Featured letter of the week
Hillcrest is already a model of sustainable development and smart growth. It already has high density close to transit. It is the most walkable neighborhood in San Diego. It has plenty of shops and restaurants. And it is a beautiful neighborhood with lots of green space.
But for some strange reason, we who live in Hillcrest are expected to give up our quality life when it is really the rest of sprawling San Diego that needs to change. We are expected to watch as our landscaping disappears and buildings are built to the lot line. We are expected to put up with even more traffic gridlock than we have now.
It is not Hillcrest that needs to change, it is places like Clairemont, North Park and most of the rest of San Diego that need to change.
I mention North Park, because I keep seeing letters to Uptown News criticizing Hillcrest by people who claim to live in North Park. They call Hillcrest a “dump,” and one even says that he doesn’t care what happens in Hillcrest because he’ll be sipping his craft beer in hipster North Park.
North Park is a planning disaster. It is not walkable. University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard are strip-mall eyesores. Ugly six- and 12-pack apartment buildings were shoved all through North Park between University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard and the streets are crammed with cars. Then there is the “marvel” of 30th Street with its gentrification, and eating and drinking establishments that are hip now but probably won’t be forever. All serviced by an ugly parking garage. You can put lipstick on a pig.
Transit-oriented development is a nice idea, but impractical in San Diego County, which spreads over 4,200 square miles. If you live and work Downtown, you can give up your car — and also limit your options. But guess what. Residential high-rises Downtown have parking for residents. So even high-rises Downtown don’t cause people to drive less. People are going to drive no matter what. Just look at San Francisco — after New York, probably the most car-unfriendly city in the nation — and the streets are packed day and night with cars.
Affordable housing? Show me one new housing project in the last 10 years that could be considered affordable in Uptown. When you build up, prices go up as well. The price of the cheapest condo in a high-rise going up on Fifth Avenue in Park West is $700,000, on top of which you can expect to pay $700 or more a month in HOA dues. I guess the North Park hipsters who want Hillcrest to “build up” are trust fund babies waiting for Mommy and Daddy to leave them their inheritances. Or maybe they’re just development industry shills.
It is nothing less than an outrage that the city expects Uptown to increase its population by 50 percent when our collapsing infrastructure doesn’t even support the population we have now. Washington Street is full of potholes. University Avenue isn’t much better. Has San Diego updated all of its water and sewage pipes? I don’t think so.
This can only happen in a town where politicians are owned lock, stock and barrel by developers. And then they have the nerve to talk about smart growth and preserving the environment! None of this has anything to do with the environment — it’s all about money and greed!
I hope that a lawsuit is filed to force the city to upgrade its infrastructure and provide the amenities it is supposed to provide (but hasn’t) before even one more unit of housing is added.
And certainly a court should order a halt to more development in San Diego until the drought ends and a water supply and storage system is developed so that we don’t go through this again in the future.
Then there are the business people who want more customers. Hey, if you can’t find them here, go somewhere else. You would think that these business owners could only do business in Hillcrest. You can do business anywhere in the world. I live in Hillcrest near Bankers Hill and I won’t even walk into central Hillcrest anymore on a regular basis. It is filthy. That has nothing to do with lack of development.
The same goes for developers. Go Downtown! You can build high-rises there.
Oh, wait. What we’re really talking about here is landowners who want Downtown prices for Uptown land. Well, sorry. That land is not Downtown, so it’s not worth the millions you are demanding. And trying to make it worth that by forcing zoning changes is nothing other than greedily demanding something that you didn’t earn and that you don’t deserve.
I sometimes think that the city has deliberately tried to cause blight in Hillcrest with lack of infrastructure and lack of maintenance in order to eventually say, “See? We told you so. Hillcrest needs to change!”
