Future of Hillcrest Up in the Air

by on October 31, 2023 · 42 comments

in San Diego

If San Diego planning officials get their way, the community of Hillcrest will undergo significant changes with the current update to the community’s blueprint for the future. The changes include dozens of 20- and 30-story buildings, more one-way streets, roughly 50,000 more residents, new public promenades, plus an LGBTQ historic district– and were unveiled in late October.

The proposals would translate to downtown-style high-rise housing in Hillcrest along existing transportation corridors and revamped versions of the neighborhood’s two large hospital campuses.

See this news video from CBS8 on the proposed changes; Mat Wahlstrom is interviewed;

Here are some of more of the elements/consequences of the new proposals:

  • 20,000 new units of housing in Hillcrest
  • 50,000 new residents
  • proposal would double current density maximum now allowed of 109 dwelling units per acre, which typically allows for buildings of 10 to 12 stories to 218 units per acre in some areas and nearly triple it in some limited spots to 290 units per acre. That means buildings of 20 and even 30 stories could be built in Hillcrest.
  • preserving single-family homes would become a lower priority and change city policy on whether developers should seek to have new projects blend in visually with their surroundings. Preserving single-family homes would no longer be a priority in Hillcrest unless the homes contribute to the area’s historic character.
  • uffers between single-family areas and business districts would no longer be a priority
  • more congestion, noise
  • leafy promenades,
  • The Normal Street promenade would run between University Avenue and Washington Street,
  • the University Avenue promenade would run between Sixth Avenue and Park Boulevard, and
  • the Robinson Avenue promenade would run between First and Seventh avenues.
  • for more bicycle lanes on many streets.
  • proposal suggests the hospitals and other large employers provide their workers with discounted transit passes, charge them for parking and provide on-site showers to make cycling a more realistic option.
  • pocket parks
  • and ambitious transit proposals that don’t yet come with many details, such as
  • an aerial skyway connecting Hillcrest to Mission Valley,
  • a streetcar system connected to Logan Heights and Golden Hill and
  • a commuter rail line that would connect to much of the rest of the region
  • transforming some two-way streets into one-way streets to ease congestion, including University and Robinson avenues — two of the three busiest streets in Hillcrest, along with Washington Street;
  • calls for celebrating the legacy of Hillcrest’s gay community with a special historic district featuring public art, preserved buildings, plaques and other attractions;
  • The district would include much of University Avenue, Fifth Avenue south of Washington Street and bits of Normal and Harvey Milk streets.
  • proposal doesn’t adequately address Hillcrest’s lack of libraries, parks and other community amenities, a problem that will only grow with 50,000 more residents;

Residents’ Feedback through Nov.17

Residents can comment on the proposal through Nov. 17, which focuses only on a 350-acre area that covers a large swath of central Hillcrest and small slivers of University Heights and Mission Hills near the hospitals. Feedback can be submitted to planhillcrest@sandiego.gov on what they are calling a first draft of the proposal.

“This feedback will be considered for the second draft,” according to the city’s website. “The second draft will then be available for further feedback in early 2024, which will again be updated based on further feedback before it is presented to the City Council for adoption by summer 2024.”

Some of the background for this post came from a SDU-T article only for subscribers.


{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

chris schultz October 31, 2023 at 2:31 pm

may as well make it 100% BIKE LANES. No cars! Where is the vision?


Chris October 31, 2023 at 4:52 pm

I’m sure you would expect this kind of response from me, but that’d be kinda cool.


Chris October 31, 2023 at 4:52 pm

Tho I know that’s not going to happen and in reality that’s not a good idea, but we can dream can’t we?


chris schultz November 1, 2023 at 7:44 am

Absolutely, dream on. I can see the dream from this Mayor, of a billion bikes in the streets like Taiwan, pedicabs and mass humanity crowding every square inch of space. Cramming into buses just to go to work.


Vern November 1, 2023 at 9:31 am

“… Cramming into buses just to go to work…”
Yes, but the SD skies will be blue, everyday sunny and warm, gastropub$ and bar$ lining every block after all the deadly, murderous trees have been removed. (and jobs continue to move to north & east county).
Live, Work, Play! (or, breathe, Work, Pay).


