Apartments unwelcome

La Mesa’s plot for vacant lots

"People in apartments aren’t stable; they don’t become part of the community,” grouses G.W., who lives in La Mesa near Mt. Helix. She fears that her tony neighborhood will take a turn for the worse if rezoning allows multi-unit residences (and/or a convenience store) to be built a half mile from her spacious, Spanish-style digs.

On Wednesday, January 16, she found a notice, “General Plan Changes that May Concern You,” at her doorstep. The anonymous flyer stated that the City of La Mesa, via an updated general plan, was poised to allow development of two triangular parcels adjacent to the 125 freeway at the corner of Lemon and Bancroft. G.W., who describes the notice as a “single sheet of paper with a little map on it,” is both puzzled and peeved. “It doesn’t appear to have come from the [La Mesa] planning commission or the community development people; it just seems like they’re trying to do something without alerting the neighbors.”

But who exactly is “they?”

According to Christopher Jacobs, a senior planner for La Mesa (one of two contacts listed on the flyer), the northernmost tract (formerly part of a Caltrans right-of-way) is owned by Michael D. London, a downtown lawyer and entrepreneur. G.W. notes that London, who’s best known as the founder of the Pure Fitness gym, had been rebuffed by locals in a prior bid to build on his property. “About ten years ago, some developer wanted to rezone them so he could build apartments and a little mini-market and there was a big to-do about it. There was a big ruckus, an uproar; all the neighbors were incensed. They put up signs: ‘We don’t want a gas station; we don’t want apartments.’ They went to a La Mesa city board meeting and spoke. There was such an outpouring of disgust over the fact they would even consider this. The City of La Mesa decided that the general plan would remain in place and the area would continue to be residential and semirural. I would’ve thought that it was a done deal.”

Christopher Jacobs states, however, that the plan withdrawn under fire in 2000 was “not the same proposal,” because it included the potential annexation of land in an adjacent unincorporated tract. Jacobs stresses that any rezoning would be done pursuant to an update of La Mesa’s general plan (unchanged since 1996), under review in conjunction with the city’s 2012 centennial. When I asked Jacobs about opposition to the as-yet inchoate development, he noted that he’d been contacted by a few residents. Striking a neutral tone, he also said, “It’s all part of the democratic process.”

Ensconced on her .75 acre lot since 1977, G.W. doesn’t trust the process. She laughs, “I’m inclined to believe that someone’s in bed with the developer. At this point, I don’t even know who owns the property, but I just find it odd that the city planning commission would contemplate the change; looks like the City of La Mesa is trying to push this thing through.”

She also doesn’t trust renters. “Apartment living is just sort of a stop-gap thing. They’re not interested in the community; it’s just a place to live until they move on. They don’t have a vested interest. If you’re an apartment-dweller, you just don’t have the same interest in maintaining the property that the owner would.”

In G.W.’s view, anything other than a single-family home should be verboten in her neck of the woods, “unless the surrounding community feels it needs something.” She insists, though, that the locals aren’t dead-set against all change. “We’ve had many homes where they built a second dwelling on a property, and that’s usually been accepted because other neighbors have done the same thing. Some of us have rather large pieces of property, very lovely homes. It would be like putting it up on Mt. Soledad or in La Jolla; you can wind around that hill quite a bit and you don’t come across mini-markets or commercial buildings.”

G.W., who freely admits that she dislikes living near businesses and apartments, says, “There’s also a much bigger issue. It brings strangers into the neighborhood; it gives people access. They come off the freeway for one thing and go, ‘Let’s check out the neighborhood’ to see if there’s anything easy to burglarize.” She also cites what she believes are logistical hurdles. “I was shocked when the idea originally came up to build apartments; I question what they were thinking. These are little triangular pieces of property that you’ll typically see near an on-ramp or off-ramp. Are the parcels big enough? They aren’t large enough for much in the way of apartments. Well, I would not have thought they were that large, but obviously, somebody thinks they’re big enough.”

Whatever the plans, G.W. acknowledges that she’s not privy to them. “There’s nothing about anybody wanting to develop it at the moment, but the fact is, once they rezone it, then it’s open to whatever.” She laughs, “They can dig down 50 feet, put in three levels of parking.” She also contends, “It seems like someone is trying to accomplish this without even letting the neighbors know. When you buy the property, you buy it knowing how it’s zoned, so if La Mesa rezones this to commercial without the neighbors even having any input... If these things get rezoned, then if somebody wants to come along and put in a mini-market or a gas station and it’s already zoned for commercial use, then how can you fight it?”

