By Ken Williams | Editor
A common complaint among North Park residents is that the neighborhood is split between two police divisions, and some folks during a time of need are confused about which station to call.
Do you phone the Western Division or the Mid Cities Division for help during a non-emergency?
The issue plays out frequently on community-oriented apps such as Nextdoor.
In response to these safety concerns, the North Park Planning Committee voted unanimously on Sept. 15 to request that the San Diego Police Department place the Greater North Park area entirely within the Mid Cities Division.
The committee is an official advisory board to the city, which defines Greater North Park as a wide area that includes Burlingame to the south and University Heights east from Park Boulevard.
Currently, a majority of Greater North Park is served by the Mid Cities Division, located at 4310 Landis St. in City Heights. The Mid Cities Division service area ends on the east side of Texas Street, from the northern canyon rim south to Meade Avenue, then juts west to the east side of Park Boulevard south to Upas Street.
The planning committee wants the Mid Cities Division to include the stretch of University Heights east of Park Boulevard, so that the police coverage area matches up with the Community Plan overlay for Greater North Park. This part of Greater North Park is currently within the Western Division, located at 5215 Gaines St. in the Morena/Linda Vista communities. The rest of North Park was formerly served by the Western Division.
District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria was asked about the committee’s nonbinding vote and he told San Diego Uptown News that he believes all community members should feel safe in their neighborhoods. Gloria said he appreciates the North Park Planning Committee’s efforts to strengthen public safety and has relayed the committee’s request to the San Diego Police Department for consideration. He said he looks forward to the analysis and response from the department.
Vicki Granowitz, chair of the NPPC, a few days after the meeting explained further why the vote was important to North Park: “It makes us whole once again,” she said.
“When the bifurcation was done, it was done without any input from the NPCA [North Park Community Association]. Had we been asked, we would have said it was going to cause confusion to divide a planning area for police services that shares the land-use types, developments and the problems with the rest of North Park, than with Uptown Planners, Hillcrest or the rest of the Western Division. North Park shares more similarities with the rest of the Mid City Division areas than the Western Division,” Granowitz said.
Then there was another matter that made no sense to the North Park community.
“The [North Park Planning Committee] board and the North Park community couldn’t miss that the new boundary was the same as the University Heights Community Association boundary that had no official city standing and didn’t accurately represent the neighborhood of University Heights as laid out by the Assessor’s Office official maps,” Granowitz said.
Splitting a community into two police divisions has not sat well with North Park residents, she said.
“As we predicted, people were and are confused; they think they are in Uptown not North Park, or they call Mid City when they need to call Western.” Granowitz said. “When we or the NPCA are providing services, as we are getting ready to do with the homeless, we are only working with Mid City. Do we need to create two different outreach programs, one with Mid City and one with Western, and do we ignore this small section and leave it to happenstance or hope we can figure it out? We are volunteers and this just makes the work harder and more complicated for us.”
Talk of change can cause division within communities, and Granowitz is realistic about the possibility of resistance from some University Heights residents.
“Mostly we hear people would like to be with the rest of North Park and are confused they aren’t,” she said. “I think the resistance, if any, will be from people who live west of Park Boulevard. I would like to believe they will understand we are trying to do the best thing to provide unified services for North Park residents and businesses.
“Realistically,” she added, “I am sure some people will say ‘what took so long to fix this?,’ others won’t like it, and still others will shrug and say ‘I had no idea there was a bifurcation.’”
Edwin Lohr, president of the North Park Community Association, said the community is very pleased with the service it is getting from the Mid Cities Division.
“The response time has greatly improved,” since most of North Park was placed in the Mid Cities Division, he said. “They are team members and very community-oriented.”
The planning committee’s non-binding vote took place during a three-hour meeting largely devoted to providing input on the Urban Design Element for the North Park Community Plan update. The plan has not been updated since 1986, and city planners have been working feverishly to wrap up public comments on updates for Greater North Park, Uptown and Greater Golden Hill. Deadline for public comments on the North Park update is Oct. 5, but the committee will have at least another month to add their suggestions.
Howard Blackson, a committee board member, used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the various changes recommended for the update. City planners Tait Galloway and Marlon Pangilian attended the meeting to take notes and answer questions from North Park planners and folks in attendance.
Blackson said the committee wanted to stress the “transition between anything new and anything old.” It makes no sense, he said, to put a tall structure next to a historical home, or permit new construction in a historical neighborhood that doesn’t fit into the character of the street.
Unlike Uptown Planners, which typically opposes higher-density projects, the North Park Planning Committee embraces density along its major transit corridors: El Cajon Boulevard, Park Boulevard, University Avenue in “downtown” North Park, and 30th Street between Adams Avenue and Upas Street.
Blackson said the committee’s goal is to be specific in describing what is acceptable in various parts of Greater North Park, most of which is designated low density. It is the central corridor between El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue where higher density is considered acceptable and inevitable.
Greater North Park’s population of 45,997 is expected to surge to 61,965 when the community is built out, according to the draft of the update plan. Most of that growth is expected to impact the central corridor.
The committee outlined seven key points in the Urban Design Element:
—Community Plan cross-referencing
—Sustainable building design
—Public art and cultural amenities
—Private development transition areas
—Private development character areas
Another key chunk of time was used to discuss the Community Plan Implementation Overlay Zone (CPIOZ), which calls for a ministerial review of zoning issues in replacement of the 1986 Mid-City Communities Planned District Ordinance. Several developers in the audience questioned how the update will change the way they do business and the extent of incentive zoning.
The CPIOZ program provides incentives to developers in exchange for public benefits, such as a small park or plaza.
The committee briefly touched on the Noise and Light component, and discussed noise concerns related to venues such as Crazy Burger (30th Street and Lincoln Avenue) and UnderBelly (30th and Upas streets), which have outdoor gathering spots that can get noisy after 10 p.m. Some nearby residents have complained about late-night drinking, but committee members said that there is already a noise ordinance in the city and that the state liquor license has additional stipulations that apply to businesses that serve beer, wine and alcohol.
Also, the committee voted to ask city traffic engineers to reduce the speed limit on 30th Street across Switzer Canyon. Recently, the city increased the speed limits by 5 mph along that stretch between Redwood and Juniper streets. The decision triggered negative feedback on the Nextdoor app.
The committee wants the speed limit returned to 25 mph on most of 30th Street and to 30 mph across Switzer Canyon. The idea was to protect the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians from speeders.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.