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How much housing we can build along the new trolley parallel to the Morena Boulevard corridor is once again becoming a hot topic in Lorie Zapf’s City Council campaign. Plus, the mayor is all alone on SoccerCity Island.
Like clockwork, a plan to increase housing along Morena Boulevard is poised to play a big role in Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s re-election bid.
In 2014, Zapf won re-election despite outrage in her district at a city attempt to increase housing density and height limits near stations along the $2 billion Mid-Coast Trolley extension.
Zapf came out against the idea. City planners backed away from some of the changes.
That same plan is back. This month, the city released its draft proposal to increase development and reconfigure transportation options at the new stops at Clairemont Drive and Tecolote Road.
It’s the height limit, stupid: In a letter to the community on Aug. 6, Zapf said she opposed the plan.
“I am disappointed that the Planning Department did not seriously consider the years of hard work and feedback community members put into the development of this plan,” she wrote. “Let me be clear, I support the residents along the Morena Corridor in opposition to raising the height limit.”
The city isn’t changing development rules around the Clairemont Drive station. Allowing six-story buildings there, where there is a 30-foot height limit, was the main source of outrage in 2014. The city delayed any development changes there until a different plan that won’t be ready for a few years.
But the new plan would revamp development rules around the Tecolote Drive station, allowing 100-foot buildings in the commercial district home to Jerome’s Furniture and a defunct Toys R Us.
The whole idea is consistent with the city’s big-picture goals – codified in both its general plan and climate action plan – to build more houses near transit to accommodate a growing population while cutting the city’s carbon footprint.
The environmental report for the plan is currently in its public review period. Zapf requested extending that through the end of September.
The city would then respond to all of those comments and finalize the plan before it’s ready for City Council approval. That’ll take at least a few months, so there’s unlikely to be any vote in the weeks before Election Day.
Zapf didn’t appease at least one community voice: James LaMattery is the spokesperson for Raise the Balloon, a group that has organized meetings and a protest in which it raised red balloons in the air to the height of the proposed new building heights to demonstrate how disruptive they feel it would be to their views.
He was not consoled by Zapf’s letter.
“I understand her consternation, it’s the same bewilderment I feel over her three-year absence from our community planning group subcommittee,” he wrote. “What happened to working with us beginning three years ago? Instead of sitting back and trumpeting its failure, Councilmember Zapf had plenty of opportunities to pitch in and help her fellow neighbors and constituents when it began to lift from the rails.”
Zapf’s opponent hates the plan, too: Jen Campbell, the Democrat running against Zapf, doesn’t like the plan either.
She came into the podcast studio this week for an interview that will air later, but we did get a chance to ask her about the city’s latest proposal.
Campbell said Zapf isn’t responsive to the community, and this is just the latest example.
“Her letter actually only spoke to the height limit,” Campbell said. “It didn’t talk about the other things in the plan that are upsetting the community.”
(LaMattery’s letter listed five issues: The plan doesn’t include a new pedestrian bridge from Morena Boulevard, over I-5 to Mission Bay; it doesn’t include a community-proposed concept of expanding the sidewalk on Morena Boulevard into a boardwalk; its design guidelines aren’t mandates for all developers; it punts development changes at the Clairemont Drive station, rather than making final decisions to preserve the 30-foot-height limit right now and it removes the 45-foot height limit around the Tecolote station.)
“We need to talk to the people in the neighborhood who know the neighborhood best,” Campbell said. “We need more housing. We need to increase our supply to meet our demand, and under the laws of economics, prices will come down to a reasonable level.”
She said the existing height limits provide plenty of room for that development.
“It’s just a matter of making sure that the architecture and everything fits in with the area around it.”
Faulconer watch: In 2014, Zapf came out against the plan, and the city’s planning director – who, like all department heads, works for the mayor – quickly issued a memo saying his planners would abandon the plan to upzone around the Clairemont station.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the mayor stands behind the proposal this time, or whether Zapf can persuade him to pull back on the proposal to upzone around the new trolley station.
This week, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed the SDSU West initiative. Two committees of the Board of Directors had studied both SDSU West and SoccerCity plans and recommended a different approach: to stay neutral, or endorse both measures.
But the full board decided it needed to weigh in.
“Chamber board felt it’s their job as leaders in business community to take positions on important issues,” wrote Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, a vice president at the Chamber, on Twitter.
With labor lining up behind the SDSU West plan and the Lincoln Club already on board, the momentum is clear.
SoccerCity still has the mayor, though. He reaffirmed that on our podcast recently.
Best Local Politics Podcast in San Diego: You’re still on board with that?
Mayor Kevin Faulconer: I am.
BLPPiSD: So you would say you want voters to vote for SoccerCity and against SDSU West?
MKF: No. … You have a great well-meaning people on both sides of these, on both the SoccerCity and the SDSU measure. It’s going to be up to voters to make that choice.
In a closed-session meeting, SANDAG’s board on Friday was scheduled to conduct interviews with finalists for its executive director postition. The board could have decided in that meeting, which would have started salary negotiations with the new hire.
At the end of the closed-session meeting, the board had no official actions to report.
“The board anticipates discussing this item again next month in open session,” SANDAG spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said in an email. “The board hopes to announce the name of the new executive director later next month.”
Circle of trust: The agency has kept tight-lipped on this round of choosing its next leader. I haven’t heard a single name mentioned – not as rumor, speculation, or off-the-record tip. Nothing.
That’s probably not an accident. In June, I reported that the board had tried in May to hire Kim Kawada, its acting director, into the position permanently, but Mayor Kevin Faulconer used the city of San Diego’s outsize vote, weighted by population, to veto the decision. SANDAG’s board was furious that word of that move became public.
Late last week, a Superior Court judge ordered the county to put a measure on the ballot that would change the way county officials are elected.
Today, officials can win outright in primaries if they get more than 50 percent of the vote. The measure would force all candidates to run in November, when voter turnout is highest. It would help Democrats win more races because they do better in higher-turnout environments.
This week, the county appealed that ruling.
But word came late Friday that the Court of Appeal denied the county’s request.
This was the fourth attempt to keep the measure off the November ballot.
It’s on the ballot now.
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