In Close Vote, San Diego City Council Approves Controversial ‘One Mile’ to Transit Change

by on February 15, 2023 · 29 comments

in San Diego

In a close 5 to 4 vote, the San Diego City Council yesterday approved a raft of so-called “reforms” to the building code, including the very controversial rule that allows taller apartment buildings and more backyard units when a property is near mass transit — with that transit line being up to one mile away and which may not even be built for over a decade. The previous measurement was a half-mile.

And Councilmember Jennifer Campbell actually did the right thing and voted against the change, as did councilmembers Joe LaCava, Marni von Wilpert and Raul Campillo.

Campbell said the change would have a “tremendous” and “terrible” impact because studies show most people won’t walk a full mile to transit. She said, as was reported by David Garrick for the U-T:

“What we have probably caused is the opposite effect. We will have people resort to their cars, rather than spend the 20 minutes to walk to transit.”

Plus Campbell said the greater density would also change neighborhoods for the worse. “We don’t want to turn San Diego into Los Angeles or Manhattan.”

LaCava said the change needed more analysis, and challenged its supporters as they cannot be certain it will actually boost transit use and help the city meet its climate goals. Garrick quoted him:

“Just accepting what purports to increase housing doesn’t tackle the issue in the way that we really need to.”

LaCava also slammed city planning officials for burying such a significant and controversial policy change in a large package of 84 municipal code changes, saying it should have been offered as a stand-along measure.

Proponents of the change weren’t backing down. Councilmembers Vivian Moreno, Monica Montgomery Steppe, Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and newly-sworn in Kent Lee and Stephen Whitburn voted for it.

Moreno claimed, “This will result in more homes for moderate-income and low-income San Diegans, which everybody knows we need very badly.”

Monica Montgomery Steppe said Campbell and other opponents should not presume to know what another person’s life is like regarding willingness to walk a mile to transit. She said:

“You will walk a mile to transit if you have to. For those of us who maybe have never had to, it’s easy to say that folks won’t do that.”

Most members of the public who spoke opposed the change. Neighborhood leaders also spoke out against it. Their main consensus: most people won’t walk a mile to transit and that allowing dense housing so far from transit will reduce transit use instead of boosting it. And the new policy, they said, as reported by Garrick, will ruin neighborhoods because the city hasn’t made sufficient plans to build complementary infrastructure for the dense housing. They also said the change would allow more dense housing in wildfire-prone areas.

Leaders and members of Neighbors for a Better San Diego were also very vocal and visible. One person quoted by Garrick, Peter McCaffrey, criticized the shift to a mile as unrealistic. He said:

“Numerous studies have shown that living beyond 1/2 mile from transit discourages transit usage and reinforces the need for occupants to use automobiles. This isn’t transit-oriented development, it’s infill sprawl.”

Garrick reports that supporters, such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and unnamed “environmental groups”, “said the change will play a crucial role in addressing the city’s most pressing problem: a lack of affordable housing. They said opponents are mostly wealthy owners of single-family homes lucky enough to have bought their homes before San Diego became one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation.”

Heidi Vonblum, the city’s planning director, said the policy change is the result of frequent complaints that San Diego should measure proximity to transit not as a crow flies, but by gauging walkability to transit, with canyons and other barriers considered. When the city analyzed how many acres of property would be eligible for the transit bonus, shifting to the walkability model would have “somewhat significantly” reduced the number of acres, she said.

Because of the statewide housing crisis, San Diego could have faced sanctions from the state for reducing the amount of land eligible for transit bonuses, because that would have reduced the amount of dense housing built in the city. Consequently, in conjunction with the shift to walkability and away from as a crow flies, city officials decided to loosen the distance requirement from half a mile to a full mile.

The policy change makes 5,224 additional acres close enough to transit eligible for developer density bonuses. It also increases by 4,612 the acreage eligible for the backyard apartment “bonus” program. City officials did not provide context for the change by noting either the existing acreage or the expected new one.

