Guest Commentary

City Council to vote on the Future of University Heights on November 14

By Bill Ellig, UH Resident and Member, Uptown Planners

Bill-ElligOn Monday November 14th the City Council will vote on the Uptown Community Plan Update that will affect UH for the next 20 to 30 years. It will spell out Land Use, Urban Design, Historic Preservation and many other elements. Unfortunately, at the last moment on October 6th, the Planning Commission threw out a large portion of the work that UH and the City had accomplished together since 2010 and decided to keep the Land Use Element from the old 1988 Community Plan.

More then 6 years of hard work, including workshops conducted by Chris Ward and Kristin Harms of the UH Historical Society, UHCA meeting presentations, UHCA News articles, and Uptown Planners review will all be for naught if the City Council approves the Planning Commission Plan rather then the City/Community Plan.

As a long time, active resident of University Heights and a member of Uptown Planners, I urge you contact the Mayor and City Council and ask them to support the City’s June 2016 Community Plan Update (CPU) that has been worked out by the City Planning Department and the community. Click here for a sample letter and contact information for the Mayor and City Council. Better yet, please plan on attending the City Council meeting on Monday, November 14th at 2 pm to show your support for the June 2016 Plan Update.

UH will continue to grow and more housing is needed; but with good planning, density will be added to appropriate areas while maintaining the community character that we love and brought us all here. If the City/Community June 2016 CPU is adopted, increased height and density will be built along El Cajon Blvd and Park Blvd (between El Cajon and University). If the Planning Commission Plan is adopted, density and heights over an even larger portion of UH could change.

Smart planning is to increase housing along the major transit corridors of El Cajon and Park Blvd south of El Cajon while protecting the lower scale of buildings on Park Blvd north of El Cajon and the interior residential neighborhoods. The area between El Cajon and University east of Park Blvd may also see an increase because of its close proximity to transit along El Cajon and along University Ave. The other residential portions of UH will continue to add housing that will be appropriate to the scale of the surrounding residences.

You can learn more about the CPU and read both it and its Environmental Impact Report on the City’s website at:

Time is running out. With the Veterans Day holiday on Friday, please send your emails by Wednesday November 9. Please click here for a sample letter and email addresses for the Mayor and City Council.

Who Should Determine the Future of Our Neighborhoods?

By Bill Ellig

Bill-Ellig.pngOn Tuesday, March 1st there will be an election for 7 positions on Uptown Planners. This is a very crucial election.

Uptown Planners is in the middle of reviewing and giving feedback to the city Planning Department on the Update to the Community Plan. The last update was done in the 1980’s and the next one will probably not be done for another 30 years. The Community Plan guides the city Planning Department in how Uptown will develop in the future.

I feel that what happens to our neighborhood should be determined by the residents and the businesses that are here, not companies that will profit from building in our community.

Uptown will continue to grow in the future. The question is how do we manage that growth? We live in our various communities because we like the way it is. We like the historic aspects, the street setbacks, and the scale of the buildings. When we moved here we didn’t look at the zoning map. We walked, drove, or bicycled the streets to get a feel for it. We liked what we found. As Uptown grows, we want to maintain the qualities that brought us here.

A slate of candidates have been put forth, of which I am one, who may not be professional planners or architects, but have worked enough with planning issues that they know how things are done.

Over the last number of years I have analyzed the population and density of University Heights to question the Cities growth projections. I have worked on various Uptown Planners subcommittees to recommend changes to the Community Plan that are aligned with University Heights interests. My partner, Kristin Harms, has coordinated neighborhood workshops soliciting input from the community, and I provided analyses for those workshops. We gave a presentation to our Community Association where over 100 neighbors were polled on their opinions. I have presented to Uptown Planners on a regular basis representing UH.

As an aside, if you shop at Trader Joe’s before 4:00 in the afternoon most days, you have probably seen me working there. Say hi the next time you see me!

I feel the various neighborhoods of Uptown are best served when the members of Uptown Planners represent the communities in which they live.

