On January 4, 2017, preservationist groups Save Our Heritage Organisation and Mission Hills Heritage filed suit against the City of San Diego for allowing last-minute changes to Uptown's community-plan update. The revised plan would include keeping current density — not decreasing it, as initially proposed — and the deletion of planned historic zones in areas of Hillcrest. The groups allege that the amendments were made without adequate environmental review.
City planners and residents of Uptown (which includes Hillcrest, Mission Hills, University Heights, and Bankers Hill) began updating the community plan in 2008. During the course of the ensuing eight years, the communities grappled over arguments regarding density and proper building height.
In regard to building height, the fight occurred in Bankers Hill and Hillcrest, where developers pushed city officials and planners to approve high-rise condominium towers such as 301 University. But residents seemed to win the argument: the city council, after several lengthy hearings, approved the implementation of an interim height ordinance to limit the size and density of buildings in Uptown. Councilmembers opted to wait until the community-plan update was complete before permanent changes were made.
During the following eight years, however, things changed in Uptown. The real estate market crashed, rebounding with a new focus on renewable energy and the need for public transportation. A more car-centric approach was replaced with a more pedestrian-friendly mindset. The city went one step further when adopting a climate action plan, which further strengthened the need to take people out of cars and put them in buses and on bikes.
While arguments continued over the extent of the changes, the communities of Uptown moved forward with their recommendations for a new and improved plan. After years of meetings and after hearing input from residents, the city released a preliminary version of the updated plan. Many residents objected to what they say were last-minute changes made to the plan, including allowing for increased density, higher buildings, and wiping out the designation of historic districts in Hillcrest that had been pushed since the 1980s. Others supported the plan and the need to keep current density ratios as a way to solve high rents and a lack of affordable housing.
In October 2016, San Diego's planning commissioners recommended approval of the plan and the accompanying environmental reports. The following month, Uptown Planners (the community planning group) rejected the plan and requested that the city and council support an alternative to the increased density.
Despite those objections, the city moved forward with the changes, approving the environmental documents and the plan in December of last year.
By filing their lawsuit, Save Our Heritage Organisation and Mission Hills Heritage hope to prevent the city from implementation.
According to the complaint, the city failed to address environmental impacts brought on by increased traffic, the obstruction of views, and the quality of air, water, and community character; removal of the planned historic districts is also a sticking point.
The groups say the city attempted to resolve the inadequacies in the environmental reports by submitting last-minute environmental reports and memos in hopes of shoring up the draft studies.
"[The City of San Diego] failed to follow procedures mandated by [the California Environmental Quality Act], including but not limited to, failing to notify responsible agencies, failing to provide proper notice for public involvement, failing to provide adequate information in the [Environmental Impact Report] allow adequate opportunity for public input, and failing to provide adequate access to plan-related documents."