There were other elements of the package of “reforms” including outlawing storage facilities in prime industrial areas, expanding where tasting rooms are allowed and making downtown more family-friendly with new incentives for three-bedroom apartments and child care businesses, plus tougher rules for new projects vulnerable to sea-level rise and stronger wildfire prevention rules for climate-friendly energy storage facilities. [Go to Garrick’s article.]

Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that the council vote was so close that when reports of the policy’s failures roll in, more councilmembers will be willing to give the change another look.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

robert February 15, 2023 at 1:20 pm

Not sure what the issue is. Folding bicycles like the Brompton make a mile easy to traverse. We need more bike lanes to facilitate that. Forget LA or NYC, San Diego needs to be twice as large as them, with great weather and great public transit. People are having kids, immigrating, moving for good schools and good jobs. The plan needs to be for at least doubling the population, and cars cannot facilitate that. A great future awaits.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 2:28 pm

I’m all for bike lanes, even with cost being reduced parking. I’m also for more transit. Problem is, not everyone is going to go out and get a folding bike. Having the transit area stretch out to a mile pretty much defeats the purpose of getting more people to use it. I’m sure it’s safe to say even those who support this will admit behind closed doors that the end result will be little to no increased usage. Maybe not reduced, not not increased either.


Geoff Page February 15, 2023 at 2:44 pm

Double the population? Is this a serious comment? And folding bikes for all to traverse the mile? Is that a serious comment?


Vern February 15, 2023 at 3:57 pm

Brompton bikes are upwards of $2000.00, more in some cases. Probably not ideal for most hourly wage earners in San Diego.


nostalgic February 15, 2023 at 3:03 pm

Is all of Ocean Beach in a transit area? Seems like it would be.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 3:19 pm



Paul Webb February 17, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Uh, Chris, no. Aside from a few blocks down past Point Loma Avenue, all of OB is in the area identified in the Sustainable Area Maps presented to Council. Everything From Guizot Street to the beach, as far south as, generally speaking, Osprey Street, is included. So, technically, you are almost right, but it’s enough of OB to say all of it. I suppose you could argue what comprises OB, but according to the City it is pretty much everything from the center line of Froude Street to the beach, so it’s close enough to me to say all of OB. You could also say it extends beyond OB because it goes to the center line of Guizot Street and goes past Adair, which is the limit of the OB plan.


Mateo February 15, 2023 at 3:36 pm

Corruption run amok.

California’s population has, and is contracting for the fourth straight year.
REIT: Real Estate Investment Trusts, publicly traded real estate holding corporations
There are 92 publicly traded Real Estate Investment corporations on Wall St.
There are 24 publicly traded Real Estate Investment corporations on NASDAQ.
For perspective, just one REIT corporation, Invitation Homes owns 81,000 3&4 bedroom homes in Southern California; specifically LA, Orange and San Diego Counties.

An untold damage is that most of these corporations are registered in Delaware to avoid California corporate taxes, and do not pay any California taxes. They receive heavy tax subsidies on property taxes. Almost all of the REIT’s are headquartered in a state other than California and Delaware altogether, and therefore their employees are not paying California State Income Tax.

Heavily subsidized Corporate Landlords pay off political campaigns and then extract wealth generated from exorbitant luxury rents from San Diego and contribute nothing to the quality of life here. Our communities do not get to enjoy that money circulating in our own economy.
By the contrary REIT’s have decimated our economy.

No fault evictions are rampant, citywide. We put another 130 San Diegans onto the street for the first time, per every one hundred we can get into shelters. Countywide that number is as high as 270 newly made homeless to 100 sheltered.

Your eyes do not deceive you San Diegans are thrown out into the street on the 5th of each month and the majority of the time it has nothing to do with addiction or even hard times, it is because they cannot re-enter the rental market.

The homelessness crisis is catastrophe of the Democratic Party’s own making. Since 2003 California Democrats have taken half of the lobbyist dollars paid to political parties by the Real Estate cronies and these 5 reprehensibly self-preserving Citiy Council votes prove beyond any reasonable doubt, that there are no checks and balances in City hall.

