Mission Valley is about to blow up.

Even before we see a plan to accommodate the antsy Chargers and a new football stadium, the snarled center of jobs, shopping and about 12,000 residences is going to about double that number in new homes in the next several years.

Six major developments are in various stages of the planning process. The largest, Civita, is already under construction. The projects are not following any comprehensive plan for the area – each one is a separate change to the 1985 community plan and several other site-specific zoning laws.

The city is only now about to embark on a new community plan update, which might be done right around the time all these projects are nearing the finish line. That means it won’t affect any of them.

Others are rushing into the planning vacuum.

The mayor’s task force, which was given the job of finding a site and financing plan for a new stadium, has begun exploring design and infrastructure challenge issues for the whole of Mission Valley.

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“I know we are focused on the site selection and on the financing of a new stadium. It seemed to me that we should look at the bigger area,” said Mary Lydon, a member of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group and executive director of the Urban Land Institute.

The group she formed includes six stadium task force members, architects and people familiar to the development world like Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Development, which is managing one of the major projects going forward in Mission Valley, the redevelopment of the Union-Tribune headquarters.

It will meet again April 1.

The chairman of the task force, Adam Day, called soon after my talk with Lydon to clarify that the group was not an official part of the stadium group.

I’m not sure why he would want to distance himself from it. A stadium plan will have to consider the broader Mission Valley hyper-development under way.

They’re all coming to the same conclusion: Mission Valley might be able to fit thousands of new homes, but without major infrastructure improvements, a redesign of the many of the portals in and out of the neighborhood and new amenities, it could make an already troubled place a chaotic mess.

The city does have one plan in place that should help: The San Diego River Park Master Plan. City planners assured me all new projects will have to conform to the effort to revitalize the hidden river.

For perspective, taken together, the six projects are about 20 times the area and number of housing units of the controversial One Paseo project, which is still causing major fights after its approval several weeks ago.

But the developers and city believe Mission Valley can take it – though some of the projects still need approval and may have to adjust as their impact becomes more clear.

Planners and government leaders often cite the SANDAG projection that the region’s population will grow by 1 million more people by 2030, and that we’ll need 290,000 new homes for them.

“Mission Valley is probably one of those locations that can handle a lot of that growth,” said Michael Stepner, a professor at the New School of Architecture and San Diego’s former city architect.

Stepner had a caveat, though. The neighborhood can handle this growth if it fixes some problems. While Mission Valley might have unparalleled access to freeways and transit – there are four major freeways, Friars Road and several trolley stops – they’re not exactly easy to get on. For instance, transit stations might be a walkable distance in Mission Valley, he said, but often it’s still easier to drive than walk.

“Trying to cross Friars Road is life threatening,” Stepner said.

Photo by Dustin Michelson
Photo by Dustin Michelson
The intersection of Friars Road and Frazee Road.

That’s partly why Civita’s developer had to commit to build a pedestrian and bike bridge over Friars. And the transit stop at Hazard Center will soon be more accessible as well as a developer plans to put in 473 new housing units there.

Approval for the Hazard Center project has already been granted.

For all the six projects totaled, more than 10,600 new units are in the works. The new projects stretch from the Town and Country Resort to Civita, which is already going up. The Town and Country is about to submit plans for up to 900 new residential units that would go along with a renovated hotel. The city is contemplating Doug Manchester’s plan to replace the Union-Tribune building with two seven-story buildings and 200 residential units.

Nearby, the Bob Baker Ford lot on Camino Del Rio is about five acres wide and developers have approval to begin work on constructing 305 residential units along with some offices and retail.

Then the next biggie: The Levi-Cushman family is working with one of California’s largest developers, Related, to turn the Riverwalk Golf Course into up to 4,000 residential units plus offices and hotels.

Here’s an interactive map of all of them.

And here’s the permitting status of each project.

mission valley table


Dealy, who is overseeing the Union-Tribune project, told me the big projects going forward in Mission Valley will have to shoulder much of the burden of helping with the mobility and infrastructure issues.

He was thinking of the Qualcomm Stadium land and the Riverwalk Golf Course projects.

“Those two projects are going to have to add some significant infrastructure. I think it’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Dealy will be reporting to the seven stadium task force members in the design group about a so-called Valley Infrastructure Plan.

For its part, city officials say they have no idea what infrastructure redevelopment the Qualcomm site would need, but planners told me that each project going through the process now must consider the neighborhood as a whole, not just its own immediate needs.

The Hazard Center and Civita projects plans have already satisfied the requirement to mitigate their impact on the neighborhood. Things like the pedestrian bridge and new roads passed the city’s muster and are under way.

And if plans for the Qualcomm Stadium land are fast-tracked to assuage the Chargers’ angst, so too will the technical evaluation of the development of that land, said Brian Schoenfisch, a longtime city planner for the area.

