Whether Community Plan Updates in Mira Mesa or Historic Lamps in Kensington, City Rides Roughshod Over Neighborhoods

by on December 6, 2022 · 20 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

It’s becoming all too apparent, now, that whether it’s community plan “updates” imposed from above like in Mira Mesa or the removal of historic street lamps in Kensington, or the painting of bike lanes in Point Loma, or the killing of palm trees in Ocean Beach, or allowing illegal ADUs in the College area, the City of San Diego is riding roughshod over neighborhoods.


Take Kensington. The City wants to remove 56 antique and historic street lamps and replace them with replicas. But residents say they would prefer to have the antique lights retrofitted, which they claim would cost less than replacing them with new versions. In fact, residents formed a maintenance assessment district eight years ago for the specific purpose of raising money from individual property owners to spend on preserving and maintaining the antique streetlights.

That’s why residents said they were shocked to learn just recently of the city’s plan to remove the lights — a plan they say was sprung on them without warning. Residents also contend city officials skipped several key steps needed to get clearance from historic review panels and to comply with state environmental law. And now they’ve  hired an attorney known for having success in historic preservation cases.

One resident Jim Kelley-Markham was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“They have a new team at the city that doesn’t understand historic preservation. Someone made the decision early on that these would be removed.”

Kensington is being considered as an historic district, and Kelley-Markham said its streetlights are the most significant and prominent piece of its character and civic fabric — and are what make Kensington look and feel historic. However, a city report on the issue concludes the opposite.

“The existing Kensington lampposts are not historically significant on their own, they are a contributing feature to the larger potentially significant historic district in Kensington. The potential district is the historic resource, not the lampposts. City staff has been able to minimize impacts to the potential district by modifying the design to use historically appropriate streetlights.”

Kelley-Markham disagrees:

“The proposed new streetlights have the same basic shape, but the level of detail and design found in the historic streetlights is missing. The most visible difference is that the new fixtures have only eight translucent panels instead of 16 translucent panels in each of the historic streetlights.”

The U-T notes that “Other neighborhoods with historic streetlights in at least some areas include South Park, Presidio Hills, Mission Hills, Talmadge, Burlingame, Point Loma, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores, Rolando Village and Hillcrest.”

Mira Mesa

Then — in the news today — there’s Mira Mesa. On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a new “growth blueprint” for the large community.

The plan would increase the neighborhood’s population from 78,000 to 143,000 primarily by adding 24,000 new homes, mostly in high-density developments. Officially, it “aims to transform the car-dependent neighborhood and its suburban strip malls into several pedestrian-friendly urban villages featuring high-rise housing and less traffic,” as today’s U-T swooned.

To ease congestion and make Mira Mesa a more appealing place to live in coming decades, developers would get incentives to break up car-centric superblocks with new streets and to build walking bridges over some major streets.

Some vehicle travel lanes on major roadways would be transformed into lanes for buses or bikes under the new growth blueprint, which also includes some ambitious proposals for things like aerial skyways.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of the Building Industry Association love the plan.

Also, the U-T noted:

It’s the first time San Diego has tried to solve its housing crisis by rezoning large swaths of commercial land for high-density housing, but the innovation districts in Miramar and Sorrento Valley would remain mostly unchanged.

Mira Mesa neighborhood leaders and environmental advocates are not happy with it. Critics said the plan is developer-driven and would make an already-congested neighborhood much worse by allowing intense growth without the infrastructure they say is needed to support it.

Jeff Stevens, chairman of the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group, was critical because “the plan will increase the population of Mira Mesa by about 50,000, but it provides very little infrastructure beyond that already in place.”

“We have no estimates of the costs of the public facilities identified in the plan. We have no estimates of how much money will be available and we can’t predict when any of the public facilities will be constructed. These are serious deficiencies.”

The Mira Mesa Community Planning Group proposed 13 amendments to the plan — but they were all rejected by city planning staff. All of them.

Environmental advocates complain it doesn’t do enough to shift commuters away from cars toward transit, biking and walking. The percentage of people expected to commute alone in a car would drop from 54 percent to 39 percent, a much more modest drop than citywide goals.

The plan identifies more than 91 lane miles of new bike lanes and routes. It also proposes more than 100 acres of new parkland, 17 miles of trails, two new recreation centers, one new aquatic complex and a new fire station.

But critics note that locations aren’t identified for many of the new amenities and that land will only become scarcer over time, making available sites steadily harder to come by.

