By Ken Williams | Editor
Which stories piqued the most interest by San Diego Uptown News readers in 2015? Although we can’t accurately measure the print readership, we get a clear snapshot of reader interest from Google Analytics, which tracks the number of views online at sduptownnews.com. So here are 14 most-read stories that engaged our readers over the past year.
No. 1. Park Boulevard nightclub the Flame is sold
By Ken Williams. Published Oct. 9. Read at bit.ly/1NbhWQ8.
Uptown News got the scoop on the sale of the vacant nightclub at 3780 Park Blvd. in Hillcrest. James Nicholas of Clownfish Partners bought the property from seller Donny Duenas for $1.9 million. That figure includes the liquor license for the Flame, a landmark lesbian bar that opened at this location in 1984. Nicholas told Uptown News that he will transform the single-story structure into a multi-use project by adding six apartments and a central courtyard. He said he plans to “restore the façade” of the vintage building and keep the iconic sign. He will lease the nightclub space through his brokerage firm, Location Matters of Del Mar. Since our article was published, Nicholas has created a website that documents the long history of the property, which includes its long run as a lesbian bar and a place of historical significance to the local LGBT community.
Nos. 2, 4 and 7. Coverage about TargetExpress.
Public interest grew intense regarding Target’s announcement that it would be taking over the vacant Gala Foods store in South Park. People picked sides, and tempers became frayed during public meetings. In the end, there was very little that could be done by those who wanted to stop the project, since Target had no plans to radically change the historic building.
2. TargetExpress fight spawns South Park town council
By Hutton Marshall. Published March 13. Read at bit.ly/1YqUkdE.
About 100 South Park residents and activists rallied on March 8 to protest Target’s plans, and Uptown News reported that the event served as the inaugural fundraiser for the South Park Town Council.
4. Fight against South Park TargetExpress continues
By Dave Schwab. Published Jan. 16. Read at bit.ly/1k7ceVs.
Uptown News reported that community activist group Care About South Park and Mark Arabo, CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association (NMA), were lobbying against Target’s proposal, claiming the corporation’s plans threatened small businesses nearby.
7. TargetExpress to open in South Park in the fall
By Ken Williams. Published July 3. Read at bit.ly/1SJSO3H.
Uptown News covered the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee meeting on June 22 at Casa del Prado in Balboa Park, where Target officials explained to a large gathering of concerned residents what the TargetExpress concept was all about. Target said the South Park store would be a “small format” store with a “quick-trip focus.” Company officials listened to speakers who worried about more traffic in South Park or perceived competition to local businesses as well as those who were in favor of the project for the convenience of not having to drive to Mission Valley just to pick up diapers or prescriptions.
No. 3. Neighborhood schools are the new charters
By Andy Hinds. Column published Jan. 30. Read at bit.ly/1zIvrU6.
Columnist Andy Hinds, a parent himself, made the argument that neighborhood elementary schools like McKinley and Jefferson were becoming like charter schools because of the involvement of highly engaged parents.
Nos. 5, 6 and 8. Articles concerning the long-vacant Pernicano’s property in Hillcrest.
Nothing stirs up community interest more than rumors about this prime-location property that has remained vacant for decades.
5. Gilman talks about his property and Pernicanos
By Ken Williams. Published Sept. 11. Read at bit.ly/1OcQ690.
Businessman Morgan Gilman spoke exclusively with Uptown News about his property located at the “Hillcrest gateway” intersection of University and Sixth avenues — rumored to be part of a deal to transform the long vacant Pernicano property. Gilman told Uptown News that he had spoken to several developers who were interested in the Pernicano property, but said he learned that nothing serious had transformed.
“I did look at one plan that was intriguing,” Gilman said. “It was an impact project. It was a mixed-use project with a boutique hotel, condos, retail space with community use integrated into it.”
6. Buyer of Pernicano’s property to speak to Uptown Planners
By Catherine Spearnak. Published July 31. Read at bit.ly/1IAabkT.
Uptown News reported that the Uptown Planners and the public might hear the first ideas about development of the long-empty Pernicano’s Restaurant site when the advisory group met on Aug. 4. Jeannine Savory, Realtor for the property, told Uptown News that the family was in escrow with a specific buyer, who would be revealed in “one to two weeks.” Savory said that the developer asked to appear before the Uptown Planners “because they want to be sensitive to the community and not compromise the integrity of the project.” Turned out “the developer” never appeared at the meeting, only a Pernicano family spokesman. If there ever was a prospective buyer, the prospective purchaser was never identified.
8. Pernicano’s buyer still hasn’t closed the deal
By Ken Williams. Published Aug. 14. Read at bit.ly/1IAabkT.
