planning group is doing and vote when it holds elections.

Whether this is a momentary triumph or a sea change will likely depend on whether other non-partisan CPG candidates follow the adage of Ben Franklin: “We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.”

Mat Wahlstrom is a newly re-elected member to the board of Uptown Planners and founder of the Rescue Hillcrest neighborhood group.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar John Thickstun July 13, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Congratulations, Mat!
Well done!

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Avatar Mat Wahlstrom July 13, 2021 at 12:46 pm

Thank you! It was a real team effort.

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Avatar David Cohen July 17, 2021 at 11:43 am

My wife and I voted for each Uptown For All candidate individually, not as one vote for a “slate.” We agree with some of the approach of each competing organization and voted to diversity the voices (and votes) on Uptown Planners.

We hope to see honest debate, specific to each proposed project, resulting in growth, preservation, housing, neighborhood ambience, thriving local businesses, walkable, drivable, and bikeable mobility, and more. We need development envisioned by developers and modified by community interests and needs.

We will be watching!

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie July 13, 2021 at 12:45 pm

This is an important read for anyone keeping track of housing development in San Diego and very important who see the YIMBY brand as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie July 13, 2021 at 12:50 pm

Just an historic note on “slates”. The very first CPG or community planning group in San Diego was the OB board and the intense, hard-fought campaign for the very first board was by two slates of candidates. One slate was from the OB Community Planning Group – which I was on – and the other was organized by OB business and conservative interests. The OBCPG won a majority of the seats in that election and elected Mariann Zounes as the very first chair, a member of CPG.

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Avatar Helen Rowe Allen July 13, 2021 at 1:36 pm

Thank you Mat Wahlstrom, thank you OB RAG – yes we did succeed, a big win for those of us who love our Uptown Neighborhoods and champion their Smart Development. UPTOWN for ALL’s 8 candidates won the 8 seats available, 2 to 1 with the largest Uptown Planners voter turnout ever. NEWS??of course it’s big news diligently ignored by most, but not by Mat Wahlstrom and OB RAG. We Are Grateful

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Avatar Kate Callen July 13, 2021 at 3:30 pm

Mat, this is excellent. Our group, SoNo Neighborhood Alliance, would like to republish this in our next news blast. We also want to call out media orgs who trumpeted the 2019 Rise win but stayed mum about this year’s United win. If you know of any beside KPBS and 10 News, please send info. Journalists should be held accountable. Thank you!

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Avatar Don Wood July 13, 2021 at 3:43 pm

The Voice of San Diego has become infested by YIMBYs, so you might want to send them your press releases.

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Avatar Mat Wahlstrom July 13, 2021 at 6:30 pm

You could start with the Union-Tribune — but that and $5 will get you a coffee at Starbucks , https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/editorials/sd-rise-up-town-yimby-san-diego-20190308-story.html

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Avatar Don Wood July 13, 2021 at 3:42 pm

Get ready. The San Diego YIMBYs and their sponsors in the real estate development industry are going to fight back. This election has disrupted their plans to quietly take over control of every planning group in the city, and its a trend they see as existential threat. They’ll be ready to finese midyear appointments, and will have a developer funded campaign up and ready to get pro-development representatives elected to all the planning group, including the Uptown Planners, Those of us who believe in community based urban planning will need to be ready to fight them during the next round of PG elections, and police PG openings and replacements the rest of the year.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 13, 2021 at 5:11 pm

This was great to see, congratulations to the Uptown folks. And a well-written piece Mat. I’ve been around long enough to see the pendulum swing several times on my planning board. It shows that whoever is the most passionate about their position, unchecked development versus slow, smart growth can take control of a planning board. This was great but as Mat said, the fight is not over, they will be back. But, it’s a good fight to fight. Money versus quality of life, an easy choice.

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Avatar Paul Webb July 13, 2021 at 5:19 pm

I’ve said this before, perhaps in this forum, but I’ll repeat for anyone who does not know. Colin Parent is the executive director and staff counsel for Circulate. In addition, he is a member of the city council in the city of La Mesa. I have not seen him consistently advocate for the city of La Mesa the things he advocates for the city of San Diego. If Circulate’s agenda is so desirable why does he not implement his agenda in the city where he is an elected representative?

