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The City of San Diego requires a 100-foot-wide zone of flammable brush clearance between new buildings and existing brush. A 2007 email from San Diego Fire Department representative Mike Benoit stated that since this 100-foot-wide clearance standard became law, no developments have been approved without brush clearance. Other city fire staff have explained that worried property owners sometimes request a city-code-allowed brush clearance zone larger than 100 feet -- after a "fire fuel load" study indicates their property is especially vulnerable to burning; less than a 100-foot-wide clearance zone is not allowed.

So it was surprising to read a city planning document (March 29, 2009, Cycle Review) that disclosed that the proposed Hampton Inn, at the base of Mission Valley’s south slopes, is planning a brush-clearance zone of 61.6 feet wide.

In the mid-1980s drought, the valley’s south hillsides ignited and burned over 15 homes in Normal Heights. The Hampton Inn proposes building up five stories to add 87 hotel rooms, south of existing Vagabond Hotel buildings and west of Highway 163.

Brian Schoenfisch, a long-range city planner, has other objections to the Hampton Inn plan: “The proposed project, as designed, is not in conformance with the Mission Valley Community Plan. Large-scale development at the base of the southern slopes of Mission Valley should not cut or grade the slopes. Additionally, the proposed height of 65 feet exceeds the 40 feet height limitation of the Hillside Subdistrict, and the proposal does not meet the three criteria which allow for exceptions of up to 65 feet.”

City planners have not yet determined whether a full environmental impact report or less comprehensive impact document will be done for the Hampton Inn proposal. Such documents usually take months to prepare and circulate for public review; they enable the public and decision makers to be aware of potentially damaging consequences.

Nevertheless, another city planner recommended the Hampton Inn proposal be reviewed by the Mission Valley Planning Group (official advisory body to the San Diego City Council) at their early May 2009 meeting. The Mission Valley Planning Group Design Advisory Board has voted to review this plan again at its May meeting. The whole planning group has yet to vote on the proposal.

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