The Failed ‘Car-Free’ Apartment Project in North Park

by on September 26, 2023 · 53 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Paul Krueger

UT reporter Phillip Molnar confirms what many of us already know and have repeatedly shared with the Planning Commission, City Council, and anyone else who’ll listen: San Diego’s transit system doesn’t work for the overwhelming majority of residents.

The Sept. 15 article describes the failure of North Park’s new, 94-unit Casa Verde apartments to attract renters who could live without a car (or truck). [The original UT article is for subscribers only.]

Despite its location “close to the 30th Street bikeway and walking distance from just about everything,” developer George Champion was forced to purchase parking spots at the North Park Parking Garage to attract renters.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Champion said about “car-free” housing developments.

Real estate analyst Nathan Moeder said other developers are learning from Champion’s — and the city’s — false assumptions about the “car-free” life, and are now adding parking back to their projects. “This is pretty much the litmus test for what is going on right now,” Moeder told the UT. And “car-free” developments are failing that test, as prospective tenants gravitate to rentals with sufficient parking.

The failed experiment with “car-free, transit-rich” housing drives home the reality that San Diego’s public transit system is woefully inadequate for day-to-day living in a sprawling city and county that lack frequent, fast, reliable, and safe transit service.

One possible solution is a comprehensive system of jitney-type micro-buses that can actually get someone where they need to go and when they need to get there — for example, from North Park to University City — in less than the two hours it now takes on the bus (with transfers) or the bus and trolley.

But as the UT article notes, even SANDAG’s less-ambition “Tram 555” concept — which would serve adjoining neighborhoods from downtown to Hillcrest —  isn’t funded and has a proposed timeline of 2050!

Meanwhile, parking becomes increasingly  scarce in Hillcrest, North Park, Golden Hill, University Heights, and other core neighborhoods where developers have built thousands of new apartments with no or little off-street parking.

The “winners” in these “parking wars” are homeowners who have garages and driveways, established renters who have one or two parking spots, and new renters who can afford the additional $125-200 a month for a parking space.

Sadly, the “losers” are often the working poor, who share a living space with multiple tenants, all of whom depend on a car or truck to get to and from their job, to carry the tools of their trade, and to drop-off and pick-up their children at school.

Paul Krueger is a longtime San Diego journalist and a resident of Talmadge.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Toby September 26, 2023 at 1:55 pm

Typical of Todd Gloria and his administration: don’t engage with the community; sloppy or non-existent research; complete disregard of the consequences of policies and ordinances (non engagement with the communities affected), move forward anyway and maybe fix it later if at all.
Great for developers; build, build, build.


Susan Candell September 27, 2023 at 8:22 am

Reducing or eliminating parking minimums is elitist. Our legislators who have pushed the narrative are caving to their developer supporters, but the reality is exactly like the author describes. So many workers NEED their cars for the success of their entire families. The biggest difference maker for workers is their possession of a car. It’s the first thing they buy as soon as they can afford it. Why did it take a bunch of failed developments to prove this? Greed.


Zack September 28, 2023 at 7:28 am


On the contrary, forcing property owners to build parking is elitist. Most will still build it, but why should they be forced to? Sounds like big government to me


Person September 27, 2023 at 9:04 am

So let’s discuss expanding the public transit system so that it catches up with the demands of San Diego instead of leaning further into car dependency.

Streetcars and or rail systems used to be common place before the auto industry took over. Heck one of that areas most beloved parks is named after it “trolley barn” they have added center medians to university Ave I think there could have been a discussion over how feasible a dedicated metro lane would have been using a street car to help accomodations the woes of people on public transit.

North Park normal heights and University heights lack any connections to the rail system.

Most major cities have far more robust public transit and make it very much possible to get around town on bus or trolley. Instead San Diego has sabotaged any progress or investment into public transit.


Paul Webb September 27, 2023 at 9:23 am

Don’t forget that the parking spaces the developer “purchased” are existing spaces – he is not adding to the parking inventory in an already parking compromised neighborhood.

I’m not entirely sure how this transaction occurred. How do spaces in a public, city owned parking lot get purchased for a private development? And how does this happen without any community input?

Oh, yeah, it’s the City of San Diego.


Geoff Page September 27, 2023 at 3:32 pm

So, this garage is a city-owned property? I had no idea.

The story I read about this said the developer is “leasing” the 80 spaces. Time for a PRR to see how much we are getting.


Vern September 27, 2023 at 3:59 pm

“… Benefiting from its proximity, tenants can secure parking at the North Park garage for $40/month, which offers around 400 underutilized parking spaces just 2 blocks away…”!-hrwqcd3


Timothy Joseph Cassedy September 28, 2023 at 6:30 am

Good research on your part. It would be useful if Paul had given us a few more statistics. Did any of the units sell without taking advantage of the $40 a month parking spot? Does the $40 dollars a month guarantee a parking spot or only if the lot is not full? How many units did the developer sell before the $40 spots were offered? What per square foot value were the units relative to other similar units in the area?

