Red balloon sent up in Bay Park

Crouching residents, hidden developers anticipate high-density change

Intersection of Erie and Lister
  • Intersection of Erie and Lister

Driving down the streets of Bay Park from Clairemont Drive, all the way down to Linda Vista, one might wonder about particular signage posted on properties throughout the neighborhood. In three months' time, the aesthetics of the signs have transformed from uneven spray-painted walls to professionally cut and stenciled displays that read: “NO R-44,” “30 FT MAX,” and the most popular, “NO 60 FT.”

 James Lamattery

James Lamattery

"When interested parties understood that the trolley was being located at all four access points along Morena Boulevard, a bit of land speculation ensued and key parcels were purchased," explains James Lamattery, a local real estate broker. "And when those parties found out that the city would encourage TOD around those stations, and that they might be able to build to 60 feet, it made sense for them to stop construction of any kind until land-use changes were pushed through the planning process and building heights were increased. This is why you see vacant lots or terribly under-utilized lots along Morena."

TOD is an acronym for transit-oriented development, aka “smart growth,” where housing developments are built on top of retail spots with close proximity to public transportation such as buses, trains, and, in this case, trolley stops that will be built on Morena Boulevard, one by the Clairemont Drive exit where the old thrift shop used to sit for years, and the others at the Tecolote and Balboa intersections.

"The owner of this site is Morena, LLC," Lamattery says, pointing at the Clairemont Drive/I-5 overpass on his map. “They want to go to six stories here; the first two floors will be parking for their residence and parking for trolley patrons. Now, if we successfully block them from going to six stories, then that developer is going to say that he is not going to make enough profit if he is only allowed to go up to three floors [30 feet], then [San Diego Association of Governments] will step in and actually, by eminent domain, buy this portion of the lot, and then turn it into parking for the trolley station."

Lamattery and his neighbors created a "Raise the Balloon" gathering and website on September 27th: they walked a large red helium balloon, 60 feet in the air, along Morena Boulevard to help all of the residents visualize where the City of San Diego could allow developers to build 4718 new six-story condos in the Bay Park and Linda Vista plan areas.

"That day, I could not see past the red balloon," says John, an older homeowner on Lister Street. "I paid a lot of money for this property; there is no way I am giving up my view."

Many of the other homeowners shared John's sentiments, and understandably so: in certain parts of Bay Park, one can see the Pacific Ocean, the hills of La Jolla, and downtown San Diego.

Lamattery and his almost 500 registered advocates are prepping to take this to the top. Many onboard with the cause are going door-to-door with iPads to have homeowners register their name and address; others are passing out pamphlets with diagrams and maps; and some are on social media, contacting other parts of the U.S. to gain a better understanding of the effects of high-density areas. They are also gathering more information on sustainability and “green” living.

"We are preparing these amendments that will be sent straight to the city council," says Lamattery. "Basically, we are a social experiment for the whole county of San Diego. Now we can get residents together to create our own amendments. We want our area to be the shining example of how you can incorporate what the city, state, and big money wants, with what ‘residents’ want."

On the corner of Napier and Goldfield is a big corner house with an equally large "NO R-44" sign. Margie Johnson has been living in her house for 47 years and was a guidance counselor at Bay Park Elementary School just up the street.

Margie Johnson

Margie Johnson

"I am against high density,” says Johnson. “I think it’s wrong. I'm very unhappy with the way that this is going. We don't need more people [here]. That's what I want to see,” she says, pointing from her balcony, “the water on Mission Bay, not the back of large buildings."

R44, also known as RM3-7, are zoning codes that allow the building of 44-dwelling units per space.

On the rear of the Raise the Balloon pamphlet is a map showing many spots south of Tonopah and Morena that the city allegedly wants to change to R44 zones; where 3300 new condominiums, according to the literature, will be built if the zones changes go through.

One of the “community initiated amendments” that Raise the Balloon is initiating is a 30-foot height limit in the Linda Vista Plan area, particularly the large area included in the Morena Boulevard Station Area Planning Study. A portion of that area has no existing height limits, and the concern is that if the city is successful in changing current land use to mixed residential, then there is no telling how high structures could be built.

"We know it is coming,” says Lamattery. “We want a hand in it, we want a vote in it, we want a voice in it, and we just want to help develop the place that we live in.”

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Raising the height limit along Morena Blvd. will block the view of Mission Bay and allow greedy developers to build unnecessary structures and increase road traffic. This needs to be stopped!

The city's proposed zoning would reduce the parking requirement below other similar zones and remove all requirements for open green space. All this in hopes that they will force people with $500K condos to use the trolley. "Build it and they will come". Field of Dreams was a great movie but a horrible model for city planning. City planners need to get a grip on reality. The people who can buy $500K condo have disposable income and will have cars. It is the Southern California lifestyle.