Chris November 1, 2023 at 10:05 am

All joking aside, no one is trying to make it 100 percent bike lanes. Maybe a few extremists amongst the extremists and even that is more for attention grabbing. The overwhelming majority of cyclists also own and drive vehicles, including those of us who bike commute.


Vern November 1, 2023 at 11:58 am

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”
– Mark Twain


Chris November 1, 2023 at 4:41 pm

Indeed it is.


Frank Gormlie October 31, 2023 at 2:32 pm

Do you get the headline?


Mat Wahlstrom October 31, 2023 at 8:30 pm

Thanks for the share, Editordude. As multiple people have messaged me, this is just a huge F-U to everyone in our gayborhood. The city neglected and ignored us for decades, until we improved it to the point that we’re now “opportunity rich” for real-estate speculators. And the worst of it is that our LGBTQ+ electeds are the ones now selling us out for the sake of their pitiful political careers.

They’re nothing more than quislings.


Chris November 1, 2023 at 7:19 am

It seems to be generational. Plenty of younger members of the Hillcrest LGBTQ community I interact with seem to be in favor of increased density, especially newer transplants. It’s interesting because people we talk to when hanging out at Inside Out seem to be all out in favor of density explosion, and people we talk to at #1 on 5th it’s the polar opposite.


Zack November 4, 2023 at 12:02 pm

Don’t you guys think that places like Hillcrest are the ideal areas to increase density? If it is going to happen somewhere wouldn’t you prefer that it happen in already dense neighborhoods close to Downtown?

Another thing I’d like to add is just because an area is planned to increase the population by a certain number (50,000 in this case) doesn’t mean it will actually happen. Changing the zoning laws just allows it to happen but doesn’t guarantee that it will. For all we know the ultimate population increase could be closer to 20,000.


chris schultz November 4, 2023 at 3:01 pm

My opinion is Hillcrest has enough density the way it is. Just try to go to a restaurant in the area. Why is it necessary to randomly increase density?

SDSU wanted to put up three mega dorms a few years ago and settled for one after the neighborhood said no. But that doesn’t also mean SDSU tried to over plan to accept less knowing the push back.


Zack November 4, 2023 at 4:56 pm

Chris Schultz,

It isn’t a random increase of density. Hillcrest is a hip area to live and plenty of developers would love to build there. Why is it necessary to increase density at all? It may or may not be depending on your preferences. In my opinion there should be few arbitrary regulations about what gets built, where it is built, and precisely how it will look. We can debate the specifics of that (obviously some regulations must exist), but I am confident based on the research I have done that California is as expensive at it is in large part due to burdensome regulations that make development incredibly difficult and expensive. If there is market demand for building in Hillcrest then landowners should be able to build on their land to meet that demand. I think we have tricked ourselves into thinking that top-down, “central planning kind of development under the guise of community control is somehow consistent with economic freedom and the American Dream. I sincerely believe that it is not.


Paul Webb November 5, 2023 at 10:09 am

Zack, anybody who has been involved in the development review process in San Diego will find your description of “central planning kind of development under the guise of community control” pretty laughable.

The city has routinely ignored the community planning groups, who actually have no real power anyway. What little development control that is contained in the community plans gets overruled through the plan amendment process – IF the city actually doesn’t allow exceptions as is generally the case. Community control is a fiction dreamed up by developers, who actually know better. In eight years of service on a community planning group I saw one project (a tentative parcel map for an already under construction townhouse project) denied by the planning commission after an appeal by the planning group. Centralized planning indeed! I defy you to show me any significant development that was thwarted by community planning.

By the way, Zack, just who are you? I put my name on my comments and I own them. Why can’t you do the same? What are you ashamed of? Hiding something?


Zack November 5, 2023 at 10:48 am


Why do you need to know my full name? Is my first name not enough for you? I am a law student studying international law and international relations. I was born and raised in San Diego. I have nothing to hide, but I don’t want to risk the possibility that someone harasses me because they disagree with my views.

What is the purpose of development review exactly? Why should CPGs have that power? There are state and federal laws that protect us from harmful forms of development. So why are CPGs who are given money by the city allowed to even have advisory roles? Why is this much bureaucracy needed in order for property owners to exercise their right to modify their properties? If I choose say, to put a second story on my home, why should arbitrary zoning laws prevent me from doing so? The same goes for ADUs. If I owned property and wanted to build an ADU on my property, then why would I need to be forced to build parking to go with it if I didn’t want to do that? Why should an advisory body like a CPG even have the ability to review the design of my proposed ADU?