However, the City of La Mesa says that G.W. and the rest of the old-timers will get their say as the usual municipal mandates of notice, discussion, and review run their course.

An environmental impact report will be circulated during the next 60 days with public hearings to follow. Until then, the vacant lots will continue to be used as they have been for years — as a place for locals to trespass by parking cars for sale.

Michael London did not respond to telephone or email queries for this article.

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RE: “Apartment living is just sort of a stop-gap thing. They’re not interested in the community; it’s just a place to live until they move on."

That's such a warped view. Millions of people live in apartments across the U.S. I'd like to see any evidence that such residents are less interested than home-owners. Apt. dwellers want clean, safe, enjoyable neighborhoods, just like those who can afford to buy single family homes [I sure can't, and never could]. And my neighbor isn't doing a "stop-gap thing." He's lived in his apartment for 16 years.

Wow. The person speaking for La Mesa comes off as very classist. I am an apartment "dweller" with a masters and highly committed to my community. I love the fact that I live in a diverse community in all sense of the word. It sounds to me that some La Mesa residents lack worldly culture and appreciation for diversity, in all sense of the word. Plus, any apartments being built in La Mesa are probably going to be over priced, so she can keep her homogeneous neighborhood.

Thirteen years ago, Mr. London tried to get the zoning of parcels of land he purchased at Lemon Ave. and Bancroft Dr. changed from Suburban-Residential to Commercial. He knew the zoning when he made the purchased and did not develop it for residential use, speculating that he could make more money if he could push through the change. The opposition then, as now, is not merely against change but with solid and reasonable objections to a significant proposed alteration in the goals expressed in the City of La Mesa Land Use and Urban Design document of March 2012, which states that the first goal of land use in the city is "a safe and healthy community". The second goal is "residential neighborhoods with strong character and cohesion". It states that neighborhoods should be preserved and improved and "infill development can revitalize the community IF consistent with the surroundings". Given the current single family residential nature of our community, the proposed change would clearly not fit with these goals.

We have concerns over safety. According to the La Mesa General Plan, "land use decisions must further the welfare of people and their neighborhoods by creating healthful, sustainable and attractive environments for present and future generations". There are many children who walk to school past this intersection. It is busy, particularly in the morning, and adding a commercial business would only increase the traffic with associated increase in pollution and risk of injury to our children, other pedestrians and motorists. This neighborhood has already been impacted, indeed divided by SR 125. The La Mesa objective listed in the same document stresses that La Mesa is to "maintain and preserve single family neighborhoods while directing growth to mixed use corridors" and to "protect the character of recognized and unique neighborhoods identified by the city's overlay zones" (this corner is part of the scenic preservation overlay).

There is no community demand for another gas station or convenience store in that there are 9 gas stations within a few miles along with grocery stores and other small markets.
These concerns are not merely from those with "spacious Spanish style digs" but from those of us with more modest, older homes on the lower edge of Mount Helix, much closer to the affected lots. About 1000 residents had concerns at the last rezoning attempt. Mr. Jacobs said he had been contacted by a few residents, there would have been more if the city had made an effort at notification. I live about 0.25 miles from the corner involved and I was informed by a neighbor, not the city.This is about changing the character of a neighborhood and quality of life for many simply for the profit of a man who gambled. Gamblers do not always win. Mr. London is free to develop his properties according to the rules in place when he purchased them. Then he will be welcome in our community.

The author has taken a rather snarky view of our resistance to the proposed rezoning. Rather than seeking out other community voices, he focused on one resident and homed in on a perceived anti-apartment view. Apartments are not the issue. The developer is attempting to rezone his property AND one that is currently owned by CalTrans by having it written into a new City Plan.

Rather than investigative reporting, this article only mocks the "old timers" in this "tony" (huh? editor?) community. Thirteen years ago the developer tried to get a zoning change, at this location, for a convenience store with gas pumps. A petition collected 1000 signatures at that time, 250 citizens overflowed the city council chamber and the proposal was turned down. Either our politicians have short memories or they think we do. And THAT is certainly not the case.

In a short time 147 people have signed an online petition at Change.org, Petitioning City of La Mesa. The actual link is long, so use- http:/chn.ge/ZdBHwn Also a facebook page has been started, https:www.facebook.com/SaveOurCorner

Concerned neighbors are encouraged to: Sign the petition, "Like" SaveOurCorner on facebook (set to receive notifications- for public hearings, etc) Send a letter to the Senior Planner, City of La Mesa, 8130 AllsionAve, La Mesa, CA 91942 ( CC the mayor and city council)

If the author would care to make an honest attempt at reporting a serious community issue, please contact us at [email protected]

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