The third Interim Height Ordinances (IHO) was passed by City Council yesterday. As passed, the IHO represents a complete failure for Uptown and for everyone involved.
If you are not familiar with the IHO, here is a brief synopsis: The IHO caps building heights at 65 feet in Hillcrest, and 50 feet in Mission Hills without discretionary review. Buildings Heights in Bankers Hill (Park West) are limited to 65 feet, but in Bankers Hill discretionary review is allowed for taller structures. The two Interim Height Ordinances have been in effect for nearly 6 years, and look to be in effect for a full decade before (if) the Uptown Community Plan is completed.
#FAIL for the Uptown Community:
When talking about the IHO, activists in Uptown almost always talked about Outcomes such as “community character” “human scale development”, “walkable neighborhoods”, etc. Somehow, building height came to represent these outcomes, when in reality building height has little to do with them. Just look around; There are a already plenty of examples of buildings under 65 feet in Uptown that harm community character, are not human scaled, and are auto-centric. Sadly, there is nothing in the IHO that requires or encourages buildings under 65 feet to produce the outcomes that the community wants. Tragically, the IHO, by eliminating discretionary review, removes any input the community might have had on the design of buildings.
#FAIL for the Planning Department:
Why, over the past 6 years, was the Planning Department unable to come up with a building form proposal that addressed the communities concerns and which could have been seamlessly rolled into a future, completed Uptown Community Plan? It was supposed to. In fact, the first two IHOs were passed with a sunset provision for the specific purpose of putting pressure on the Planning Department to do just that, and they still failed. Instead, 6 years – soon to be nearly a decade – will have been wasted on an ordinance that, as admitted by department staff, has no basis in urban design or urban planning principles.
But the real #FAIL of the Planning Department is that it did not listen the community. Instead of proposing a solution that would address the real concerns of community character, walkability, and human scale, the Department lazily latched onto the public’s misperceptions about building heights, and completely ignored what the community was really saying. They turned a deaf ear to what the community was saying and ignored their needs.
#FAIL for the Uptown Community Planning Group (CPG):
Instead of working with the Community and the City to create a working ordinance that would encourage good development in Uptown, the Uptown CPG voted to do just the opposite. Because the IHO does not allow for discretionary review, the Uptown CPG willfully gave up its own voice, and forfeited the voice of the community. Until the completed Community Plan is in place, the CPG and the community has no say in the design of buildings in Hillcrest and Mission Hills. In other words, they cut off their nose to spite their face.
#FAIL for The City of San Diego:
The City of San Diego has created commissions, committees, and teams, comprised of citizens and professionals that are not politically motivated, to act in an advisory capacity on complex issues. The Planning Commission and the Code Monitoring Team are two such advisory boards. In the case of the IHO, both the Planning Commission and the Code Monitoring Team emphatically recommended against the IHO and offered recommendations to improve the ordinance and address the community’s desires. However, the City Council chose to ignore the recommendations of the Planning Commission and Code Monitoring Team. Which begs the question, why go through all the effort of getting professional, non-political advise if it is repeatedly ignored?
#FAIL for Todd Gloria, Interim Mayor, and District 3 Council Representative (including Uptown):
As early as late spring 2013, word on the street was that Councilmember Gloria would support the IHO as written. If true, that means that his mind was made up prior to the Code Monitoring Team review, prior to the Planning Commission review, and prior to City Council discussion. True or not, Gloria failed the Uptown Community in many ways:
By allowing a small group of activists set the agenda (and the law) for Uptown, Gloria ignored the voices of the entire community, including the 1,300 members of the Hillcrest Business Association who opposed the IHO. To add insult to injury, those voices have now been silenced due to the lack of discretionary review in the IHO. They have no more say.
Building Heights became a political issue, not a planning issue. As discussed above, the Outcomes that the community desired were ignored by Gloria in favor of political expediency. The Planning Commission and the Code Monitoring Team both recognized this issue, but Gloria chose, on more than one occasion, to ignore their recommendations. Had he listened to the Commission and the community, the desired outcomes could have been address with a much better solution.
Needless to say, 10 years of an interim planning ordinance has spooked developers, and nearly halted economic development in Uptown. Now Uptown can only sit by and watch as new development goes up in North Park, Little Italy, Golden Hill, Downtown, and Bankers Hill.
Mr. Gloria was in the perfect position to find a solution that worked for all parties. Instead he took the easy and politically expedient route. That is a major failure of Leadership.