Mayor Kevin Faulconer is about to start taking an active role in developing southeastern San Diego.

The mayor’s office agreed to partner with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in the foundation’s plan to remake the area surrounding Market Creek Plaza into a pedestrian and transit-friendly urban village.

The Jacobs Center is already drawing up a blueprint to turn the almost 60 acres of vacant or underdeveloped land it purchased during the 2000s into a model of urban revitalization, with homes at a mix of income levels and stores and neighborhood amenities surrounding the Euclid Avenue trolley station. In April, it will release the outline of its final vision, and hopes to implement it within eight to 10 years.

Now, Faulconer wants to use his authority over city staff to make it cheaper, easier and more attractive for private developers to invest in the historically under-invested community.

If You Value This Service, Please Donate Today

 Learn more about member benefits

The agreement between the mayor’s office and the Jacobs Center has two primary components.

The first is for projects within the Jacobs Center’s neighborhood plan to get special treatment from city planners checking to see if they fit within city and state development regulations.

Developers in the area will have a dedicated staffer in the mayor’s office who will make sure plans are reviewed as quickly as possible. That staffer will also coach developers to make sure their plans are ready-to-go right away.

“This is a priority for the mayor,” said Mike Hansen, Faulconer’s point-man on land-use issues. “It’s a nonprofit organization doing a great deal of development in an underdeveloped area, so we think it warrants having their concerns raised to this level.”

The other major piece of the agreement commits mayoral staff to working with the Jacobs Center to find new money that can be used to improve things like streets and sidewalks in the area.

That part is already bearing fruit. In late October, the state department of transportation gave the city a $4 million grant to make the area more bike and pedestrian friendly. Together, the city and Jacobs Center will try to identify other, similar opportunities in the future.

Altogether, the hope is that getting special treatment in getting city approval and improving the neighborhood’s infrastructure will be enough to attract private investment an area that’s traditionally been ignored, unless there was a direct government subsidy to build something there.

“We expect private investment, but the public partnership will be critical,” said Reginald Jones, CEO of the Jacobs Center. “We’ve been very fortunate to form with Mayor Faulconer a philanthropic partnership that will aid this community, given the historic lack of investment here.”

Part of the investment Jones is looking for could come from Civic San Diego, a city-owned nonprofit corporation focused on redevelopment. That group is in the process of launching an investment fund from private financial institutions that it would use to finance projects near transit hubs. The Jacobs Center’s project area could see some of that money.

The area has already benefitted from public investment as well. At the end of the year, the city approved a new set of development restrictions for the community that will increase the number of homes that can be built on the land surrounding the Euclid Avenue Trolley station.

In addition to increasing what developers can build in the area, the new restrictions are themselves intended to speed up the time it takes to get new projects approved. That’s also expected to increase developer interest in the area.

New development restrictions for southeastern San Diego passed quickly. They were written and approved in just three years. For comparison, planners have been working on an update of North Park’s restrictions for six years, and still aren’t finished.

An Uncertain Model

It isn’t clear how much Faulconer’s pledge to give the neighborhood development plan preferential treatment will result in major changes.

The agreement between the mayor’s office and the Jacobs Center doesn’t stipulate any specific results.

It says that the mayor’s office will hold developers’ hands to get their projects approved faster, but it doesn’t, for instance, commit the city to approving projects in the area 10 percent faster than other similar projects. Nor does it say the city will help secure, say, $2 million per year in new public money to neighborhood infrastructure projects.

Perhaps the agreement doesn’t include such promises because the city knows it can’t be sure it can deliver on them – or that it isn’t comfortable taking the actions required to make good on such promises. And if you dislike such heavy-handed public involvement in private development, maybe you’d prefer to keep the arrangement vague.

But Erik Bruvold, president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, said he isn’t sure the commitment to streamline approvals in the area can change developer decisions that much.

That’s because so many of the required steps developers that take the most time aren’t negotiable. The city might not be able to save much time just by making sure projects don’t languish in City Hall bureaucracy.

