A crowd of Point Loma residents gathered at Hervey Library on Thursday evening (June 14), offering vociferous opposition to a proposal that would place 83 units of low-income housing on a vacant city-owned parcel at the intersection of Nimitz and Famosa Boulevards.
The five-acre parcel in question, originally part of a large land grant from real estate developer David Collier intended for public park space, was transferred to the San Diego Housing Commission in 1982 with the intended purpose of expanding the city's portfolio of affordable housing.
For years, the land has sat mostly dormant, the last remaining undeveloped slice of Collier's original gift that now comprises three community parks, a middle school, a Seventh-day Adventist church, a YMCA branch, and numerous privately-held apartment units. Locals have long used the space as an area to exercise their dogs, and area youth for decades (full disclosure: including this author in the late 1990s) have fashioned bicycle tracks out of the lot's loamy soil.
Last June, the Peninsula Community Planning Board approved a letter to city councilmember Lorie Zapf's office encouraging the development of affordable housing for the area's workforce, specifically mentioning the Famosa site as a focus for development.
Responding to the invitation, the Housing Commission began to explore the site's development potential. Locals soon took notice, spurred first by an attempt to destroy the latest incarnation of bike trails as part of a feasibility study exploring the site's development potential.
After a standing-room-only crowd opposing the project effectively derailed a planning board meeting in May, citing objections including a lack of nearby open space and worsening traffic along an already-busy Nimitz Boulevard, a special meeting was scheduled with the stated goal of hosting a community workshop to solicit opinions on development options for the site.
"I'd really just like to put the brakes on this project now, and allow the community to come together and unify behind something great for the Famosa open space," opined Cameron, the first of dozens of local residents to speak in what would become a two-hour public comment session of nearly-unanimous opposition to any plan to build on the site. " We all know we don't have a lot of open space left on the peninsula, and we've got to come together to protect what we have."
Housing Commission representative Mike Pavco began by explaining the concept of "low income" housing, a term which technically refers to a family of four making as much as $77,000 annually — the looser "affordable" housing definition covers units that a family with a $115,000 income (80% and 120% of the region's median income, respectively) could qualify for. He went on to highlight several newer developments Commission partners have built to blend into upscale areas such as Scripps Ranch or Carmel Valley.
The crowd, including a significant number of homeowners in the Park Point Loma and Sea Colony townhome complexes adjacent to the site, wasted no time in making clear they weren't interested in any affordable housing for families, though a few conceded that a senior living facility might be acceptable. Objections included fears of declining home values and poor maintenance following construction in addition to the traffic and open space concerns addressed previously.
"You're making things look beautiful in your presentation," boardmember Margaret Virissimo told Pavco, "but the low-income housing I've seen are run down, they look like homeless encampments. People who can't afford the rent can't afford to keep up their gardens, their balconies — over time it gets let go."
Others were more blunt in expressing their opinion of low-income tenants.
"There are certain things I can't say because of the law, what I do and what I represent, but I can tell you from experience that there are going to be a lot of problems coming from low-income housing," said Ken Strickland, who identified himself as a sheriff's deputy. "I'm all for trying to give somebody a place to live, but we chose our place to live here to be secure, to not have any problems.
"Park Point Loma is a nice family place."
Residents expressed repeated frustration with Pavco and Commission general counsel Chuck Christensen's inability to discuss specifics as to what they planned for the site. The pair frequently reminded the audience that no site plan would be developed until a host of feasibility studies were completed.
Commission representatives say that once they finish their studies a planning phase, including a public comment period, will take between 18 and 24 months before any construction begins. In the meantime, the planning board is considering rescinding their recommendation to build on the site, language several members said was inserted by Zapf's office after the letter endorsing affordable housing was drafted and before it was signed by former board chair Jon Linney.
As the crowd dwindled near the meeting's close, boardmember David Dick offered one of the few comments indicating an openness to accepting affordable housing development.
"I think that our responsibility, in addition to preserving our community, is that we have to recognize reality. And the reality is that people are going to move here, those people are going to have children, and those children are going to want to stay here if they can. Everyone needs a place to live. We can't bury our heads in the sand and pretend that's not going to happen."