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Five Points business owners grapple with pot clubs, proposed bike lane

Posted: November 29th, 2010 | Five Points-Middletown, Uncategorized | No Comments

Kevin Faulconer

WHAT: Results of feasibility study on bike lanes proposed for India St. and Kettner Blvd.
WHEN: Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Uptown Planners meeting, Alice Birney Elementary School auditorium, 4345 Campus Ave. in University Heights
INFO: 835-9501 or uptownplanners.org

As Uptown Partnership disbands, Middletown moves to form independent CDC

By Pat Sherman/SDUN Assistant Editor

A newly-formed group of business owners in the Middletown-Five Points area met this month to discuss a variety of issues, from a proposed bike lane on India Street to the feared proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in their community. 

San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Kevin Faulconer, who represents Council District 2, attended the meeting in El Indio Restaurant’s board room to address their concerns. Faulconer’s district includes the Middletown-Five Points area, located near the nexus of Washington Street and Interstate 5.

Middletown business owner and attorney Jim Mellos circulated a map in which large dots represented areas where pot dispensaries would be prohibited. On the map, Middletown’s industrial-commercial zone on the west side of the I-5 is free of dots and thus open to new dispensaries, he said.  

Mary Gluck, co-owner of the Wine Vault & Bistro on India Street, said that while the dispensaries would be located on the opposite side of the freeway from her restaurant, she feels they would still lead to an increase in crime on the east side of I-5.

Faulconer said his office has fielded numerous complaints about dispensaries in Mission Beach from neighbors and business owners, who claim the clients are “coming in at all times of the night and … raising hell.”

“Like any business, it might have a good operator, it might have a bad operator,” he said.

Existing pot dispensaries in San Diego are technically illegal, because current zoning does not allow them. In January, the city council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would allow dispensaries to open in specific commercial and industrial zones that include no residential uses. The clubs would have to operate as nonprofits and not be located within 1,000 feet of another marijuana dispensary, school, youth center, day care center or religious institution.

Faulconer said he believes the ordinance “will give the police department the (ability) to make sure that they are good neighbors.”

Also addressing the group, San Diego Police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo suggested that business owners recruit someone to “put in a school of some kind” on the west side of I-5.

“In regard to the dispensaries, I’m not a fan of any of them,” Surwilo said. “The problem that we’re running into is with 18-, 19-, 21-and 22-year-olds that seem to have chronic headaches and all these other issues—and now they have dispensaries.

“Up in North Park we’ve had people going in and sticking up these dispensaries,” Surwilo said, adding that he believes much of the product is coming from cartels across the border, rather than local growing cooperatives, as was the intent of state’s Compassionate Use Act, passed in 1996.

“If that’s the way these nonprofits are supposed to be run, then why are we finding tunnels with thousands of pounds being snuck over here?” Surwilo said. “There’s no way, as Mr. Faulconer said, that these are not for-profit (ventures). These people are making money.”

The group also expressed concern about the addition of a proposed bike lane along India Street, between Laurel and Washington streets. Another bike lane is proposed for Kettner Boulevard, on the opposite side of I-5.

The owner of a transmission shop on India Street said cars traveling North on India, especially those en route from the airport or coming off I-5, tend to travel “at the same pace as on the freeway, so a bike lane would kill people.”

John Keating of Linscott, Law & Greenspan Engineers will present the results of a preliminary feasibility study on the proposed bike lanes at the Uptown Planers meeting on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.

Leo Wilson, a Park West resident and member of the Uptown Planners, also voiced concern about a bike lane on India Street. He said as motorists turn north off Laurel Street onto India, entering a tunnel, it’s “a death trap for bicyclists.”

“I’m a bike person,” Wilson said. “I didn’t have a car for four years. That is the most dangerous street imaginable.”

Officer Surwilo characterized the bike lane proposal as “freaking nuts.”

“Even if you put a (speed limit) sign every 10 feet, they’re still not going to go 35 miles an hour,” Surwilo said. “They got tired of sitting at the airport waiting for their relatives. Now they’re just like, ‘Get me the hell out of this area,’ so they’re racing up Laurel Street, they’re making the turn and they’re racing to get on this freeway.”

Kathy Keehan is executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, one of the groups championing the bike lanes. Keehan said she doesn’t believe the tunnel on India Street is as dangerous as opponents make it out to be.