“There are some things that a new czar for certain projects can’t change,” he said.

There’s a group of city staffers in the city’s economic development department that does similar work for small businesses dealing with the city. Bruvold, who used to work for the San Diego Economic Development Corp. and for Mayor Jerry Sanders in economic development, said in his experience, staff was always most valuable prepping businesses for what they needed to do, not in fast-tracking things within the city.

The agreement is reminiscent, Bruvold said, of a toned-down version of the public-private partnership that led to the nine-block City Heights Urban Village. There, public agencies clustered the development of new projects like a new police station, school, library and recreation center, while private developers – with the help of redevelopment money – built housing and retail projects.

“I don’t know that it works as an economic development strategy,” Bruvold said. “It clearly created a nice urban amenity in City Heights, but City Heights was and remains a low-income neighborhood.”

Picking Winners and Losers

There’s other reason for hesitation.

Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, a policy and advocacy group that’s generally wary of public-private partnerships, said he would need to see the final agreement before saying whether it was a good deal. The agreement won’t be finalized until April, when the Jacobs Center rolls out its vision for the neighborhood.

However, he said cities commonly make the same mistake: they let the promise of private money, often a small amount of money, lead them to spend public money on things they wouldn’t have invested in otherwise.

“It’s a typical tension,” Cohen said. “We urge policy makers to make sure decisions are guided by public priorities, not what private investors believe could generate a return.”

That doesn’t appear to have happened so far. The $4 million grant the city secured to make transportation improvements in the area scored well on the state’s rubric used to determine how warranted the public expenditure was.

The other issue, Cohen said, is that the government is selecting one neighborhood over other ones as the target of new development. Logan Heights, for instance, which also just got a new set of development restrictions and also has been historically neglected by private development, might wonder why it doesn’t warrant special attention from the mayor’s office.

Bruvold doesn’t see much threat of such moral hazard. So far, the city is looking to bringing in new money, not shifting any from one area to another.

And, he said, it’s not all that uncommon for the city to make certain areas more attractive for developers.

“The city plays winners and losers all the time,” Bruvold said. “That’s nothing new in terms of making choices on where the city benefits on choosing where areas are more attractive for investment.”

    This article relates to: Land Use, Southeastern San Diego

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Kathy S Is this the neighbourhood where a roadside strip was beautified by planters, benches etc; only to have them yanked out for lack of permits? Unless I have grown older and more befuddled, I recall that repeated petitions, to the mayor's office, seeking assistance and/or relief, produced neither.

    And now with an election looming, the mayor wishes to tell us that he has cast aside his former passivity; I say indifference.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Mayor Faulconer should be commended for encouraging staff to expedite City services  for all San Diegans wherever they may live. Unfortunately, in the past, mayoral expediting meant that a certain segment of the business community would be receiving illegal immunities from the law. Mayor Faulconer already has a record of directing City staffers to ignore the laws that insure that residents have a voice in what happens in their neighborhood.

     Ex Mayor Jerry Sanders loves craft beer, or so he says, and is only too happy to take the credit for directing City staff to ignore the law that prohibits microbreweries from being placed next to residences in commercial zones.  Bob Filner, Todd Gloria, and Kevin Faulconer sitting in the Mayors office were  happy to join with Sanders in allowing illegal permits that ignored the lawful rights of San Diegans; especially if those citizens lived across town from the white middle class.

    American Citizens have a Constitutional right to the due process and equal protection of the law, the City of San Diego and it's Mayors could not care less. They are more than willing to abuse their authority by directing City staff to ignore the law for the benefit of special interests; and to the detriment of all San Diegans and all Americans that believe that we are nation of laws and the Constitution of the United States of America is a document worthy of respect.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Not sure this is big news. If you look at his campaign contributors list records, you'll see that the mayor has always been best friends with local real estate developers, and hotel owners.

    mwkingsandiego subscriber

    So now that he's failed with the Chargers, this is Mayor Kev's latest gimmick? I notice there's no mention of asking residents around Market Street Plaza to "partner" in this, much less if they want a "transit friendly urban village," whatever that means. 