Sherman D. Harmer Jr., president of Urban Housing Partners, emerged during the summer as the spokesman for the Pernicano family. He told the Hillcrest Town Council, the Uptown Planners and other local groups that there was a buyer for the Pernicano property with big plans to build a hotel with underground parking. Harmer also dropped the bombshell news at an Aug. 4 meeting that the unnamed buyer was also negotiating to purchase the Gilman property on southwest corner of University and Sixth avenues — a transaction that would double the size of the project and allow the buyer to create a true gateway to Hillcrest. As it would turn out, Gilman would later say that Harmer’s proclamation was premature … and Uptown News would eventually learn that there was no buyer on the horizon.
No. 9. Transforming University Avenue in North Park
By Ken Williams. Published Aug. 14. Read at bit.ly/1fBE8GG.
Uptown News explained the dramatic changes coming to University Avenue in North Park, after the City Council voted July 27 in favor of a $5.8 million project called the University Avenue Mobility Plan. “By improving traffic flow for vehicles, buses and bikes, and by adding sidewalk and crosswalk upgrades for pedestrians, the project will result in better transportation options throughout the core of North Park,” Councilmember Todd Gloria told Uptown News. Key elements of the project include adding transit-only lanes; raised medians with left-turn pockets; enhanced pedestrian crossings and curb extensions/pop-outs; more traffic signals; and the repurposing parking spaces to accommodate the upgrades.
No. 10. Don’t feed the homeless
By Ken Williams. Published Nov. 6. Read at bit.ly/1X2ZDPK
North Park residents have been meeting this year to discuss ways to resolve the homeless issue, included at a packed forum on Oct. 28 at the Lafayette Hotel. But advocates for solving homelessness in America’s Finest City had a seemingly shocking response to those of us who desire to feed and clothe the misfortunate people who are living on the streets.
“If they ask you for money, don’t give them any,” urged JD MacDonald, head of the Uptown Community Service Center, a mail and computer center for the homeless in North Park.
Forum speakers stressed that our compassion towards the homeless is often misdirected and can make the problem worse.
No. 11. Tactical urbanism for Hillcrest anyone
By BJ Coleman. Published Jan. 16. Read at bit.ly/181rvBG.
When strategic planning cannot provide new outdoor public space, what are city dwellers craving open-air gathering sites to do? One solution comes under the rubric of “tactical urbanism,” in which individual residents and local businesses join forces to create their own small-bore outside areas, by bumping out sidewalks into existing street parking slots. These scaled-down takeovers of pavement for people’s use are known as “parklets.”
Uptown News explained what “parklets” are and how the city of San Diego was embracing the concept.
Nos. 12 and 14. The bicycling controversy in Hillcrest.
The clash between bicycling advocates and the business community got really heated in 2015, and Uptown News was there reporting the details.
12. Uptown planners reject SANDAG bike plan
By Hutton Marshall. Published March 27. Read at bit.ly/1PbNupY.
Hundreds packed the voluminous St. Paul’s Cathedral in Bankers Hill on March 24 for the Uptown Planners meeting devoted to the SANDAG Bike Corridor through Uptown.
More than 50 residents and bicycle advocates gave public comment over the course of two hours. Approximately half spoke in favor of the SANDAG plans, which would construct several miles of protected bikeways through Uptown’s urban core, while others criticized SANDAG for what they saw as an overreaching or poorly executed plan.
After public comment closed, the planning board deliberated for another hour, eventually passing four unanimous motions condemning SANDAG’s plan.
14. The sting of defeat
By Ken Williams. Published June 19. Read at bit.ly/1IZpl6V.
The Transportation Committee of SANDAG listened to more than 70 people who spoke in favor of protected bicycle lanes in Uptown, and a handful of business leaders who were against them, then voted to approve a watered-down version of a compromise that had been reached by a coalition of stakeholders.
“As you can imagine, we as advocates in the bicycling community and more broadly, as supporters of safer streets and vibrant communities, were very disappointed with the June 5 vote by the SANDAG Transportation Committee to move forward with the constrained University Avenue segment of the Uptown Bikeways Project,” said Andy Kopp, Bike San Diego board president.
Bicycling advocates told Uptown News that they were down, but not out.
13. “What wrong with Hillcrest?”
Guest editorial by Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of Hillcrest Business Association. Published July 3. Read at bit.ly/1eeuf0T.
Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of Hillcrest Business Association, addressed a question he had been hearing from people: “What’s wrong with Hillcrest?”
In his guest editorial, Nicholls wrote: “Has Hillcrest lost its cool factor? It’s clear that something is going on, but it’s not a mystery. Hillcrest needs to grow and it isn’t.”
The guest editorial generated a slew of letters from readers who either agreed with Nicholls or disagreed with him.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley 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.