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City Council approves downtown’s blueprint for growth

San Diego's downtown urban center now has a blueprint for growth over the next 25 years. The city council last night approved the Downtown Community Plan, that has been four years in the making. It took seven hours of heated testimony to reach a decision. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

There were points during the hearing when it looked as though there were just too many questions to let the plan go ahead without further work. But in the end, the vote was 6-to-2 to approve it.

Nancy Graham, President of the city's downtown Redevelopment Agency, the Center City Development Corporation, was relieved - and optimistic.

GRAHAM: "Now that we have a plan we have a chance to sit down and dialogue and I think reach consensus where we weren't able to before."

Indeed there are many issues where consensus will be hard to reach. One that particularly irked the residents of downtown is the everyday issue of parking. The plan focuses on the vision of walk able neighborhoods where everyone lives five minutes from shops, libraries and parks. But that vision is a long way from reality. Gary Smith of the parking advisory committee says parking is already impossible and he wants more than the one and half spaces required for every new housing unit.

SMITH: "In five years transit may work, right now it doesn't and we've got to get cars off the street and not looking for a home every night. It is absolutely miserable out there."

Duncan McFetrich of the group Save Our Forests and Ranch Lands came to town to complain about the lack of a realistic plan to get cars off the streets.

McFETRICH: "Transportation is not a frill a side issue it happens to be the functional foundation that will make or break your plan and make or break the goal of being a liveable pedestrian friendly city."

Environmental advocates are also angry the plan acknowledges more pollution is inevitable but claims mitigation is impossible.

How to pay for new parks remains a question mark, in spite of a last minute deal to charge developers more per square foot. That deal will raise $100 million , but one developer attorney showed up to say his estimates suggest a single park could cost $55 million.

Resident Monserat Hernandez of neighboring Barrio Logan came to City Hall to remind council, though a translator that she isnt benefiting from what's happening downtown at all.

HERNANDEZ: "The neighbors of the downtown area receive only the bad impacts of the downtown development and none of the benefits."

Barrio Logan's home prices are escalating out of reach of local residents. The community needs a development plan of its own, and the redevelopment agency has promised to fund it, but so far no money has been forthcoming.

Then there are the city residents who are at loggerheads with downtown industry. Tom Phat represents the Little Italy Association

PHAT: "And we are absolutely stunned outraged and mad that Solar Turbines, our good neighbor for 60 years, has sent a letter to the council to prohibit residential development north of Hawthorn in Little Italy and east of the tenth avenue terminal.

Industrial interests want to see buffer zones to stop residential development from encroaching on their territory.
Meanwhile Councilwoman Donna Frye is very concerned about the shrinking number of police officers patrolling downtown. She said the city is already falling behind on providing the most basic public safety services, and all the new development will only make matters worse for all city neighborhoods.

FRYE: "We keep building stuff and we build more and more and we have less and less services that we provide to the public, and there is an impact to the communities around downtown."

The other councilmember to oppose the plan, Councilman Jim Madaffer, produced his dominoes to demonstrated how he fears the whole plan could be upset by market forces.

Supporters of the Downtown Community Plan call it a living document that will change as needs arise. But Murtaza Baxamusa, a planner and advocate of affordable housing, said the plan squanders opportunities to create incentives - by allowing developers to build more high density housing without requiting lower cost units in exchange.

BAXAMUSA: "As far as developers are concerned this is a closed chapter.
As soon as you approve this plan you will be giving additional entitlements that will be come vested rights protected under U.S. Constitution. You are giving away the candy store today.

Even the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice held a prayer circle outside City Hall, calling on city leaders to reconsider a plan they feel creates an imbalance between low paid jobs and high paid housing.

However, now that the plan is approved, all of these issues, and many others, will have to be negotiated as it is implemented. Councilmen Kevin Faulconer, who represents downtown, agreed to set up an oversight committee with Ben Hueso, whose district overlaps the redevelopment area. The group will monitor how things evolve.

FAULCONER: "There's many things raised tonight that are very valid that I have concerns about that I want to address. Overall it's a plan that's been working through the community for four years. I felt it was important to move it forward keep monitoring it, and make changes when necessary."

The next thing on the council's agenda is San Diego's general community plan update. That document has been waiting in the wings since last year, and will set the road map for the growth in the whole city. Alison St John, KPBS News.

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