I’m not anti-development. I simply want measured growth that will benefit all of San Diego County. Densifying the area around the trolley stops and developing mixed use residences and retail to promote ridership and walkability is great for everyone to a degree but putting in 60 to 100ft buildings in the 5 corridor at the confluence of the 5 and 8 freeways, Sea World, Claremont and Balboa drives will impact all of San Diego if we let developers and development go unchecked. Anyone who can afford the proposed $300-$500k+ condos will have a car(s) and if the currently proposed 3300 condos/residences are zoned in a ½ mile radius of the West Morena stop that’s not just going to effect that neighborhood alone. At a conservative estimated 1.5 cars per residence that’s 4,950 vehicles jamming the freeways leading to downtown, airport, beaches, Mission Valley, North and East County. That car count is only for the West Morena stop, similar proposed densification zoning numbers are being proposed at the Claremont and Balboa stops as well. Don’t kid yourself anyone who can afford to live or buy in coastal San Diego County (the 4th most expensive housing market in the country) will have a car or two and will likely not be pre disposed to riding public transportation on a daily basis. We need to build for the future with restraint and to everyone’s benefit not just the city’s tax base and a handful of developers.

Unfortunately, comments like "build up, not out" misunderstand the problem residents in my community are facing. The contemplated development of my neighborhood is problematic not just due to loss of views. That's only part of it. I'm more concerned about traffic congestion, impact on existing infrastructure, and the general effect on my community and the environment that comes with more people and more vehicles (because we all know that with each new resident will come one more car). Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to development. But we need strategic urban planning that doesn't involve just dumping high rise buildings (with huge profits to the developers) and packing in as many people as possible into small urban areas. That's a disservice to our existing communities and incoming residents. I fear that what the developers envision will bring to my neighborhood little more than tons of traffic and place a huge demand on infrastructure, including roads, schools, sewage, etc. I like my community, I'm not adverse to changing it, but I don't want it completely stripped of its character for the sake of "smart growth." If I wanted live in downtown, I would have moved there.

Also, it's worth noting that building up will not solve the problem faced by folks like Ms. Gray. Her complaint is not about finding a home near public transit, but rather affordable housing. I can point to numerous homes in my Bay Park neighborhood that were for sale in the last 12 years, all within a mile of the Linda Vista trolley station. Thus, the home she desired was available, but presumably not affordable. If she or others think that that building up will be the solution to the problem she faced, they are sorely mistaken. High rise condominium towers along Mission Bay with views of downtown, the ocean and the hills of La Jolla will be incredibly expensive and likely just as inaccessible. Hence, let's not pretend that this is something more than a lucrative opportunity for developers.

The flaws in the 250+ page Morena development proposal from the City planners would take another 250 pages to discuss. Just one example here: they proposed building high-density housing on Morena Blvd., which is adjacent to and downwind from the I-5 and a major rail line – with your condo, you get both 70-95 decibel noise and carcinogens to breathe (from diesel exhaust, tire tread wear, etc.). I’ve put my opinions on some of the issues in a Google docs pdf file, which is available at (there may be more detail than anybody wants to read)


High-quality high-density smart development which takes advantage of mass transit could be a good thing; high-density dumb development that results in a lower quality of life for both old and new residents is a very, very bad thing.


If I had wanted to live in an urban setting with high-rise apartments, I would have moved downtown, not in a neighborhood where we walk, ride our bike and enjoy the light that reaches the trees and the streets across Mission Bay Park. I am not against updating a neighborhood, but I am against the rezoning that this plan does - turning our suburbs into a city of high concrete and no views. This is not progress and does not enhance our environment. The parking issues alone should be enough to stop this nonsense. While the trolley is great, apartment dwellers still have cars, and often roommates. The current plan does not adequately address this congestion. The only upside is that they might have to reneg on their taking away of our two lanes up Clairemont drive. With the increase in vehicle traffic they are planning, I'm not even certain returning that street to two lanes would be sufficient to accommodate. More traffic on the commute, too, no matter how much you want to sell the trolley. Cars will come with the people. - K Thomas

The city's sneaky approach to force this down our throats needs to be looked at. As I understand it the city would need State or Coastal Commission review for a wholesale zoning change. Instead they are calling this an "amendment" to the existing zoning so they can circumvent higher review. I hope somebody looks into the details of this backroom deal.

I wouldn't want to be in a 60 foot building there when the Rose Canyon Fault goes.

With the trolley line coming through the neighborhood there is a great opportunity for the community, the city, sandag, and developers to improve these neighborhoods significantly. The alternatives proposed in the planning study will do no such thing. The proposed mid rise buildings make an excellent transition between high rise buildings of downtown and low rise neighborhoods. Placing them between Bay Park and Mission Bay will sever the identity from this community. Building high density near the trolley will likely get a few people off the road, most of whom will leave their cars parked on the streets of the neighborhoods when they take the trolley. These folks must have incredible imaginations to be able to consider this growth "smart".

There is not a scintilla of evidence that this rezoning will reduce the carbon footprint of San Diego by one ounce per year. People in high rises will still use their cars. The plan calls for no road improvements on Morena. More traffic = more emissions. This is "green grifting" plain and simple, and I refuse to support a the whoreticulture of high-rises paid for by developers using the concealment of carbon-friendliness. More details are on The Liberator Today.

Remember the additional 4000 units going into what is now the Riverwalk Golf Course on the west end of Friars Rd. Add that to the thousand's of units/cars going in the Morena Corridor. Our aged infrastructure, traffic patterns and water resources can't accommodate the onslaught of so many people. We are realistic and are not completely opposed to all growth, but we insist on RESPONSIBLE GROWTH.

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