That could take some time. Todd Majcher, vice president of Lowe Enterprises, is the point man on the Town and Country’s big development plans. He said he expects them to be done with permitting issues within the next two years.

His project is 40 acres.

The Qualcomm Stadium site would be much bigger. The Chargers’ last proposal for the site a decade ago envisioned 6,000 units. That’s compared with up to 900 units and a hotel for the Town and Country site.

Day cautioned that the stadium task force won’t be coming up with a number of housing units for the Qualcomm Stadium site.

“It’s not our purview and we’re in no way, shape or form designing development for that plot of land,” he said.

    This article relates to: Community Plans, News

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Ann B. Cottrell
    Ann B. Cottrell subscriber

    re: the trolley - I disagree with LB's assessment.  I ride it regularly, am 76 and most definitely not homeless. I have never felt fellow passengers are primarily homeless.... a good mix and yes there could be more like me but I am not alone.  I often take the trolley to Fashion Valley rather than drive precisely because traffic and parking are so bad, especially during holidays. If traffic gets worse more will ride. The problem is the lack of flexibility with limited routes 

    L B
    L B

    The Bad: One word- TRAFFIC. Which is already horrendous in MV.  I won't even go to Fashion Valley unless it is 1 hr before closing on a Sunday.

    The trolley is not a solution. Only  the homeless ride public transit in SD. I spent 5 yrs riding both the trolley and buses and recall the regular comments of out-of-towners saying how shocked they are to see so many homeless people in SD. Nobody want's to give up the privacy and comfort of their cars; they want to blast their music to express their frustrations while in bumper to bumper traffic, sipping a starbucks (no drinks or food allowed on the trolly) and socializing on their cel with an earpiece (you can't hear the person on the other end of the phone on either the buss or trolly due to mechanical noise and the screams of the poor schizophrenic homeless).

    The Good: SD needs affordable housing NOW.  Vacancy rate is 2.3% and rent has risen over 27% in the past few years. That may not sound like a big deal but when you can't find an apartment after searching for 4months because the listing is gone the day after it is posted. then it is nearly impossible to find a rental for under 1200/month. It dosn't help when landlords don't return your calls/emails after inquiring about a listing.  Therefore, the doubling of MV housing is a blessing form this perspective.

    Q: so, who is ultimately responsible for creating/approving a plan? How can they not see the traffic impact on already horrific congestion? Who is willing to fight traffic to shop in the malls when there is double the traffic?

    Jeff Leal
    Jeff Leal

    The Mission Valley mega-expansion is a horror story come to life for San Diego if left "as is".  It's nearly unimaginable to believe that coastal San Diego's oldest natural "garden spot", a gorgeous vista, and centerpiece for so much of our beloved city's vital history might all be sacrificed for craven short-term greed and political expedience over need.  A native son, in the second half of my life I've watch one post card-worthy view after another in my beautiful "Finest City" get forgotten and paved over; never to return.  The stewards of this city have been guilty of dereliction for decades now, and *IT MUST STOP*, and *NOW*!!!  Listen up Mayor, City Council, etc.  This is an emergency, a slow-motion disaster but a disaster just the same, and the key will (or won't, please) turn in the latch on *YOUR* watch!  YOU will be justly held responsible, accountable, and treated accordingly.  WAKE UP!!!  Any further delay and whack-a-mole "planning" in Mission Valley will be ruination.  Protect us, please.

    Joe LaCava
    Joe LaCava subscribermember

    "The projects are not following any comprehensive plan for the area – each one is a separate change to the 1985 community plan and several other site-specific zoning laws" says it all. Community plan updates and targeted/focused updates are fine but I believe that we have proven that community plan amendments parcel by parcel isn't *Planning* and doesn't work for neighborhoods and the City.

    Despite some of the comments below, I am hearing push back from the MV planning group. 

    Richard Tanner
    Richard Tanner subscriber

    I always get a chuckle when people say infrastructure investment.  Our City Council over the years has granted so many exemptions that you could not begin to fix the infrastructure in Mission Valley.  The idea that mass transit can even exist in San Diego is naïve at best. The entire development system is and has been biased to the developers and the city gives deference to them.  The City has a large vote on Sandag, but they really do not plan on much besides cars.  The idea that bike lanes and trolley are going to fix our issues is not going to fly. Until there are serious people making developers put in the infrastructure with the development it will not happen.  Look at the Grantville EIR, lots of promises that will not occur, disregard to the fact that Mission Valley impacts Grantville, but the development of units will occur and the fixes will not happen.  Our City Council is designed to work that way.  10,000 units in Mission Valley... a huge number of cars added, lots more water to be used, Friars road will be worse, and our elected officials will say they are really doing their job.  Until there is a honest, complete, and accurate planning and development process, the taxpayers and residents will suffer with the poor planning done by the city of San Diego.  Remember when we were America's Finest City,  so much for that thought.  The real bottom line is our children will have to live through this and pay for all the greed.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Meanwhile, to the north, citizens are fighting a comprehensively designed community (One Paseo) that has taken many or most of these issues into account. Mission Valley's problem is that it is an unloved area lacking community. There is no one to fight for it.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Chris Brewster each of the projects in this piece would have the same planning as One Paseo did. It's the community plan, meant to address all these issues as a whole along with infrastructure needs, that's far behind and that's the same situation with Carmel Valley. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Lewis: Thanks, but my point is that Mission Valley lacks an activist community that you might see elsewhere (e.g. Carmel Valley or Pacific Beach). It's a sprawling mess lacking any real sense of community. Thus whatever somebody comes up with is likely to be approved with little push back. Would be very unlikely to see a referendum a la One Paseo.

