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Repeat ballot measure to lift 30-foot height limit in Midway District moves forward

Building heights are limited to 30 feet in the Midway District under a 1972 measure.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Committee action tees up the do-over measure — which is needed to allow for redevelopment of San Diego’s sports arena site — to be placed on the November ballot.

A do-over ballot proposal aiming to lift the 30-foot building height limit in San Diego’s Midway District remains on track to appear before city voters this fall.

The City Council’s Rules Committee voted unanimously June 8 in favor of advancing the measure to the full council for final consideration. The action tees up the initiative for placement by the council on the November ballot — two years after the electorate approved Measure E and OKd taller buildings in the 1,324-acre area that includes San Diego’s sports arena. A court order later invalidated the ordinance.

“This is something that is very much needed,” said Councilman Chris Cate, who submitted the ballot measure proposal. "[The measure] obviously, we know from the past, has a broad base of support from throughout the city to really enact a vision for this area, and [I] look forward to the day we can move forward beyond this.”

The Midway District — north of San Diego International Airport and south of Mission Bay — is subject to a 1972 referendum on buildings over 30 feet in the coastal zone, or what’s now protected territory extending from the water to Interstate 5 in the city limits.

The 2022 ballot proposal seeks to strip the Midway region from the coastal zone, with proponents again contending that the area was arbitrarily roped into San Diego’s coastal zone and lacks the coastal views that the designation is meant to protect.

“With no public view corridors, an exception to the height limit will be the catalyst to bring to life the vision of the community plan by attracting much-needed investment into the Midway Pacific-Highway planning area,” Anthony George, a member of Cate’s staff, told the committee.

The latest proposal is an exact copy of the previous initiative. Measure E, approved by 57 percent of voters in November 2020, was successful in changing the city’s municipal code to exclude the region from the coastal zone. But a San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled that the ordinance was illegal. The city, the court said, should have studied the environmental impacts of taller buildings before putting the measure in front of voters.

San Diego’s planners have since released a draft analysis of the environmental impacts and expect to finalize the report in time for the council’s consideration of the repeat initiative. Separately, the city attorney’s office is appealing the Superior Court ruling.

The City Council must vote to place the measure on the ballot by Friday, Aug 12.

At stake is San Diego’s years-long effort to remake its real estate holdings at 3220, 3240, 3250 and 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. The city’s real estate department is currently vetting three development teams in the running to lease and dramatically redo the 48-acre property with thousands of apartments, ground-floor retail shops, public amenities and a new arena. All of the bids call for a mix of residential, office, hotel and sports facilities that tower over the 30-foot height limit, making them impossible without a change to the municipal code.

City Council votes to shortlist Midway Rising, HomeTownSD and Midway Village+.

The city has said it hopes to select a winning bidder before the end of the year, although it’s unclear whether the selection will take place before or after the election. The timing is important, as the ballot measure’s success will hinge on a successful campaign, and it’s unlikely that all three teams will pay to finance an initiative that benefits just one of them.


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