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Clairemont Affordable Housing Plan Inches Forward

The sheriff's crime lab on Mount Etna Drive is seen here, Dec. 6, 2018.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The sheriff's crime lab on Mount Etna Drive is seen here, Dec. 6, 2018.

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday voted to initiate a years-long process that opens the door to new high-density affordable housing in Clairemont.

The plan involves a four-acre plot of land on Mount Etna Drive in the heart of the neighborhood. The land is owned by the county and currently houses a Sheriff's Department crime lab that is being replaced by a new facility in Kearny Mesa.

County officials asked the city to initiate a community plan amendment that would rezone the surplus land to allow for high-density housing. The county selected Chelsea Investment Corporation earlier this year to develop and operate the new homes, which the company intends to reserve for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities at below-market rate rents they can afford.

Some residents railed against the proposal, saying it would increase traffic and not have enough parking.

"Crime will be rampant. We've been overcrowded for 30, 35 years, traffic is terrible," said George Hagood. "We don't need a new ghetto."

But others who supported the plan said Clairemont desperately needs more affordable housing to prevent longtime residents from displacement as housing prices skyrocket across the city.

"I know seniors who have had to move out of the area," said Clairemont resident Judy Leshefka. "Clairemont is becoming an area where only high-income people can live."

Leshefka was briefly interrupted by boos from the audience. She and a handful of other residents attended the meeting as part of the recently formed Clairemont Coalition on Homelessness, which advocates for more affordable and permanent supportive housing in the neighborhood.

Planning commissioners made no secret of their distaste for some of the comments made by opponents to the affordable housing plan, telling them low-income housing often houses single parents, teachers and police officers, and that the community would have ample time to influence the final design of whatever gets built.

"Most of the affordable units that are being built now are actually better than market rate," said Planning Commissioner Vicki Granowitz. "They're lovely, and they are five stories. You're not building high-rises."

Clairemont is one of several neighborhoods in San Diego currently undergoing an update to its community plan, as Mayor Kevin Faulconer looks to update decades-old zoning ordinances that have contributed to San Diego's acute housing shortage. The western edge of the neighborhood also has two site-specific plans to increase housing density and building heights near stops along the future Blue Line trolley extension.

Less than a half mile from the county-owned land is a site where Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation is seeking to build permanent supportive housing for individuals to exit homelessness — a plan that has also drawn the ire of some local residents.

The San Diego Planning Commission has voted to initiate a years-long process to rezone public land in Clairemont for high-density affordable housing.

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