That balloon marks 60' - the height where San Diego's planners and developers want to build.
Though the activists in Bay Park have fended off a plan to build 60' high buildings in their neighborhood — using a 10'-diameter red helium balloon suspended 60' up so people could see just how high that really is — Jim LaMatterey isn't claiming victory.
"We fended it off in our neighborhood but the city is still willing to let developers go 60 feet or higher from Friars Road to Tecolote Canyon," he said. "They're not gone, they're just waiting for another chance."
Raise the Balloon led a community meeting Monday, July 20, at Bay Park Elementary School to take the next step: getting residents involved in crafting the Clairemont Community Plan for an area that includes Bay Park but extends north to the 52, east to the 805, and south to Tecolote Canyon.
Last year, the group formed to fight the city's Morena Corridor Specific Plan, which wrapped Linda Vista and Clairemont planning groups together and built a transit-oriented, mixed-retail, and high-density residential plans around them. The plan included 60' tall buildings.
So a core group of volunteers paid to construct the helium balloon and marched it through the neighborhood, showing people exactly where 60 feet up is.
They made their point, and the neighborhood rallied. LaMatterey says that Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who initially supported the development, changed her position and the city compromised at 30' tall buildings.
Raise the Balloon
Stop Runaway Development in San Diego
But, within months, opponents of the One Paseo project in Carmel Valley called them and asked if they would bring their balloon and fly it to show locals how high that proposed building would go.
"If they'll pay for the helium, we'll bring our balloon to any San Diego community that needs us," Matterey said, noting that helium costs around $300.
But by then, Matterey and his fellow volunteers got the idea they should have a say in their community.
"We told the city we want to be a committee on the Clairemont Community Planning Group, but they said no. So we formed an Ad Hoc committee, and now they have to recognize us anyway," Matterey said.
City planning officials, including Tait Galloway and Michael Prinz attended and participated in the meeting, along with more than 150 Bay Park residents who talked about what they want their neighborhood to be in the future.
Some, like Peg Lee, want to see the utilities undergrounding project they've paid for, and to see better traffic management. George Heatherington and other speakers want to see the connection from Clairemont Mesa to Morena restored, "So we don't have drivers doing what they do now, which is race through the neighborhood by the school."
Many mentioned they'd like to see a connection from Bay Park to Mission Bay; a few promoted a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that would get them there.
So much planning is based on old data and on what's most convenient for the city, Matterey said. "The residents want a voice in shaping an affirmative plan that recognizes and honors our community. Our group did a survey and we got 550 responses from people who live here. If the city really wants to know what the residents want, they'll read the results."