Councilwoman tries to ease worries that Ocean Beach may be next in effort to lift coastal height limit

A November ballot initiative, Measure C, would exempt the Midway District from coastal building height restrictions.
A November ballot initiative, Measure C, would exempt the Midway District from coastal building height restrictions.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell tried to ameliorate fears raised during the Ocean Beach Town Council’s latest meeting that the 30-foot height limit for coastal structures could be abandoned because of a major redevelopment plan for the city’s sports arena property in the Midway District.

Campbell, whose District 2 includes Midway, Ocean Beach and Point Loma, was the featured speaker at the Aug. 24 meeting at Water’s Edge Faith Community church.

The same day, the city’s real estate department formally recommended the Midway Rising plan for redeveloping the 48 city-owned acres along Sports Arena Boulevard. Two days earlier, Mayor Todd Gloria also announced his preference for that project, which would include 4,250 apartments — 2,000 of them designated as affordable for lower-income people — a new 16,000-seat arena to replace the aging Pechanga Arena, a 200-room hotel, 250,000 square feet of retail and 20 acres of park and open space.

The endorsements preceded scheduled meetings of the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee on Thursday, Sept. 8, and the full council on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

Midway Rising is one of three redevelopment proposals the city has been considering for the property, which has been on and off the lease market for developers since February 2020. The other plans are Midway Village+ and HomeTownSD.

All three proposals include facilities that would exceed the 30-foot height limit in the coastal zone, which includes the Midway District, making them impossible without a change to the municipal code.

San Diego's sports arena property in the Midway District
Efforts to lift the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District would clear the way for taller buildings proposed as part of plans to redevelop San Diego’s sports arena property there.
(Hayne Palmour IV)

In November 2020, San Diego voters approved Measure E, which aimed to exempt 1,324 acres in Midway, including the sports arena land, from the height restriction.

But a San Diego County Superior Court judge invalidated the ordinance, saying the city should have studied the environmental impacts of taller buildings before putting the measure to voters.

Since then, San Diego planners have done an analysis of visual impacts and the City Council voted to put the same proposal on the ballot this November, as Measure C. City planners determined earlier this year that impacts on other environmental factors, such as traffic and air quality, were sufficiently analyzed in a 2018 report prepared for the Midway District’s community plan.

Repeated questions at the OB Town Council meeting conveyed anxiety among some local residents that the effort to eliminate the 30-foot coastal height limit in the Midway District could eventually spread to other areas.

But Campbell maintained that it would apply exclusively to Midway and that any development there seeking to go beyond 30 feet would be subject to review. She also emphasized that the height limit would be raised only to 100 feet.

“So if someone tries to tell you that it’s going to be skyscrapers, no, it will not be skyscrapers,” Campbell said. “And it does not affect any other part of our coast ... Ocean Beach is not part of Midway. The law describes exactly where the new zoning would go.”

Some residents expressed astonishment that the city would advance development plans that flout current legal restrictions merely on faith that the restrictions will be lifted.

Kohta Zaiser, Gloria’s District 2 representative, responded that all three redevelopment proposals were submitted with versions for the height limit remaining and being annulled. But he acknowledged that the city was working on the premise that the November election result would not differ from 2020.

Supporters of the ballot proposal say the Midway District, with its proximity to multiple freeways and the Old Town Transit Center, is ideal for dense housing and that taller buildings there would help solve the city’s housing shortage.

Opponents say the measure would lift the height limit in too wide an area.

Campbell lamented the protracted process for this and other attempts to address problems.

“I’m so sorry that the wheels of government move slowly,” Campbell said. “I wish I could snap my fingers and get it done. I’m a physician — for 40 years, if I need something done right away ... it was done right away. So here I am in a situation that’s so foreign to me. Well, not anymore. It’s been 3½ years. I’m used to it now.

“Sometimes things take years and years and decades. We want it to move more quickly than that.”


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