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Guest commentary: Measure E is a power grab targeting coastal communities and threatening mega-development

San Diego's sports arena in the Midway District
Opponents of Measure E, which would exempt San Diego’s sports arena area from the 30-foot coastal building height limit, say it threatens the limit in coastal areas.
(File )

San Diego’s coastal height limit of 30 feet has been in place since 1972 — for 48 years. It was voted in by the citizens; why change it now?

Those who want to lift the height limit say this will “achieve the vision of the community plan.” What if instead the real purpose is this?

• Developers getting free rein in the coastal communities

• Allowing mid-rise and high-rise buildings in six communities

• Making a few property owners rich

• Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his top staff rewarding key supporters before leaving office

• Speeding the takeover of federal land

Measure E can be seen as part of a two-step plan: to exempt one community from the 30-foot limit, then come back later for the five other coastal communities.

I am one of many San Diegans who believe the city wants to give free rein to developers in the coastal areas. I think, based on my reading of city documents, that city officials want to remove limits on developers, and height limits are a key element.

The power grab targeting the coastal communities isn’t in the future, it’s now!

Back in 1972, citizens saw the tall buildings going up: high-density, high-rise, high-traffic. Beach access to the public was being cut off. A group of volunteers worked tirelessly to qualify Proposition D for the ballot, and voters approved the 30-foot coastal height limit. The organizers gave a lot to ensure access to the coast for all San Diegans.

Then in 2018, planners in the Midway/sports arena area created a new community plan — a vision for the future — all within 30 feet of height. We can continue with that plan by voting no on Measure E and keeping the 30-foot height limit. Development can go forward, at moderate heights.

We knew they were coming. Last month, the development corporations started pouring big money into Measure E at a time when citizens are struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. San Diegans need to fight back. Why should we give up an important right that we won 48 years ago?

The 30-foot height limit isn’t just about the beach and preserving views. The height limit helps maintain the character of coastal communities — including lower density, sunlight and circulation of fresh air. This benefits residents and all San Diegans who go there for recreation. The height limit also serves to limit traffic congestion, which would explode if the city allows dense high-rises throughout the Midway community.

If the height limit is removed, we can foresee the city allowing half of the Midway community to be filled with high-rises, then upzoning to fill the other half. There is no guarantee of affordable housing; high-rises have high rents.

The current Midway plan will allow enough development for 28,000 residents, six times the current population, too much for the small area of two square miles. Lifting the height limit with Measure E would lead to even greater excess.

The city included vast pieces of federal land in the Midway community and in Measure E, the largest being the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD). If Measure E passes, the height limit would be removed from private land, city land and federal land. Measure E would set the stage for pushing out the Marines and turning over that land to high-rise developers.

There’s a better vision than filling the Midway area with high-rises. A proposal has been made for a new city recreation area, a grand greenbelt called River Trail Park. The concept is to join San Diego Bay and Mission Bay Park with a spacious park with sports fields, 200 acres, large enough for use by Midway residents and all San Diegans. This would expand the city’s park space and relieve the pressure from overloaded beach areas.

With the San Diego Association of Governments forecasting over 700,000 more residents in the region by 2050, we need to think big on parks or face unbearable overcrowding.

By voting no on Measure E, we can preserve the coastal height limit, avoid luxury high-rises that are not needed and maintain access to coastal areas for the enjoyment of all San Diegans. By rejecting the specter of mega-development, we can refocus elected officials on citizens’ quality of life, enhanced by a spacious bay-to-bay park. No on E!

Tom Mullaney is chairman of Save Coastal Access — No on E, a committee formed to preserve the 30-foot coastal height limit. He lives in San Diego. This commentary was first published by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

For the other side, read below:

Voting yes on Measure E will pave the way for a new sports arena and transform the surrounding Midway District into a modern, attractive and enjoyable community — at no cost to taxpayers.