City Council approves Balboa Avenue, Morena Boulevard housing plans

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council tentatively approved two plans Thursday to let housing developers build more than 9,000 units near transit stations in Pacific Beach, Clairemont Mesa and Linda Vista.

The council unanimously approved both the Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan and the Morena Corridor Specific Plan, both of which would rezone areas along Morena Boulevard to allow for a spike in housing development near multiple future trolley stations.

The plans are an effort to take advantage of the $2.17 billion Mid- Coast Trolley Blue Line Extension that includes a planned 11-mile extension of trolley service by San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System from Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego to University City.

The city’s current Pacific Beach Community Plan only allows for the development of roughly 1,200 housing units.

The Balboa Avenue plan would allow for the development of an additional 3,508 housing units within a half-mile of a planned trolley station at the corner of Morena Boulevard and Balboa Avenue.

Supporters like the Climate Action Campaign, the San Diego County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Building Industry Association of San Diego argued the Balboa Avenue plan is one way the city can tackle its ongoing housing crisis.

“Updating your community plans is one area that we all agree upon,” said BIA Vice President Matthew Adams. “It is an essential component to addressing our housing crisis. … All plans can be picked to death. These are plans. Perfection is elusive. Planning is essential.”

Opponents of the plan argued the additional housing is being foisted on unwilling residents and that the adjacent Rose Creek area should be designated as a city park to conserve and rehabilitate native habitats along the creek.

The council declined to do so because the Rose Creek area that would be included as a park is currently a flood risk and the city had not given adequate public notice about changes to Rose Creek prior to the meeting.

City Councilman Chris Ward elected instead to include an amendment to “support the conservation of Rose Creek’s ecological health” through capital projects that are funded via the specific plan.

The Morena Corridor plan would allow for the development of 5,630 additional housing units over the 1,386 allowed in the Linda Vista Community Plan. The housing units would be constructed within one half-mile of future trolley stations at the Tecolote Road and Clairemont Drive intersections with Morena Boulevard.

The plan would also redesign the street network near the new housing developments into an urban street grid and add a protected bike lane and pedestrian access along Morena Boulevard.

“This plan is vital in the effort to help the city meet its climate, housing and transportation goals as outlined in the (climate action plan) and the `city of villages’ strategy,” said Maya Rosas, director of policy for the transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego.

City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell amended the plan to require developers to cap the rent for least 15% of a building’s units along the corridor at or below the county’s area median income for a family of four, $86,300. Developers can circumvent that requirement by building the units off- site, albeit by offering them at only 80% of the AMI.

The Morena Corridor plan has drawn significant push-back from Linda Vista residents who argue their properties will be obstructed by high-rise apartment buildings built along Morena Boulevard and that developers will only build luxury apartments. The plan would raise building height limits from 45 feet to as high as 100 feet near the two trolley stations.

“Until we zone for affordable housing and remove the loopholes, we are not going to get it,” said James LaMattery, spokesman for the opposition group Raise the Balloon. “What we are going to become is San Francisco 2.0, where the uber wealthy live in the city and all of the poor neighborhoods are being developed by big developments that begin pushing them out.”

Both plans are part of a blitz by the council this week to increase affordable housing development throughout the city. Earlier this week, the council approved proposals to hasten the development of mixed-use zoning projects and to increase mandated amount of housing units leased or sold at or below the AMI.

The council’s Rules Committee also voted Wednesday to draft a proposed ballot measure for a $900 million bond to build housing for military veterans, homeless families, seniors and disabled people. The ballot measure is scheduled to go on the November 2020 ballot.

The Balboa Avenue and Morena Corridor plans will require a second council vote for ratification. A date or dates for the second vote have not been set.

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