A community’s character is its future, reputation and way of life.
In recent well-publicized dust-ups, from Barrio Logan to Clairemont, and now Carmel Valley, residents have been broadcasting to San Diego officials their desire to maintain control over the identities of their communities.
Deemed so important to the public good, four decades ago California legislators wrote into environmental law that community character is as important as traffic, infrastructure and resource impacts in the building project approval process.
This Monday, this fundamental environmental protection will be tested once again when the San Diego City Council decides whether to change the City’s General Plan and a myriad of zoning restrictions to permit a project three times the square footage allowed by Carmel Valley’s Community Plan.
Called One Paseo by its developer Kilroy Properties, this multi-million square foot mixed-use project along I-5 and Del Mar Heights Road, would set a precedent for every San Diego community vulnerable to increased densities without regard to community identity, traffic impacts, park capacity, and local support.
The project has met vocal opposition not just in Carmel Valley, but also from the surrounding communities of Del Mar Heights, Torrey Hills and Del Mar Mesa, and the Cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach, who weighed in with alarm at the scale of the project, and under protest because they were snubbed during the planning process for a project that effects their quality of life, including unacceptable increases in emergency response times due to traffic congestion.
That is because the project, not only would triple traffic on the two main streets accessing Carmel Valley’s retail center, library, elementary school and police station, but that its nine- story office buildings, six- story luxury condominiums, and unnamed retail venues, is so out of scale with the surrounding areas as to dwarf the current Town Center which serves as a Civic Center for all four communities.
Instead of engaging all the stakeholders in a meaningful planning dialogue, Kilroy Properties invested large sums of money and empty hours on slick mailers, high concept slide presentations to the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, and enlisting a panoply of outside special interest groups. All of this is to make a direct appeal to the City Council based on dubious economics and planning theory for this intrusive project.
Kilroy argues that One Paseo was reduced 10% during these so-called discussions. That’s like Godzilla drinking a diet shake on its way to Tokyo. The project remains a colossus that would transform one corner of Carmel Valley into a Golden Triangle island with 23,000 more car trips to-and-fro than exist today.
If the City Council accepts the rationale that traffic snarls on streets connecting to I-5, and buildings overpowering Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights, would be off-set by retail sales tax and luxury housing opportunities, every neighborhood and remaining open space in San Diego is vulnerable to stratospheric densification on reasons having nothing to do with community character, affordable housing or resource protection under California law.
When the proposed plan came before the City Planning Commissioners in October, they understood that the worst kind of planning is from the dais where decision-makers cherry pick elements of a plan that in isolation might seem reasonable in theory but have no relationship with the real life character of the community.
They did not approve the project but punted to the City Council a laundry list of problems, not the least of which was community character and catastrophic traffic impacts.
The City Council should refrain from this kind of planning from the dais and send the developer and their consultants back to the community to engage in a serious planning process.
While the Carmel Valley Planning Board is rightfully the official advisory body to the City Council and Planning Department, the effort must also include meaningful input from representatives of the other impacted neighborhoods including Del Mar Heights, Torrey Hills, Del Mar Heights, and Del Mar Mesa, people who have historically proven to be reliable planning participants.
By doing so, the City Council would send an unambiguous message to anyone proposing changes to a community plan and the city’s General Plan for the benefit of one developer, that active and productive engagement with community interests is a surer path to approval than any slick PR effort.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that a man’s character is its fate. It also holds that a community’s character is its legacy. The City Council should heed this wise advice and ensure that San Diego’s neighborhoods maintain control over their unique identities. On behalf of responsible planning, Send One Paseo back to the drawing board.
Lisa Ross is a writer, former Carmel Planning Board and current Del Mar Mesa Planning Board Member