Politics Report: A Completely Different Height Limit Measure — Voice of San Diego – Voice of San Diego

San Diego City Hall 11 23 2020 4
San Diego City Hall / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

As San Diego grapples with its attempt last year to revoke the coastal height limit in one neighborhood, someone is exploring whether to take another shot at it in a different neighborhood. 

We don’t know who: Someone conducted a poll this week on a potential ballot measure that would remove the 30-foot height limit near one of the new Mid-Coast trolley stations in University City. 

“The following measure may be on the ballot in the near future. It reads: Shall this ordinance be approved to expand affordable housing by removing the 30-foot height limit on buildings in the area just west of the Nobel Drive Trolley Station near UCSD, with all future developments in the area required to comply with all other governing laws?” the poll reads. 

Chris Nielsen, chair of the University Community Planning Group, said this was the first he heard of anyone considering a ballot measure. 

His group and the city’s planning department are working on a community plan update for the University City area. That plan could be adopted as early as the start of 2023. As part of that effort, planners are discussing specific changes to the development regulations along Nobel Drive, near that station. 

“We have looked at scenarios in terms of, what would it look like – very preliminary stuff – with and without height limits in that area,” Nielsen said. “We haven’t been doing this in private, put it that way. But apart from that, we have not got to the point of discussing this. This survey is really premature and early.” 

He said there isn’t a defined sentiment at the group about whether a change like this would be welcome. 

“This measure would remove the 30-foot building height limit in a small area in University City next to the 5 and just south of the UCSD campus where the new trolley line just opened,” another poll question reads. “It does not affect coastal communities or any other areas.” 

The area in question is within the city’s voter-mandated coastal height limit, meaning removing it would require a citywide vote. That was true last year of Measure E, which removed the Midway area from the coastal height limit area after 57 percent of voters approved it. But that’s all in doubt now, after a judge this month ruled the city erred in putting the measure on the ballot. 

But Measure E had two big things going for it. The councilmember for the district supported it, and so did the community planning group for the area. That was seen as a surprise. The coastal height limit had been held sacred to coastal voters since it was enacted in 1972. 

Ryan Clumpner, a political consultant who worked on the Measure E campaign, said the measure described in the poll question would constitute a risky political strategy. Unlike Measure E, it doesn’t apply to the entire University planning area. 

“The fact that this one only applies to a few properties is actually a fatal flaw,” Clumpner said. “To change an existing constraint on development, you need to make a compelling argument for the broader public good rather than the benefit of a few property owners and developers. In Midway, that public good was the Sports Arena and the area being blighted. Relying solely on Affordable Housing as an argument isn’t going to cut it.” 

About Measure E: Mayor Prepares a Redo

Mayor Todd Gloria announced that the city would immediately begin preparing an environmental impact report in response to a judge’s ruling this week that a special one was needed. The judge found that the city’s Measure E did not pass legally because the city had not studied the impact on views removing the Midway area height limit would have.

Performing a new EIR wouldn’t save Measure E but it would be completed in time, the mayor hopes, to put a replacement measure on the November 2022 ballot.

“My obligation is to fulfill the will of the people, and San Diegans voted by a sizable margin to eliminate the 30-foot coastal height limit in the Midway planning area. The ability to build over 30 feet is critical to redeveloping the city’s Sports Arena property, which will add thousands of new homes to help address our housing crisis — and which is key to revitalizing a neighborhood that’s waited decades for transformation,” he said in a press release.

There were two paths to go: The mayor could have just insisted the ruling was wrong and the city’s path was right and they didn’t need to do the report. Or he could admit it was valid ruling — or at least that it could hold up on review — and begin to fix the mistake.

Notes

Lisa Halverstadt reports: Former mayor Kevin Faulconer maintained under oath this week that he did not know that onetime “volunteer” city real estate adviser Jason Hughes was paid millions for his work on two controversial city lease deals.

Hughes is facing accusations he had a major conflict of interest when he advised the city on whether to enter lease-to-own arrangements with a landlord with whom he had a contract to share the profits. His primary defense has been that he informed the mayor he would be seeking compensation for the deals.

Podcast is good: We broke down the Measure E mess and San Diego Unified’s extremely unpredictable choice for superintendent (Editor: it seems predictable.) But our feature this week was an update from go-to immunologist Shane Crotty. He explains what we know about the omicron variant of the virus (one interesting nugget: The variant is not a variant of the delta variant. It’s a variant of an earlier version of the virus.) Anyway, get your booster and get the body ready: Everyone’s going to see this virus. It’s just how soon will it come and how prepared will you be.

Listen to the podcast here.

Next week on the podcast: We interview Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. Send along any questions.

If you have any ideas or feedback for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.