    Howard Blackson
    Howard Blackson subscribermember

    There are so many development issues wrapped up here beyond just "a lot of projects proposed in Mission Valley." First, Andy Keatts wrote earlier this week about the Commercial Street transit corridor just 5 miles south of Mission Valley and its missed opportunity to plan for new development. Commercial street supports most of SESD service and waterfront industry employees with a direct link into downtown. Plus, SESD has a better urban pattern (network and hierarchy of streets with existing utilities and infrastructure) to support more people who can live, work, play, learn, and shop there. 

    Second, to show my ignorance, I believe these back-to-back case studies shows three important San Diego development conditions: A) that our development 'market' is really just that banks will finance a few established land owners (Manchester, Cushman, Sudberry, Fenton); B) our entitlement system is still rooted in and skewed towards 1960's large lot subdivisions as 35 du/ac returns more value on 10 acres of mostly vacant river bottom land than lot-by-lot redevelopment w/lots of neighbors, historic homes, and suburban development regulations, and; C) nobody, and I mean nobody, is coordinating/thinking about/directing/discussing how our city should grow.

    Finally, this article is mindful of downtown planning in 2005, when a hot market pushed our downtown Community Plan update to entitlement levels (sans civic space requirements) that can't be achieved before another plan is updated (the majority of variances applied for at Civic were to build less than entitled - Please fact check). So, as we begin to update the MV Community Plan, I hope we don't make the same mistake and let a hot market give away entitlement today without cultivating Mission Valley's future as a natural and extremely unique resource... because it has water! 

    Moving forward without a planning director, we should default to Kevin Lynch's and Donald Appleyard's "A Temporary Paradise?" for guidance on Mission Valley who recommend MV be a regional recreational area with River Parks, Community Parks, and a relief value from the urbanism to its south and suburbanism to the north. 

    SDGIS subscribermember

    Excellent article. I hate to suggest it, but I think it would bee valuable to have an article like this for every neighborhood. I had no idea how much development was planned for MV.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @SDGIS I agree. I'm surprised how much interest this sort of thing generates and I hope we can do more of it.

    Jeffrey Davis
    Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

    Good coverage, thanks.

    Hope we see some comprehensive thinking and remediative resources devoted to MV. In a nutshell, MV has two related problems. First, it tries to have downtown-like commercial/residential intensity with suburban peak speeds and a hierarchical road network. Imagine trying to run Friars or 163 or Camino del Rio through downtown... Which is the main source of problem #2: it's balkanized and discontinuous. Every part is cut off from every other.

    We long ago committed ourselves to high intensity use in MV. Fixing MV is going to take a creative and very different approach to the road network, with lots of changes entailed. A starting point should be to rethink the huge expansion of the 163/Friars interchange that's planned. Savings from that should go instead to creating connective places at grade and making the road network more diffuse and capillary. (And no, miserable, second-class ped/bike bridges don't count.)

    Murtaza Baxamusa
    Murtaza Baxamusa subscribermember

    Quite a comprehensive look at all the development planned for Mission Valley, and highlights the need for infrastructure investment in what is the geographical center of our city. Some thoughts:

    - a high-density live-work triangle seems to be forming with UTC-downtown-mission valley, but there is not much mass transit connectivity between the three vertices; for example, commuters seem to be congesting I-805 and I-8 during peak hours, rather than using the trolley.

    - master planning occurring in Grantville is a natural extension of the Friars Road corridor, that may exacerbate the traffic conditions there.

    - there needs to be an environmentally sustainable solution to the flooding issues in the area, especially with climate change.

    Ducraker subscriber

    It makes one wonder how many thousands of people will be crammed into a "Village" before the majority takes the trolley. Apparently a lot more than alre ready stuffed into the Mission Valley/Dowtown corridor.

    BTW: NO amount of "mitigation" via pedestrian bridges. or. additional traffic lights will ever cure development density to the extreme as Mission Valley is experiencing. If you think it does you are extremely naive, a developer, a paid advocate or simply stupid and should be planning nothing more than your letter of resignation.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Ducraker You're correct. As any good planner knows, "Adding [capacity] to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity." (Lewis Mumford)