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An Unruly Clairemont Crowd Asks: 'Leave Us in Peace'

Clairemont and Bay Park residents said at a Wednesday town hall that they won’t entertain any plan to increase the size and scale of development in their neighborhood. To punctuate the point, the raucous, 300-plus crowd booed one opposing voice out of the room.

“Live somewhere else!” “Come back when you have a mortgage!” “That’s not reality!”

Those were some of the things people shouted at 23-year-old Clairemont resident Gina Schumacher during a Wednesday town hall meeting after she said she liked the city’s plan to allow more homes and taller buildings around a planned trolley station in the neighborhood.

There were probably other insults, but it was hard to hear over the chorus of boos.

It was clear before Schumacher even grabbed the mic that the 300-plus crowd wasn’t on her side. Residents who couldn’t fit in the packed Bay Park Elementary auditorium peered in through windows. Signs saying “Bay Park isn’t Manahattan” and “No to Towers of Terror” dotted the seating area.

“Right now, I feel like this room doesn’t want me to live here,” said Schumacher, who said she lives with her parents and rides a bike because she can’t otherwise afford to live in the neighborhood.

By the time she said that the plan was meant to get people to drive less, to ride bikes and transit and pass one another on the streets, “instead of getting in our cars and going to go to work and be very anti-social people,” the crowd had heard enough.

It erupted in laughter, followed by the cascading boos that chased her from the stage and followed her out of the room.

Over two hours of public comment, Schumacher’s was one of two voices in favor of letting developers build projects up to 60-feet tall, instead of the 30-feet currently allowed, at one property next to a planned trolley stop at Clairemont Drive and Morena Boulevard.

The plan is meant to increase usage of the Mid-Coast trolley extension, a $1.7 billion project expected to be finished by 2018 that would connect Old Town to the jobs center in UTC.

Besides those two voices, the crowd’s position was clear: Don’t change our community. Don’t hurt our bay views. Don’t increase traffic. Don’t decrease parking. You’ll hurt our property values. You’ll increase crime. You’ll hurt our businesses.

“Leave us in peace,” one resident said, underlining the neighborhood’s basic request. The setting was anything but peaceful.

Councilman Ed Harris organized the meeting so residents could sound off on the city’s plan, which had spurred snowballing neighborhood concern in the two weeks since the city presented it to the local planning group.

But the response is telling – and not just for Clairemont or for this one plan.

The community outrage makes it clear: It’s one thing for politicians to talk about encouraging development near public transit, and another thing for neighborhoods to accept it.

That the central notion of the city’s general plan is to foster precisely that sort of development doesn’t mean residents will support it when it approaches their backyards.

In fact, Harris said demonstrating that opposition is what his meeting accomplished.

“You heard it from them,” he said. “They’re very concerned.”

“We’ll see this plan again. So people need to be vigilant … this is a strong neighborhood, and it’s going to stick together,” Harris said.

The city last week backed off its initial proposal, which included raising the height limit.

In a memo, Planning Director Bill Fulton said his department would scrap its suggestion to raise the height limit, and “re-evaluate” the recommendation to increase the number of homes that could be built per acre in the area.

Fulton tried to emphasize those points at the meeting – as well as the fact that the plan in question wouldn’t even reach into most of the nearby residential neighborhoods, but was dismissed by laughter and heckling.

One concrete suggestion that came from the meeting came from former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, whose surf shop along Morena Boulevard is in a property that would be re-zoned to allow for new, bigger commercial development.

When the city does its required environmental review for the project, Frye said it should not include the 60-foot option as a possible alternative.

That way, the Council wouldn’t be able to vote for that option, even if it wanted to.

“The question is: Will the Planning Department include as part of the (environmental review), an alternatives analysis that includes exceeding the Clairemont 30-foot height limit, and if yes, then what does (Fulton’s) April 23 memo actually mean?” she wrote in a follow-up email.

Fulton said the environmental review is far off, and that the city hasn’t thought about whether it will include a height limit change as an alternative.

Harris said city planners should take this proposal to a blighted neighborhood instead.

“There’s other communities. (Councilwoman) Myrtle Cole’s begging for this kind of attention, begging for this kind of infrastructure and building,” he said, referring to the southeastern Council district served by the trolley’s Orange Line.

“This isn’t blighted. This is a very vibrant, healthy, family-oriented community.”

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