    And note that Mayor Kev didn't feel like he needed to help anyone else around here with permits until the big-money Jacobs people showed up. Who voted for this puppet?

    Andrew Keatts
    Andrew Keatts author

    @mwkingsandiego The exact shape of the project is still to be determined. But if "transit friendly urban village" isn't descriptive enough, think of something like Little Italy, Hillcrest, or North Park, where you have 3-4 story buildings with retail on the ground floor and offices or homes on the upper levels, all located close to transit. People would ostensibly be able to walk around the area comfortably, or get on the trolley and head to jobs downtown.

    Not everyone in the community agrees with this vision, certainly. But it's worth mentioning that the Jacobs Center has so far committed to making sure their master plan for the area is consistent with the new community plan that was just approved. That plan went through three years of public discussion through the local planning group, which approved it. Again, that's not to say that everyone is on board, but it's worth mentioning. Sorry not to have made that more explicit in the story.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Kathy S  I doubt that Faulconer can win over the Democratic Party voters sustainably with the gimmicks he employed to win the mayoral race over the Hispanic candidate. The Republican candidate (Faulconer) won by a small margin i.e. 52.9% compared to the 47.1% of total votes cast for the Hispanic candidate (Alvarez). I voted for Alvarez because I am Independent and vote for both Democratic and Republican candidates (less Republican) and because I saw the possibility of a very radical change in San Diego's political dynamics if the Mayor of San Diego was Hispanic (especially because blacks had no strong candidate on the ballot). Faulconer's gimmick of setting up shop in the midst of blacks paid off . . . many of the black votes for Faulconer came from die-hard Democrats who were trying to salvage the great losses to the black community as a result of Filner's indiscretions. 

    Unsure about how much attention the young Hispanic mayoral candidate, who lived in the Barrio Logan area, would give to the black neighborhoods of Southeast San Diego once in office, the 5.8% votes that Faulconer garnered into victory, came mostly from black Democratic voters. To the black voters, it was a choice of the lesser of two evils . . . vote for the white Republican candidate they believed they will get more out of, than the Hispanic Democratic candidate they were not sure they will get much out of once he became mayor. Bad gamble in my opinion and one that may still come back to haunt them in the future. Alvarez would have been a great mayor and would have done more for the black community had he been elected.

    I remember attending a fundraising political function at Alvarez's residence for the city council electoral campaign for Myrtle Cole, with many of the black Democratic powerbrokers in the black community in attendance. The function was abuzz with how much Filner was going to transform the black community, and rightfully so, Filner's Special Assistant was Dr. Blair, a stalwart in the black community. Dr. Blair was previously Community Outreach Assistant for former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, a Republican and Blair was [the] key to Faulconer getting the black votes he needed to win the elections over Alvarez.

    Now Faulconer is just waking up to his campaign [promises] and has not really made any solid commitments so far. I wonder if those black voters that sold their votes to Faulconer in anticipation of the gains from his election promises would vote the same way if that same election was to take place today.

    The “Building on Success” theme of the RNC efforts to translate Faulconer's San Diego victory into political victory in the next presidential elections is illusory, at least in San Diego's Democratic base. San Diego Democrats will vote for a Democratic candidate for President come the next presidential elections. Faulconer has taught those black Democrats that voted him into office, a good lesson that they will never forget. Stay Democrat even if/when the Democratic top candidate for mayor in San Diego is a very young thirty-three year old Hispanic. Khalid Alexander was very on point!

    rhylton subscriber

    @Cornelius Ogunsalu @Kathy S I suppose that Falconer values the so-called black and hispanic vote so much that he (and members of the City Council) have suppressed the publication of initial phase of the Racial Profiling Report, until after next year's primaries.