The Council’s fealty is to Todd Gloria and only intentions are to fulfill the California Democratic Party agenda in return for campaign contributions, PAC Money and yes dark money. Abundantly clear it has become that this is their mission.

It obviously does not the reflect the wishes of their constituents. and therefore is anything but representative government, and thus these Councilmember have all but abdicated their own responsibility to the public good

Gloria, Elo Rivero, Moreno, Steppe Whitburn, and Lee just drew a target on every neighborhood of color in the city limits and will all but eliminated all hope of home ownership for any of their constituents, especially those of color getting redlined by the Politco-Corporate Real Estate Complex that Gloria, Elo Rivero, Moreno, Steppe Whitburn, Eliot and Lee are at the helm of.

This is literally an atrocity. The cognitive dissonance that this type of arrogance requires is mind numbing, Not to mention the fact that most mobile wheelchairs have about a 2 +hour battery life and that ain’t gonna get an elderly woman a mile to the bus station, to the grocery store and then back to her luxury apartment that she is running out of money paying for because of the in lieu of fees developers were able to pay to once again weasel out on from building affordable units just like it has been for years.

Time to Evict Todd Gloria


Vern February 15, 2023 at 4:09 pm

Much of Mateo’s post is generally true, however the homelessness issue gained major traction during the Reagan years.
Reagan was a trickle-down Republican.
Trickle-down… much like the YIMBYS of today.
Gloria, Elo-Rivera and their cohorts are trickle-down democrat YIMBYS.
And still, Faulconer & Gloria use the same hair gel, but different perfumes.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 4:35 pm

Interesting thing about many self described YMBYs, they very much consider themselves anti capitalist Socialists. The irony and contradiction is totally lost on them. Makes for some interesting Twitter tho.


Vern February 15, 2023 at 5:45 pm

Irony, like MAGA-Cons are Christians.


Frank Gormlie February 16, 2023 at 10:28 am

One cannot be a socialist and love Todd Gloria at the same time. Circulate SD is big on YiMBYism, but they’re hardly socialists or anti-capitalists.


Chris February 16, 2023 at 12:03 pm

Not disputing that, but many who self-label themselves as YIMBYs do in fact consider themselves socialist/anti-capitalist. Does that make any sense? No but like I said, contradiction. Or they really don’t know exactly what being anti capitalist actually means. Scary to think people like the vote, isn’t it? Of course this doesn’t represent all or most YIMBYs. Also like I mentioned, many YMBYs don’t really like Todd Gloria but cherry pick certain things he stand for that they will support.


Vern February 16, 2023 at 3:13 pm

Not one of the 2022 board members of “YIMBY democrats of SD” board members identifies as a “socialist/anti-capitalist”.


Chris February 16, 2023 at 4:52 pm

I’m sure they don’t. I wasn’t talking about board members.


Chris February 16, 2023 at 7:09 pm

But as odd as it is, there are people who fancy themselves as both YIMBY’s AND socialists. Not uncommon, especially in the area I live in.


Mateo February 15, 2023 at 4:38 pm

I completely concur. Republicans damage was however mitigated by actual elected Democratic leaders representing their constituents. Today’s California Dems are completely dismissive of all San Diegans. We have 60 seconds to address the exalted ones in Council. 90% of calls to councilmembers go unanswered. Have an ethics violation or complaint to file about the Mayor or the City Attorney or the City Council? San Diegans file said complaints with the Mayor’s Office, the City Attorney’s Office and the Council President’s Office. I am sure they’ll get back to you right away, right?

Reagan has been dead for a long time now, and if “the Party” wasn’t so busy profiting from the comodification of the most basic physiological need, shelter, then homelessness would have been eradicated under Maureen O’Connor.

The glorious bi-partisan effort in which Glass-Steagall was recalled in 99 and the firewall between investment and commercial banking lead to the 2008 Credit Default Swap Smash and Grab that consolidated 60 banks into about 8-10. TARP lifted the restrictions on corporate home ownership and Dems started cashing in Cha-Ching!