—Andrew Towne via sduptownnews.com
[Editor’s note: Checking the walkability scores from various websites, the Hillcrest neighborhood does not rank in the Top 5 of the most walkable places in San Diego. Little Italy, Horton Plaza, Core-Columbia, Gaslamp Quarter, Cortez Hill, Marina, Harborview, East Village and North Park consistently place ahead of Hillcrest in various lists found online. One list, though, did have Hillcrest finishing ahead of North Park for walkability. Part of the problem in Hillcrest may lie in the fact that the community is divided by state Route 163. Also, Andrew, did you read our story about the rebirth of El Cajon Boulevard? [Volume 7, Issue 25 or bit.ly/1TNVbUm] Lots of good things are happening on “The Boulevard” from Park Boulevard eastward to City Heights.]
Opinions about density
Re: “Uptown Planners enter into ‘twilight zone’” [Volume 8, Issue 4 or at bit.ly/21bsMw9]
Excellent summary of the Feb. 2 Uptown Planners meeting in Uptown News.
I look forward to a report on the Feb. 16 meeting in Balboa Park. I could not attend.
You did an excellent job summarizing the facts, issues and responses of the parties.
At a meeting to review the plan in Mission Hills earlier this winter, the audience was split 50/50 for and against increased density and for and against the constraints of the CPOZ/Design Review elements.
I have been engaged in Uptown issues since moving here in 1984. Not much has changed with respect to feelings about growth and development.
I am very glad to see the city step in and modify the draft Uptown Plan so it might better comply with the Climate Action Plan. The lack of “sustainability” in the draft plan was evident. The plan needs a whole lot more work to be integrated with North Park, Golden Hill, Downtown and the General Plan. But at least the thought process has started.
Its too bad the draft plan still leaves as tabula rasa (or terra incognito) the very large institutional parcels in Uptown: UCSD Medical Center, Florence Elementary School and San Diego City School District headquarters. They could form the heart of a redeveloped Uptown that might actually balance jobs, housing (including affordable housing), urban parks and infrastructure.
But it has not been discussed.
So the update, like so many others in San Diego, continues to be a reaction and not a plan at all.
—Peter H. StClair by email
Density increases can be positive if properly managed, and not so positive if done the wrong way. Turning these areas into typical big city dirty urban areas with no parking and little green space, while doing nothing to expand public transit coverage to other areas, is not smart growth. It costs less to expand transit routes than it does to build 20-story buildings everywhere.
Unfortunately Todd Gloria and his minions think everyone can be forced onto buses and that no one needs an automobile of their own. Their logic (or lack of it, as these are not the types of politicians who actually think for themselves, they merely parrot the latest “progressive” talking points) also fails to acknowledge major shifts now underway in transportation technology, and fails to acknowledge that there are more creative and more elegant approaches to smart growth than simply cramming as much density as possible along bus lines. As one example, how about actually creating inherently safe, protected bike lanes throughout San Diego? San Diego is decades behind the rest of the world in this area.
—David Gleason via our website
Interesting article, thank you. Very informative and lively. I do take exception with the use of phrases such as “against growth.” I know of no one against growth. I know many people, including myself, who want intelligently planned and managed growth for our community, rather than uncontrolled growth designed to make absentee investors as rich as possible.
—Deborah Pettry via our website
Over these many years, Hillcrest has been a wonderful place to live and shop. It is sad that the HBA (Hillcrest Business Association) is now promoting higher density and open height areas instead of supporting the “mom and pop” businesses already established which pay membership dues to their organization.
It ain’t right!
—Old Hillcrester via our website
There is nothing wrong with building and increasing density if we have the transportation solutions … and we do not. More buses (crowding the road further) isn’t the answer. Until you put a few trolley lines or light rail in (up Fourth, Fifth, Sixth avenues and Park Boulevard and east- west corridors like Washington Street, University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard and Adams Avenue) … the developers will destroy the city.
Build the infrastructure first and then build the density projects. It’s absurd how backwards San Diego is. The Uptown area was built out by the trolley line in the 1900s. PUT IT BACK!
—Nathan via our website
Uptown Planner Michael Brennan says, “We need to put more money into transportation.”
