The idea (read: density) of Uptown Gateway Council, a consortium of Hillcrest property owners
  • The idea (read: density) of Uptown Gateway Council, a consortium of Hillcrest property owners
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If a community spends seven years working on a plan to define its own identity and how it will grow, gives its final draft — full of difficult compromises — to the City of San Diego for approval and then gets back a plan that overrides the work they turned in, what should the planners do?

That's the question that faced Uptown Planners Monday night (June 27), triggering a contentious meeting with about 50 angry residents present.

"After seven years of efforts, in June 2015 a compromise was reached," Dennis Sizeman said. "In a three-month period, with input from developers, the city came up with a plan that was vastly different than what was turned in. I would like to know why."

The city's advisor to the group explained that the city's climate action plan was approved and applied to the draft plan. And, he said, there had been personnel changes in the planning department's management that gave staff new directions.

But the question of how the draft plan was so extensively revised seemed essentially unanswered, and the planning group seemed frustrated by the changes, which will allow far taller buildings than the previous six-story limit.

At the heart of the dispute: a community-plan revision that gives permission to developers to build ten-story buildings in the heart of Hillcrest. A consortium of developers calling itself the Uptown Gateway Council is pushing to build ten-story, mixed-use buildings along Fifth and Sixth avenues in the blocks between Upas and Washington streets.

Bird's eye view of Pernicano's property

Bird's eye view of Pernicano's property

The Pernicano family, which owns the long-shuttered and neglected Pernicano's restaurant on the corner of Sixth and University, applauds the new height allowance, saying it lets them build more units and that makes the homes more affordable.

But residents argued that the newcomers will add more traffic, more demand for park and outdoor space, and more stress on infrastructure in an area where the infrastructure barely supports the existing population and the people who come to shop, dine, and visit.

"Even if Hillcrest doesn't build one more condo, traffic is going to increase," resident Sharon Geld said.

Planning-group member Amie Hayes argued that the greenest, most sustainable building is the one that already exists.

"By tearing our older buildings down, we are losing our affordable housing. What replaces them will not be affordable," Hayes said.

Maya Rosas

Maya Rosas

from LinkedIn

Newly elected planning-group member Maya Rosas said she favors the additional height for the new housing it will bring. A 2 percent rental vacancy rate is a crisis, she said.

"It's about housing," Rosas said. "There will be more traffic, there will not be enough parking, there will not be enough parks. But it's about housing." (Rosas works for the Atlantis Group, a land-use consulting and advocacy company that represents one of the developers in the Gateway project. After the meeting, she told this reporter it was not a conflict of interest for her to vote.)

Rosas also described herself as "probably the only person of child-bearing age in the room, and I hope to have a child before I finish my term." The planners voted 8-1 (with two abstentions) to send the draft plan back to the city to have it restore the original language.

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AlexClarke July 1, 2016 @ 7:59 a.m.

You grow or die but you never remain the same. That goes for people as well as cities. Hillcrest has to grow to survive and a hand full of residents can't change that. The "planning group" should know that San Diego is bought and paid for by developers.


JohnLyle July 1, 2016 @ 8:14 a.m.

if you buy a house in a no dense place you expect the place not to remain dense, that's why you bought the house there in the first place, so no wonder some people don't want the place where they live not to become dense. if you like a dense place you should go to downtown, if you can't afford that you have several options: you can share the apartment . save money to buy a house. move to some place you can afford you know , i bought a house here, I don't want density and still I want less my main asset to decrease in value, sorry. will you pay me the difference between my morgatge and the new value of the house?.


AB July 1, 2016 @ 10:47 a.m.

So the property value of your house is more important than making the city of San Diego affordable?

Cities grow. Move the country if you dislike that fact.


dwbat July 1, 2016 @ 2:23 p.m.

How does one "move the country" (since it's way too big and heavy to move)?


AdamXC July 6, 2016 @ 11:19 a.m.

Alexander Bakst - I am really put off by your sense of entitlement. Someday you may learn that nobody owes you anything. If you cannot afford to buy a place right now, save money for a down payment and wait for the inevitable "bust" in the perpetual boom/bust real estate cycle. That's what adults do.


ICare July 6, 2016 @ 9:15 p.m.