Absolute power has corrupted absolutely, and Todd Gloria has been at the forefront of cashing in for his cronies to support the hostile politico-corporate takeover of housing and the hyper-gentrification genocide that is accompanying it.

Not one of the 5 councilmembers that voted in favor of this nor Todd Gloria even utilizes mass transit. They drive to work (with a stipend for gas) and park for free (with a stipend for parking) while they collect salaries, in excess of 3 times the San Diego average to dictate their own predetermined pro Party agenda regardless of the damage they invariably know will be reaped.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 4:52 pm

Todd doesn’t even drive. He has a driver. Go figure.


Kathryn Burton April 27, 2023 at 9:57 am

Mateo: Spot on.


Frank Gormlie February 16, 2023 at 10:26 am

Vern is right in throwing a finger at ol’ Ronald Reagan; he’s the guy who emptied out the state’s mental institutions.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 4:33 pm

The sad truth is, we may simply need to face our doom. I’m so pessimistic that have not an iota of hope this will ever get better. The cards are laid out and misery is in our future. There is no and will not be light at the end of the tunnel.
So with all that out of the way, it’s a little too simplistic to say this is the fault of Democrats. There are as many Democrats who hate Todd as those who support him. Even many YIMBY’s cant stand him but they support some if his individual actions. For me it’s bike lanes (tho in many ares they were poorly laid out). Pretty much every YIMBY I personally know can’t stand the sight of him, but they do support is goal of more and higher dense housing.


Mateo February 15, 2023 at 4:48 pm

Chris, at what point do we collectively say basta, enough, no mas? We are stepping over San Diegans on our sidewalks, front yards, bushes, our parks are unusable, our beaches are disgusting, there is another hepatitis outbreak; but don’t blame the Dems I have my bike lane coming. How long til your bikelane is lined with tents is that going to be enough? How long should we continue to aquiesce? What is the threshold of tolerance that must be exceeded to take action?
4 more years of absolutely corrupted rulers and midde class will mean anyone able to still live out of their vehicle. With all due respect WAKE-UP WE DON”T HAVE TO TAKE THIS!


Chris February 15, 2023 at 7:15 pm

What can I say? I cycle for both fun AND transportation. And when it’s not too cold I bike commute to work (Hillcrest to North Island). Most of it in bike lanes. I’m not going to stop supporting them because of homelessness and who’s behind getting them implemented.
I’m fully aware how bad things are. In an older story I posted, a homeless person was brutally beaten in our alley way and left unconscious and bleeding. His attacker was a neighbor and in the crazy way things work, it was the homeless individual who was arrested. Not sure of the circumstances that led to it or the final outcome. When I ride to work (I cut through Balboa Park) and see several homeless encampment very early in the morning.


Chris February 15, 2023 at 7:24 pm

In fact it’s so bad we even have active duty military members going through temporary periods sleeping in their vehicles. Much of it is due to incompetence on the part of the military itself (I work in military administration) but much of it is also because the odd base housing allowances don’t cover the rent.


Frank Gormlie February 16, 2023 at 10:25 am

I’m still trying to figure out what “environmental groups” Garrick was referring to in listing supporters of the policy change. Could it be Circulate San Diego? Hardly an organization that supports the environment.


Thom Tramlaws February 17, 2023 at 8:59 am

What I can’t get over is how it should have gone the other way, if Monica Montgomery-Steppe hadn’t betrayed her constituents. How is it “equity” to make people who don’t have a choice of using transit have to walk a mile instead of half that to get to it?

This is going bake inequality into outcomes for decades.


Frank Gormlie February 17, 2023 at 3:30 pm

Thom, you’re right about all of that. Did you see Joni’s new post from today. Great minds think alike?


Thom Tramlaws February 17, 2023 at 4:07 pm

No, I didn’t until you mentioned it — don’t think it was up when I posted. Guess I’m not only one still put off by MM-S


Michael February 17, 2023 at 1:43 pm



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