‘A huge, huge project’: La Jolla Town Council finds problems with ‘Complete Communities’ initiative

The La Jolla Town Council discusses San Diego's "Complete Communities" initiative at its Aug. 13 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Town Council joins the list of local community organizations not inclined to approve of San Diego’s “Complete Communities” initiative, passing a motion to oppose the program and support La Jolla groups asking city officials for more input and transparency.

“This is a huge, huge project,” Town Council trustee James Rudolph said, moderating a discussion at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting. “Essentially the goal of Complete Communities is to create mixed-use villages.”

The initiative aims to “focus on four key areas: housing, mobility, parks and infrastructure,” according to a city fact sheet. “Complete Communities includes planning strategies that work together to create incentives to build homes near transit, provide more mobility choices and enhance opportunities for places to walk, bike, relax and play. These efforts ensure that all residents have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to improve the quality of their lives.”

“How will this impact La Jolla?” Rudolph said. “Well, La Jolla has been identified as having a high propensity as this so-called urban village. The [Route] 30 bus is already here, the trolley is being built. La Jolla is a transit priority area.”

“Greater density in La Jolla would be a concern,” Rudolph said, as well as “how affordable housing is actually defined, according to Complete Communities. Finally, so-called ministerial approval is a big concern for people. This means essentially a project can be approved administratively rather than having to go to a public hearing.”

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.

Diane Kane, president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, said LJCPA didn’t “have any clue this proposal was out there until May. It came at us out of thin air.”

“There’s been some pushback,” Kane said. “A number of communities were concerned about the parks plan, which came out of the chute first.

“That we were involved in — we were working with [La Jolla] Parks & Beaches in crafting that plan. We were very supportive of it. The other three components we had no idea were out there. It seemed to not make a lot of sense in the way it was crafted.”

La Jolla Realtor James LaMattery asked meeting participants, “How long do you think it will take before the coastal height limit comes under pressure? That’s one of the real dangers I see here.”

Kane said Complete Communities is “very developer-oriented. The main incentives seem to be to give the entire planning process over to the development community and allow them to choose where they want to put higher-density housing. This tends to abdicate community planning, which is a real concern. It basically puts us out of business.”

The San Diego mayor’s office declined the La Jolla Light’s request for comment. Complete Communities is a mayoral initiative.

Kane said “this proposal is being couched in terms of providing affordable housing, but it’s not really specifying if that’s the outcome. It just allows additional building but doesn’t specify what kind of building or what the target population is.”

“We all agree we’ve got a housing issue,” she added. “La Jolla has had a phenomenal amount of construction over the last 10 years, and none of it is affordable. ... Just building has not solved the problem.”

Rudolph said that “in terms of affordable housing, the idea is with a new project you would include 10 percent of affordable housing. The issue is how you would define that 10 percent.”

Town Council trustee Cody Petterson said “it’s really important to recognize San Diego does not have a housing crisis, we have an affordable-housing crisis.”

“We’re producing adequate supply of above-moderate-income housing. We are not producing housing that is affordable to the bottom 60 percent of our population,” Petterson said. “[Complete Communities] will not address that; it will only produce 10 percent that is affordable. You’re giving a lot of opportunity for development without a lot of opportunity for equity.”

Trustee Aaron Brennan said “you’re fooling yourself if you think that building housing near the coast is going to provide affordable housing. I think the intent behind this might have been good, but it doesn’t address economic real estate realities.”

Kane said: “We would like to see this targeted and some other measurement provided that assures us we‘re getting the type of housing targeted to the population that needs it. This proposal is too broad, too general; it’s just ineffective.”

Though the city of San Diego’s “Complete Communities” initiative will not be heard by the City Council before Labor Day, La Jolla’s community advisory groups are busy analyzing the proposal — specifically, its controversial housing component.

Steve Hadley, representing San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said “the city is known for building ahead of transit. But when they lay out for bus Route 34, supposed to go into operation in the fall of next year — it’s a local bus up from [Pacific Beach], through The Village up to the trolley — they can use that as justification for ‘Let’s build because we have transit coming.’ You and I both know that sometimes transit does not arrive in spite of the development that’s built.”

Hadley said the Complete Communities plan “looks like it’s definitely going to find a hearing in the next two to three months. [Bry is] very concerned about affordable housing … how hard it is for the next generation to invest in this community and live here. She simply agrees with the rest of you that if the housing isn’t affordable, it’s not housing we need.”

Rudolph closed the discussion, saying, “This is a big, complex plan and people are just now looking at the details. Hopefully this discussion has highlighted some of those.”

Town Council member Joe Pitrofsky asked for a motion that the panel “support the efforts of these community groups to open up the transparency of this entire process and [that] we’re opposed to this bill as it’s currently proposed.”

Petterson said the Town Council also should “move to open the process to greater public engagement and extend the timeline to allow for that engagement.”

A motion including both requests passed unanimously. ◆