Midway Rising and the Fall of San Diego

by on August 26, 2022 · 18 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Screen grab from Midway Rising website.

By Mat Wahlstrom

I had resisted looking into the particulars of the mayor’s pet project to redevelop the Sports Arena site, released with so much fanfare last Monday, as I had dreaded that it would be as fubar as every other city real estate deal he’s been involved. But once I dug in, it was even worse than I imagined.

Beyond all the patter and glitter, the devil is *always* in the details.

Midway Rising” is the mayor’s pet proposal to “lease surplus property” to redevelop the 48.5 acres of this city-owned site for token newer housing and a generic saddle-shape replacement, with 250,000 sq ft of commercial space and a 200-key hotel.

Here is the link to the developer’s proposal to the city, which going forward will be referred to by page numbers in square brackets.

Currently dominated by a historic circular Brutalist stadium — built in 1966, contemporary with the Geisel Library on the campus of UCSD — it is surrounded by parking lots. And all of it is scheduled for a rubber-stamp approval for demolition by our complicit City Council in a special meeting on September 8. [Paragraph has been updated for a correction.]

It plans for 2,000 of the units as affordable — the same as those market rate. So they cancel each other out. And only 250 of the total 4,250 are for ‘the missing middle’ (defined as 81-120% AMI) that hizzoner convened a special task force to be concerned about.

But right on page 2, they claim several outs: the affordable unit requirements are “subject to land lease terms, land use, regulatory and entitlement approvals, infrastructure costs, gap financing availability, financial feasibility, legal validity of the increased height limit initiative and successful litigation filed against the project approvals” — any one of which could allow them to nick the number of actual affordable units built down to 30%.

Yet there’s no offset requirement that they would have to reduce the number of market rate units to make up for these ‘unforeseen circumstances’ instead of just cutting into the tranche of proposed affordable ones.

(And in case anyone missed it, page 220 of their proposal reminds that 47% of the units will be market rate for those making more than 120% of the Area Median Income, or $128,280 for a single person.)

It’s the same bait-and-switch that was done with Liberty Station.

And how much of this proposal depends on the “Adjacent Properties Analysis,” which says possible deals with their private owners could be “accretive” to their plans *if* they are selected as the developer? [Page 64]

Is the proposed total build-out of units contingent on them acquiring the private parcel along Kurtz St for “400 units of affordable and market rate housing”? And can they work out deals with the owner(s) of the parcel from the Olive Garden to Target to the Home Depot across the street, to be able to use their parking lots to “reduce congestion during events” that will be inevitable?

That’s an awful lot of chickens to count — especially from eggs that haven’t even been laid.

[This post has been updated to correct an error.]

All of which, again with an asterisk, they can renege on providing if the wind blows wrong.

Yet the developers claim a New Market Tax Credit of $30M financing to “transform this formerly blighted area.” [Page 42] Which begs the question of why it needs transformation.

Could this location stand improvement? Absolutely. But turning it into extra investment flats for the rich and fatuous to frolic about a few days each year isn’t the answer.

Electeds and their donors keep feeling free to call the whole of the Midway-Pacific Highway community planning area ‘blighted,’ adding insult to their history of injury.

And now they want to inflict the cycle of gentrification and displacement upon another generation of San Diegans, also precarious, still too close to the ocean and our river and their habitats to let natives live there.

This is the subtext of all the paid-for endorsements and ballot initiatives about abolishing the citizens’ initiative Coastal Height Limit west of the 5 — from failed Measure E to the upcoming Measure C.

If they are successful, it won’t be a phoenix rising from the ashes, but a vulture.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

OBPLDem August 26, 2022 at 10:56 am

Mat, where in the document does it say that Stonewood Gardens and The Orchard Apartments would be gone in this proposal?


Mat Wahlstrom August 26, 2022 at 11:26 am

On Page 80, the Leasehold Map. Parcel A is Stonewood, and Parcel B (and apparently also Parcel C) is Orchard. https://bit.ly/3Arapfg

Again, that’s the minimum existing units I could identify that would be demo’d, There may be even more tucked in pockets of the other parcels.


OBPLDem August 26, 2022 at 11:31 am

Mat isn’t that just a literal parcel map? And shows when these leases are up, which provides some helpful information for those concerned about those homes. It shows that Stonewood’s lease runs until 2057 and Orchard’s up in 2036 (which is outdated information as I believe this year they signed a 50 year lease extension).

Basically those complexes, and the housing in it, aren’t going anywhere till we’re all long gone. So we don’t have to worry about that, which is great!


Mat Wahlstrom August 26, 2022 at 11:44 am

Looking again at the project plan, it does appear you are correct that they are safe for now. But even so, the proposed 47% or 2,000 new affordable units are conditional, and they could be allowed to reduce it to 30%.


