Politics Report: Tweaking the Coastal Height Limit (and: Our Election Contest)

Politics

Politics Report: Tweaking the Coastal Height Limit (and: Our Election Contest)

Two Council members want to change 30-foot height limit on the city of San Diego’s coast for the Sports Arena area.

Councilman Chris Cate and Councilwoman Jen Campbell / Photos by Jamie Scott Lytle and Adriana Heldiz

In 1972, San Diego city residents passed a citizens’ initiative imposing a 30-foot height limit on construction of anything north of downtown and west of I-5. It would be a comical understatement to call the law beloved. Andy wrote a story on the law’s legacy on its 40th anniversary, for example, and was accused of going on a personal “jihad” against it. People really like the coastal height limit.

Back then, Mayor Kevin Faulconer – a councilman representing the coastal district at the time – got ahead of the shitstorm we weren’t smart enough to see coming and issued a press release clarifying that no one would be proposing anything to alter the coastal height limit in any way. We followed up with an interview, in which Andy asked him if he was aware of any effort to change the height limit as it was enacted in 1972.

“I certainly don’t know of any concerted effort, and if somebody tried to redo the height limit, I would not support it,” he said. “I would never support changing it … my sense is it’s working, and it’s working well. It doesn’t need any tweaks.”

This week, two Council members announced a concerted effort to tweak the law.

Councilwoman Jen Campbell, who represents the coastal area, and Councilman Chris Cate issued a memo Thursday asking a Council committee to discuss putting a measure on the November ballot to rescind the height limit for the Midway-Pacific Highway community plan area. The city passed a major upzone there in 2018 allowing far more homes to be built and is now asking developers for proposals to redevelop the city-owned land under and around the Sports Arena. The city and SANDAG are also spearheading a potential redevelopment of the NAVWAR property in the community as part of building a regional transit hub.

We got Cate on the phone for a few minutes to discuss the proposal. Campbell’s office made valiant attempts to get us on the phone with her as well, but she was traveling Friday and we were on short notice.

This has always been something of a third-rail issue. Are you concerned with the politics of this?

No, given the circumstances we went through with the community plan update for the area, the Sports Arena site, the NAVWAR site and the potential of creating a new transit hub – there’s a lot of potential there, and that can’t all happen without raising the height limit.

What was the thought process on broadly going after the height limit for entire community, rather than isolating the Sports Arena site, or just a few properties?

We talked about the Sports Arena, but then realized there’s also the NAVWAR property and also ancillary areas surrounding both of them, and we decided we wanted that all to happen. The whole plan area made sense. And this doesn’t apply in the beach communities. We’ll have to remind folks of that. And I think people will get it.

Do you think it’s significant that the Sports Arena itself is already over the 30-foot height limit?

If you use a point of reference to visualize height, I think that helps. I don’t know a San Diegan who has never been to the Sports Arena. That’s a good reference point to say, “this is what we’re at now, this is the height.” There’s an understanding from a lot of folks that something needs to happen. If you’re comfortable with that property as is, and you don’t want that arena to become a new one, you probably won’t support this. But I think everyone understands the need to update the surrounding area.

Should there be a new height limit, or no height limit at all?

That’s a conversation that needs to happen. It depends where we’re talking about. At the Sports Arena site, you could make an argument for 75 feet, the height of the current arena. At NAVWAR, maybe you should go higher than that. I think there’s room for discussion for all that.

Does the city’s experience proposing to lift the height limit in Bay Park, and the reaction that elicited, inform this decision in any way? That didn’t go over well.

I think the first reaction might be that this is mission creep. “First you come you come for this, then you’ll come for La Jolla.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. If you look at Morena, as well, you can see the argument from people who live on the east side of that area, saying “this is my view of the bay, and you’re taking it away.” There are no views from the Sports Arena. There are no views in Midway. There may be a visceral reaction against this, and we’re prepared for anything. But I don’t think there will be neighbors like we saw in Morena that will bring that argument to the conversation.

Seven years ago, when Mayor Faulconer represented the coastal district, I asked him if maybe the boundaries of the coastal height limit weren’t quite right, and whether an area like the Sports Arena might not make sense to be part of it and could be changed. He said “I would never support changing it,” and “it doesn’t need any tweaks.” What changed from then until now that two Council members would propose this?