But neither the city nor SANDAG are doing that! They have been putting their money into freeway expansion. And into the hands of developers who get to build height and density in Uptown with no significant funding for transportation,
There is NO funding for a Park Boulevard trolley, and just a teeny bit for a Rapid Bus that might shave 30 seconds off your already excessively long and expensive bus trip.
Why not put the density and height in the freeway transportation corridors, like Interstate 15, where they spent all our transportation dollars?
—Tim Gahagan via our website
“No parking and little green space” – ideally, the green space will go where the parking is now. Parking lots are a hideous blight.
Do you want people, or do you want cars? Nobody is saying you can’t have parking, they’re just saying the taxpayers aren’t going to pay for your car storage. Rent a spot in a garage.
—Robert via our website
Despite what some people might say, the city is not proposing increasing densities in Uptown. For proof, look at the maps in the presentation that the city staff gave at the Feb. 2 Uptown Planners meeting. The city may be proposing putting some properties back to what they currently are, but most of the maps still show down-zoning. Go to the city website for Uptown and look at the “Revised (January 2016) Land Use presentation” at bit.ly/1XAcz1t.
Why after six years of work and countless meetings has the city produced a Community Plan for Uptown that would reduce densities exactly where the City General Plan and the Climate Action Plan says we should have more housing; within walking distance of jobs, stores, and bus stops? They did it because the anti-growth activists got control of the Uptown Planners board and therefore of the plan.
None of this would matter if it weren’t for the fact that people want to live in Uptown. No one would want to build new housing in Uptown if they didn’t know they could sell or rent it quickly. The only reason to lower densities is to keep new people out. This plan won’t keep out people who can afford million dollar condos, or the homeless; it will only keep the middle and working class out. This is social class discrimination, plain and simple.
Want to fix the plan and save the environment and the middle class? Attend the Uptown Planners board election March 1 and vote to change the board.
—Sharon Gehl via our website
After six years of hard work by informed community members, multiple meetings and workshops, input from every conceivable stake holder, the draft plan has been revamped at the last minute to satisfy the demands of outsider developers and greedy property owners. Money is the pure objective here, not the betterment of the community.
To claim that this last minute doubling of height limits and densities in Hillcrest is necessary to satisfy the CAP, and that nothing has been built in 10 years, is absurd and laughable. Obviously these people have not been living here, and the health of the planet is not their priority. Our streets are gridlocked now and what they are building is far from affordable. I have been commuting by bike for 37 years and it has become more and more difficult, even with improved bike lanes, because of traffic. Thousands of people are not giving up their cars.
Hillcrest is and always has been dense in population. The draft plan before it was hijacked already allowed for considerable increased density and heights in a formula that would allow growth but protect the neighborhood from becoming University City. This is what our hard working planners and community members developed through this lengthy process. Why did we work this hard if it was to be thrown out to profit huge development companies? And this money does not stay in the community.
No one is trying to protect strip malls, just the sunlight on our streets, the diversity in the character of the neighborhood, the human scale.
The pro-super-density people say look at North Park, but North Park has no 100-foot, 200-foot buildings. They say Hillcrest should be the next Little Italy. I recall that Little Italy rolled back their density/height allowances, as their streets became totally shadowed, etc. (And why would we want to be Little Italy? There are many services available in our vibrant Hillcrest beyond eating and drinking.)
Uptown and Hillcrest are deficient in park space and have no recreation center or aquatics facility. Stuffing 20,000 more people in the area is excessive with little hope for improved infrastructure.
Finally, I am really disturbed by and disappointed in this sneaky last minute revamp by our City Planners. We deserve better than this.
—Deirdre Lee via our website
Ms. Lee claims there is a “doubling of densities,” yet much of Uptown is actually being downzoned from the 1988 Community Plan: bit.ly/1oyFJC5. The “heart of Hillcrest” commercial area is being kept at the same density.
We are already witnessing record global temperatures, massive Arctic snowpack melting and seas rising at the fastest rate in 2,800 years. And Uptown residents respond by blocking San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, because of parking and traffic concerns?
