Uptown preservationists sue city

Environmental impacts and historic considerations ignored, they say

The idea (read: density) of Uptown Gateway Council, a consortium of Hillcrest property owners
  • The idea (read: density) of Uptown Gateway Council, a consortium of Hillcrest property owners
  • from Uptown Gateway Council video

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.

The Plan

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.

The Lawsuit

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."

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Once again SOHO has come forward to do the heavy lifting to get our city officials to take the concerns of its citizens seriously. What City Council, under the leadership of former Council Member Gloria, did is shameful. Their complete disregard of 8 years of work by the community to do the bidding of developer lobbyists, while cynically using the climate and affordable housing as cover, was a low point for our city. Hopefully SOHO and Mission Hills Heritage will force City officials to do right by the community.

Sorry I have absolutely no respect for Mission Hills Heritage. They continue to hold our urban experience hostage to a small loud constituency, who think they care about the world, but really they only care about the value of their homes. Even the original membership of MHH were people who were new to Mission Hills and pushed for it to be a historic district, against many of the neighbors. Those of us who have lived here for over 30 years understand we need to change it up. (Pun intended) If San Diego is to become a city of the future, with a decrease in carbon footprints to save the planet and affordable housing, we must embrace density, especially along transit opportunities. Assemblyman Todd Gloria is not shameful, he is a leader and good for him, he disregarded a few loud voices for entire neighborhoods in Banker's Hill, Hillcrest and Mission Hills. No one is hiding under a cover of climate change or affordable housing. These are realities today and we must grow up and change. Visit Portland, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, and other progressive cities that understand we have to embrace density, diversity and affordable housing to move forward. Please SOHO and Mission Hills Heritage don't continue to advocate for San Diego to not grow up. You can stay here and have toddler tantrums, but many of us want these changes, and they have absolutely nothing to do with a developer. Personally I do not know who the developer is but I appreciate their vision and hope this law suit won't kill the clean up of Pericano's and the entrance at 6th Avenue and University. It is ugly. Let's gather together and be a community and not let this small group of naysayers and NIMBY'S get away with this!!


by ICare

Uptown Planners is the official elected community group that exists expressly to advise the planning department and city council on the community's thoughts on development issues. The current board was elected with a record breaking turnout by Uptown residents. A broad and diverse group of people chose this board, not a small group of naysayers or NIMBY's as you wrongly suggest. The City Council and specifically Todd Gloria chose to completely ignore their work as well the hundreds of people who wrote or showed up at meetings to oppose support the Gateway Plan. These residents did not oppose development, or diversity, or affordable housing or saving the planet. What they opposed was more of the business as usual where our elected officials help the well connected and wealthy use our city as the want for their profits. These residents want to help the city evolve and grow while respecting its history and it residents. And you're just naive to think Todd Gloria is anything but a politician trying to please the people who really keep him in power, the elite of this city.

Geranium - You are correct, "community group that exists expressly to advise the planning department and city council on the community's thoughts on development issues." Key word here "advise." I have been at many these meetings for over 17 years, and if you think that Uptown Planners has been a cross cultural group of all property owners, renters, small business owners in the Uptown neighborhoods, you are the one who is naive. JMissionHills is correct when he says the leaders of this group are Barry Hager, Tom Mullany, along with their pals Janet O'dea and her beloved. Their delays and suits cost a project I was involved in Mission Hills over $350,000 in attorneys fees to take it to the full council on an appeal. And even then they lied about the truth. Don't get me wrong, we raised 4 beautiful children in Mission Hills, when it was a diverse beautiful neighborhood. By the time the NIMBY'S moved in neighbors there was fighting and a "civil war" of sorts broke out in our quiet neighborhood. It became so ugly we moved our 4 kids out of the neighborhood. And I will write it again, if you think that Todd Gloria is only a politician...they why did he win over 80% of the "elite of the city?" Sorry, there are not 80% that qualify as "elite." But there are 80% who think Todd Gloria is one of the most honest and qualified individuals to come along and is a real leader rather than pandering to a few whose would rather define crumbling parking lots and restaurants as "character" instead of the blight they are, than compromise like adults and bring about a change we can all be excited about. My eldest son use to say, "Let them put up gates and they can close the gates at night and roll up the streets..."

ICare, It sounds like you have a personal grudge against a few folks on Uptown Planners so you support Todd Gloria's disregarding the community. I agree that he has is successful in winning elections when he is essentially running unopposed. I also agree he, like our mayor, is focused on how to spin what he's doing for positive PR. Just like your suggestion that letting the landowners (who have hindered Hillcrest's development for years by letting their property sit vacant for years) do whatever they want is the only way to bring down property prices in Mission Hills and help save the planet. Its a simplistic dialog that is cover for giveaways. But sadly it prevents our city from addressing real problems in real ways.

