Midway Planners ‘Tired of Being the Arm Pit of San Diego’ – as They Juggle Homeless and Refugee Shelters Without Being Noticed

by on September 21, 2021 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach

Former site of Pier 1 on Sports Arena Blvd.

By Geoff Page

The once jubilant mood at the Midway-Pacific Highway Planning Group, resulting from having the 30-foot height limit removed and a chosen developer for the Sports Arena, has evaporated due to recent events.  The Sports Arena development went down in flames thanks to the previous administration under Faulconer. The new process will bring affordable housing to the site, a homeless shelter has been sited there with no notice, and a refugee shelter, also with no notice, has opened.

The planning group is angry and it appears they have a right to be.

The Lost City on a Hill

For those unfamiliar with what happened to the redevelopment, state law put an end to the process that had gone so far as to chose a developer.  Faulconer and his crew did not pay attention to state law, especially something called the Surplus Lands Act. In a nutshell, the law says that any surplus public lands must be offered to developers of low and moderate income housing first.

Faulconer’s group did not think the act applied to land the city was leasing believing it only applied to land being sold. Here is the language in the act:

” Existing law requires that a local agency, upon a written request, send a written offer to sell or lease surplus land to a housing sponsor, as defined, for the purpose of developing low- and moderate-income housing.”

The word “lease” is clearly in the language. Either Faulconer has a reading disability or thought he could pull a fast one.

The previous deal and all the money the city spent on it is history.  In its place is a new process that was described by Penny Maus, director of the city’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management.  The department uses the rosy acronym “DREAM.” Why the city has a department having something to do with airport management is a mystery as all the county airports are managed by the Regional Airport Authority. Perhaps they needed the “A” for the acronym.

The explanation for what happens with the Sports Arena development next was short and sweet and bitter.

Approximately two weeks from the council meeting on September 21, a Notice of Availability or NOA will be sent out to a list of all of the parties that are registered on the Housing and Community Development’s, or HCB, eligible government code agencies list that gives priority to affordable housing developers.  The council meeting will hear a “clean up resolution” for the declaration of surplus lands.

Potential developers will have 60 days to put together their proposals after the NOA is issued. After that, Maus said the city will enter into a 90-day good faith negotiating period with one or more of the proposers. Oddly, it appears the decision on who to accept and the negotiations all take place within the 90-day period.  No detail was given on how much time would be devoted to reviewing proposals and choosing one before negotiations begin.

Then, Maus said their choice or choices will go the Land Use and Housing subcommittee. Somewhere in this part of the process they said they would be taking input from the public.  That is, yes, after they have made a decision. There is no provision for public input as there was with the last process.

“Unfortunately, we are following the process that is outlined in the HCB guidelines which does not include a public feedback component, so it’s not like a typical solicitation,” Maus explained.

This, understandably, did not sit well with the Midway group.

Chair Cathy Kenton expressed frustration with the redevelopment process, “Nothing is happening and everything is getting worse by the day and by the minute.”

Kenton asked when actual work will begin but Maus was not able to answer that as the process is just restarting. Maus said, “Right now it would be pure speculation.”

If the city does not receive a qualified proposal from an affordable housing developer, the previous process will restart.

Maus explained that they were simply reviewing the proposals and sending recommendations to council, not making a selection. Kenton pointed out that Maus had said preliminary negotiations would take place but Maus emphasized the negotiations were not about money but would be more about the proposal specifics such as how much and what kind of housing will be included. Confused? So was Midway.

It was pretty clear that this would not all be decided after the 90-day period. Knowing how much emphasis the current mayor puts on public participation, it is probably a certainty that the city will set some time for public input after the 90 days. Even the military knows providing time for public input is mandatory today.

The one good piece of news for many people would be that the declaration of surplus lands contains a provision that includes an entertainment venue. While most would assume that would mean refurbishing or rebuilding the Sports Arena, Maus was not that specific.  The city council agenda Item S506 with the declaration language is very brief and does not mention the entertainment venue. The item is on the consent agenda and probably won’t be discussed.

“Declare 48.5 Acres of City-Owned Property at 3500, 3250, 3220 & 3240 Sports Arena Blvd. “Surplus Land” Pursuant to CA Government Code Sections 54220-54234, Supersede Resolution R-313689 in its Entirety, and Waive the Council Policy 700-10 Requirement that “Surplus Land” be Circulated for Review by City Departments to Determine if there is a Municipal Use for the Land Prior to Disposition. (Added 9/16/21)”

While affordable housing is important, one also has to wonder why the decision to deny all of the city’s various departments a chance to have a look and propose city uses for some of the land. Anyone who has ever toured city facilities would agree there might be some good municipal use for land the city already owns.

Later in the meeting, Midway hosted three of the potential affordable housing developers known so far.  They are Brookfield, Midway Villages+, and Con Am.  Brookfield was the successful proposer in the previous process before all this happened. Each proposer was given a chance to speak.