Please come out to the Joyce Beers Center near Trader Joe’s on University on Tuesday, March 1st from 5:45-6:30pm and vote for your neighborhood’s future. For more information, please visit:

Slate of Community-Oriented Candidates

Seven candidates will represent Uptown well and deserve your vote:

  1. Tim Gahagan. 10 years in community activities, including Hillcrest Town Council as board member. Now the Vice President of the Uptown Community Parking District.
  2. Amie Hayes. Works as Historic Resources Specialist. Experienced in planning, zoning, and urban design issues. Supports smart growth – with the needed infrastructure.
  3. Leo Wilson. Previously served on Uptown Planners and the citywide Community Planners Committee (CPC), as the Chair in both. Experienced in all aspects of community planning. Director of the Safe Streets Now program. Former Sierra Club leader.
  4. Cindy Thorsen. Community activist for 10 years. Has previous Planning Group experience, including Design Review and zoning issues. Supports responsible development which is sensitive to the existing neighborhoods.
  5. William (Bill) Ellig. Active in University Heights. Performed an analysis of population and density. Member of SANDAG Community Advisory Group for the Uptown Bicycle Corridor project. Supports “complete streets”: safe for cars, bikes, and pedestrians.
  6. Roy Dahl. Currently serving on Uptown Planners and Uptown Community Parking District. Active member – Hillcrest Town Council. Focused on transportation, parks, and urban design. Seeks walkable community, balanced residential and business interests.
  7. Stuart McGraw. An experienced community volunteer. Worked on tree planting, beautification and recycling. Supports effective transportation projects, with common- sense solutions.


Our Historic Neighborhood Under Attack

By Randi Vita, M.D.

Despite living in one of the oldest communities in San Diego, owners of historic properties in North Park are being told by City planners to make way for luxury high-rise apartments and condos, which will destroy the community character and quality of life of our historic neighborhood.

This 100-acre residential area in North Park, containing some of the oldest single-family homes in San Diego, is being targeted by the City for significant growth, encouraging developers to build multi-story luxury apartments and condos in between small historic bungalows. Located between Park, Texas, Howard and Lincoln, the “Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Bonus Area” contains over 200 historic single-family homes and bungalow courts with an average age of 90 years.

Historic Homes and Bungalow Courts in Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Bonus Area


Despite the fact that University City and Downtown San Diego, located in the heart of San Diego’s jobs, each have a large number of available dwellings (approximately 400) on any given day, North Park has been targeted by the City as an area where developers can do as they wish, being allowed to destroy community character with ease.

Thirty-three angry homeowners in the project area have voiced their concerns to City Planning Department, but their complaints have fallen on deaf ears, being told that because their historic homes are near a bus stop, the area should instead be luxury high rise condos and apartments. “Everyone knows that the people who can afford these new units will not be riding the bus,” one angry homeowner stated.

The plan with the least environmental impact is to preserve our historic neighborhood and develop closer to where people work, rather than expecting people to spend a lot of money for luxury housing and then ride a bus an hour to work.

Compared to the larger picture, properties of this age in San Diego are located in a very small area, leaving the vast majority of San Diego available for smarter redevelopment and with less environmental impact. It is a real shame to not preserve the precious few historic resources that San Diego has.

Most great cities have a historic core that is highly desirable and gives back much more to the city’s character and quality of life than the small effort it takes to protect it.

Take Action

My neighbors and I would like to ask for your support in asking the City to remove the Density Bonus from our neighborhood. Please click here to find out how you can take action.


Density vs. Double Density Planning in Mid-City

by Don Leichtling, Founder, North Park Residential Improvement District (NP-RID),

To all those concerned with the city’s plan to force ever more density into our neighborhoods, the North Park Residential Improvement District (NP-RID) urges you to join us in demanding that the city first provide the long overdue infrastructure improvements we all know are needed. These improvements will benefit the people already living in our neighborhoods before allowing any new density, which will only make things worse for everyone in Mid-City.

I believe that the city’s planning department is asking us to choose between density and double density by allowing even more development with additional planning approvals, which we all know developers will get.

Many residents of North Park would be shocked to find that our neighborhood is now one of the highest-crime areas in San Diego again. Out of 124 San Diego neighborhoods, only two are higher in violent crimes. Our city leaders must work with the police department to reallocate resources in order to reduce the number of crimes in North Park before proposing any more density.

Now Transportation Corridors are being used as an excuse to dump as much additional density as possible into our neighborhoods, which are already choked with traffic blight. Our infrastructure needs to be improved before additional development is added, otherwise our quality of life will continue to spiral downward.

