Opinion: What are they thinking? Re: SB 50 and SB 330; We’ve got to protect the coastal 30-foot height limit

Post office mural does not depict high-rises.
( File )

Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

What were the authors of Senate Bill 50 and Senate Bill 330 thinking when they unilaterally decided to invalidate the rights of the voters of San Diego County when they drafted a bill that suspends San Diego’s coastal 30-foot height limitation?

These two bills call for new multi-family units to be built, depending upon their distance from a major transit site, to be a maximum of 45 to 55 feet in height. The bill further invalidates every local Coastal San Diego town council and zoning committee by suspending single-family zoning ordinances. SB 50 allows multi-family units to be built within single family residential-zoned areas that are within a quarter- to half-mile of a major transit stop.

There is a reason that 40-some years ago San Diegans voted in the coastal 30-foot height limitation. Just look at the photograph of the mural within the La Jolla Post Office on Wall St. Look at the beauty of that mural and imagine the same mural if drawn in 10 years impacted by large residential apartment buildings. The voters knew what they were doing when they voted in the coastal 30 foot height restriction. They wanted to keep the San Diego coastline pure and not screw it up as most coastal cities have done.


We are San Diego, we are not Miami Beach, not Honolulu, not Chicago, not Vancouver, not Monaco; just to name a few of world coastal cities whose beachfronts have been mucked up with towering buildings. San Diego is a West Coast beach town with a Midwest-feel and this is what separates us from Los Angeles and Bay Area cities.

Many of us who live along the coast have lived here for decades and have worked with local agencies to make sure our single-family residential neighborhoods are separate from those sub-markets where multi-family units, retail strips and office buildings are permitted. It’s not our desire to become another Houston where there is no zoning.

The idea of the State de-legitimizing our 30-foot height restriction is ludicrous. It’s a simple stealing of a past election. What if the State Senate was controlled by folks from Southern California where we live in a continuous water shortage? Would it be OK for these elected officials to unilaterally decide to dam Yosemite Valley? Of course not.

We all know there is a housing shortage in California, but the State Senate should not be making decisions that make no sense and rescind longstanding rights. If the State feels there is a need to create additional middle- and low-income housing near public transit lines, the State always has the right to obtain land near public transit sites, by eminent domain, and go to the expense of building the needed structures. There is nothing stopping the State from floating bonds to cover the cost of said housing.


Should these bills come to pass, there will be extra stress placed on our local infrastructures, i.e. streets, sewers, schools, police to name a few. We already know the roads in and out of La Jolla are overwhelmed and there is a parking issue. It seems presumptuous of these bill-writers to just assume local towns will cover these extra expenses.

To create additional revenue to pay the cost of our infrastructure burden and, at the same time, generate additional homes for sale, fees that out-of-state owners of California residential real estate should be increased. Currently, many States charge out-of-state residential property owners a higher property tax than in-state residential owners pay. This is due to the fact that these out-of-state property owners pay very little state sales tax and no State income tax.

California should consider a 1/2 percent surcharge, of the value of a residential unit owned by out-of-state property owners, with the added revenue going to the local community to cover infrastructure improvements.

Something has to be done in regard to short-term rentals that allow absentee homeowners to retain ownership and thus depress the For Sale market. Simply make it illegal to rent out an unoccupied home for 60 days or less. This would be great for neighborhood stability and super for the hospitality industry.

Concurrently, the local hotel room limit should be eliminated and replaced with the ability to convert existing retail or office properties in the commercial core of La Jolla into boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, similar to what has been done in Carmel by the Sea.

The Village of La Jolla has plenty of room in commercially zoned districts close to bus lines to allow the construction of multi-family residential thus eliminating the need for multi-family units to creep into residential neighborhoods. Additionally, there are enough buildings that, if rehabbed, and kept at a 30-foot limit, could generating a plethora of multi-family residential to satisfy the market with mixed-use housing units above retail in The Village core, on streets like Ivanhoe, Herschel, Girard, Fay and Pearl.

We all know that if the two bills, as written, are approved residential neighborhoods along the San Diego coast will be destroyed and our unobstructed vista views obliterated. No low-income or middle- income families will occupy the multi-family buildings constructed as they will all be rented out to the wealthy, and eventually, sold off as high-priced condominiums.

This fact is further reinforced in section 65918.51 subsection (B) further subsection (II) of SB 50, which states that residential projects of 10 or fewer units need to provide no low- or middle-income units and that residential projects of 11-20 units may pay an in-lieu fee to get around housing low- or middle-income families.


— Phil Wise is a long-time resident of Princess Street in La Jolla.


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