OMG My family spent 26 years living in Mission Hills until a small minority of people who wanted no change, no density, ever, literally kicked my family out of the hood. My late husband, Bob Lawrence, had the temerity to envision housing at the block of Goldfinch and Washington. He developed 1Mission back in 2005 with 2 years of community input that included the preservation of the historical frontage along Washington Street. We even included 18% inclusive, very low income housing. Even this was not good enough for our "neighbors" and they appealed to city council. They appealed to a gutless Mayor Murphy and city council. Now the building is a flat roof with 5 stories. (Entitled to build 15 stories of incredible condo views in all directions was never an option for Bob Lawrence; but a 7 story building with a beautiful roof top garden and loft space in top level units would have been so much better than what is there today) How can 3 separate neighborhoods Mission Hills, Hillcrest, Bankers Hill have such a diverse opinion about the height of new and redeveloped properties? We have allowed a few NIMBY folks to run our hood into the ground with their myopic "visions" instead of embracing climate change which means density along transit corridors. It's called "Smart Growth" and many cities in California are doing it. Really! The threat of the coming global warming crisis makes the growth of our urban areas an imperative. The few activists who have fought density for years need to embrace "smart growth" and "infill development" — dense urban housing near mass transit. The lack of new housing development over the past few decades has made uptown almost unaffordable, especially for young families. But if our neighborhoods in uptown were to add of new housing, it could create an abundance of supply, thereby lowering prices. In addition, more housing developments will result in more money to build affordable units or more cash the city can use to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere. Plus more housing will allow more workers to live in San Diego, thereby slowing suburban sprawl. We must develop and build projects, especially housing projects, so we can keep up with the growth and high housing costs in our city and region. Funny, because some of the more vocal activists consider themselves to be liberal environmentalists. They need to finally start thinking globally and acting locally. The coming global warming crisis demands that they do more than just eat organic and drive an electric car. Density can make our neighborhoods and our city better — not worse. More people means growing our economy, our quality of life. Imagine more good restaurants (Brooklyn Girl and Patio at Goldfinch at 1Mission) coffee houses and small grocery stores — and more tax revenues. Come on neighbors, don't we all want to walk to a local restaurant or store, grab a cup of coffee and save the planet all at the same time?


Founder July 7, 2016 @ 8:29 a.m.

SD's housing market is only going one way UPWARD and the idea that more building is going to result in lower cost homes is a marketing ploy by Developers to be able to build more units per lot cheaper. The international value of the US$, SD's acceptance of wealth and SD's near perfect weather will insure that living here is always going to be expensive, especially for all those that don't already own here because those who are in the business of renting/leasing will squeeze their clients for every cent they can get, just like they are doing now,

I also believe that we will see property values double, especially for single family homes in cool neighborhoods as ever more of SD's homes are converted to either multi-family use or scraped and developed into multi-story rental units that are too valuable to sell, since they can be rented or leased, since there there will always be a high demand for housing in SD.

Consider this simplistic example (using round numbers): A developer buys a single family home for 600k and spends 400k developing the property.

If he builds 3 units and they are each worth 350k he has made 15% or $150,000. If he builds 4 units and they are each worth 350k he has made 40% or $400,000. If he builds 6 units and they are each worth 350k he has made 110% or $1,100,000.

Yes, the numbers are not exact but the idea is that the more he builds the greater his profits will become since he only has to pay for the land once. Add to this equation is that currently "stick built" construction can go up 6 stories so if you are building and can get the zoning, why not maximize your profits? This is why what we are seeing built is either tall or much taller, since once you decide to pay for site improvements to use steel you can build very tall like the new tall buildings being built along Balboa Park in Hillcrest that are all expensive “penthouses”.


Founder July 7, 2016 @ 8:33 a.m.

Marty - Please consider these questions for a follow-on story and then share the information you find out with us.  It will help us understand what percentage of the San Diego housing market is Low and Low-Moderate income housing (aka L&LMI units):

  1. How many Low and Low-Moderate income units (aka L&LMI units) were built in each of the last 20 years?

  2. Where were these L&LMI units built or better yet, can you provide us with a GIS map of where these L&LMI units are located?

  3. Can you rank the areas of SD that now have the highest to lowest number of total L&LMI units.

  4. Can you relate the number of L&LMI units to the number of new for sale or market rate units?

  5. What is the projected need of L&LMI units for the next 5, 10, 15 and 20 years?

==> Unless we start building housing near to where people work (instead of just where land is less expensive like Mid-City) we will not be able to "solve" our transportation problems, so the above information is key to solving SD's Climate Change challenge.


pjamason2 July 7, 2016 @ 6:07 p.m.

Timely article on bringing pro-housing and anti-displacement people together:

For every Uptown resident opposed to development because it won't create any affordable housing, another resident says that younger people don't deserve affordable housing in Uptown in the first place. It's impossible to accommodate both of those views. And residents who rented or bought in Uptown in the 1980's and 90's don't seem to comprehend (or care) about how much more unaffordable rents are there today.

I agree we shouldn't remove existing affordable housing, but when I look at the blocks in the Gateway project, I don't see much in the way of any housing. Maybe I'm missing it, but would development on these blocks truly remove affordable housing?


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