OBPLDem August 26, 2022 at 11:54 am

Good to know I wasn’t wrong! Looking forward to your updated article with this new information so folks get the whole story and don’t have to read the comments for these new details. Thanks in advance Mat!


nostalgic August 26, 2022 at 12:25 pm

A reminder that the height-limit disappears for the whole Midway district, conveniently stretching to downtown, around what looks like the old SPAWAR center and the old post office.


Geoff Page August 26, 2022 at 12:43 pm

Once again, great piece, Mat. The willingness to wade into this stuff and the ability to write it up so well are two very admirable traits. You are providing a valuable service, thanks.


Mat Wahlstrom August 26, 2022 at 12:50 pm

Appreciate that, Geoff. When there are so many moving parts, it’s a challenge to keep from getting pinched in the gears.


Geoff Page August 26, 2022 at 12:55 pm

Most people don’t realize the effort that goes into this kind of reporting, only because it isn’t something they do. It is a real challenge, I agree but you meet it well, Mat.


unWASHEDwalmarttONG August 26, 2022 at 12:53 pm

I read this article.
I will be voting against any effort to remove the 30 foot height limit in this area of San Diego.
People living east of I-5, & who don’t give a shit about this issue, ought to invest a bit of time to read about the major impact of this project on San Diego.


Volatairian August 26, 2022 at 9:21 pm

Understandable. Is the I 5 a sensible distinction though of “coast” or a reasonable boundary for a cohesive zone? It goes way inland in places.


Pete R August 26, 2022 at 3:49 pm

“The fall of San Diego” – oh my!

Also, what do you mean when you say “naturally occurring affordable housing” currently exists on the site?


nostalgic August 27, 2022 at 12:14 pm

The vote is not about the Sports Arena Complex. Here is what it said last time: “This measure would amend the San Diego Municipal Code (Municipal Code) to exclude the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area (Community Plan area) from the existing 30-foot height limit on buildings. ”
“The Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area contains approximately 1,324 acres of land. The approximate boundaries of the Community Plan area are Interstate 8 on the north, the San Diego International Airport on the south, Interstate 5 on the east, and Lytton Drive on the west. The Community Plan area includes the land surrounding Midway Drive and Sports Arena Boulevard, including the Pechanga Sports Arena. A map is included in the voter pamphlet and as part of this ballot measure.”


La Playa Heritage August 29, 2022 at 2:30 pm

Thanks for great summary Mat.
Lori Saldana mentioned there is no underground parking planned.
Did they say anything about concerns for Sea Level Rise (SLR)?



Mat Wahlstrom August 29, 2022 at 3:09 pm

On page 42: “…to protect assets and infrastructure from rising ocean levels and groundwater inundation…this project proposes to reduce parking to a minimum and avoid subterranean parking structures. Rather, this project will seek partnerships with surrounding property owners to construct above-grade shared parking structures to meet the needs of the community.” https://bit.ly/3Arapfg

The word ‘parking’ is mentioned 60 times, so search to see everything they say about it.


Paul Webb September 4, 2022 at 12:44 pm

“…seek partnerships with surrounding property owners to construct above-ground shared parking structure…” is developer speak for “we’ll maybe think about doing something about this if we think that we can find a way to turn a profit.” There is no commitment to actually do something. I know I’m committing the mortal sin of supporting parking, but we all still have cars and they have to go somewhere. I’m not carrying a sheet of plywood from Home Depot on my bike or taking in on the bus!


Mat Wahlstrom September 4, 2022 at 1:20 pm

And since the project is intentionally underparked, they’re intentionally counting on people who live there or attend events to park in the lots around it — whether there’s ever any deal or not. (Much like the glossy website for a micro-unit project with no parking I read that listed as an amenity “ample on-street parking.”)

The city claims people don’t have a right to on-street parking, but then fail to address that that is what developers are asserting a right to — and profiting from — by not providing off-street parking for their projects.

So tough luck for anyone getting plywood or shopping in this area if this plan goes through.


Mat Wahlstrom September 4, 2022 at 1:35 pm

Well, we just knew this had to happen: La Prensa has revealed this would be yet another giveaway to one of Gloria’s top donors, a developer who usually does land deals not building construction, and has no experience with a project this size let alone a major affordable housing component. https://laprensa.org/midwayproject

The approval of this latest real estate fiasco is the agenda for a special meeting of the City Council’s Land Use & Housing Committee this Thursday, 9/8. Here’s the link to the agenda and supporting documents on the city’s website (unless they change the URL as they are wont to do): https://bit.ly/3qhCVeB


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