Processes like these slow everyone down and ultimately raise costs which of course makes everything more expensive. I think it is holding us back. This is my sincerely held belief. I welcome disagreement. I do not however, welcome unsubstantiated, bad-faith accusations by some that I do not hold this belief.


Paul Webb November 6, 2023 at 11:20 am

Who you are is important. I put my name on my comments and am willing to “risk the possibility that someone harasses me because they disagree with my views” because I think it is important to own my views and take responsibility for them. Apparently, you do not.

I do not accept your assertion that the CPGs slow down the process and raise costs. A developer makes a brief presentation at a committee meeting and again at the CPG meeting. Even if the CPG votes to recommend denial of a project NOTHING WILL HAPPEN! The City planning commission and council barely pay any attention to the planning group action. It may delay a project for four to six weeks, if that, but that’s all.

In addition to having been an elected member of a community planning group, I have been in the position of taking major development projects to CPGs and other community groups. The development process takes so long (generally the fault of city staff review, often multiple cycles – if you don’t believe me ask any architect/builder/property owner) that the CPG process added time isn’t any kind of meaningful speed bump.

Also, I never accused you of not holding your beliefs – I don’t know where that comes from. I do question whether or not you have a position with a political organization or development company that you are unwilling to identify which might result in self-serving comments. Why can’t you have the courage to identify yourself and take responsibility for your comments? I know, people might say mean things about you – I certainly have had them said about me, but that’s the price you should be willing to pay to broadcast your views in a public forum. If you can’t take the heat…


Zack November 6, 2023 at 12:02 pm


You have not accused me of not holding my beliefs. I am sorry I should have been more specific. Others on this website have and I don’t appreciate it.

Indeed, inefficient government is a huge barrier to getting projects done. That said, you did not answer my question. Why should CPGs be involved at all? What level of meaningful oversight do they provide that government doesn’t? What is the purpose of appearing in front of them if they have no power anyway?

I do take ownership for what I say and I do not appreciate that you accuse me of not doing so. Just because I choose not to provide my full name does not mean I am any less responsible than any other poster on this website.

I do not work for a developer. I do not have a role in a political organization related to zoning or real estate. As I stated before, I am a law student. You may choose to take me at my word or not. If you choose believe that my refusal to provide my full name discredits me then that is your decision.

There are plenty of people who hold different views than the prevailing views on this website. Just because we hold them does not make us self-serving necessarily.


Frank Gormlie November 6, 2023 at 12:08 pm

You ask (I assume with a straight face) “Why should CPGs be involved at all? What level of meaningful oversight do they provide that government doesn’t?” Where are you from? Where have you been? Do you believe in grassroots democracy? Do you take all government statements, decisions, etc at face-value? Your basic stance: ‘government doesn’t need citizen oversight because government is government and they are always right.’ How did you arrive at this place?


Zack November 6, 2023 at 12:24 pm

CPGs aren’t democratic. I have voted in their elections. The turnout is abysmal. There are often vacancies on the CPGs themselves. Very few people participate in this process which undermines the whole citizen oversight argument.

I absolutely believe in grassroots democracy. In theory, CPGs achieve that. In practice, they do not.

Why should property owners be subject to CPG oversight when the development permits are accessible to the public and the property owners are not violating the law? I’ve gone on the DSD website. You can see the permit information for different parcels. Do we really need to send taxpayer money to small groups of volunteers with a lot of time on their hands and strong preferences regarding aesthetics and their neighborhoods?

I sat in on the OB CPG a while back. A woman wanted to build an ADU on her property so the coastal commission forced her to present it to the CPG despite it not having approval power. People called in to complain about the aesthetics and about absolutely silly things like six inches of space between her fence and her neighbors fence. That is time that the woman could have spent getting shovels in the ground but instead she was harassed by a bunch of busybodies. I don’t know about you Frank but I find that pretty tyrannical. You can call it grassroots democracy if you want, but I call it tyranny by a small but vocal minority.


