City Council to Finally Consider a Hillcrest Historic District

by on October 25, 2021 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego

By Mat Wahlstrom

This Wednesday, 10/27, at 2:00 PM, the San Diego City Council Rules Committee will hold its first ever hearing on implementing the Hillcrest historic district. Should it clear this first hurdle, it could go either to the full council for a vote or be on the ballot in the June 7, 2022 election.

The implementation of a historic district for Hillcrest is important for all San Diegans.

Although originally proposed in 1981 and recommended in the 1988 Uptown Plan, a Hillcrest historic district has never been docketed by the council for consideration.

Flash forward to June 2015, and the draft Uptown update of the 1988 Plan clearly defined both the area of the proposed district and its scope, including a LGBT component that recognized our community as part of the arc of Hillcrest’s development since 1885.

These were all identified by the city’s own Planning Department during the years of public outreach and research it made in preparation for the update — including the boundaries: “Washington Street to the north, 6th Avenue to the east, Pennsylvania Avenue to the south, and 1st Avenue to the west.”

The June 2015 draft also called to “Provide interim protection of all potential historic districts identified in the adopted Uptown Historic Resources Survey,” a thoroughgoing 918-page document.

So what happened?

In response, a group of landowners and developers called the Uptown Gateway Council paid the Atlantis Group, the notorious land use shop, to spend hundreds of hours lobbying city staff and councilmembers, before and after finally revealing themselves in December 2015 (on the last day for public comment on the draft plan).

They succeeded. The July 2016 plan issued by the city put a special Gateway district in place of the proposed historic district.

There was massive protest against this, and resulted in the Save Our Heritage Organization placing the Hillcrest commercial core on its most endangered list for the first time.

(And there were several articles at the time about this, if you’re interested in all the skullduggery.)

The result was that by the final vote in November 2016, the city punted, leaving this area as a literal hole in the 2016 Plan to be resolved at a later date. And while this left preservationists and the rest of the community up in the air, the lobbyists never left the ground.

Which brings us to the Plan Hillcrest scheme.

Ostensibly about closing this hole in the 2016 Plan, it has instead reopened almost the whole of Hillcrest. A six-figure state grant (read: public money) is being used to redo the community’s input on everything from density to zoning in favor of a preselected menu of options, all for the private enrichment of real estate speculators and their cronies.

So why is the city council finally deciding about implementing the Hillcrest historic district now?

Council Policy 000-21 “establishes procedures for the submittal of ballot proposals to the City Council, by members of the public,” in addition to elected officials and public agencies. This procedure is separate from “ballot measures that are the result of a citizens’ initiative or referendum,” and can be initiated by a single person trying to make a difference.

Yes, gentle reader, it’s due to your humble narrator.

The language of my proposal is taken directly from a resolution passed by Uptown Planners in July 2016, that called for the implementation from the 2015 draft to be concurrent with the adoption of the November 2016 Plan. (Here is the link to the single-paragraph text of it.)

The area is smaller than what the Hillcrest historic district’s opponents have alleged and what is currently being discussed, when it’s only what the city itself identified before the lobbyists and developers got involved. It provides certitude and guidelines for future planning by resolving in one stroke the contentious issue that got us into this situation in the first place.

And why would any area want to have a historic district? Because they make money for their communities! No one can seriously argue that Little Italy, or the Gaslamp, or any of the two dozen neighborhoods with city-designated historic districts are economically disadvantaged because of hosting a historic district.

For all the repeated calls to have Hillcrest emulate “Little Italy-style development,” there’s been no admission that the Little Italy historic district was established first and was instrumental in this neighborhood’s revitalization and continued success.

After having sat through over a year of Plan Hillcrest meetings, it’s become clear that its ‘historic preservation outreach’ is looking increasingly like a ploy to reach the conclusion that LGBT people and places were diffused all over San Diego, so it would make no sense to single out any particular area in Hillcrest as historically significant. (That it seeks to redo the adopted Uptown Historic Resources Survey is particularly telling.)

In other words, it’s another short sighted money grab to benefit the same Gateway players at the expense of the neighborhood — with not a little bit of the same homophobia baked in.

If developers succeed at getting paid to reopen the ‘gayborhood’ plan, there’s no stopping them doing the same to other communities of concern.

This decision is too important to be made behind the scenes. The only solution is to hold an open vote.

Please follow this link to the Rules Committee’s webform, click ‘agenda comment,’ and type something simple like, “I support advancing Sub-item N for a vote by the council or by the public on the June ballot.”

And maybe remind them that October is LGBT History Month, and that history deserves protection.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom October 25, 2021 at 11:24 am

Some technical difficulties with the post. The link to the agenda should be in the first paragraph,

The link to the webform, which is missing, should be in the second-to-last paragraph,


Frank Gormlie October 29, 2021 at 9:18 am

Here’s a report of the council meeting by Mat:

For those of you who missed it and interested, here’s a link to the video of my presentation from yesterday, (Skip to the 03:55:00 mark to bypass the five minutes of silence/technical difficulties.)

Below is the text of what I said; and attached are what the city clerk sent the council and my exhibits packet they showed on screen.

Basically, what the council decided was to pretend there’s a pony somewhere under all the s**t.

# # #

Madame Council President chair, distinguished council committee members, and city staff. My name is Mat Wahlstrom, and I am an elected representative for Hillcrest on the board of Uptown Planners.

You have all read my proposal and the background information I provided. (Please show Exhibit B, pg 4)

I am not here to ask you to necessarily vote yes or no on the exact language of my proposal, but to allow of its necessity.

I am here to ask you to affirm the City of San Diego’s determination of the legitimacy of implementing a historic district for the Hillcrest commercial core originally called for in the 1988 Plan. That’s almost forty years since LGBTQ+ people had revitalized our neighborhood, where we found shelter during the terrible storm of AIDS, and made the foundation for our efforts to gain acceptance in the wider world. (Please show Exhibit C, pg 5)

As the background information demonstrates, private interests persistently blocked our Uptown community planning group and our LGBTQ+ communities of common interest efforts to implement a Hillcrest historic district in the current 2016 Plan, and continue to do so under Plan Hillcrest. (Please show Exhibit K, pg 27)

I am here to ask you to acknowledge the reasonable distrust this has engendered in relying on the current process alone.

This process is about more than a historic district: it is about redress of a history of equity withheld and justice denied.

As Mr. Kaminski wrote in his public comment, “Historic designation can support social equity, affordable housing, work force housing, sense of place, pride in ownership and create an environment where marginalized members of our city can grow their families, businesses and future.”

I understand there will be considerations to resolve, such as establishing fact versus anecdote on preservation in regards to RHNA assessments and affirmatively furthering fair housing — as well as of the benefits of a district unique for San Diego, such as destination tourism and the revenue it would generate beyond Pride Weekend once a year.

And I welcome the opportunity to openly consider what comments and advice you and others have to contribute, and to work with city staff to refine my proposal, to address any issues in good faith.

However, transparency and accountability can only be achieved if this committee affirms the City’s determination to even implement a Hillcrest historic district and move this proposal forward to a second hearing.


Mat Wahlstrom October 29, 2021 at 11:38 am

Much obliged, editordude. Also, here’s a link to the exhibits I referenced.


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