What to do with One Paseo?

What to do with America’s suburbs? That is a pressing question these days. The high cost of maintaining the lifestyle that suburbs have grown accustomed to is straining municipal budgets. Low suburban density, strict separation of uses, high infrastructure costs, and automobile dependency produce little tax revenue in return to help pay for its upkeep. Making matters worse, poverty rates are climbing faster in the suburbs than in the Cities. The inevitable rise in gas prices may be the punch that does suburbia in as the ultimate failed 20th century experiment.

One Paseo in Carmel Valley is being proposed as a possible answer to the suburban question.  Others would argue, however, that One Paseo is an urban development being dropped into a suburban neighborhood, much like Dorothy’s house dropped into Munchkinland.

Rendering of One Paseo retail street from www.onepaseo.com

I believe One Paseo has many good qualities, among them being a good mixture of uses, higher densities, attention to placemaking, and a focus on pedestrians. I doubt it will be the carmageddon or the destroyer of community character that its distractors claim. Once inside the development, it may be a very nice place to be. Once inside (and that’s the catch).

However, I do have a problem with the way One Paseo is being marketed to the public. One Paseo is being marketed as Carmel Valley’s village center – a walkable, livable, sustainable place where residents live, work, and play. It is promised that One Paseo will finally give Carmel Valley it’s long awaited Main Street, an identity and a town center where all of Carmel Valley can gather. The promotional literature for One Paseo says it best: “One Paseo would finally complete our shared vision for Carmel Valley and enhance the quality of life for everyone.” (original emphasis)

I prefer to call One Paseo what it really is; A Lifestyle Center on steroids. Let’s take a good look at the what One Paseo claims to be.

Walkable? Bike Friendly? Transit? Can’t get there from here:

Fact:  Most Carmel Valley Residents will need to (and want to) drive to One Paseo. 
Fact: Walking to One Paseo from surrounding neighborhoods is difficult, or at best, a long, very unpleasant walk. 
Fact: Bicycling to One Paseo is also discouraged by the high volume, high speed 6 lane roads that bicycles must navigate. Even though bicycle lanes are provided, only the most experienced cyclists would brave these conditions. Would you let your children ride on these roads?
Fact: Public transit: There is no public transit to One Paseo, and there may not be for years. While Bus Rapid Transit stops are planned in the future, they are not scheduled to be operational until 2030.
Fact: Work/Live/Play: People who work at One Paseo will most likely not live at One Paseo. People who work at One Paseo will drive there, and people who live at One Paseo will drive to work elsewhere. 

Why is it that I make these claims? To understand, it’s necessary to take a look at Carmel Valley’s development pattern.

Islands in a Sea (of cars) 
Carmel Valley, like most suburban developments, is divided into large, disconnected subdivisions – “islands”.  One Paseo is just another one of these development “islands” that make up Carmel Valley. These island developments are self-contained, and the streets of one development rarely connect to the streets in adjacent developments. These islands are surrounded by wide, high volume, high speed “rivers” of cars that funnel cars to other “islands” for shopping, working, and on to larger roads and freeways.

Suburan Development "Islands" vs Traditional Town Grid

By contrast, the traditional town is laid out in a grid of highly connected streets. Walking between neighborhoods is easy, direct, and pleasant.

The Island of One Paseo:
One Paseo is no different. It too is an island surrounded by rivers of cars, acres of parking lots, and disconnected subdivisions. The design of One Paseo continues this suburban tradition by not connecting its streets to any adjacent developments. 

Walkable / Pedestrian Oriented / Sustainable:
One Paseo’s promotional literature claims that the project is “specifically designed to reduce automobile dependance” … and  “can potentially reduce car trips by as much as 40%”.  How will this be achieved?  It will be achieved because One Paseo allows people to “Live, work and play in close proximity”.

Walking to One Paseo is difficult and unpleasant - even if you lived just across the street!

Walking to One Paseo would be nearly impossible, even for the person who lives directly across the street. Because there are no connecting roads, a person living across the street must walk 3/4 mile to get from her house to One Paseo. Furthermore, the walk is along a busy, high traffic road, with no buildings fronting the street to capture the interest or attention of the pedestrian. The walk, if taken at all, would be very unpleasant.

As proof of One Paseo’s commitment to the automobile, developers have promised to implement over $6 million in improvements for automobile traffic. This includes road widening and a light synchronization program which promises to INCREASE traffic flow efficiency by 15%-30%. Likewise, One Paseo boasts that it is providing “free and ample retail parking”. Some 3,650 new parking spaces will be added. There are no similar million dollar improvements that prioritize pedestrians, bicycles, or transit.

Live, Work, Play:
One of the ways One Paseo hopes to reduce automobile trips by “up to 40%” is by providing a live/work environment. Ideally, the people who live at One Paseo will also work and shop at One Paseo, making car trips less necessary. 

Will this live/work condition work? Will the check-out clerks and stockers who work at Traders Joe’s be able to live at One Paseo? How about the retail clerks, the restaurant waiters, the cinema employees, the landscape maintenance, security workers, or janitors? Will they live at One Paseo?

Will the shops be local, or national chains? Will you see Panera Bread, or Joe’s Subs?  The organic quality that gives a real Main Street it’s character cannot be built overnight. That happens over time. More than likely, this main street will resemble UTC or Fashion Valley Mall with cars.

An elementary school is within walking distance of One Paseo, if pedestrians were allowed to cross the street.

One Paseo is providing 500,000 SF of commercial office space, but there is no guarantee that the people who live at One Paseo will work at One Paseo.  Most people probably will not.