The Planning Department also needs to accept that more of the home in many of Mid-City’s neighborhoods will be designated as historic resources, if they are not now destroyed by density.  These areas will become even more important, as future generations visit Historic North Park, University Heights, South Park and our other nearby neighborhoods.  The City should be helping us create additional Historic Districts, which will preserve the unique character of Mid-City, for us and for future generations.


  1. Allow realistic growth along El Cajon Blvd. (805 to Park Blvd.) using the roadway width to determine a density metric.  At the same time, any density needs to make sure that above ground infrastructure improvements are installed as part of any new projects and I’m not just talking about some wimpy small street tress with some benches.  Now is the time to think bigger, how about requiring a linear parkscape (including its maintenance) for all projects over 3 stories.  That way there will be some real benefit for accepting density and the developers can certainly afford it since they are getting build far more units per acre.  There should also be required percentage increases of low and low moderate units per project, the higher it gets built, so that massive towers on El Cajon will be truly accessible to those that need them, otherwise these builds will just turn into upscale penthouse buildings that will only drive housing costs in Mid-City skyward.  Density should be a win-win for both Mid-City residents and developers, not just a cash cow for developers.
  1. Allow less density on University Ave (since it is much narrower) than on El Cajon Blvd. Use roadway width to determine a density metric to adjust the scale of allowable projects no matter how desperate North Park Main Street is to go really big on University Ave, because it is good for their businesses.
  1. Place much, much less density on 30th between North Park Way and El Cajon Blvd. using roadway width to determine a density metric.
  1. Allow no additional density bonuses on 30th between North Park Way and Upas St. since it abuts all the single story craftsman housing that is the heart of North Park.  Strong stepping down code should limit heights of all new projects along this section of 30th street so that they do not create a wall of narrow construction along 30th street that will block the wind and sunlight of the adjoining residential lots.  These limitations will also prevent traffic gridlock with the soon to be installed major east-west regional bike way crossing 30th at Landis St., in addition to the north-south bike lane proposed for 30 St. that will include 30th St. roundabouts that will further impact the already heavy rush hour traffic on 30th Street even more.
  1. Address the vertical scale of new density bonus “infill” projects that will be built near existing much older structures south of El Cajon Blvd, west of Texas and east of Park Blvd.

Bottom Line:  Save the Heart of Historic North Park
and all the other areas like it in San Diego.

Take Action

Please share your thoughts with  Councilmember Todd Gloria before it’s too late:


Pros and Cons of the City of San Diego Proposed Density Bonus Plan
By Tuom Mullaney, Uptown Resident and Executive Director, Friends of San Diego


The Density Bonus Plan or Incentive Zoning Program proposed by the City of San Diego Planning Department is an attempt to create an entirely new planning system in which density limits aren’t actual limits, and height limits are not limits either. The claim is that the community could obtain “extra benefits” but it’s difficult enough to merely get projects to comply with the standard zoning.

The following list is a compilation of comments received during June and July 2015 from various individuals and neighborhood groups regarding the Bonus Density Plan introduced by the Planning Department in draft Community Plan documents released in June and July 2015 for the communities of Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill.

The key element of the proposed system is “Density Bonuses” which would allow increases of up to 50% to 65% of the standard limits. The system would also include exceptions to height limits and parking requirements.

Pros of the Density Bonus Plan

  1. Additional public facilities. The community could get public facilities which are in addition to the minimum requirements of the Community Plan and Zoning. These include “parks, plazas and additional public parking”.

