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Convoy Needs Culture, Not Cable

We ask San Diegans to look at the big picture: Is Convoy Street becoming more industrial or an activated commercial/mixed-use corridor? Is a more vibrant Convoy Street worse or better for San Diego’s residents, tourism/economy and overall brand?

Imagine in the middle of your Main Street, an area the size of half a football field fenced off with a monolithic, unmanned industrial facility and generator yard that would likely sit there for at least several decades.

Commentary - in-story logoThis is the reality we are facing with Time Warner Cable’s proposal to put an equipment facility in the Convoy District. Our dilemma, however, is not unique as similar facilities have caused headaches in neighborhoods throughout San Diego. There’s one in Linda Vista. And another reported issue in Hillcrest. North Park residents, too, have complained about it. And there are more out there.

We wish to refute a few points made and provide additional insight about the issue:

Blight: Time Warner argues that its project is an improvement to what is currently a run-down site. There is no doubt the property is blighted: The building is vacant, fenced off and littered with graffiti. Time Warner, however, has owned the property for about a half decade, put up a chain-linked fence (the only one in a two-mile stretch of Convoy) and left the building vacant. The company is responsible for the blight and has displayed a lack of empathy for its neighbors.

Outreach and lobbying: Time Warner has received a few endorsements, including from the Chamber of Commerce and the Kearny Mesa Planning Group. The chamber’s support was expected since the group is business-friendly to firms like Time Warner. But the planning group’s decision was a wake-up call and further highlighted that it does not have a single representative who reflects the diverse interests of Convoy’s small businesses and their patrons.

We commend Councilman Chris Cate’s strong endorsement of the area’s growth at a February City Council meeting, where he also encouraged Time Warner to work with the Convoy community. Unfortunately, the company has not reached out since then, nor made any design changes that we are aware of. Time Warner has, however, ramped up its lobbying efforts to push the project through.

Faster broadband: Time Warner has justified its project because it would improve telecom services to the region, and we can appreciate that. The Convoy District Partnership office is based out of a technology incubator that includes two-dozen startups, including one profiled by the New York Times last year. The Times called the Convoy District an “up-and-coming neighborhood in San Diego.” Another company with roots in our neighborhood was acquired by Apple this January. We are the first to vouch for faster broadband, but it could be achieved without jeopardizing the community’s vision.

Appropriate use and community plan: This is not a case of NIMBYism. Heck, we would support this project if it moved 150 feet off the main commercial corridor and toward the 1,900 acres of industrial space identified in the community plan.

A city staff report about the project references several policies in the community plan to justify their support of it. The plan, however, has three overarching goals: retain jobs, enhance mobility and “create a sense of community identity by encouraging the provision of high quality urban design.” This project does not accomplish any of those.

To be fair, the plan is littered with goals and policies (some conflicting) that could give any decision-maker enough tools to justify support or opposition for the Time Warner project. Furthermore, the facility might be “in line with current zoning,” as Cate has said. But it is absolutely certain that Time Warner will need a conditional-use permit, which means “the proposed project is not allowed by right in the applicable zone. This is not a property rights issue, but rather a neighborhood compatibility issue. Is this facility appropriate for Convoy Street, or University Avenue or India Street?

It is rewarding that we are not alone in our stance. We initially aimed for 100 signatures on our online petition, but we’re now approaching 1,500 signatures in just 15 days. The petition will be submitted as part of the public record at a Thursday hearing on the project.

We ask San Diegans to look at the big picture: Is Convoy Street becoming more industrial or an activated commercial/mixed-use corridor? Is a more vibrant Convoy Street worse or better for San Diego’s residents, tourism/economy and overall brand? Can one make the required conditional-use permit findings that the project will not be detrimental to the public welfare or “is appropriate at this location” after reading more than 200 testimonials arguing otherwise?

Tim Nguyen, Allen Chan, Vince Vasquez, Jacob Hensel and Ping Wang are part of the Convoy District Partnership, an all-volunteer, nonprofit group promoting the neighborhood.

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