Rather then providing any specifics of their proposals, each entity just made a generic speech that involved their deep connections to San Diego, their desire to better the community, what a great team they had, etc., etc. It probably is no surprise that they did not get into any specifics because they are competing against each other.

Affordable Housing information item

The President/CEO of the non-profit San Diego Housing Federation, Stephen Russell, gave a presentation on what the SDHF does and how the affordable housing process works. Russell explained the various income levels necessary to obtain affordable housing, how it is paid for, and how it is managed.

For a copy of the presentation, contact Russell here  https://www.housingsandiego.org/.

Homeless Shelter at former Pier 1 Building

“To say that we were all blindsided on Friday is a kind of an understatement.” That was Cathy Kenton’s opening remark before Lisa Jones of the San Diego Housing Commission made a presentation. The board had no idea this was coming and only learned about it in the news.

The city is placing a small shelter in the former Pier One building consisting of 44 beds. It will be managed by the Alpha Project

Art Blier (sp?) from Kenton Properties made a long, impassioned speech about the homeless problem all around the industrial properties Kenton has in the area, some right behind the Sports Arena. He was definitely very upset at how bad the problem is today. In the interest of disclosure, this is an entity that includes the Midway group’s chair, Cathy Kenton. The main question the gentleman asked was what the city was going to do to increase security because of this new facility.

His other question was what happens to these people during the day. Jones explained there would be lots of resources that would supposedly encourage folks to stay in the facility for more time than just sleeping at night. But, she conceded, the residents were free to come and go during the day.

Amy Stark, assistant manager at The Orchard senior facility in the area, expressed great concern for vulnerable senior citizens. She recounted all the current problems they have with the homeless on their property, some of which was so disgusting, she declined to describe it.

Her main question was “What can we do to pull the plug if it doesn’t work well?”

Jones explained it was authorized until June next year.  If the funding is not renewed, it ends. Jones also pointed out that this building is part of the affordable housing redevelopment land so it would not be permanent.

A major concern was that this facility would involve bringing more homeless to the Midway area that is already overrun with them. Jones emphasized that the facility would be tapping into the street population already in the Midway area, it would not involve bringing people in from elsewhere.

Board member Todd Howarth pointed out that homeless were constantly coming there from other areas and asked how the city would be able to tell who was there versus new transients. There was no answer.

Howarth also asked about the fencing and if it would be the chain link and greencloth stuff that would just adds to the blight. The short answer was yes but the “staff” was kicking around ideas for something better but nothing definite.

So, the question remains, will the city construct permanent attractive fencing for a temporary project?  Considering that the Sports Arena Redevelopment project will not be starting for a few years, there is a good chance this facility will be there for several years as well.

Board member Judy Holiday, a resident of The Orchard senior living community could not imagine why anyone would place a facility like this at this site. It should be said that The Orchard is on the west side of the Sports Arena parking lot and not adjacent to the Pier One location.

When chair Kenton had her turn to speak, she said she was “beyond outraged” at how this happened. She said she wanted to know the who, what, where, when, and how this decision came about and how long it had been under discussion before this announcement. She said they were tired of reading about things that were going to happen in Midway in the newspapers.

Jones apologized but admitted the discussions about this site had been going on for several months and it involved several working groups. But, apparently someone forgot to call Midway.

Kenton recounted how she had been receiving calls about this, in her position as chair of the group, from people who had seen the story the Friday before the meeting, before Kenton had seen it. She said she felt like an idiot.

Kenton also wanted to know about security. She said it was great that the facility would have security for the residents but she wanted to know what security would be provided the community as the residents leave the facility during the day and filter out into the surrounding area. There was no good answer for this.

Kenton asked if they were bringing in more people other than those here now and Jones replied they would be reaching out to the local homeless population first. But, if the facility was not filled with the local population some might come from elsewhere.

Kenton said she was tired of the community being the “armpit” of San Diego. She said Midway was a community that could thrive but it was “just being driven down by commissions and elected officials.” The comment was a bit ironic in that last year all of these same forces were mobilized to lift Midway up.

Amy Stark of The Orchard asked if community members could be part of the project, volunteering. She said if they really wanted to be good community members as they said, they should “let us be a part of it.”   “We want to be on the inside to see how problems are handled and see that it is actually working,” Stark said.

Jones answered that Alpha had a volunteer program hinting this might be a possibility. Considering that Alpha will staff and run the place, it seems unlikely they would want to take on a volunteer who is there to see if they are doing their job. But, it is a good idea.

Jones was asked when the facility would be open and she estimated mid-November.

Refugee Shelters

Boardmember Howarth recounted how he happened to be driving on Midway and saw the Wyndom Hotel fenced off and stopped to ask why. He was basically told, and not politely, it was none of his business despite him identifying himself as a planning group member.  The site is a shelter for Afghan refugees run by the federal government, which explained the rudeness.

Another site is on Greenwood near the Denny’s off of Camino Del Rio West.