Geranium - You have hit the nail on the head, TG was looking out for both his career and going for all the Developer donations he could while still in office as CD3 Council member. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for posting great comments.

Mission Hills is a unique neighborhood that needs to be protected from over development. The project that you were involved in was not suitable to the character of the surrounding buildings. The compromise that was reached seems to have worked for the most part. Most intelligent people accept that change is inevitable and will cooperate when done properly. Todd Gloria capitulated and left residents to their own means. As far as respect goes, no one misses you.

ICare - Calling out someone as a NIMBY just identifies you as name caller! Stick to the facts and others might pay attention to what you are saying. Good Luck

I have to agree with ICARE's post above 100%. I am a home owner in Mission Hills and it seems that over the last few years a certain "group" of individuals in Uptown (Mission Hills Heritage and its leader, the Attorney Barry Hager, and people like Tom Mullany have contributed to the withering decline of our Urban (yes we own homes in the middle of the city) neighborhood. These people do not speak for the majority of residents of Uptown although they like to give the impression they do.

The Mission Hills Business District and Hillcrest are now the the aging spinster sisters of North Park and Little Italy. The "Heritage groups" real motivation is their Mills Act Tax Breaks and keeping Mission Hills Old, White, and in the 1950's . Move one! I would love to see young bright GenX and Millennials living in Shady Pines...er... I mean Mission Hills.

Pro-Density Cheerleaders are assisting Developers to profit while doing too little to ease the shortage of Low and Low-Moderate housing units. They are the ones responsible for the "affordable housing" shortage (as opposed to all the market rate housing) we have today because they are focused on profits and are enabled to do so because of their donations to elected officials! Mission Hills Heritage and SOHO are working together in the only way that they can, seeing that the City and the CD3 Office have taken advantage of all the people that have spent many years working on improving their Community Plan Update only to be sold out at the end, just like so many people in North Park (NP) were. The one big difference between NP and Mission Hills is that the NP Planning Committee (NPPC) is owned by NP Main Street and the CD3 office; so, of course, all the last minute planning changes were approved by the majority of the North Park Planning Committee Board because it was the best we could do. Many in NP are also angry and I expect to see additional lawsuits occur once NP residents get organized.

You're exactly right, Founder. I was about to post what you described is precisely what happened.

SOHO and MHH have got a very strong case, because the adopted plan was such a sloppy, grasping mess. If the developers could have been satisfied with the almost total giveaway they got in the draft plan, this lawsuit wouldn't stand a chance. Because up until they had the planning commission muck it up, the update process did follow the letter of legal review (even if only to completely ignore the input from the community).

But no, they got too greedy, and this snap at their reflection is going to cost them the meal already in their mouth.

The future development in Mission Hills is in the Washington Street commercial corridor much of which is already blight and full of auto shops, Jack in the Box, old bank buildings and liquor stores.

In my opinion, as a long term resident and homeowner this comes across as MHH just does not want anymore people living near their surrounding neighborhoods. Yes NIMBY is a generalization but I will freely associate with Mission Hills Heritage. Or you can "build a wall" sound familiar?

Where is it being said that a high rise is going to be built ion Trias, Arista, or Sunset???? Good luck GenX, and Millennial's at least you have the numbers and youth on your side one day Uptown will be a thriving hub for you. You will just have a tough time until Oligarghy MHH and Uptown Planners are forgotten.

I expect property values to now begin to move upward quickly as the charm of all these older (and soon to be historic homes) attracts people from all over the world that are seeking the lifestyle they offer! The real estate buying frenzy has just begun and it will be fueled by all the people that are now finding it ever more uncomfortable to be living where they are now because of recent changes in the Political climate of many parts of the USA or other places. SD's Mid-City is becoming known nationally as a VERY HIP place to live. This is why all those that now own rental property here want to build them out (increase the number of their units on each property as high as possible) in order to maximize their investments. This is why we are now hearing about the lack of "affordable housing" which is just a canard for allowing Developers to get even richer! Unless Developers are required to build more rent restricted (say for 30 years) Low and Low-Moderate housing in every new housing Project over 3 units, our housing shortage will continue to get worse instead of bbetter despite all the sound bites from our elected Leaders!

Since it wasn't included in the article here, here's a link to the full lawsuit.

Hopefully the trolls will read it, so it might at least appear they're informed about what's really going on before they rant again.

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