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Avatar kh July 15, 2021 at 11:56 am

rules for thee but not for me….

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie July 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

Some insight on Circulate San Diego’s stances: they support the Navy’s Alternative 4 – the worst choice! https://www.circulatesd.org/letter_navwar_site_redevelopment_eis

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Avatar kh July 15, 2021 at 11:58 am

It’s disheartening to see developer influence peddling in our volunteer community planning process… On the other hand it’s encouraging that they feel threatened enough to get involved.

What’s to stop a CPG from getting taken over by well funded developers, even paying their minions to participate?

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Avatar Geoff Page July 15, 2021 at 12:03 pm

That is exactly what happens. Best case I know of, the Mission Valley Planning Group, the most illegitimate group I know of. They meet at noon on a weekday. Almost everyone on the board is attending as part of their regular job working for developers, real estate companies, financial institutions, and the like. They are getting paid but anyone who wants to attend their meetings has to take time off from work to do so. Ridiculous.

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Avatar Doug Gordon July 15, 2021 at 6:53 pm

Matt,

To be clear, Rise Up Town was formed by folks that included members of BikeSD and CirculateSD, but is by no means a creation of those organizations. Rise Up Town was not funded by CirculateSD or BikeSD or any of their donors, it was entirely funded by individuals who ran or those who helped them campaign. None of the candidates nor those who helped them campaign during this most recent election are affiliated with CirculateSD .

Your writing implies that Rise Up Town was funded by CirculateSD. This couldn’t be further from the truth and it is dissapointing to see you attempt to craft this connection.

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Avatar Mat Wahlstrom July 16, 2021 at 11:36 am

So you’re trying to tell me and everyone who’s read the evidence I link to that we’re wrong — without offering anything to back you up? That’s not only an admission you have nothing to contribute to the discussion but a request that we overlook that shortcoming and believe you anyway.

There were two current BikeSD board members running for Uptown Planners hoping to join the one already on it. There is one Circulate San Diego board member and one of its founders currently on it. This doesn’t include those who are rank-and-file members of these orgs. Even Rise Uptown freely admits who they are, https://rise-up-town.com/about-us/.

I could fill a whole page with links to Twitter posts from the groups I mention to GOTV for the Rise candidates, but you’d gaslight about that as well.

Suggest you save your concern trolling for NextDoor, where they allow you to delete your trash-talk posts — as I see you already have yours there in support of Rise this past election.

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Avatar Doug Gordon July 16, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Mat,

What evidence did you link? Both CirculateSD and BikeSD (separate organizatioms, for those watching in the peanut gallery) have their own missions and do work that is much broader than Uptown specifically.

Some of their board members or employees in the past (moreso in CirculateSD’ case) or more recently (in BikeSD’s case) have been part of the Rise Up Town slate, but that is initiative that those folks took upon themselves. Neither CirculateSD nor BikeSD funded the Rise Up Town slate and you have provided no evidence to suggest otherwise.

The fact that those who are passionate about transportation also care about housing should surprise no one.

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Avatar Gail Friedt July 19, 2021 at 8:06 am

Mat – The only reason I am a “founding” member of Circulate San Diego is because I was one of the first ones to give donation. Stop making it into something it is not. I’ve also joined BikeSD, Kiwanis Club, and the Hillcrest Beautification Committee. I am free as a citizen to join whatever group I find interesting and where my passions lie.

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Avatar Richard Barry July 15, 2021 at 9:11 pm

No mention of affordable housing, sustainable development, and reducing CO2 emissions. I believe that is what Circulate San Diego is about.

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Avatar Richard Barry July 16, 2021 at 10:22 am

Sorry, but there was no intention to “craft” such a connection regarding Circulate SD. You seem a bit touchy.

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Avatar Richard Barry July 16, 2021 at 11:55 am

Looks I misread the thread order and was responding to the wrong person. Sorry.

