By Sharon Gehl
Issues related to the update of the Uptown Community Plan did not go away with the City Council’s adoption of the new plan in December.
Mission Hills Heritage (MHH) and Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) have filed a lawsuit complaining that the new plan would not do what they wanted, it would not lower the amount of housing that can be built in Uptown in the future, or restrict over 3,800 property owners from improving their old buildings.
MHH worked for over seven years to reduce the amount of middle class housing that can be built in multifamily areas of Uptown near public transit and jobs, because they say that it would be bad for “neighborhood character.”
“Neighborhood character” is a subjective term that we all define differently. Since Uptown is 80 percent multifamily, I think more apartments and condos would fit right in. Even Mission Hills is a 50-50 mix of multi- and single-family housing if you look at the census data, so more housing in the commercial area would not be out of character.
MHH also complains that more housing in Uptown would be bad for the environment. Actually, on average, people who live in multifamily housing use less energy than those who live in single-family houses; so more multifamily housing in Uptown would be better for the environment than building single-family houses in Temecula and telling people to drive 60 miles to jobs in Hillcrest.
Not allowing the Mission Hills community to consider any building taller than 50 feet in the commercial area would be just another way to keep the middle class out of Mission Hills. More projects like One Mission at the corner of Washington and Goldfinch streets would actually fit right into the community and improve it.
Members of MHH say that they also want to protect the “historic character” of Mission Hills. This is another subjective term that people don’t agree on. I think that the overwhelming majority of people in Mission Hills take good care of their property. The neighborhood has continually changed and improved over 100 years. There is no need to force historic regulations on owners against their will.
The majority of people do not want to live in museum houses. The proof is the very fact that preservationists think they need to “save” buildings by taking control away from owners and forcing them to turn their property into museum exhibits.
The MHH board doesn’t represent the average Uptown resident. They don’t represent the views of the 80 percent of residents who live in multifamily housing, or renters who are concerned about the cost of living, and not the views of business owners who want more customers who walk to their stores and restaurants, and certainly not the views of the owners of over $7 billion in property that would have lost value if MHH’s plan had been adopted.
This isn’t about developers, it’s about people. Just as farmers grow food because people want to eat, developers build housing where people want to live. No one would want to build housing in Uptown if people didn’t want to live here. Lowering densities is about keeping out people who can’t afford to buy or rent something expensive.
The CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] environmental analysis did study various plan alternatives, one of which was to keep the adopted Community Plan with the removal of the Interim Height Ordinance. The final plan that the City Council adopted tweaked this option by lowering densities in part of Mission Hills so that densities could be raised in a few other areas, while keeping the overall projected housing numbers the same. These changes were not enough to change the findings of the environmental analysis and require a new study be done.
In the end, the City Council voted for a compromise that keeps the status quo. The new plan won’t result in much new housing in the next 20 years, or do much to fight climate change. The proof is that the current densities haven’t resulted in much new housing in the 28 years since the last community plan lowered them in 1988. We’ve averaged only 0.4 percent annual growth in Uptown since the 1988 Community Plan was adopted. At this rate (0.4 percent times 20 years), we would expect only 8 percent growth in population in the next 20 years, or an increase of only 2,880 people over our current population of 36,000. That isn’t enough growth to accommodate our own children.
To build enough new housing for our children and other people’s children, and fight climate change, we need to find ways to increase densities, rather than sue the city to try to keep housing from being built right where it should be built, in urban areas where people want to live, close to jobs, stores and great restaurants.
—Sharon Gehl is a Mission Hills resident who is on the board of the Hillcrest Community Development Corp. She termed out as a member of the Mission Hills Town Council.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.