I am writing as a private citizen, as an active cheerleader of our City’s community planning process and neighborhood voices, and informed by my role as chair of the San Diego Community Planners Committee.
This is about One Paseo and what the recent City Council approval means for our neighborhoods.
One Paseo is a private development located in Carmel Valley just east of Interstate 5. The 23 acres of land was purchased with zoning for 500,000 square feet of office but the developer sought instead approval of 2,000,000 square foot mixed use of residential, retail, and office—4 times what was allowed. The developer subsequently trimmed the request to 1,400,000 square feet.
For context, University Town Center is approximately the same building square footage but spread out over 100 acres.
The Carmel Valley Planning Board, a volunteer group recognized by the City of San Diego as the voice for the community, held numerous public meetings on the project and listened to hours and hours of testimony by the developer and the public. In the end, the Board rejected the developer’s proposal and instead recommended a reduced project at the scale the planning board knew was right for their community—a 876,300 square foot project.
In addition, the neighboring communities of Torrey Pines, Del Mar Mesa and Torrey Hills which are potentially impacted by the project also rejected the developer’s proposal.
Instead of working with Carmel Valley to find a compromise, the developer ignored their recommendation and pushed forward. The City Council also ignored the planning group’s recommendation and approved the 1,400,000 square foot project on a 7-2 vote. Council President Lightner and Councilmember Emerald were the two no votes.
When I heard the council vote I became concerned about the precedent this could set for development throughout San Diego, and the impact it could have on our community planning process.
I was therefore not surprised when I began receiving phone calls and emails asking me whether anyone at City Hall is listening to planning groups; volunteers are thinking twice about continuing to serve. The community planning process so integral to San Diego’s growth could be at risk.
So too the residents, business owners, and property owners of Carmel Valley were concerned about both the impact to their community and the implications city-wide. They have joined together to undertake a referendum effort that would require the City Council to either rescind its vote or place the matter before the voters on a city-wide ballot.
Let’s be clear. This is not a referendum on smart growth or the City’s General Plan.
As Democrats we have a progressive vision for our City. We understand that we must conserve our resources, provide quality housing for all income levels and accommodate population growth, create and sustain well-paying jobs, expand transit, reduce greenhouse gases, and much more. This referendum does not abandon that vision; instead, it reaffirms that we can deliver on that vision while protecting our neighborhoods and respecting local voices.
Neither is this a referendum on development of the vacant parcel—only a question of how much development. There is already broad agreement to support mixed use development in excess of what the developer was entitled to when they bought the property. But should that be a 60% bump or a 200% bump?
Some might find the referendum process distasteful. Keep in mind that last year over 5 years of community planning were thrown away through the referendum process. Shouldn’t that same process be used now to save community planning?
And some might think this is not a city-wide issue but only between Carmel Valley, the developer, and City Hall. Think again. The developer actively sought support city-wide prior to the City Council hearing, initiating their own petition drive and sending out mailers across the city. And I have just learned that a private development proposal in another community, cynically dubbed “Two Paseo,” just came forward. When will Three Paseo show up in your neighborhood?
We must send a strong reminder that planning groups are the forum and voice of the community, and for nearly 50 years these groups have worked collaboratively with developers to shape projects and provided local guidance to decision makers about impacts and benefits. And those groups will continue to do that work as volunteers IF they are an authentic part of the process.
We must also send a strong message that our community plans are the blueprint for our community and a contract with residents and property owners, whether those plans are 4 or 40 years old. To wipe the zoning clean and let the developer decide what should be there is not acceptable. If the vision for a community is to be changed it must be done by consensus between the community, the community planning group, private property owners, the councilmember, and the city.
I hope San Diegans from Point Loma to Navajo and from Rancho Penasquitos to San Ysidro will join in Carmel Valley’s petition drive. This issue is paramount to the future of our City and your neighborhoods. I urge all voters to sign the petition today.
Joe is a public policy consultant and registered civil engineer, a San Diego State University Civil Engineering graduate, and a member of the Urban Land Institute. Joe has been a community leader for nearly 15 years and a tireless advocate for neighborhoods at city hall. He is Chair of the San Diego Community Planners Committee, the umbrella organization to the city’s 42 community planning groups. He spoke at our January 2015 meeting on Civic Engagement. @joe_lacava
The petition was available to sign at our meeting, Sunday March 22 4:00PM
You can listen to Joe’s explanation of the project and the petition drive at the meeting here.