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Avatar Erik July 16, 2021 at 7:22 am

We had an anti-drive-thru restaurant (specifically KFC) slate on the Greater Golden Hill Planning group about 20 years ago. Over half the board lost their seats because they supported the already nonconforming KFC’s expansion. We were one of the few in town not dominated by real estate and developer interests.

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Avatar Paul Jamason July 16, 2021 at 11:31 am

The pro-housing slate did not receive any money from developers. This is incorrect and should be removed from the article. Mat’s anti-housing “Uptown For All” candidate slate did purchase an expensive mailer, which is certainly their right to do.

Mat never once mentions San Diego’s housing crisis, soaring inequity, or climate change challenges we face. These are my driving principles, and those behind the pro-housing candidate slate.

Regarding inequity, Mat’s slate trumpeted its “diversity”, yet was entirely composed of only white middle-aged or older residents. Of course everyone deserves a voice, but why are mostly older, wealthy, white homeowners deciding the future of our communities on these planning groups (https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/government/community-planning-groups-skew-richer-whiter-and-older/)?

Renters and people of color, who were represented on the pro-housing slate, should have a role in our planning process too. Instead they were rejected by the older, wealthy, white Mission Hills homeowners streaming in with the mailer in hand. Several of these voters had particularly nasty things to say about opportunities for others in our communities, railing against ADU housing and safer streets.

Despite our housing crisis, the anti-housing slate has now opposed SB50, SB330, SB9, SB10, ADUs, NAVWAR housing, affordable housing at the former Mission Hills library, and the original height limits for Hillcrest. Status quo – at the expense of everyone else – is their goal, and “Uptown For All” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Requiring expensive off-street parking makes affordable housing unaffordable. That’s why the pro-housing slate supports allowing the market to decide whether to include it or not – instead of forcing higher costs via outdated parking minimum regulations.

Requiring everyone to drive, by keeping streets unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists, worsens climate change. On 30th Street, Mat does not mention the empty 300+ space parking garage where the bike lane is being installed, nor the multiple bicyclists that have been killed in San Diego just this year. Given OB’s “hippie” claims, its rabid support for abundant free street parking is hypocritical from an environmental, health and equity perspective.

The fact that an entire slate of anti-housing candidates supports Mat – despite his abhorrent public behavior – tells you all you need to know about these NIMBYs.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie July 16, 2021 at 11:55 am

Paul, still taking swings at OB, I see. Hey, I’m concerned about your unbridled embrace of scooters. https://obrag.org/2018/03/debate-over-dockless-bikes-continues-the-bikeshare-blowout/

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Avatar Andy July 16, 2021 at 12:09 pm

How funny community bully Paul Jameson calls someone else a bully. Losing these elections must hurt a lot!

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Avatar Geoff Page July 16, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Yea, the comment about OB was unnecessary and over-the-top. “rabid support?” How about some substantiation for that characterization.

What galls me is that the cycling advocates are hiding behind affordable housing to push their goals. The “housing crisis” has allowed all sorts of mischief. And, there is always a mention of cyclists being killed. No one wants that but using that is a sorry tactic. Two cyclists were killed a week or so ago. One was riding in a bike lane on a road with a 45mph speed limit, despite much safer available parallel roads. The other made questionable move on a very busy road in La Jolla at rush hour. Both very sad occurrences but responsibility comes with choices.

The NIMBY accusation is just a different form of personal attack that adds nothing to the discussion. These are people who are just trying to maintain their quality of life and they have that right. There is nothing evil about that.

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sealintheSelkirks sealintheSelkirks July 16, 2021 at 2:27 pm

As for affordable housing ANYWHERE, this is where the US stands:

Report Finds Min. Wage Earners Can’t Afford One-Bedroom Rental in Most of US

https://truthout.org/articles/report-finds-min-wage-earners-cant-afford-one-bedroom-rental-in-most-of-u-s/

Working full time on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 isn’t enough for workers to afford rent for a two-bedroom home anywhere in the United States, nor is it enough to afford a one-bedroom home in the vast majority of U.S. counties, a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds.

