By Ken Williams | Editor
After eight years and more than 100 public meetings, the North Park Planning Committee has finally given approval to the Community Plan Update (CPU) — along with a long list of additional advisements to the city’s Planning Department.
Community Plans are important policy documents that guide new development in San Diego’s neighborhoods and are part of the city’s General Plan. The new CPU will impact development in the greater North Park area for the next 20 years.
The committee voted 11-3 in favor of the final draft on Tuesday, Sept. 6, during a special meeting held at the Lafayette Hotel.
About 75 citizens and stakeholders attended the meeting, some signing up to make comments for the record. The crowd was split between those who didn’t like the proposed update and those who favored it.
Committee chair Vicki Granowitz called the meeting to order, reminding everyone that this process was “the first stop on the train” and that “we worked on this for eight years, and nothing’s perfect.” Still, Granowitz was resolute in her belief that the committee worked long and hard on the update plan, listened to residents at countless public meetings, and put together the best plan possible under the circumstances.
Planning Director Jeff Murphy told the audience that the update process took so long that the city has had four mayors and five planning directors during that time. He apologized to residents for the length of time, and thanked the committee for its hard work.
“This a good balance between competing priorities,” Murphy said, citing the city’s tough new Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gases; the desires for historical preservation; and the demands of the market. “This plan balances the needs of the community in a document that is a good compromise.”
Compromise was a word heard often during the evening, especially by committee members and senior city planner Lara Gates, who has been fine-tuning the document in cooperation with the advisory committee.
Gates gave a PowerPoint presentation to provide an overview of the process. She said the last update — which was in 1986 when Ronald Reagan was the president — was “revolutionary at the time, pushing multi-unit development to the transit corridors.” She said the CPU continues that goal by allowing greater density along major transportation routes: Park Boulevard, El Cajon Boulevard, University Avenue and the west side of Interstate 805.
Equally important, Gates said, is that the CPU protects historical residential areas south of University Avenue and north of Adams Avenue. She touted the affordable housing incentives provided through a density bonus plan and called the sustainability element of the CPU “really strong and a model for the rest of the city.”
The committee presented its own PowerPoint to show how it has dealt with several key issues raised by stakeholders:
- Historical preservation mitigation
- The controversial pedestrian oriented infill development program, which offers incentives for developers to redesign or eliminate the so-called Huffman six-unit apartment complexes that provide parking in front of the buildings and don’t seem to fit into the character of the community
- The loss of affordable housing
- The draft Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), which was missing results of a key study
“We thought the PEIR sucked!” Granowitz said candidly.
The people speak
Then it was time for public comments.
The biggest bloc of residents who opposed the plan came from University Heights, east of Park Boulevard, which marks the western border of the area the city designates as greater North Park. Interstate 805 marks the eastern boundary. Other neighborhoods within greater North Park are Altadena, Burlingame, Montclair and North Park.
The University Heights residents, including Kristin Harms with the University Heights Community Association, objected to the density bonus plan along the transit corridors and urged the committee to reject the CPU.
Bill Ellig, a member of the Uptown Planners, argued for a vote against the plan.
Tom Mullaney, another member of the Uptown Planners, objected to the CPU because of a deficit in parks, mobility issues and height limits. Later, committee member Howard Blackson would remind the audience that the current Community Plan allows unlimited heights at the corner of Park Boulevard and Adams Avenue, and said that the committee was trying to “rope that in.”
Steve and Katherine Hon, the husband-wife team from the North Park Historical Society, opposed the plan’s discouragement of the Huffmans and said the PEIR should be recirculated because of the missing data that has not been reviewed by the committee or the public. City planners said the final PEIR with responses to public comments should be released online by Friday, Sept. 9.
Judy Abud, a North Park resident since 1973, said the City of Villages approach won’t work without transit.
Some residents who support the plan also had a sense of humor. Millennial resident Kevin Wood said he moved to North Park eight years ago “for the beer!” He said his wife bikes to work Downtown and he was impressed with the Pershing Bikeway plan. He added that he bikes or takes the bus when he can to work in Kearny Mesa, but that’s not always convenient.
Several people who advocate for biking or alternative transportation, including Paul Jamason of BikeSD and Kathleen Ferrier from Circulate San Diego, spoke in favor of the plan.
Scott Kessler, head of the Adams Avenue Business Association, said density is necessary for the business community to thrive.
“Accept the idea that density is coming no matter what,” he said. “We need consumers in business districts, and density brings them.”
Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street, supported the plan and noted that it would not be implemented all at once.
“What I’m doing now started 20 years ago,” she said.
Several local restaurateurs and developers also gave the thumbs-up to the CPU.
Then committee members got their say.
Roger Morrison pointed out that two-thirds of the density in the CPU already exists from the previous plan. He applauded the Urban Design Element of the plan, which will guide how North Park looks in the future.
Robert Barry called it “a good plan.” He added that North Park has become the “city’s poster child for density and transit.”
Melissa Stayner and Robert Gettinger, who are both millennials, said the committee was looking to the future. Stayner worried about rising property values that will price out some residents and said, “We have to increase supply.” Gettinger said the CPU represents a good compromise for the growing needs of the community.
Steve Codraro said, “Growth isn’t waiting on us. Look around you. I am placing my faith in the future and will vote in favor.” However, he later voted against the plan, saying it was inappropriate to vote so soon when more work needed to be done.
Affordable housing was an issue that greatly bothered committee member Daniel Gebreselassie, who said the CPU doesn’t really address the issue. He later voted against the plan, citing that as his main reason.
Peter Hill said he realized that the committee was just tweaking a 30-year-old plan. “Think of it as adding a new kitchen,” he added.
Dionné Carlson said there was much to like about the CPU, particularly the sustainability emphasis in so many areas of the plan. She called the outgoing plan “fabulous and ahead of its time” and said the CPU advances those ideas.
Howard Blackson said, “We’re trying to fix North Park’s problems. There’s not many. We all love living here. There’s so much energy going on!” But he worried about the lack of affordable housing and transit, and criticized the PEIR for being forced to a previous vote without it containing study results and mitigation solutions.
Rick Pyles suggested holding out to get what the committee wants. Even though Pyles said he likes the CPU, he later voted no, because he didn’t think the last-minute advisements would be considered by city staff.
René Vidales said he loved North Park because “I can walk everywhere; I can take mass transit to work; and I feel safe here.” He said affordable housing is a citywide problem and called it a “city policy issue.”
Vicki Granowitz got the last word.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing’s perfect,” she said. “Overall it’s a really good plan. Whatever we give the city, they don’t have to listen. We are, after all, an advisory group. But change is coming to North Park whether we like it or not.”
After a long discussion over a lengthy “wish list” of additions to the CPU, the committee took their historical vote to give their approval to the CPU. Applause broke out in the room, from supporters in the audience and city planning officials.
The CPU now goes to the:
- Historic Resources Board, 1 p.m. Sept. 14
- Planning Commission, 9 a.m. Sept. 22
- Infrastructure Committee, 2 p.m. Sept. 22
- Smart Growth & Land Use Committee, Oct. 5
- City Council, sometime in October, for a final vote
To read the draft CPU, visit bit.ly/2bds6Fi.
To read the full motion, click here.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.