DMV building doesn't fit the neighborhood

No more blare in Hillcrest from 1961-era project, please

New DMV design
  • New DMV design

The loudspeaker blasts go on all day, says Mary Alsop, who lives a half block from the Hillcrest Department of Motor Vehicles office. So when the DMV presented its proposed design for the replacement building Tuesday night, she was angry that the practice would continue – and that the continuing use of loudspeakers was buried deep in the plan.

“I strongly object to the public address system.” Alsop said. ”Your use of loudspeakers harms me – loudspeakers are harmful to people’s health.”

Her concerns were among a host of criticisms of the plan, which was rejected by the Uptown Planners in the nicest unanimous opposition this reporter has ever seen. The plan is in the environmental review phase – the comment period ends on Sept. 7.

The proposed plan takes the 2.46 acre parcel between Normal Street, Cleveland and Lincoln avenues, where there’s a smallish one-story building and a lot of parking, and, for $22 million, replaces it with a 50 percent larger one-story building and a lot of parking, much shaded by solar panels. The public will have a nicer area outside to wait in. Until they’re summoned by loudspeaker.

“Having people wait outside, nobody does that,” said Patrick Santana.

San Diego artist Roy McMakin proposed that the excess land instead become a public plaza with underground parking beneath it. “We already see cars and asphalt. We don’t need more of that.”

There had been discussion about a multi-use building, with the DMV on the ground floor and, best case scenario, housing above it. The planning group is entirely on board with the idea and members say they had to push to get Assembly member Todd Gloria engaged in the idea of building a multi-use on the state-owned land.

“It’s the one place that can take density and here you are with a 1961-era plan for a surface lot in the middle of density,” said Roy Dahl.

The site is home to the neighborhood farmers’ market every week and the LGBT Pride parade. It has been used cooperatively for extra night and weekend parking and as a collection site for county voters’ ballots – without a fence around it. The fence could curtail those uses and send a negative vibe through the community, speakers said. And it would cut the dreamed-of plaza off from the Normal Street Greenway that the Hillcrest Business Association has been working on for more than six years.

In late August, Gloria – who was present at the meeting – sent a letter to the facilities wing of the state DMV, calling their plan “a missed opportunity to put forward a mixed-use project that includes housing, park space, underground parking, community rooms or other enhancements.”

Gloria sat quietly in the audience while one panel member after another, and many members of the public politely criticized the plan, including that seven-foot fence that cuts it off from the surrounding neighborhood.

“I do feel there’s a bit of suburban cookie cutter feel in this,” said Benjamin Nicholls, the executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association. “You can’t just take any design and plop it down – it’s all context and this is going in with a wrought iron fence next to the greenway we are planning.”

The DMV presenter, Gil Topete, answered questions politely and clearly and told residents that the DMV is interested in their thoughts.

At the end of the meeting, Gloria promised that his office would work with the DMV to bring back a design more appropriate for the community.

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So whatever happened to the Normal Street Linear Park plan?

Gloria has been on the city council and in the assembly for this area during the entire cycle of this project, including when it was first planned for mixed use. But he's claiming at the last minute to be just as surprised as anyone else? That's just not believable.

He must have known that the mixed use got ditched; and it's clear he only reacted once the public outcry got too loud to ignore. We've already have a Republican do-nothing mayor—we don't need a Democrat one.

An issue the DMV representatives brought up is the complication of a public/private partnership in development. They listed issues such as financing difficulties and that DMV would have been a tenant of the developer. My opinion is that given all the new incentives in this city for developers we are about to see many new housing units being built (or opportunities of privately held land), and for that and many other reasons I think this site should remain a publicly owned site and project that will benefit the community in perpetuity. A fully civically owned site of this scale, in this location, is worth being treated with care. The leaders in the city tend to give away a lot to developers whenever they can, so I would assume the community would be the big loser in a public/private development.

Perhaps Todd Gloria can use this situation to help restore some of the confidence the Uptown Community lost in him when he orchestrated, despite much opposition, the convoluted sale of the Truax House property. There are lingering negative aftermaths and general bad taste from that situation: the loss of public benefit opportunity, substantial frustration, and ongoing less than transparent communication. The permanent impacts and ramifications on the Truax property, Olive Street Park and the Aids memorial, are still bumping their way through Uptown.

The DMV site could be over 2 acres of underground parking, both for the DMV office and the community. And at street level the DMV office (and associated driving area for tests) and a public park/plaza. The park/plaza could be part of the proposed Normal Street linear park, as well as part of the farmers market on weekends. This could be much like what was done at the County Building, which is a huge success on many levels. Hillcrest could finally get a central gathering area and permanent public parking. And the DMV could build and own a nice new office. A huge win for all (except a private developer who could find a way to take advantage of the situation).

Also, if the DMV would simply start texting people instead of using a loud public address system people who want to wait outside for their appointment could go to the park/plaza to wait.

As I see it, this isn't a potential failure of the DMV, but instead it will be either a failure or success of our elected officials.

Does the DMV even know what texting IS?

Maybe not. But they have used visual systems indoors to control people coming up to the windows or stations for attention. I'd think they could offer texting, phone, or visual signals and ditch the PA system. Those are nasty, intrusive, and just generally outmoded.

Was at the El Cajon DMV and they are texting when your number is called. Instead of pouring tons of money into new buildings how about opening the DMV 2/7 with everything indoors.

Hey, you're suggesting something logical, sensible, money-saving and effective. That is not allowed in CA state government.

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