So, where are the elected city council members of these communities? What’s their stance?

In Kensington — where City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera lives and represents — he said he supports the city’s street lamp removal plan.  He said:

“The new streetlights planned for the Kensington neighborhood address concerns that residents have had for over a decade. With approval from community representatives during the planning process, this is the best long-term solution for efficiently maintaining lighting and safety while preserving the neighborhood’s unique community character.”

And in Mira Mesa which termed-out Councilmember Chris Cate represents, Cate praised the blueprint plan as something that will boost an already thriving neighborhood. “Despite what some might say, Mira Mesa is a very vibrant and diverse community,” he said.

College Area

Just this past summer, a deep divide between many College area residents and the city of San Diego’s Planning Department became all too evident over another battle over a community plan update for that neighborhood: the College Area — . The U-T:

While many College Area residents want to preserve the character of their quiet family neighborhoods, city planners need to account for the substantial population growth forecasted in the area and beyond. In a nutshell, that means more high-density housing will need to break into the predominantly single-family neighborhoods.

And residents expressed frustrations on a city not listening to them. One resident Sharlene Thompson was quoted: “Everybody is really angry now — I’ve never seen this level of involvement — and I feel like we don’t have a voice. And, we all know that once something is built, it’s never coming down. … We’re going to be stuck with those buildings forever.”

Geoff Hueter, chair of Neighbors For A Better San Diego, said some residents are calling the draft plans “bad and worse.”

Among the issues residents presented to city staff was the lack of open space and parks included in the draft plans. The area’s only park other than the open space on SDSU’s campus is Montezuma Park, which has no playground. A resident, Eddie Tiller, said: “I’m all for the high-density housing but would love to see some more park areas. We literally have nothing right now, and I have to drive my kids out of the neighborhood just so they can play on a jungle gym. Parks should be a priority, not an afterthought.”

OB – Point Loma Palm Trees

We all remember the controversy over the city inexplicably removing 100-year old palm trees in the OB highlands and Point Loma. It turned out, there were no good reasons for their removal.

And what about that bike lanes being painted down in Roseville earlier this year? Don’t forget that similar city action in Mira Mesa. Residents are also beginning to question the scope and pricetag of the new Seaport Village redevelopment proposal.

We don’t have to get into the controversy over Measure C and Campbell’s collusion with the home-sharing businesses.

In all of these fairly recent incidents — all during the Todd Gloria reign – there’s a familiar pattern that emerges.

Despite pleas, recommendations, suggestions from the communities, the city just marches on and ignores feedback from the neighborhoods — and their leaders. Residents in Point Loma, Kensington, Mira Mesa, College Area — are shocked and angered by the city’s actions. No prior notice or notification has also been a common complaint in these instances.

The pattern that emerges is one of a top-down officialdom, one that makes decrees from on high. Allied with special interests, the powers-that-be continue to treat neighborhoods with disdain – and embarrassingly, even go door-to-door making apologies — after the fact and plainly missing the whole point.

Other communities, especially those south of I-8, have known this kind of treatment from city hall for decades. The new mayor and city council are supposed to be righting this neglect. Yet, so far, it’s a lot of hot air.

Perhaps all these residents who are not being listened to can figure out that they have a lot in common. And do something collectively.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

lolo local December 6, 2022 at 1:13 pm

Great, where’s the water coming from? BTW, bike/bus lanes make crowded streets even worse…


Chris December 6, 2022 at 1:48 pm

That might be true, but they’re great for those of us who use them.


Geoff Page December 6, 2022 at 2:01 pm

Very well said. It is nothing but top down and you have to wonder why? There are only two reasons for it. It is either planned as a reward to those who supported those politicians or it is stupidity. There is no doubt about it being payback, lots of money to be made. Stupidity, in this case, is the arrogance of a youngish group at city hall who think they know best and not only don’t listen but dismiss with disdain.

Well, the problem is that they don’t realize they are not the majority. The majority is the sleeping bear they are poking and the eventual consequences of doing that never end well for these types. The main reason they flame out is their belief that rules do not apply to them and they ignore one too many eventually. The bear needs to wake up.


Chris December 6, 2022 at 2:17 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s partly a generational thing. Young voters that I’ve encountered who support these individuals in City Hall have openly admitted it’s partially a “stick it to the Boomers” thing and openly get a sense of satisfaction at the idea older long time homeowners losing value in their homes. There’s a sort of belief that as people like that get pushed out, more deserving folks such as themselves will be able to better afford living in San Diego. Similar attitudes in many other cities too. I DO (as you know) support increased bike infrastructure and transit.


kh December 7, 2022 at 12:31 pm

The irony is these policies tend to increase property values.