Main Street Carmel Valley:
Instead of connecting the community and serving as a downtown/Main Street, One Paseo will be a destination – not unlike a mall – that people will drive to for shopping, eating, entertainment and work. It is not connected physically or by design to the rest of Carmel Valley. Its form, density, and design is so incongruous with the existing community that the belief that One Paseo will be the unifying “shared vision” of Carmel Valley is a delusion. Its design is as disconnected as its streets.

Should this stop One Paseo from going forward? No. It’s clear we cannot continue the traditional suburban development pattern. One Paseo offers a possible solution to the suburban question by urbanizing in place. 

However, One Paseo’s marketing of faux urbanism is doing a disservice to all who believe in cities, in good urbanism, in pedestrian oriented development, and in economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable place-making. Make no mistake, One Paseo is an automobile dependent, suburban development that is out of character with its surrounding community. It is a Lifestyle Center, not a connected urban neighborhood. It has more in common with UTC than Hillcrest. 

One Paseo has been endorsed by some of San Diego’s best alternative transportation organizations, all of which I have great respect for. Looking at One Paseo in isolation, and not as a part of a whole Carmel Valley, one can understand its appeal as a pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. But looking at One Paseo in isolation is like a cardiologist pronouncing your heart is healthy, while ignoring the disease killing the rest of the body.

The real issue is not One Paseo, but Carmel Valley. Connecting the isolated “island” neighborhoods, taming its bloated roads, and finding a way to end its automobile dependency are the issues Carmel Valley must eventually address.  Once that has happened, projects like One Paseo will make more sense and will be much more appreciated.

Walter Chambers


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12 Responses to What to do with One Paseo?

  1. Brandon S says:

    I see what they’re trying to do here and that’s, in essence, create the mild success that was San Elijo Hills (or as I like to call it Stepford or Truman) with it’s “vibrant” town center meant to evoke the spirit of olde tyme main street without having the actual historic component. And in some ways, as a stand alone component, it could work. Sort of. If you’re someone looking for that type of environment.

    But where it ultimately fails are in two places – the first you touched on above and that really is will there be equal parts low-income vs. higher-income housing; rental units priced affodably for the baggers and check out gang as well as the live/work unit preferred by the self-employed professional, and, of course, the higher end housing unit to support both. Probably not as, let’s be honest, you don’t want to part your $75,000 Mercedes next to someone’s dinged up decade old Toyota Tercel. Carmel Valley isn’t exactly the place of dreams for San Diego’s lower to lower-middle class (whatever you want to make of that) and there has always, will always be a class distinction that no amount of “old town city center” will ever cut out. People who have the money to support this development will ultimately live in their gated communities and the price of the development will ensure that those who’d work in the development’s coffers can’t afford to live within it’s borders. Ultimately, because of this, it will fail and become like Carlsbad’s ill BluWater Crossing because it’s infinitely out of place with its relationship to its neighbors.

    The second issue, of course, is that this isn’t the sort of thing that will be treated like The Field of Dreams. Just because you build it does not mean it will come. Basically, where San Elijo at least tried to be successful was that they built the City Center FIRST, not last. As we all know, try changing people’s habits. In Carmel Valley they’re already driving to their favorite stores and have already built up their habits, their routes. They have their favorite pizza place for taking the kids after soccer practice, their favorite grocery store, and their favorite Oriental Massage parlor. And it’s going to take a whole lot more than a shiny new center to change that.

  2. Derek says:

    One Paseo is a result of San Diego’s big-government central planning that forces developers to cater to the automobile, even when the developer would prefer to build something more walkable and sustainable. Replacing the city’s requirement to build “abundant free parking” with a requirement that parking areas never get completely full, and/or a requirement that the developer builds a streetcar or extends light rail to the development, would do wonders for developing great streets in San Diego.

  3. Pingback: Analysis of One Paseo for transit orientation and walkability

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for your review of One Paseo, all your points are valid and salient. That said, you didn’t answer the big question: Should One Paseo be built as designed? I think your answers is: “The real issue is not One Paseo, but Carmel Valley. Connecting the isolated “island” neighborhoods, taming its bloated roads, and finding a way to end its automobile dependency are the issues Carmel Valley must eventually address. Once that has happened, projects like One Paseo will make more sense and will be much more appreciated.” Is this a viable solution? How do fix these issues in Carmel Valley if you don’t start with some place like One Paseo?

    • walter says:

      Yes, I believe One Paseo is OK to build as designed. It won’t be carmaggeon or destroy the character of Carmel Valley that the opposition fears.. However, it will not be what the developers are selling or the new urbanism paradise that the proponants claim. Go forth with eyes wide open.

      Looking into my crystal ball, I believe that suburban development must change or will be forced to change within the next 50 years. The suburbs are a model of develolment that has never been tried before in the history of mankind. It was a huge, grand experiment of the 20th century that is not sustainable for much longer. I prefer to plan the change that is coming, and not be forced into change at the last minute. One Paseo will be seen as a transitional project with one foot in the suburan past and one foot in the future.

  5. Great analysis – although it is really a condemnation of the historical development patterns of Carmel Valley, and not One Paseo, per se. Or – it’s an analysis of the buzz words used in the marketing for One Paseo.

    I live across the street from One Paseo, and it’s true, walking there would be unpleasant at best due to the heavy traffic on Del Mar Heights and El Camino Real. But I’m not sure there is anything One Paseo’s planners could do to change that. It is what it is — a (high density) suburban development in a suburban community.

    I support the project, and hope that it can bring some New Urbanist / Smart Growth concepts into a suburban setting. At the very least, it is an infill project that puts high density in a transit corridor. The alternative is to put San Diego’s growth farther out in east or south county, in land-consuming low density, while clogging our freeways with more commuters.

    Keegan McNamara

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