Apparently, there are armed guards as well as fencing at the site.  This raised the question of why armed guards and if that meant the community outside the fence was in any kind of danger.  Of course, no one was at the meeting to explain anything.

The mayor’s representative attending the meeting knew nothing about it but promised to find something. Considering that the Midway agenda is published almost a week in advance, and this was an agenda item, it was curious that the mayor’s rep had nothing at all for the group.

In other news:

  • Blue Print San Diego – Has workshops upcoming on 9/23 and 9/29. Blueprint San Diego is a new approach to community planning that will help meet the City’s housing and climate goals, while providing greater and more inclusive opportunities for public input. Registration here : https://www.sandiego.gov/blueprint-sd
  • SDPD – Community Relations officer David Surwilo explained about a routine shift change. In answer to questions about the homeless, Surwilo re-explained the Get It Done app.  Considering the size of the problem in the Midway area, this was not really an adequate response.
  • SANDAG – The Draft 2021 Regional Plan is going to the SANDAG board for adoption December 10.  For information, visit sdforward.com. Or email Jack Christensen at jch@sandag.org.
  • During the appearance of the Navy’s representative, Kenton expressed disappointment that the group had received no acknowledgement of Midway’s extensive comments on the NAVWAR project. She said she had been promised an acknowledgement that their comments were received and had not even received that. Seemed like the Navy was ignoring Midway like everyone else.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl M Zanolli September 21, 2021 at 11:45 am

Thank you, Geoff, for a very comprehensive and detailed analysis that we could likely not find in any local media report


Geoff Page September 21, 2021 at 2:02 pm

The OB Rag and I thank you for the good word, Carl. As much as me writing anything, it’s The Rag that provides not only a forum but one that can accommodate long stories with no size limitation. That is a rarity.


Paul Webb September 21, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Geoff, a great article but I have to correct you on one point.

Actually the airport authority does not manage any of the airports in the city or county other than SDIA, The city of San Diego has two airports, Brown Field and what used to be known as Montgomery field (the new name is too long for me to remember). The County of San Diego has a number of airports that it owns and operates – Palomar (actually in Carlsbad), Gillespie (actually in Santee), and a number of lesser ones like Jacumba and Agua Caliente. The only involvement of SDIA is that the authority’s board acts as the Airport Land Use Commission which review the plans for land uses surrounding all the airports in the County, including the military airports.

Interestingly, the County has an actual airports department staffed by people who are well versed in the operation and management of airports. The City, on the other hand, lumps airports in with the real estate department, which does have some airport people but, as we have learned many times over the years, has many challenges. Both the City and County have gotten sideways with the FAA over the years, including their leasing practices. I’d go into further details, but I’d have to descend into serious airport geekdom which is probably of interest to absolutely nobody (through-the-fence activities, grant assurances, etc.).

Otherwise, great article.


Geoff Page September 21, 2021 at 4:49 pm


Thanks for that clarification. I was under the impression, somehow, that there was a regional airport agency that oversaw all county airports. I thought the San Diego Airport was moved into this group when they were taken away from the Port. But, as I know you have a great deal more knowledge about all of this, I have no reason to doubt any of what you’ve recounted. Thanks again for the correction.


Dave Potter September 21, 2021 at 4:05 pm

The City of San Diego owns and manages leases at two general aviation airports – Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa and Brown Field in Otay Mesa.


Karen Andersen-Thatcher September 21, 2021 at 4:18 pm

Thank you for bringing light to what is happening in the Midway area. We have been trying to get the city to do something about the homeless and crime, but they do not seem interested.


Peter from South O September 21, 2021 at 4:31 pm

“This raised the question of why armed guards and if that meant the community outside the fence was in any kind of danger.”

I’d wager that the opposite is true. Lots of right-wingnuts out there that are anti-immigrant.


Geoff Page September 21, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Oh, I agree, Pete. I think something like that is a concern, having someone from the outside shooting at anyone inside would be dangerous for all. Bad guys are notoriously bad shots, you can see that in any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.


OB man September 21, 2021 at 8:35 pm

Great informative piece! Interesting news all around..


James Johnson September 22, 2021 at 11:13 am

Thank you for exposing what the city is doing and saying none of your business when a Midway planning member asked what’s going on


Geoff Page September 22, 2021 at 2:39 pm

James, you put me in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the city. I did say that the shelters appear to be run by the federal government based on the presence of Homeland Security and the rudeness.


kh September 22, 2021 at 12:42 pm

You had a few typos, I fixed it for you:

“Blue Print San Diego – Has workshops upcoming on 9/23 and 9/29. Blueprint San Diego is a new approach to ELIMINATE community-LEVEL planning that will help meet the City’s DEVELOPMENT goals, while REMOVING opportunities for public input. Registration here : https://www.sandiego.gov/blueprint-sd


Geoff Page September 22, 2021 at 12:56 pm


Thank you for providing those edits. I believe you must have seen the tracked changes version that shows the full character of the statement. Well done.


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