Cons of the Density Bonus Plan

  1. Standard categories allow ample density. The standard Community Plan Designations, worked out with years of citizen input, contain categories which would allow substantial increases, compared with existing development. Some areas could get 3 or 4 times the current amount of development. These increases would be sufficient to meet General Plan goals for added housing and transit-oriented development. No need has been demonstra­ted for densities which are even higher.
  2. Density on top of density. The City already has an Affordable Housing Density Bonus, which allows up to 35% more units. The new “incentive zoning” bonus would apparently be in addition to that.
  3. Public facility deficiencies. No evidence has been provided that public facilities could be provided which would adequately offset much higher densities.
  4. Unplanned, unconnected micro-improvements. The proposed system is not based on good planning principles. It would predictably result in small, scattered improve­ments, which are not coordinated. Examples include three park benches on one project, added landscaping on another, and two parking spaces for yet another.
  5. Temporary. The promised benefits would tend to be temporary since there is no enforcement mechanism included in the plan. Enforcement therefore becomes the responsibility of the public. For example, the gate is locked on a “public space” or an “extra parking spaces” is converted to private parking with the addition of a sign.
  6. Too late. The community plan update process has been going for over 8 years, starting with a kickoff meeting for Uptown in October 2006. After 8 years of public review and discussions, it’s very late for City staff to introduce an entirely new system of exceptions to land use categories.  The result could be a delay of several months in finalizing the community plan.
  7. Standard Community Plan and Zoning. The City has a well-established system in which the Community Plan and Zoning are intended to include requirements which are needed to serve the project and the public. The requirements include height limits, setbacks, visibility, and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) which addresses maximum lot coverage and adequate parking.
  8. Watered-down standard requirements. The mere proposal of a “Density Bonus” system encourages watering down of the standard requirements in the Community Plan and Zoning. For example, traffic level-of-service is already being de-emphasized such that that worsened traffic is seen as the norm. Also, the draft Recreation Element proposes complete acceptance of park deficiencies. The “equivalencies” are based on new counting methods, rather than new parks.
  9. Deviations, including height. The City already allows many exceptions. Some recent projects included 10-15 “deviations”. An applicant can already obtain deviations in several ways:
    1. Site Development Permit
    2. Planned Development Permit (“greater flexibility”)
    3. Conditional Use Permit (“uses which are not permitted in the zone”)
  10. Parking exceptions. The City already allows reduced parking, based on three ordinances:
    1. Tandem parking
    2. Transit-oriented projects
    3. Affordable Housing projects
  11. Lack of predictability. City planners and the community wouldn’t know how many dwelling units or number of residents would be added in the future, because it’s unknown how many “bonus” units would be authorized. So, infrastructure planning would be based on guesses.
  12. Unreasonably high densities. The draft plan proposed up to a 65% increase over the standard number of dwelling units per acre (du/ac) in the Community Plan designation. It’s not just a “bonus”–it’s an entire shift to a higher category of density. For example:
    1. 29 du/ac increased to 44 du/ac = 50% increase
    2. 44 du/ac increased to 73 du/ac = 65% increase
  13. Benefit and impacts would go to different people. For example:
    1. A small plaza would benefits pedestrians, including shoppers. But the tradeoff–2 extra stories in height–would impact the immediate neighbors.
    2. Extra parking spaces would benefit retail customers. But the tradeoff of extra density would add traffic, impacting the entire community.
  14. Precedents. Exceptions which are approved for one project would become a precedent for other projects. Height exceptions, in particular, have been used in the past as precedents for later projects which seek exceptions.
  15. Perpetual haggling. With proposed density bonuses of 50-65%, there would be a huge incentive for developers to obtain the bonus. We can anticipate that most projects in an area subject to the density bonus would apply for it. The Community Planning Group would have a continual line of projects to review.
  16. Contradictory goals. One applicant could offer 4 additional parking spaces as a public benefit, while a nearly identical applicant could obtain an exception to parking requirements, and reduce his or her parking by 4 spaces. There would be no net benefit to the neighborhood.
  17. Applicants could skip normal processes. The program offers applicants a streamlined process for exceptions to density, height, parking requirements, etc., without applying for a variance, deviation, Community Plan amendment, or rezone. This would overturn City planning methods in place for decades, which were enacted to serve the public.
  18. Public at a disadvantage.  Getting bonus densities would be a windfall to an applicant. The value would be perhaps $100-150,000 per unit–essentially it’s like the City giving away free land. We can anticipate that applicants would exert substantial efforts to get bonuses approved. If the Development Services Department and Planning Department recommended approval of the bonuses and exceptions, the respons­ibility would shift to the public to get meaningful benefits, or to insist on disapproval of the bonuses and exceptions.

Citizens should not have to “make a deal”
to get needed design features or public facilities.

Take Action

For tips on how to take effective action on this issue, please visit the Take Action page.