Chris December 7, 2022 at 1:50 pm

And the people advocating for these policies know this.


Chris December 6, 2022 at 2:03 pm

The Mira Mesa plans in theory seem great. I would love to see communities less car dependent and be more bike and pedestrian friendly. The problem with the while build up high density thing is that there’s no guarantee it will help affordability. The people who advocate for it know this. Otherwise I would be fully onboard.


Paul Webb December 6, 2022 at 10:16 pm

1. Density does not equal afford ability. Look at NYC, SF, etc.

2. “Stick it to the boomers” is a terrible strategy for solving pressing urban issues. The forces that have led to today’s problems do not include selfish and pernicious conspiracies by boomers to deny their children and grandchildren affordable housing, they are the result of market forces and venal, self-serving civic leaders. Remember, what goes around comes around.

3. Let’s start looking for issues that unite rather than divide us. The forces that have given us our current situation want us fighting each other rather than them.


Chris December 7, 2022 at 4:35 am

“Look at NYC, SF, etc.”
That’s why I express doubts that density will result in affordability. Also the fact that the people advocating for it actually belive that it will. I always notice they get agitated when accused of lying about their sincerity.

Sticking it to the Boomers is definitely a bad strategy (horrible in fact) and is flat out discrimination that will result in real suffering, but that way of thinking is the current normal. I don’t see that getting better anytime soon.


Vern December 7, 2022 at 9:41 am

“Sticking it to the Boomers” is not the current normal. It may be a sentiment held by a few narrow-minded folks.


Chris December 7, 2022 at 2:59 pm

I never said all members of younger generations feel that way, but I’d hardly call it a few.


Geoff Page December 7, 2022 at 3:43 pm

I would agree with that, Chris. Or, maybe fewer than we think but the ones who feel that way are shouting the loudest.


Chris December 7, 2022 at 4:23 pm

I suppose it’s all relative to what we personally encounter and how we intemperate what we experience. None have ever given me any personal grief. I even agree with some of the things they support. It’s just a matter of conversations I hear in person and read online. In some cases I’m not sure they (some) even know what years the Boomers were born. One kid I talked to in a bar conversation was going off about Kid Rock being a Boomer, and he was born in 1971 lol.


Vern December 8, 2022 at 10:36 am

As I’d mentioned, “It may be a sentiment held by a few narrow-minded folks.”
If these “fewer” folks “shout the loudest”, they may be easier to identify and observe how they’re related to this YIMBY trickle-down mindset (warmed-over Reaganomics).
(private equity firms converting homes into tradable financial assets come to mind…).


Geoff Page December 7, 2022 at 10:42 am

Well said, Paul.


Jay Bird December 7, 2022 at 2:44 am

Regarding the Kensington streetlights: this is another bait and switch. The community came together specifically to create a maintenance district assessment (MAD) to include the restoration and retrofitting of the original streetlights. Who knows what happened to the rest of the original lights in the mean time. Where are they? My earnest wish is that there are Craftspersons working around the clock to accomplish this. Yeah, Right! In the meantime, streetlights have been indiscriminately replaced with ridiculous “Acorn” lights. The Residents agreed to pay the tax money to invest in the historic character of the neighborhood, but the City continues to misapproriate the funds paid by the residents, and blatantly disregard their wishes. Slush Fund!


Gravitas December 7, 2022 at 3:27 pm

Same old story….out of touch “representatives” ploughing through good neighborhoods while abandoning poorer ones…and giving the haves more haves!


frankf December 8, 2022 at 7:54 am

Elections have consequences. When you elect a city council all from one party, no matter which party it is, this is what you get. A government that has absolute authority. The next time you vote, pick a candidate who wants smaller government.


Frank Gormlie December 9, 2022 at 11:39 am

“Smaller government” is not the answer. That’s been the GOP mantra for the last half century. The answer is government that is responsive, democratically-elected, transparent and provides for the general welfare.

Now, the issue of an all Democratic SD city council is another thing. Lately, it seems that they’ve all made friends with the GOP developer-donor base.


Paul Krueger December 8, 2022 at 10:17 am

Thx very much Frank for summarizing these very important issues facing our neighborhoods, and the refusal of our elected officials to listen to residents who know these issues and are most impacted by the disingenuous “solutions” pushed by our mayor and city council.


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