North Park, Golden Hill CPUs reveal city’s vision
By Ken Williams | Editor
What will North Park and Golden Hill look like in 2035? Nobody knows for sure, but a vision of the future can be found in two Community Plan Updates (CPU) that the San Diego City Council unanimously approved on Oct. 25.
That vision preserves historic neighborhoods in North Park, University Heights, South Park and Golden Hill, and welcomes high-density development along major transit corridors to provide more housing and additional alternative transportation opportunities in these urban areas.
“North Park and Golden Hill are two of San Diego’s most treasured communities,” Councilmember Todd Gloria said in a statement released after the council vote. Gloria represents District 3, which includes the North Park, Greater Golden Hill and Uptown community planning groups.
The Uptown CPU will go before the City Council on Nov. 14.
“I am proud that the plans the council approved [on Oct. 25] balance the priorities of preserving their rich historic character with responsibly locating growth so that new housing opportunities can encourage more climate-friendly lifestyles,” Gloria said.
“These plan updates add new housing capacity to both of these communities, allowing new units to be built to address San Diego’s housing affordability crisis. I thank and commend the volunteers on our community planning groups for their eight years of effort on these plans and for productively working on solutions to address San Diego’s housing needs.”
Preliminary work on these three CPUs began in 2009. Because they were connected by geography and history, the city’s Planning Department lumped together the efforts to update the three CPUs by working closely with the North Park Planning Committee, Greater Golden Hill Planning Group and the Uptown Planners. Over the years, each volunteer group conducted hundreds of public meetings with stakeholders, residents and community leaders to craft a policy document that will guide future development over the next two decades.
A CPU is a long-range planning document that regulates zoning and development, and is part of the city’s General Plan. The North Park CPU had not been updated since 1986 and the Greater Golden Hill CPU since 1988. The Uptown CPU is just as old.
Density and height for new housing and commercial projects became a key issue for a number of stakeholders. North Park, Golden Hill and the Uptown area are long-established communities, so there are few parcels of land available for new development. Some residents fought hard to maintain status quo, while others battled for more density and an end to an Interim Height Ordinance in Hillcrest, which they believed stifled opportunity for providing affordable housing with a population boom forecast for America’s Finest City.
As drafts of the three CPUs were being finalized late last year, the City Council in December approved the ambitious Climate Action Plan (CAP) that legally binds San Diego to slash its carbon footprint in half by 2035 — about the same time that the new CPUs will be updated again. The three local planning groups and city planners had to scramble at the last minute to ensure that the CPUs would reflect those goals. And some critics of the plans, including Nicole Capretz of the Climate Action Campaign, argued that the CPUs do not adequately address the CAP issue.
Community plans provide development regulations including maximum density and height for new housing and commercial projects. Although opportunities for growth existed under the old plans and have only increased modestly through these updates, both communities have very little undeveloped land and focused on concentrating higher density development along corridors with access to high quality transit, in line with the city’s CAP, according to a statement issued by Gloria.
Before the CPUs made it to City Council, they were reviewed by the city’s Committee on Smart Growth and Land Use on Oct. 5. The committee forwarded the CPUs to the City Council without a recommendation, but has extracted a commitment from Planning Director Jeff Murphy that his staff would remove sections of the documents related to historic districts and the CAP so that the language could be tweaked to satisfy stakeholders.
On the day of the City Council review, Murphy issued a “CAP memo” that detailed additional predictions about what commuting habits will be like in coming years. The consulting firm Kimley-Horn & Associates, which assisted planners in arriving at initial forecasts on commuting patterns to be included in documents in support of the CPUs, said other ways to reduce traffic would be to encourage things like unbundled parking, parking cash-out programs for employees, price employee parking, and providing enhanced bicycle facilities concurrent with street repaving. Other methods included providing workers with annual transit passes and shuttles from transit stations; offering carpool and vanpool subsidies; flexible or alternative work hours; and bike sharing, bike parking and showers and lockers for employees who bike to work.
“The CAP recognizes that there are multiple ways to achieve the GHG [greenhouse gases] emission goals and that flexibility in implementation is necessary to allow the City to refine its strategies to achieve the most effective path to obtain the desired results,” Murphy said in the memo. “As we continue to implement the CAP, as technologies advance and progress, as tracking and monitoring strategies improve, and as we learn from the results of the annual CAP monitoring report, we will be able to make those necessary adjustments to ensure that we timely meet the aggressive goals committed to in the city’s Climate Action Plan.”
Murphy’s memo apparently eased the concerns of many stakeholders and the councilmembers. Still, an equal number of speakers at the City Council meeting urged the councilmembers to postpone the vote.
Vicki Granowitz, chair of the North Park Planning Committee, said stakeholders agreed to higher density on transit corridors along Park Boulevard, El Cajon Boulevard, 30th Street and University Avenue “for the greater good.”
“Change is already occurring in the area, regardless,” she said, noting that the CPU protected the “community’s character.”
Mark Gould, who described himself as a developer of affordable housing, said “the plan does incentivize affordable housing.” But he was concerned that it required heightened scrutiny, such as a Process 4 review, which takes longer and adds to the cost of building a new project.
Another developer, Andrew Mallick, said the city should make it easier — not more difficult — to redevelop in the area. He urged planners to consider a Process 3 review, which takes less time and costs less for developers.
Danny Fitzgerald, a developer, said the lack of growth is causing social inequality issues in the city because it is driving up rental prices.
At the Committee on Smart Growth and Land Use hearing last month, Councilmember Gloria pushed for city planners to provide analysis for how the updated plans would help the city reduce its green house gas emissions and advocated for projects that promoted biking, walking and transit use.
Gloria also requested staff to work with stakeholders to address community concerns regarding preserving historic resources. Planning staff made the commitment over the next three years to study seven historic districts that were prioritized by the North Park and Golden Hill planning committees. Staff also agreed to engage the public to develop additional citywide policies to help protect historic resources.
“It was vital that these plans provide protection for historic neighborhoods and help the city meet our Climate Action Plan goals, as they are the roadmap for development in these communities for the next several decades,” Gloria said. “Having a good community plan is one part of the equation, but ultimately the market must build the plans out and make them a reality. It will be up to future councils and mayors to monitor the success of these plans and make plan amendments to make sure we are promoting responsible growth in the city and doing enough to conserve San Diego’s environment for future generations.”
The CPUs for North Park and Golden Hill will require a second reading and a 30-day statutory period before taking effect, likely by year’s end.
—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.