Separately $40 a parking spot seems super low even if availability is not guaranteed. How long are these rates guaranteed for?

Lastly and slightly off topic:
Until San Diegans see public transit as a benefit for all of the public, not just poor people, this problem will not go away. Our general population see no problem with the use of public money to subsidies the road network but can’t see how public transit can significantly reduce car congestion and provide easy access to jobs and recreation for all of us.


Vern September 28, 2023 at 9:41 am

TJC, when I saw the $40 per month, I almost immediately thought of $80, then $160… this is after all, the City of SD.
At $2300/month base rent for 450/sf of high-life studio living space, Casa Verde will have a captive audience and find it easier than not to raise the parking fee(s) at will.

According to North Park Property & Business Improvement District Annual Report FY 19, the property (apn# 453-122-01-00) is owned by 2901 UNIVERSITY LLC.

Regarding public transit, all upper level SD government employees should be required to take public transit to and from work, every working day of the year – no exceptions… they can set the example that others might be willing to emulate.


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:36 am

It is actually four blocks away or about 1/4 of a mile.


Paul Webb September 27, 2023 at 6:04 pm

Okay, I might have shot from the hip and reacted a little too quickly when I posted the comment. My only excuse is brain fog from jet lag.

So, upon further thought and a little research, the parking garage in question is NOT public property at all. I wasn’t able to find ownership, but I believe it may belong to the North Park business improvement district, but I’ll have to do a little more research when my brain is functioning a little better (many have suggested I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting!).

That being said, it is a public parking garage managed by Ace Parking and it is intended to be public parking for a neighborhood that is currently suffering from dense development and very little off street parking, not parking to serve new residential development.

My own experience is that the garage is generally not anywhere near full except for when there are concerts or other functions at the North Park Observatory. Still, it is public parking that is now being used to serve private residential development.


PBDem61 September 28, 2023 at 9:21 am

This is the parking lot.

They’re already renting out spots to residents everywhere for $45 a month. This isn’t a new practice.

You have correctly said “My own experience is that the garage is generally not anywhere near full except for when there are concerts or other functions at the North Park Observatory.” (which is also direct evidence against what you said earlier in your post that NP “is currently suffering from dense development and very little off street parking”, i mean if it was so bad wouldn’t people be jumping at the chance to rent a space for $45 a month?)

Again, it just seems like this group will always find a reason to be mad about new homes in neighborhoods they don’t live in. I truly wish you’d all go outside and realize that only have so much time on this earth and spending it concerned about how theoretical families are going to bring in groceries seems like a poor decision (and yes, I know posting this is also a bad use of my time).


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:39 am

So, when everyone says the garage is under used, what does that mean? What about in the evenings when people come to visit the bars and restaurants? Is it under used during those evenings? Because the apartment users will be driving in to take 80 spaces at the same time.


PBDem61 September 28, 2023 at 12:00 pm

It means that the parking lot is underutilized enough that the North Park Main Street Association has been offering residents and businesses the opportunity to rent monthly parking spaces there long before the complex went up. Now those spaces will be used when they otherwise generally have not, allowing folks to park there and not rely on on-street parking.

And before you ask Geoff, no I have no idea what the daily utilization rate is nor does it say on the website how many spots there are but if you’re offering them for the low, low price of $45 a month, it speaks to a lack of a competitive market for off-site parking because I’m sure if Ace could charge more, they would.

I have parked in this lot for concerts but have never had to go more than a floor or two up to find parking. It’s just not used and now it will be used slightly more. Seems like a win/win for everyone (though I’m sure you’ll somehow disagree with that).


Zack September 28, 2023 at 1:28 pm


I do yoga at the studio a couple blocks from the parking garage. It is so underutilized that they charge $1 per hour and cap the daily rate at $5! I can’t think of anywhere else that does that.

It is wild to me that so few people use it. It is very convenient!


Vern September 28, 2023 at 5:39 pm

Maybe not just apartment users, but those living in cars. For $40/month and a slew of restaurants with restrooms close by, could be a pretty good deal for some. I wonder if people know this, yet?


Cameron September 27, 2023 at 11:17 am

This didn’t “fail”… a developer was finally allowed to build new housing without be required to put in an arbitrary amount of parking.


Paul Webb September 30, 2023 at 10:02 am

Cameron, I’d say that building a residential development without parking to serve the segment of our community that utilizes only transit and bikes, and then not being able to fill the building without offering additional parking is pretty much the definition of a fail.

The best you can say is that building a residential project specifically for car free tenants was aspirational.


Frank Gormlie September 27, 2023 at 4:07 pm

There’s been a lot of readership interest in this post: over 800 hits.


