San Diego At close to midnight during the April 15 meeting of the San Diego City Council's consideration of the Paseo de Mission Hills project, District Seven representative Jim Madaffer observed that moments earlier he had received an e-mail from former councilwoman Judy McCarty. The e-mail's information? That three o'clock in the morning is the record for the latest the city council had ever stayed in session.
Alan Hazard, in the audience after addressing the council to oppose the project, says he remembers wondering if members had been paying attention to his testimony and other discussion on the Paseo development. Or were they on their laptops, engaged in instant messaging? Then Madaffer expressed support of the motion (subsequently correcting himself) after speaking against it. By the time Hazard got home after midnight and listened to his voice mail, his suspicions had grown. As reported by several voice mail callers, Councilmember Tony Young changed his vote after all the Paseo project's opponents, including Hazard, left the council chambers with an apparent victory.
On the first roll call, Young voted for Michael Zucchet's motion to uphold the opponent's appeal of the San Diego Planning Commission's January approval of Paseo de Mission Hills. The $40 million project, which is bounded by Washington Street and Goldfinch, Fort Stockton, and Falcon Streets, is in Zucchet's District Two. It promises to add 60 new housing units. Young's vote gave the opponents and Zucchet a five-to-four victory. Afterward, when the council had moved on to another subject, Young interrupted Mayor Dick Murphy to say, "Your honor, the vote before this, I'd like to move to reconsider; I think I misvoted."
Since Hazard had gone home by the time this happened, he later copied the video replay of the council's subsequent Paseo project deliberations. But the copy starts even before Young's request for a change of vote. I am watching it with Hazard in his living room. When Mayor Murphy, who seconded Zucchet's motion to uphold the appeal and reject the Paseo project, repeats it before taking the roll call, Hazard asks, "What could be clearer than that to Tony Young?"
Hazard and his wife Janet O'Dea call themselves committed "historic preservationists." They belong to Save Our Heritage Organisation and are founding members of Mission Hills Heritage, a group dedicated to protecting the homes and architectural styles of early Mission Hills. They say that the plans for Paseo de Mission Hills will give the development a "Little Italy look," causing it not to fit into the Spanish revival, Craftsman, Prairie, and other architectural styles that now characterize Mission Hills structures. More importantly, in Hazard's opinion, the 65 feet the Paseo project would reach is too high, and it has too many deviations from a long-standing local community plan.
The fact that the project's developer, Robert Lawrence, is a Mission Hills resident is often cited in favor of Paseo. "But Lawrence lives in a new glass home in the Presidio end of Mission Hills," says Hazard, "not in its heart of historic homes."
As we watch the video of the April 26 city council meeting, Hazard interjects kudos for Zucchet, who is saying, "If the project were under 50 feet, we would not be having this conversation." The councilman goes on to compare it to Mission Hills Commons, a redevelopment of the block just to the east, on Washington. "[That project] turned out pretty good," he says. But "Paseo pushes the Mission Hills Commons envelope quite a bit.... It pushes it a good story or story and a half higher. It sort of super-sizes Mission Hills Commons...and that evolution is a real concern to me."
But we see other councilmembers now expressing more concern for developer Robert Lawrence. After claiming that an even larger project is warranted in Mission Hills, Madaffer tells residents, "What you should do is go [by] your community plan. We shouldn't change the rules for an applicant [like Lawrence] who is simply following what's on the books." If residents don't like the community plan, they should change it, says Madaffer.
Hazard stops the video to complain that Paseo supporters have been conjuring up visions of a 150-foot project as a way to get opponents to accept the actual height of 65 feet. And changing the community plan is very difficult, Hazard notes, echoing a point he knows we'll watch councilwoman Toni Atkins make later.
Scott Peters appears on screen citing his support for last election's Proposition A, "which was to radically restrict development of the backcountry." Now development opponents, he argues, have to tackle the question of what the right kind of growth is within the city. "And it's not fair to the rest of the city for any area not to participate in that."
This point, implies Hazard, is well-taken, "and we're saying, build Paseo, but just make it a little smaller. You're still adding housing units. We met with the developer and the planning commission to see if there was room for negotiation. And we made an offer. We came off our original stance of only three floors," says Hazard. "We said we could go higher, but not to 65 feet. We asked the developer, 'Do you want to counteroffer?' And he said, 'We've done all we can do.' "
Peters, as Madaffer did earlier, argues that "this developer has lived by the rules." "Do what you're supposed to do, then," replies Hazard, as though the councilman were on the couch. "They have deviations for every floor." Hazard explains to me later that among those deviations are setbacks that are less than the community plan calls for. (Setbacks are legal distances from building's edge to the property line intended to mitigate noise and other negative factors.) The planning commission, he says, allowed the development team to get away with the deviations because they included affordable housing units in their plan. "The developer told the commission that the affordable housing units would allow teachers and firemen to live there," says Hazard. "But not if they have families. Those units are only 400 square feet. And the bigger units in the project will cost $400,000 apiece."