As a proud Clairemont resident for the last decade, I am certain that it can be part of the solution to San Diego’s housing crisis while reinventing itself as a more transit-oriented community.
Major development of the area that is now called Clairemont came in the 1950s, and it was the largest post-war subdivision of San Diego, and originally dubbed The Village Within a City. Clairemont is well located with proximity to major freeways, and it is a beautiful community with gently rolling mesas separated by canyons and streams, where the serene experience of urban canyon hikes allows city life to be quickly left behind. Clairemont has roughly 81,000 residents today, spans 13.3 square miles and is mostly comprised of single-family homes served by over 10 schools, accessed by major transportation corridors such as Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Clairemont Drive, Genesee Avenue, Balboa Avenue.
Clairemont is heavily reliant on cars. Clairemont has few bus routes with low frequency, very few walkable areas and a severe lack of housing options. The open spaces and canyons are poorly served by transit, and poorly maintained. Furthermore, the community’s low-density design accounts for low patronage of small local businesses and a lack of investment in way of new development to perform overall beautification of the community and revitalize underutilized business centers. I believe Clairemont can benefit from transit-oriented development, targeted density and smart growth, and become a model community for mixed-use development, as well as maintaining its bedroom community character.
My vision is a community served by vibrant, community sized shopping areas – much like what exists now, but with better transportation access for families without cars, and new affordable housing that surrounds the shopping center, giving individuals and families quick access to basic needs, such as supermarkets, banks and eateries. In addition, these centers and the overall community would be served by complete streets: cars, buses and bicycle lanes. Complete streets have been documented to slow down vehicle speeds and reduce vehicle miles traveled within communities, which in turn make pedestrians feels safer, and create more pleasant walking routes covered by trees, beautiful cafes and storefronts. The canyons throughout the community are one of our biggest assets, and a plan that incorporates the canyons as safe routes to schools, and safe recreation areas, would produce and attract health-conscious residents and thus more healthy food sources, loosening the greasy grasp of fast-food eateries on the community. Furthermore, well-maintained and used canyons inhibit the growth of homeless encampments. Overall, my vision is of a walkable, vibrant, healthy and safe Clairemont. This vision is possible, and it is shared by many residents in the community.
Pat Thomas, a 22-year resident of West Clairemont/Bay Ho, said he believes in smart growth.
“I’m in support of ‘smart’ managed growth and redevelopment and consider it essential to the revitalization of under-utilized properties and improvement to our residents’ quality of life,” he told me.
Thomas’ vision of a community well-served by transit is also shared by Ed Lauda, who’s owned a home and business in Bay Park for about 15 years.
“After college I moved to Europe for about five years and got used to something I’ve never experienced before: a fairly comprehensive transit system with buses, trolleys and metros,” Lauda told me. “This was the first time in my life that I was able to get around a city with great efficiency without a vehicle. I would like to see that in Clairemont.”
This couldn’t be a more perfect time to bring this vision to effect. The Clairemont Community Plan is being updated, and the Clairemont Community Planning Group is responsible for liaising with the community and city staff. This process happens every 30 years, and allows the community, and the city, to draft a plan that can incorporate changes in density, transportation, housing availability and open space use. Clairemont is in a very privileged position, with a new trolley service coming online in late 2020, and the new community plan draft being finalized in 2019. This is the perfect time to include in the Community Plan higher-density zones to reap the benefits, and potentially garner funds, of the new trolley line with transit-oriented development, as well as implement more bus lines or add higher frequency to the existing ones. More density would also boost patronage to small local businesses, which, in turn would generate more jobs within the community, keeping dollars in Clairemont and potentially reducing vehicle miles traveled.
I acknowledge this is a contentious issue, with very good people and arguments on both sides. The reality, however, is that more people are moving to cities seeking jobs, and communities are having to densify. Home availability is declining, and prices are rising. Clairemont is not immune to these forces, and the community needs to revitalize itself, and be a part of the solution – offering new housing options for its residents and preserving the desire to own for folks who have lived in the community for decades. New density must consider how people will utilize transportation, so the implementation of a good transportation network is crucial to the success of a denser community, as one will counteract the value of the other if not present. Clairemont is a community of intelligent, conscientious residents, who I believe will make the decision to participate in the housing solution, uniting the “old and the new” in a new community plan that will be a model for San Diego.
Barbarah Torres is a board member of the Clairemont Community Planning Group and the Clairemont Town Council.