—Paul Jamason via our website
About that tidal wave
Re: “Guest editorial: A tidal wave is about to hit Hillcrest” by Mat Wahlstrom [Volume 8, Issue 3 or bit.ly/1nL64Nq. Carol Emerick’s letter to the editor was printed in Volume 8, Issue 4 or at bit.ly/1QM7Qo5]
Ms. Carol Emerick, you seem to be confused. Uptown is reducing its housing potential significantly in the new updated plan. Nothing is being increased at all, in totality. Vast swaths of the community are being DOWNZONED in order to accommodate the NIMBY [not in my back yard] demands of homeowners who are either misguided on basic economic principals (supply/demand) or are selfishly seeking to boost their own property values. Ms. Emerick, those people whom you are concerned about (cooks, servers, renters, seniors, etc.) are being pushed out of not only Hillcrest but all of the urban core because of the restrictive housing policies put in place by community planning groups like Uptown Planners. More home construction and less regulation would lower rents and increase affordability. Supply. Demand. Simple. And Hillcrest has the bones for growth. And it’s the Uptown Planners that have been denying necessary improvements (bike lanes, transit, new recreational facilities). The sad truth is that there will never be enough “infrastructure” in the eyes of NIMBYs. We can’t widen roads or build parking garages on every block. No, the only outcome they seek is to discriminately keep others out – which ends up destroying the very communities they want to protect (assuming that was even their genuine goal in the first place – I’m sure their property values say much more…).
—Matthew via our website
Carol: You seem to have it all wrong here. Uptown Planners is a group who only care about THEMSELVES. They are business owners and retirees whose only agenda to keep Hillcrest stagnant, and it seems to be working. The result is a tired-looking neighborhood with a great location.
And please spare me with the gridlock on Fifth, Sixth, Robinson, etc. When? Could it be during rush hour, which happens in every large city in the world? San Diego is no different.
And as a resident of Hillcrest for 40 years, I can only imagine how much you reminisce about Mission Valley being nothing cow pastures. Time to join the 21st century and accept change or be left in the dust. Then again, all you have to do is look out your door to see that Hillcrest is being left in the dust as we speak.
—Justin G. via our website
What’s wrong with density?
Returning to my Hillcrest home after eight years in San Francisco, I’m sorry to find that the neighborhood has lost vitality, and local residents are still bickering about density. All the world’s great, livable cities have much higher densities than Uptown. My neighborhood in San Francisco was built out at three to six stories over nearly the entire area. It was so vibrant that tourists from around the world came to enjoy its stores and restaurants. I rarely needed to use my car since everything was in easy walking distance.
Locally, Downtown San Diego has densities higher than we’d ever see in our lifetimes in Uptown, yet the traffic is not so bad. Compare that to suburban areas such as the north city, where low densities go hand-in-hand with terrible traffic. The specter of Los Angeles is always raised by low-density advocates, but LA is primarily a low-density, single-family city — it’s the sprawl that makes their traffic so bad. It’s ironic that growth opponents point to LA as the example of what we want to avoid, while their policies would ensure that’s exactly what we would become.
We need hundreds of new homes in Hillcrest as soon as possible to breathe life back into our businesses.
—Larry Penman via email
Drivers, obey the law
Re: “A rising toll: 54 lives lost in 2015” [Volume 8, Issue 4 or at bit.ly/20HkTfV]
Educating neighbors on how to create safer streets is mentioned in the article. Here’s a starting point: Educate drivers about the pedestrian right-of-way law.
As I cross El Cajon Boulevard at Alabama or Mississippi streets — intersections without marked crosswalks — NO ONE, not even police cars, stops for pedestrians.
Unless my understanding is obsolete, the law states that at intersections, with or without marked crosswalks, pedestrians have right of way. And get this: When I requested that the city at least place a crosswalk at one of these intersections, the traffic engineers did their study, and the response came back that they couldn’t do that. Why? Because it would create liability, since there are no “traffic calming” measures on that stretch of “The Boulevard,” so drivers speed and would be less likely to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk! In other words, damn the law; WALKER BEWARE. Remarkable, isn’t it?