“It looks scarier than it is,” Keehan said. “Most people are pretty good about keeping their cars where they should be.”

Keehan said one of the proposals in the feasibility study is to add additional lighting in the tunnel and elevate the bike lane.

“It is feasible to do continuous bike lanes all the way down India and Kettner, although there have to be some changes to the roadway,” she  said. 

One of those changes, Keehan said, would be to add a traffic signal at the freeway off-ramp to moderate the flow of traffic.

To make room for the bike lane and additional on-street parking, the width of the traffic lanes—uncharacteristically wide by modern standards—could be truncated and the number of lanes reduced from two to three, said Walter Musial, an associate principal at Linscott, Law & Greenspan Engineers.

At one point where India Street presently narrows to two lanes (in the 3300 block, near the Aero Club Bar), existing on-street parking would have to be eliminated to accommodate the bike lane.

“The big problem is that the lanes are too wide and people have this mental fixation that this is just a bypass,” Musial said, noting that the bike lane would be roadway, but separated from the road by a painted median.

Keehan said the bike lane on Kettner would require removal of an existing lane of traffic or about 100 on-street parking spaces adjacent to the freeway.

Wilson said the city has already allowed for a bike lane along Pacific Coast Highway. With the planned expansion of the airport’s passenger operations northward along Pacific Coast Highway, mitigation funds would be available for improvements to that bike lane, he said.

“Pacific Coast Highway is going to be improved, so you’ve got plenty of room to put the bike lane over there,” he said.

Keehan said Wilson’s point was raised during a recent presentation of the plans to the North Bay Community Planning Group (which represents the area near the San Diego Sports Arena).

“My point back to them is that bicyclists are allowed to use all the streets,” Keehan said. “Why would we not make it safe for them to be on all of our streets?”

Keehan said airport renovations also would create more intersections and traffic along Pacific Coast Highway—“already not one of the best places to be on a bike.”

“If you live or work along India Street, Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t really serve your needs,” she said.

Part of the airport expansion may include linking the airport directly to I-5, so that less people would be utilizing surface streets to access the freeway, Keehan said, though completion of the project isn’t expected until as late as 2030.

Officer Surwilo said the solution for traffic calming along India—with or without a bike lane—will require persistence on the part of business owners and residents.

“It’s going to take a long time, but if you stay together as a group and if you stay loud and if you stay interested and you stay vocal you can get it done,” he said.  “I can get more officers down here and they can sit down here with their radar guns, and they’ll do that for about two or three weeks, but it’s not solving the problem.”

During the meeting, Middletown business owners also made a motion to form a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC). The CDC would manage parking and traffic-related projects in the Middletown-Five Points area, in conjunction with another newly formed CDC in Bankers Hill. Business owners discussed that plan earlier this year, before the announcement of Uptown Partnership’s dissolution. They sought to succeed from the Partnership, believing that the embattled organization had not completed a fair share of parking-related projects in Middletown-Five Points.

 “A CDC is a nonprofit in which you can bring funds into the community,” Wilson explained. “We have quite a few attorneys around who would run it. It would just be sort of a holding group. They wouldn’t be involved in policy.”

A petition was circulated for business owners to sign, requesting that the City of San Diego allow them to form the Five Points-Middletown CDC and break away from the Mission Hills Business Improvement District (BID).

The petition read, in part, “Since its inception, almost no funds have been allocated for projects in our area and we want to finally have a say in how our taxes benefit our specific business district.”

The group is requesting that all business taxes collected by the Mission Hills BID be immediately redirected for the formation of their CDC.

Faulconer told the nearly 30 people in attendance that he supports their plans.

“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted significant changes in the Uptown Partnership,” he said. “It’s a lot of money to be collected on parking meter revenue, and if it’s not going where the community wanted, we’ve got to make a change. I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a very good result coming out of that.”

In response to complaints about motor homes camping in front of homes and businesses for extended periods, Faulconer said he has spoken with the city council about creating an oversized vehicle ordinance to address the problem in Middletown-Five Points.

However, because other council members have proposed similar ordinances for their districts, the costs have become temporarily prohibitive, he said.

“The cost of doing that became astronomical because, in order to pass legal muster, you have to in essence have everywhere in your city or that community marked and signed, (stating) that we have an oversized vehicle ordinance.

“I’ve not given up on that,” Faulconer said. “We’re going to keep pushing. It will come back in some form this (coming) year.”

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