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— "This is a significant victory for the public," he continues, "the city attorney's office enforcing applicable codes rather than ignoring them and doing whatever staff says is okay."

But Berkman may be overly optimistic. When I talked to Didion shortly after the hearing, he told me that he had directed city staff to review issues raised by Berkman and Bowlby and to change the existing mitigated negative declaration "to address their issues to the greatest possible extent." How strictly he will judge the staff's response when January 18 rolls around is an open question.

Since the hearing, Berkman has found in the city's case file for the Pacific Coast Office Building an interesting letter from the landowner's attorney, J. Michael McDade, to San Diego long-range planner John Wilhoit. The June 3, 2004, letter requests "initiation of a Mission Valley Community Plan amendment to address the proposal's exceeding of the 150-foot elevation limit." The letter is evidence that the project's concept included building into designated open space.

But given heightened attention recently to city heavy-handedness in development issues, Didion, when he revisits the issue in January, may still be responsive to sentiments like those of Terry Weiner, who wrote to him shortly before the November 2 hearing. Weiner is president of Friends of University Heights Open Space. "I have watched in dismay," she wrote, "as our steep hillsides on the south side of Mission Valley are encroached upon in bits and pieces from below.... What type of erosion will occur with the excavation of [6300 cubic yards] of sand from the hillside in the Pacific Coast Office Project?

"I am disturbed that this proposed project seems to violate the spirit as well as the letter of our municipal plans and codes. Much of the importance of the north-facing slopes of Mission Valley lies in the visual relief they give. These southern maritime chaparral and coastal sage scrub hillsides are part of San Diego's remaining natural heritage."

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