Frank Gormlie November 6, 2023 at 12:31 pm

Of course they’re democratic. Just because many residents don’t take part in the annual elections, doesn’t mean they don’t function democratically. Actually, when there’s a big issue, their meetings can see dozens if not hundreds of participants. BTW, what’s the average turn-out in county-run off-year primary elections?

Frank Gormlie November 6, 2023 at 12:35 pm

Fortunately, the voters of California had the foresight and wisdom to pass the Calif Coastal Act that has protected the coast and its access since the 1970s. Talk about tyranny. Those who wish to abolish the Coastal Commission want to undermine democracy and are the true tyrannical minority.

Paul Webb November 6, 2023 at 2:17 pm

Anonymity is not ownership. It’s hiding behind a screen. If you are not willing to take a few comments from the mean girls, why should I or anyone else take what you say seriously?

So, specifically? Why should planning groups be involved? I’ll give the answer using OB as an example. There was an effort to change the plan designations and zoning for the OB waterfront to allow high-rise development. A lot of people opposed this and rallied around a proposal to have OB be a separate planning area with some influence over land use. IF that had not happened, we wouldn’t have the OB of today – a vibrant, creative and diverse community. We’d have Miami Beach. You might think that would be a good outcome, but there are an awful lot of us who don’t.

I’ll give you another example. A developer wanted to build a mixed use development in the Peninsula. When he presented his project to the project review committee there were several aspects of his proposal that were problems for me, including a property-wide curb cut on its street frontage, a la Huffman six-packs. I, and the other committee members convinced him to re-evaluate his proposal and come back with something that didn’t present a row of parked car rear ends to the community. He went away and came back with a re-designed project that even he thought was a great improvement over the original. That’s how CPGs are supposed to work, and sometimes they do.


Paul November 6, 2023 at 2:28 pm

Zack (who wrote name as “Paul” for this comment only)

I can handle a few comments from the mean girls just fine. I already get plenty of pushback on this website. How does putting my full name on here change that? It seems like you want to find out my name so you can try to figure out who I am which is just weird. The last thing I want is some weirdos following me around or harassing me.

Do you really think that if I were some developer or whatever that I would waste my time on this website? I’m frankly a hobbyist which is why I even bother commenting on here.


Mat Wahlstrom November 6, 2023 at 8:01 pm

I wish my “hobby” allowed me to comment in the middle of a work day on any blog; and I suspect “Paul” is the first honest name you’ve used, but I digress.

The reason your hiding in the shadows matters is because *you* are the one who resorts to looking up the full names of honest commenters on here, to deliberately misrepresent what they do offline — quite likely to foment the harassment you so piously wish to excuse yourself.

Exhibit A: your retorts to me: https://obrag.org/2023/10/midway-rising-drops-middle-income-family-units-from-redevelopment-plan-council-members-angered/#comment-488771

You wrote: “I must argue however, that trying to block housing development as the Chair of the Uptown Planners CPG, especially under the guise of ‘design review’ and other arbitrary mechanisms, is rather obtuse to the struggle that San Diego is going through to adequately house its population. This kind of NIMBYism spits in the face of the American dream, which is supposed to be about freedom and opportunity, not about pulling up the economic ladder behind you by dictating what gets built and where based on your aesthetic preferences.”

I have not been the chair of Uptown Planners since April, when the mayor’s apparatchiks forced me off; but had just back on after the special election held in September — which I won in one of those pesky, democratic elections for CPGs that you despise.

And my further point is that you cannot find any instance anywhere in the minutes of my tenure on that board where I blocked *any* housing project based on any “arbitrary mechanism.” That is why I replied to you as I did: https://obrag.org/2023/10/midway-rising-drops-middle-income-family-units-from-redevelopment-plan-council-members-angered/#comment-488868

Hopefully, if you’re wondering why I don’t feed the trolls or immediately respond to you, that answers your bad faith questions.

Paul Webb November 7, 2023 at 9:46 am

Zack, I probably am a weirdo (and have been pretty much my whole life), but I am much too lazy to follow you around or harass you outside the bounds of this comment space. And, frankly, I can’t recall ever following anybody around with the intent to harass them.

