City Council votes to lift deed restrictions on 43 acres of eastern UCSD land; La Jolla foes ‘disappointed’

A map of the approximately 510 acres for which UCSD originally requested that certain city deed restrictions be lifted.
A map of the approximately 510 acres for which UC San Diego originally requested that certain city deed restrictions be lifted. The 43 acres where restrictions were lifted are east of Interstate 5.

After some heavy modifications to UC San Diego’s request, the San Diego City Council voted May 18 to lift certain deed restrictions on 43 acres where the university plans development of a hotel, wellness center and other east campus projects.

Projects on two parcels east of Interstate 5 include extended-stay lodging and a conference center for UC San Diego Health patients, visiting university faculty and academic symposiums; intergenerational housing and a wellness center for retired university faculty; a technology and life-science research space; a wellness center for UC patients and the community; and translational research clinical space.

Barry Slotten, a manager in the city’s Real Estate Assets Department, said during the online meeting that the deed restrictions on the land were “precluding UCSD from implementing [these] projects, which are listed in the 2018 Long Range Development Plan ... which are necessary to accommodate the needs of the growing student body and research and academic health system.” The projects would be delivered through a public-private partnership model, he said.

According to a city staff report, the city conveyed approximately 510 acres of vacant land to the University of California in the 1960s to develop the San Diego campus in La Jolla.

“The city placed deed restrictions on the parcels conveyed, specifying that the land and any improvements thereon would revert back to the city in the event that the property be used for any purpose not deemed to be a university purpose,” the report stated.

Slotten said university leadership has had numerous discussions with developers and that “the developers would be unable to secure equity and debt financing for these projects … because of the risk that some time in the future, the city could deem those projects non-compliant and take the titleship of those projects.”

Therefore, he said, removing the deed restrictions was the only path forward for the projects.

Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, emphasized that UCSD retreated from an initial request last year that the deed restrictions be lifted on the entire 510 acres the city conveyed. Instead, it asked for the restrictions to be lifted on 43 acres where development is planned.

During public comments at the council meeting, nine people spoke, most of whom favored lifting the restrictions.

One noted that the sites in question are currently parking lots “and bring no revenue to the city.” Others praised the job creation the projects would bring.

City and university estimates say the projects will generate more than $82 million in taxes and other revenue for the city between 2025 and 2044. The projects are estimated to generate 10,000 jobs.

A former UCSD janitor said he supports the concept but asked whether it meets standards for developers regarding climate change, vehicle trip reduction and affordable housing.

None of the opponents who have spoken previously spoke during the meeting.

The City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee voted unanimously Feb. 18 to recommend that the full council lift the deed restrictions on up to 90 acres.

During the committee meeting, La Jolla resident Don Schmidt said “there should be a study on cumulative impacts of what UCSD is doing with the campus. It takes in no regard to the surrounding communities.”

During the council’s deliberations, LaCava thanked UCSD staff for working with his office, especially for “reducing this from the ask of over 500 acres to a critical 43 acres.”

The council voted 7-1 to lift the deed restrictions on the 43 acres, with District 5 Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert opposed. She cited a lack of due diligence in investigating all possible outcomes of the deal and the possible fiscal impacts down the line.

Von Wilpert noted that it’s the university’s choice to develop the eastern campus using a public-private partnership model and that there would be no need to lift the deed restrictions if the university financed the development itself.

She also said that giving up the deed restrictions doesn’t guarantee the university will build anything on the land.

Addressing concerns about whether the planned projects are for educational purposes, LaCava noted that the council vote was not on the projects themselves. “That lies with the UC regents; they have sole authority on land use, long-range planning, construction, planning and operations,” he said. “This is only a question of providing flexibility in funding mechanisms.”

He added that he was excited by the transient occupancy tax revenue the hotel would generate.

After the vote, La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson told the La Jolla Light that she agreed with von Wilpert and was “disappointed” in LaCava.

Emerson noted that Slotten could not confirm at the meeting whether the university paid fair market value for the property.

“I’m not saying these restrictions are good, bad or otherwise, but the city needed to look at what the property was worth at the time, what it is now worth and research whether the university paid fair market value,” Emerson said. “Those things needed to be researched before they gave away the land. They needed to do their due diligence. You wouldn’t buy a house and not know the history. The city is going to lose revenue on this.”

“Since when are hotels ‘educational and university purposes’?” she added. “It’s a land grab, pure and simple.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer David Garrick contributed to this report.