Jeremiah September 27, 2023 at 4:38 pm

Seems like it is a win all around? The city gets to lease parking spaces that are mostly unused and the units rent for less than if the developer had had to build parking infrastructure.


Chris September 28, 2023 at 10:06 am

$2,195 – $3,550 asking price for a studio (460 square feet) and/or 1 bedroom is not exactly “affordable”. I’m all about making the city less car dependent, but in order for something like this to work, there really needs to be cheaper rents in order for people to willingly live somewhere car free or without parking.


Sorry not Sorry September 28, 2023 at 10:21 am

Who can’t afford that? Oh, wait, ME!

Does it at least have a nice view? Oh, wait, its North Park, never mind.


kh September 27, 2023 at 4:48 pm

Sounds great, I can’t wait to carry my groceries 3 blocks to the parking structure on 30th. What if you have young children? Do you leave them in the parking structure while you unload?


Chris September 27, 2023 at 7:32 pm

Why would you carry groceries TO the parking structure?


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 4:05 pm

Really Chris, is that all you have, pointing out a typo?


Chris September 28, 2023 at 4:17 pm

It didn’t dawn on me it was a typo, if it was. I was really trying to sincerely what kh was saying.


Zack September 28, 2023 at 7:26 am

So don’t live there. You are welcome to rent or buy a place that offers parking. Most developers still build parking because most people still want it. That’s their choice.

What’s strange to me is how riled up readers of the Rag get about places where they don’t live. Sounds to me like you guys have way too much time on your hands. Get some hobbies maybe? How about pickleball?


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:43 am

Well, Zack, it looking at the big picture is too much for you to take in, then maybe you need to take up pickleball and try some lighter reading like, oh say, the old favorite “See Spot Run.”


Sorry not Sorry September 28, 2023 at 12:12 pm

Probably couldn’t handle Dick and Jane…..


Zack September 28, 2023 at 1:24 pm

Indeed my guy I am looking at the big picture. What I see is a lot of hullabaloo over parking spaces (on private property no less) in a neighborhood that the OB Rag guys not only don’t live in, but will not even be impacted by.

I know the whole point of letting o’l Paul Krueger write this article is to dump all over housing being built without parking. Ultimately however, it is not particularly consequential to your lives. Let’s also emphasize the fact that San Diego needs housing and regardless of whether or not you guys care for the aesthetics of this particular development, it is now built and more like it are on the way. If that means that developers will choose to forgo parking then so be it. I say this as someone who drives on a regular basis so I am not exactly a cycling activist by any means.


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 4:04 pm

“Ultimately however, it is not particularly consequential to your lives.” So, we never have to worry that this kind of thing won’t happen in our world over here? Just ignore it because it isn’t our neighborhood? Like I said, you seem to have trouble seeing the big picture.


Zack September 28, 2023 at 4:22 pm

Even if it happened in your neighborhood, how consequential to YOUR life would it really be? Let’s say for the sake of argument that a place like this goes up right on Newport Avenue. Is it going to displace you? Is it going to somehow uproot you and your way of life? Are you, Geoff Page, going to be impoverished or harmed in a material way by this?

Again my guy, you may not like a development like this aesthetically, but that doesn’t mean it will be more consequential to you than to the people who will ultimately reside there, or frankly to the owner of that property.

I believe in the American dream, and I think that includes not being pushed around by busybody neighbors who think they can control what I do with my property despite it not having a material impact on their lives. I sincerely believe that this kind of thinking has held us back and is making our beloved city far more expensive than it needs to be.

Finally, I am indeed looking at the bigger picture. I am 32 years old and was born and raised in San Diego. I am not thinking about the next 5-10 years but about the next 30-50.


RJRF October 14, 2023 at 3:06 am

Ok guys enough is enough! I do live in this neighborhood and can tell you first hand that this does affect everyone around here. For this city to try and force people on bikes or even worse, the cities public transit system is not only ridiculous but completely insane. As much as San Diego needs housing the city also needs to be responsible about it and deal with reality. I would be in 100% support of more structures like this if the city had a strong public transit system in place to support no parking. The bottom line is they don’t and from what I have read they don’t have any solid plan in place to build it anytime soon. Todd Gloria is a former friend of mine and I am very disappointed with the way he has managed this city. When he was in charge of smaller districts he did amazing things. That has obviously changed and I’ve seen him turn into the very thing he disliked and that is a politician. This city needs to wake up and support the people of this city. They have completely lost focus and unfortunately for many people of this city it is making their lives very difficult. I’m very glad the owner of this building made the choice to wake up and see reality. Most people who can afford to live in this building don’t and won’t rely on public transportation. They are working professionals who either work in a area that is not easily accessible by one of the few public transportation options we have in place.