My only concern regarding your identity is the knowledge that there have been commenters on this site who in real life work for developers, politicians, and interest groups (like the county democratic central committee) but who hide their identities and affiliations to make their comments sound like they are coming from ordinary citizens in order to give their comments some greater legitimacy.

Zack November 7, 2023 at 9:57 am

To all,

Writing my name as Paul was a typo! Sorry everyone I usually write the person’s name that I intend to address and accidentally wrote it where my name should go.

Sorry! Thanks for the correction

chris schultz November 6, 2023 at 10:19 am

And likewise all the hip people can rub elbows and I’ll take my business elsewhere.


nostalgic November 4, 2023 at 5:02 pm

Try to visit a place in Hillcrest now – any place: dwelling, restaurant, store. Park as close as you can. Let us know how it worked. Ocean Beach would be surprised at the impossibility.


Zack November 4, 2023 at 6:44 pm


Parked around the corner from a coffee place I went to last week in Hillcrest. It was…..totally fine. Is parking availability the sole metric by which people on this website determine the desirability of a neighborhood? Does it really surprise any of you that hip areas with lots of people have less parking? Try going down to Otay Mesa sometime. Beyond cargo trucking and CBX there is not much going on and believe me there is plenty of parking down there.


nostalgic November 5, 2023 at 5:13 pm

I tried to visit someone who lived in a condo in Hillcrest. It had two visitor parking spaces – this was a really old condo. I parked about ten blocks away in a commercial area. People still drive cars, regardless of what you think.


Zack November 5, 2023 at 10:15 pm


I know and I am one of those people. My wife and I live in a one bedroom apartment and have one parking space. Parking can be w bit tricky from time to time where we live but it’s mostly OK. We could have chosen to rent a place with two spaces but we chose not to. So I don’t complain about parking too often because I made this choice.

There is more to a neighborhood then whether it’s difficult to park or not. If you don’t want to deal with scarce parking then maybe you should stick to areas where there is an abundance of parking. I think rural areas might be best for you.


nostalgic November 5, 2023 at 5:16 pm

Adding to my previous comment, the visitor parking spaces were taken when I got there and just possibly, possibly, taken by residents with too many cars even then. Sometimes adults share housing, and it is possible that they have more than one car.


Zack November 6, 2023 at 1:23 pm


You brought up the primary elections. Not me.


Zack November 7, 2023 at 9:26 am


It is a pleasure to chat with you as well!

You were the chair of a CPG, which is a public position that you accepted! I have accepted no such position.

I was in a meeting where you kept trying to delay a project! This happened before you stepped down.


Mat Wahlstrom November 7, 2023 at 11:38 pm

This isn’t a chat; and the proof of that is that you are incapable of not resorting to snark.

Name the date of the actual meeting and the actual project — with a link to the minutes for it posted online for all to see here: https://uptownplannerssd.org/minutes/ — to allow myself or others to respond to your airy hand-waves.

If you can’t, or won’t, then that just confirms (my) experience that your “harassing” (me) — like the “weirdos” you always preemptively boo-hoo your way out of acting in good faith with #AllOfUs on here — is simply typical YIMBY projection.


Frank Gormlie November 6, 2023 at 12:33 pm

IN fact, CPGs are the closest thing San Diegans have to grassroots democratic decision-making. In general, Zack, you sound like a member of the un-mentionable group that has been leading the charge to gut the CPGs.


Zack November 6, 2023 at 12:47 pm

And what un-mentionable group would that be?

I don’t know what the average off-year primary election turnout is but I can tell you it is almost certainly higher than average CPG turnout.


Frank Gormlie November 6, 2023 at 1:19 pm

They’re usually in the 20s–30s percentiles. You cannot seriously compare CPG elections with the regular primaries, which have all the power of the state/ county. (Circulate SD)


Frank Gormlie November 7, 2023 at 10:12 am

Okay Zack, but you did it twice, once with Paul and earlier with me, Frank. So what’s up w/ that?


Zack November 7, 2023 at 10:17 am


I just responded too quickly and typed the wrong name in the wrong spot. You do moderate this website Frank so there is no way I could get away with impersonating you or Paul while still using my same email.


Frank Gormlie November 7, 2023 at 11:31 am

I hope you’re not neglecting your law books by commenting here.


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