The world has changed in general, in terms of housing issues, where we’re at in updating the community plan, where we’re at with the RFP for the Sports Arena site, to potentially build an exciting, successful transit center, to keep NAVWAR jobs in the area. The world has changed in general in the past seven years, and this proposal is a recognition of that.

Why Our Mayor’s Race May Set a National Standard

Dispatch from Randy Dotinga: Three of the leading candidates in San Diego’s mayoral race would make the city a national trailblazer if elected.

If Todd Gloria wins, San Diego will become – by far – the largest American city to ever elect an openly gay man mayor. And if Barbara Bry or Tasha Williamson wins, San Diego will become the largest city to have elected not one, not two, but three women mayors.

Todd Gloria: A milestone for the LGBT community? Gloria cheekily describes himself as “CA’s 1st Native American-Filipino-Latino-LGBT Assemblyman.” We’re not going to run that by San Diego Fact Check: We’re pretty sure it’s true.

On the national level, the “G” in LGBT will make Gloria stand apart if he wins. Voters in two mega-cities – Chicago (No. 3) and Houston (No. 4) – have elected lesbian mayors. But only two cities in the Top 25 – Portland, Ore. (No. 25) and Seattle (No. 18) – have elected gay male mayors. (Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, Ind., which clocks in as the 306th largest city in the country. It’s a few rankings below our very own El Cajon and one slot above the North County city of Vista.)

Why haven’t gay men made more inroads into the mayor jobs in major cities? One theory is that the AIDS epidemic killed off a generation of potential gay male political leaders in the 1980s and early 1990s. Lesbians then filled the leadership gap.

That’s one explanation for why three lesbians of the Baby Boomer generation – Christine Kehoe, Toni Atkins and Bonnie Dumanis – were the first major elected LGBT politicians in San Diego.

But voters also seem more willing to vote for lesbians than gay men.

“Attitudes towards them are generally less negative than they are towards gay male candidates,” said Don Haider-Markel, a professor at the University of Kansas who studies LGBT politics.

Barbara Bry and Tasha Williamson: Setting new standard for women? San Diego is already a standout among big cities electing women mayors. We’ve had two: Maureen O’Connor and Susan Golding. Three of the other cities in the Top 10 haven’t elected a single woman mayor (New York City, Los Angeles and Philadelphia). Cities in the Southwest and West have picked up the slack: San Antonio (two women mayors; one was elected to non-concurrent terms), Houston (two), Phoenix (two), Dallas (two) and San Jose (two). Chicago has had one.

Why haven’t there been more women mayors? “Women in general are less likely to run for office, usually believing that there are high barriers for them,” Haider-Markel said. “But they tend to perform better than men.”

If Bry or Williamson win, San Diego will be the first Top 10 city – and the first with over a million residents – to elect three women mayors.

Elections Contest

It’s that time again, where we pretend to be oddsmakers and you political wonks make your picks. The winner with the most correct answers gets lunch with us.

With no special insight or information of any value, Andy went on Matt Strabone’s podcast this week with his predictions for Tuesday. Because predicting elections has never gone wrong for anyone — especially political reporters.

The rules are simple. These are guesses on how the races will turn out. On the over/unders, make sure you pick OVER or UNDER.

Anyway, go through the list and send in your answers like this:

  1. OVER
  2. UNDER
  3. PAUL TSONGAS AND BILL CLINTON
  4. etc

Send your answers to scott@voiceofsandiego.org.

Let’s begin:

  1. San Diego mayor: Choose over or under for Todd Gloria, 40.5 percent.
  2. San Diego mayor: Which two candidates will make the runoff?
  3. 53rd Congressional District: Choose over or under for Georgette Gomez, 14.5 percent.
  4. 50th Congressional District: Choose over or under for Carl DeMaio, 22.5 percent.
  5. County Supervisor District 3: Choose over or under for Kristin Gaspar, 44.5 percent.
  6. County Supervisor District 3: Which two candidates will make the runoff?
  7. Measure A: Choose over or under YES, 56 percent.
  8. Measure C: Choose over or under YES, 55 percent.
  9. County Supervisor District 1: Which two candidates will make the runoff?
  10. Presidential primary: Will Elizabeth Warren get a higher percentage of the vote in San Diego County than in the state as a whole? Yes or No.

Send in other thoughts or questions about local politics to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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