OBGOPer September 28, 2023 at 5:01 pm

Thank you Geoff! You do get the bigger picture and Zach obviously doesn’t. WE DON’T WANT MORE HOMES IN OUR BEACH COMMUNITIES! WE’RE FULL! The more they try this stuff in other places, the sooner it’ll come to us.


Zack September 28, 2023 at 9:42 pm


I’m not sure exactly what your problem is here. This place isn’t being built in a beach community yet you’re on here complaining about about your beach community being too full. So what’s the problem exactly?


Chris September 29, 2023 at 8:30 am

This is a two sided coin. Zack, just because someone owns property does not mean they should be able to do anything they want with it. Any kind of property anywhere has restrictions for any # of various reasons.
OBGOPer, we have a serious affordability issue that’s affecting every part of the city and county. I don’t know what the solution is and this Casa Verde project is not likely going to help despite what many of it’s supporters claim, but the fact that at some point changes are going to need to be made that may mean allowing more people into your neighborhood that you don’t want and you may have to accept that (or follow your own advice and move.


nostalgic September 27, 2023 at 6:30 pm

Has anybody been up there? Not for the faint-hearted, day or night.


Chris September 27, 2023 at 7:33 pm

So how far is the Casa Verde apartments from the parking garage? I assume the parking garage on 29th?


chris schultz September 28, 2023 at 6:36 am

There might be a bike lane to get there.


Chris September 28, 2023 at 9:28 am

You sure seem obsessed with my obsession with bike lanes lol.


chris schultz September 28, 2023 at 9:37 am

Lol, just giving you an opening?


Chris September 28, 2023 at 9:49 am

All good, but I do post about other things besides bike lanes. Back to my question tho.


chris schultz September 28, 2023 at 1:34 pm

3066 N Park Way. You know there’s a thing called Google and or Google Maps that would probably help you.


Chris September 28, 2023 at 6:12 pm

I don’t claim to be a smart person.


Sam September 28, 2023 at 9:31 am

Agreed. Surely the biking “community” will save us from this! Maybe the building owners should only rent to cyclists, it will be utopian!!


Chris September 28, 2023 at 2:22 pm

I don’t know if the bike community will save all’y’all, but the good news for you is I hear both Swami’s and OB Surf Lodge will be serving green eggs and ham.


Geoff Page September 29, 2023 at 11:03 am

It’s four blocks or 1/4 mile.


Nadine Young September 28, 2023 at 7:50 am

I’m one of the lucky few that the author mentions. I own a home in North Park with a driveway but as the years have gone by, I’m more and more surrounded by apartments and condos with inadequate parking for its residents. The result? My driveway is blocked daily by folks unloading/loading before and after they make their way to and from the 30th street parking structure. I put up a sign asking residents to stop blocking my driveway. I’ve had to take an Uber to work several times because I cannot find the someone to move their car and I’m reluctant to call parking code enforcement anymore due to the retaliation I’ve experienced. Someone let the air out of my tires and another broke my side mirror (my security camera footage was not enough for SDPD to pursue).

I do not blame them. North Park’s transit and parking situation punishes the poor and turns them against the lucky few like me that moved to NP and purchased 20 years ago before the gentrification went into full swing.

I do not want to leave North Park but maybe my single family home would be better off as a parking lot.


nostalgic September 30, 2023 at 12:12 pm

Getting back to basics, that whole area is scary. I live in OB and see plenty of homeless. I go to to a place on 30th that repairs eyeglasses (they do a lot of work for optometrists). Using that parking garage is not something I would do. If you have thought of living in a car there, it might not be a new idea.


Chris October 1, 2023 at 5:08 am

Pro-Mec. I’ve used that that parking garage on a few occasions. What’s wrong with it? I’ve never had any issues.


Will October 1, 2023 at 7:50 am

I have several neighbors in OB who do not own vehicles. The overgeneralization that everyone has a car is incorrect, but most people do. Should the carless subsidize the expense of private parking in shared buildings? They already subsidize a sprawling road network and a government that gives money to oil companies to incentivize production. Or should they get a small financial break by not being forced to rent a vehicle stall that is bundled with gargantuan rent. Everyone needs shelter. Most people need cars.

There a concept referred to as induced demand. If driving is the near-only way to get places, that is what people will do in bulk. If sitting in traffic is your nirvana then it makes sense to build as many spaces as possible- they will get filled. You have little room to ever complain of traffic if you refuse to move yourself in almost any other way or advocate for the near-exclusivity of automobiles as a conveyance. I wish I heard such passionate arguments of people demanding places to park bicycles.


kh October 2, 2023 at 4:38 pm

The carless use those public roads too. Unless maybe you live on a farm, without any reliance on the outside world.

Decoupling rental units from private parking is also allowed, but I believe providing zero included parking disproportionally hurts the poor who are less likely to have the luxury of going carless.


Zack October 2, 2023 at 5:26 pm


The poor are much more likely to not own a car than everyone else.


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