…In 24 states and Puerto Rico, the report finds, a full-time worker must make between $15 and $20 an hour to afford a two-bedroom home. In 14 states, meanwhile, workers must make between $20 and $25 an hour to afford a two-bedroom; and in 10 states and D.C., the standard is raised to at least $25 an hour…

So how is NAVWAR (maybe they should change that to CLASWAR?) and all these real estate/developer takeovers of community groups going to fix this? Oh wait, that’s not what they are there for are they? It’s always about raising their own profits. Mind sick people as ‘community leaders’ works for them I guess.

Oops.

sealintheSelkirks

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Avatar Pat Sexton July 20, 2021 at 11:59 am

Congrats to the NEW community based, grass roots Uptown Board members. You will keep the entire community informed on what Gloria and Whitburn are doing to our communities. I am so happy to see you as the majority of Uptown planning.

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Avatar kh July 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Community planning involves consideration of both existing residents and future residents. And any carpetbagger that thinks they know better than long-time residents of a community has an obligation to convince them otherwise.

All too often it seems the m.o. is to just steamroll the agenda through, ignore feedback, dismiss everyone as NIMBYs, build some crowded unaffordable utopia without proper infrastructure, and move on to the next virtuous experiment under the guise of progressivism.

Is my resentment showing? I challenge all planners and representatives to work harder to collaborate with residents. Yes it is challenging and time consuming. But they have day jobs, differences of opinions, and don’t have paid, organized lobbyists to do their bidding for them…. In fact YOU are the lobbyist for the people, with a duty to protect them from predatory forces.

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Avatar David Cohen July 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Pat Sexton:

What is it you think those two have done “to our communities” in the past half-year?

I voted for the Uptown For All slate to add balance to UP, to increase the likelihood that all relevant considerations would be evaluated—not because I think our elected leaders are harming us.

Monitoring elected officials is not the role of UP.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 20, 2021 at 1:08 pm

Very well said, kh. I especially liked “And any carpetbagger that thinks they know better than long-time residents of a community has an obligation to convince them otherwise.”

As soon as you hear about all the good the developer is doing and has done for the community, stand up on your chair because it’s getting deep. I remember one developer proudly declaring his over-built project would be providing – wait for it – BICYCLE RACKS!

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Avatar Erik July 20, 2021 at 2:11 pm

They are used to this credit. It’s the same as the developer controlled, supposed environmentalist LEED program, where you get no credit for saving the embodied energy and labor in a historic building, but you get credit for having bike racks, and for being near a bus line, even if nobody takes it. I’m so tired of hearing about “transit corridors” as if the were made by God and not a manmade and possibly changeable construct. Most bus lines are based on streetcar routes in the 1910s or ‘20s, we do not have to always assume they are the perfect choices.

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Avatar kh July 20, 2021 at 3:43 pm

The latest code update included an ordinance to allow businesses to provide bike racks in lieu of off-street parking. This is awaiting Coastal Commission approval to apply in OB.

Because you know we have too much parking in our business district.

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Avatar David Cohen July 20, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Erik: Transit corridors are places close to current, existing bus or trolley lines. Residents in those corridors have easier access to mass transit, whether they use it or not not. In principle, people open to using mass transit and for whom it is practical can choose to live in those corridors. It may take decades before much of that actually happens: matching mass transit availability with people who would use it with residences priced for that demographic.

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Avatar kh July 20, 2021 at 3:40 pm

And don’t forget, eliminating parking requirements to piss everyone off in the surrounding area to supposedly motivate some to give up their car and take the 2 hours bus ride to work instead.

I bet if developers were only allowed to sell these units to people without cars that they’d change their tune.

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Avatar Gail Friedt July 22, 2021 at 11:56 am

Pretty much every post in this rag sounds like this (borrowing this from another source) – “I once went on Space Mountain 18 times in a row, finding no one on line each time the roller coaster ended. Imagine if, in middle age, I felt entitled to pass law so I could keep doing that into my 70s and 80s, no matter how many kids never got a turn. That is the anti-growth Californian, mistaking nostalgia for justice”.
As a boomer myself, it’s embarrassing reading these comments.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 22, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Gail, could you elaborate on what your last sentence means. It’s not clear to me which comments because they have been all over the place. Just curious what it meant.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie July 28, 2021 at 2:09 pm

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