—Linda Castaneda via email
Density and transportation
Re: “The law of density,” an opinion column by architect Eric Domeier [Volume 8, Issue 4 or bit.ly/1TsUzqD]
Thank you Eric for this well-written opinion column. Let me add that to carry out the state climate legislation, the city of San Diego recently adopted a Climate Action Plan that was also approved by the Uptown Planners. The plan calls for reducing pollution by building half of all new housing within half a mile of trolley and bus stops in Uptown and other urban areas. Here is a link to the plan: bit.ly/1p218z8. The most important part is the map on the last page of the Appendices that shows where densities should be increased.
—Sharon Gehl via our website
There is one glaring failure in logic in this opinion column and in the statements of those who propose (apparently) unlimited density near bus lines: They have not actually quantified what level of density is appropriate and why the density allowed by current zoning would not be sufficient. They want to maximize density in central to seemingly no limit, and would be perfectly OK with building 20-story buildings in every last foot of Uptown, while the suburbs continue with yet more sprawling McMansions, zero walkability, and fancy landscaping with 20-foot palm trees planted at our expense along the medians of all the new walled-off suburban thoroughfares.
These people don’t see any imbalance in this approach. They fail to see that there is any possible middle ground. They wouldn’t know a balanced, smart-growth approach if it hit them in the face. They’ll happily turn Uptown into a typical overcrowded, dirty, gridlocked area with no green space and no parking, while doing nothing to promote responsible, more intelligent development elsewhere. These people don’t have a clue about city planning, and all they know how to do is jump on board an overly simplistic knee-jerk cause with no awareness that tradeoffs might actually exist, or that people who disagree with them might actually have an insight or two. These people (including Todd Gloria and his minions) need to come back down to Earth and start talking real data and real facts and details for a change rather than pie-in-the-sky generalizations and poo-pooing everyone who’s not on their bandwagon.
—David Gleason via our website
The city hasn’t kept up its infrastructure for the population that it has now.
Until it does that, there shouldn’t be any more density added to Uptown.
And apparently, western Riverside County hasn’t gotten the message on smart growth. Tract after tract of sprawl development is taking over what used to be agricultural land.
This is all about developers making money — not the environment.
It’s about getting Downtown prices for Uptown land by rezoning for higher densities.
Never mind that our streets are already gridlocked. Are any of these proposed high rises going to have zero parking? I doubt it. Will they be affordable? No way!
—Andrew Towne via our website
Mr. Towne refers to “infrastructure” but we know that just means more and wider roads. How do we widen our roads without tearing down existing housing? And wider roads just encourage more driving (Google “induced demand”), pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change — while making our deadly streets even more dangerous for people on bikes and foot.
San Diego is a vibrant city, with over 3 million people in its metropolitan area, yet we expect our roads to be free of congestion? That’s completely unrealistic and a sorry excuse to prevent transit-oriented development in Uptown.
—Paul Jamason via our website
Veterans and road
Re: “The state of San Diego” [Volume 8, Issue 4 or bit.ly/1mKud5c]
I definitely support Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s infrastructure initiatives. Properly housing our veterans and improving our roads should be top of the list!
—Steve Walker via our website
‘Great insightful article’
Re: “Neighborhood schools are the new charters” [Volume 8, Issue 3 or bit.ly/1zIvrU6]
I agree with a lot you say here. If you don’t “like” the neighborhood school, be part of change. My child will be attending her neighborhood school. I teach at a school about 10 miles away and my co-workers often ask if I’d enroll my child at our school. I respect my co-workers reasons for doing it but I will not. I want her to grown up with neighborhood friends. Great insightful article.
—Ruby Baker via our website
A poor choice
Re: Saving the Golden Hill Fountain Grotto [Volume 8, Issue 2 or bit.ly/1nEhwcV]
Glad to see this happen, but too bad they chose Carpobrotus for some of their ice plant.
—H. Johnson via our website