Golden Hill canyon to fill with 27 new homes

No opposition to development site “well known for its rich fossil beds”

View across canyon from C to B Street
  • View across canyon from C to B Street
  • Image by Irvin Gavidor

Where 29th meets B Street, in a quiet part of Golden Hill, a previously undeveloped, narrow green canyon will soon be the site of 27 new homes. The canyon, which for many years included the unpaved right-of-way for 29th Street, is one block wide and half a block long, with a deep ravine. Most of the homes will be built on the south side of the canyon, fronting C Street. There will also be a row on B Street, and the two sides of the development will be connected by a bridge that spans the ravine.

Vacant site of planned homes

Vacant site of planned homes

Jeffrey Peterson of the city’s Development Services Department stated in an email that the Golden Hill Row Homes engineering drawings were just approved on March 7 and the city was getting ready to issue the permits. Grading has started, and the undeveloped canyon had its first water and sewer pipes, cable connections, and electricity installed in late 2013. Work has not begun on the structures.

Before utilities could be added and construction could begin in the canyon, developers had to meet a series of requirements in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. A study had to be commissioned to identify potential environmental impacts. According to the project report filed by Peterson in 2007, the study found that the area does contain environmentally sensitive lands and is part of a soil layer “well-known for its rich fossil beds.”

In addition, the construction is in close proximity to an archaeological site where a deposit of early 20th-century industrial trash was found in 1998. A heavy equipment wheel, horseshoes, and other blacksmithing equipment were among artifacts found preserved in a heap of slag-like material. As a result of these findings, builders working in the canyon must be careful of the detritus left behind by their counterparts 100 years ago.

Demo'd house

Demo'd house

Golden Hill Row Homes broke ground in December 2013 with the demolition of two 1920s homes on the flattest part of the lot near the edge of the canyon. The home closest to the canyon edge, a two-story bungalow with a large addition in the back and an oversized porch, was most notable for the large, sturdy, river rock wall that wrapped around the front and side of the property.

The wall, dating to the early 1900s, was made of big, oval stones that were worn smooth by being at the bottom of a riverbed. The stones most likely came from the San Diego River and other nearby creeks and streams, and maybe even from the canyon itself. Cement was worked into the voids between the rocks to strengthen the wall. Many retaining walls like this were built around San Diego in the early 1900s—this one helped keep the property from eroding down the slope into the canyon.

Unlike others nearby — like the more famous 32nd Street Canyon and the Fir Street Canyon next to the Dog Park — the little B/C Street canyon does not have any organized opposition to its development. Several years ago, Tershia d’Elgin, a Golden Hill resident and canyon activist, did have a chance to analyze any impact the developer’s plans for the canyon might have on drainage and storm water. But the final project report stated that water quality and several other environmental factors “were considered and determined not to be significant.” Upon learning that work had begun on the canyon, d’Elgin recommended it for a native-plant restoration under a special “call for water quality projects” by the County of San Diego Watershed Protection Program. With native plants in place, the canyon would still provide a small but significant amount of storm-water drainage for the neighborhood.

The B/C Street canyon remained undeveloped until now most likely because of its steep gradient and the damp ravine that runs through it. When the city improved other streets in the neighborhood beginning in the early 1900s, the canyon was most likely too expensive to grade, pave, bridge, or to fill with dirt. Thus, the city left 29th Street unpaved through there, leaving the canyon as open space for many years while the lots around it filled up with homes and condominiums. In 1989, the city vacated its right-of-way for the street, creating the opportunity for development.

In 2007, the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee voted unanimously to pass the project. Committee chair Ruchelle Alvarez did not comment for this story.

The design of Golden Hill Row Homes won the “Best on the Boards Multi-Family Projects” award in 2010. Features include solar panels that developers hope will generate 50 percent of the electricity used by residents and a private park. Richard Montaño, landowner, investor, and one of the developers on this project, expects the units to sell for between $600,000 and $700,000 each.

Montaño’s investment firm LIV Capital has put $2 million into the project, and his real estate firm Fit Properties will manage sales. Presidio Residential Capital, another local company, has invested $18.8 million. The developers hope to have a model ready in July or August, though construction is still in the preliminary phases.

Montaño said he has “received quite a bit of support” from the community. He said the interest list is “growing at about 10 new parties per day” and that he has been approached by potential buyers.

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When the concept of "in filling" older, existing neighborhoods was first floated in the 70's it sounded like a good one. But later on, as examples of it were announced, they ran into high levels of NIMBYism from the occupants of the already-existing homes. A few of them actually were built, and some of those that were opposed were very poorly conceived and designed. If the in filling went the way it was supposed to, it would have made the older neighborhoods better, and have boosted housing values for everyone. Some of the benefits claimed were that more affluent residents in the new homes would help the business climate in the area, and also enable the use of public transportation by more people. But the big selling point was that it could slow the urban/suburban sprawl that was making it hard to provide public services to vast expanses of new, low density neighborhoods.

This project, with no organized or vocal opposition, may be one that would actually be the sort of thing envisioned. A hundred or so years ago, the builders lacked large and powerful earthmoving gear, and hence they didn't use every scrap of land in San Diego, and many other cities. If the slope of the land was too severe, they just didn't try to build. And in those days, who would have wanted to end up living on a steep hill if they didn't have to? (This ain't San Francisco, folks.) If/when it comes to pass, it will be most interesting to see what kind of units those actually are, and who buys them.

Good points, Visduh. I have a hard time calling the proposed development of the land between B and C a "canyon." It could be nice to have it developed as a park or open space, but it's not a beautiful piece of land.

As for filling in canyon land, I was just reading some history of the 2015 Panama-California Exposition. I could see on a 1910 map that 6th Ave (then called Park) didn't go through from Date to Juniper. I came across this: "[B]efore final Exposition plans could be carried out, Olmsted prepared a scheme to connect Park (Sixth) Avenue from Date to Juniper Streets that involved the filling in of 38,000 cubic yards of dirt. The area was the site of Mulvey Canyon, named after James Mulvey who lived next to it."

Click on the photos at the end of the article. I'm not sure exactly when 6th was created between Date and Juniper, but the photo caption says it was made by filling in Mulvey Canyon. It looks like a lot of workers and horses were involved.

There's another mention of Mulvey Canyon here: http://c100.org/books/JSDH/Montes_CityPark_1979-1.pdf

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