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.
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.
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.