‘We are up against a tsunami’: La Jolla committees discuss Complete Communities initiative

An illustration from San Diego's Complete Communities website shows elements of the initiative.
(City of San Diego)

Several La Jolla community groups met this month to discuss a proposed city initiative known as Complete Communities, taking on elements of the plan that fit into their respective purviews. And while there were criticisms that the plan was being “rushed through,” the boards may have been given a little bit more time to review the plans and submit recommendations.

The proposal is touted as a way to “create incentives to build homes near transit, provide more mobility choices and enhance opportunities for places to walk, bike, relax and play,” according to the city.

But some are worried that Complete Communities will alter development regulations in coastal areas and increase density in what some have called a “developer’s grab” with little to no input from community advisory groups.

It has yet to be scheduled to be heard by the San Diego City Council, but early rumors suggested it would be heard in August, hence why the different community groups sprung into action.

“This is an integrated program that has been developed by the [city] Planning Department that has four separate pieces to it: the Parks Master Plan, transportation, housing and facilities financing,” La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane said. “This is a rather complex and fairly large piece of policy legislation to digest and, unfortunately, community planning groups have been eliminated from discussions on developing these items. This has been in process for the last 18 months and LJCPA was not made aware of it until May.”

On her edict, the La Jolla Development Permit Review and La Jolla Shores Permit Review committees looked at the housing elements of the proposal, whereas the Traffic & Transportation advisory group looked at transportation elements.

Development Permit Review

During its July 14 meeting, DPR members opined that while the plan is intended to build more affordable and moderate-income housing, the opposite may happen.

“It raises the question of why is this happening, and the answer is because what [those backing the proposal] want to do is build tall, coastal luxury housing and sell it to rich people,” said trustee Greg Jackson.

“Under the guise of affordable housing, you are going to get luxury housing. … We are not going to get affordable housing in the coastal zone,” added acting chair Mike Costello.

Among the additional concerns, board members noted that the plan calls for increasing the allowable floor-to-area ratio (the square footage of a property in relation to its lot) to up to 4.0, whereas the board wants to keep it below 2.0.

Building heights in coastal communities are limited to 30 feet in accord with Proposition D of 1972, which set the height limit for the area west of Interstate 5. Trustees also expressed concern as to whether that would remain under the plan.

Further, Kane said she discovered that the maximum FAR that could be achieved in La Jolla while maintaining the 30-foot height limit is 1.8.

Some called for finding a way to incentivize developers to build small, others suggested assembling data to make their case.

However, La Jollan Jim Fitzgerald, speaking as a member of the community, told the board time was not on their side.

“There is a lot going on here and from my standpoint, the one thing we need to ask for right now is time,” he said. “Because the mayor is pushing this, to come up with plans in two weeks when they have had two years to plan it. There are so many issues in what is being proposed, and we should be asking the City Council not to put it on the docket until community groups have had a chance to weigh in based on their own community plans. We think the changes are so impactful … and the people are going to have to have this for 50 years, we need time. We’re up against a tsunami.”

Traffic & Transportation

In addressing the T&T board during its July 15 meeting, Kane explained the transportation and housing elements were intertwined with the Parks Master Plan component.

“City staff was very reluctant to separate them out, even though there seems to be a fair amount of support for the transportation element,” she said. “The housing element still needs a lot of work.”

La Jolla resident Joe LaCava added: “They should name this Incomplete Communities. The goals are noble, but it’s a clumsy way to try to achieve a pretty serious problem in our city. … The transit priority areas were not identified by the city [but] a long time ago by SANDAG as part of the long-term vision for transit in the county. The long-range vision would provide for high-quality transit through La Jolla. It’s not the 30 bus; it’s a streetcar that would come up through PB, Bird Rock, The Village. [We should modify it] so these changes don’t apply until this transit is on the ground and operating.”

Agreeing, City Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s field representative Steve Hadley suggested that “The best tactic is to ask that it be slowed down, bifurcate the thing and slow it down until after Labor Day. This is something they want accomplished by the end of November.”

As such, a motion to recommend that the program should not apply until there is high-quality transit in place and operating passed unanimously.

La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee

In reviewing how the plan could affect La Jolla Shores, PRC chairman and owner and principal designer at Will & Fotsch Architects Andy Fotsch completed a project study using the metrics proposed within Complete Communities.

The board moved during its July 20 meeting to recommend a 2.0 maximum FAR in the commercial district of La Jolla Shores because “nothing above that would work there,” Fotsch said.

“My stance on this personally is that The Village needs density to survive down the road,” he said. “But I think for any sort of density to be effective in The Village, the 30-foot height limit is restrictive, and you cannot get any decent FAR.”

Special Community Planning Association meeting

To delve deeper into the plan, the La Jolla Community Planning Association hosted two special meetings to focus on Complete Communities on July 16 and July 20.

During the board’s July 20 meeting, Kane said she had met with Bry on a teleconference and that “the housing element had been delayed until September” and that “there has been so much controversy surrounding the Parks Master Plan component that City staff is scurrying to address the complaints and concerns.”

She added that representatives from other community planning groups participated in the online meeting with Bry, but hadn’t “done the level of analysis that we have.”

Kane recommended writing a letter outlining the CPA and its subcommittee’s findings to submit to Bry and other community groups for guidance. A motion to write and submit the letter passed unanimously. Kane also suggested establishing a “fallback” position in case we “can’t make this go away.”

To learn more about the plans, visit◆

Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.