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Pro-Density Urbanists Sweep Uptown Planners Election

A rendering shows a conceptual redesign of University Avenue in Hillcrest wit...

Credit: Rise Up Town

Above: A rendering shows a conceptual redesign of University Avenue in Hillcrest with bike lanes and crosswalks.

A group of pro-density urbanists won a contentious Tuesday night election for Uptown Planners, the volunteer community planning group known in the past for resisting efforts to increase density in the neighborhood.

The group advises the city on transportation and land use issues in Bankers Hill, Hillcrest and Mission Hills. Fourteen candidates were seeking seven seats on the group's board. The list of candidates was evenly divided into two groups with somewhat opposing views on how the neighborhood should develop.

The seven winning candidates were supported by a group called Rise Up Town. Its website states all the candidates — among them an architect, a transportation data analyst and a staffer for Congresswoman Susan Davis — unabashedly support increasing the neighborhood's density and building heights.

Patrick Santana, a Hillcrest resident who co-founded Rise Up Town, said the group began organizing residents last year after they felt their views were not being represented on Uptown Planners.

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"The core idea that animates us as neighbors is that we think change is good and we need to embrace change," he said. "We're part of what I see as a tectonic shift happening in the political landscape. It's this recognition among many people that housing is at the nexus of the climate crisis, homelessness and affordability."

The planning group's incumbent chairman was among the seven losing candidates, all of whom were supported by a group called Uptown United that has organized neighbors against high-density development.

Uptown Planners has resisted efforts by the city Planning Department to allow denser and taller development in the area, which also includes Middletown and part of University Heights. In 2016 it favored a broad change in zoning that would have banned new dense apartment or condo buildings in and around much of Hillcrest.

It also recently opposed a 223-foot apartment building in Bankers Hill, saying the building's afternoon shadow over a strip of Balboa Park would make the area less enjoyable. In both cases, the City Council ultimately voted against the planning group's recommendations.

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The election results come as Mayor Kevin Faulconer pursues an ambitious set of policies intended to increase home building in San Diego, primarily around public transit hubs, to relieve the city's housing shortage and encourage more people to commute to work without a car. On Monday the City Council approved Faulconer's request to eliminate parking minimums for new apartment and condo buildings near transit stops.

Those ideas are associated with the YIMBY, or "Yes In My Backyard," movement. Maya Rosas, a former member of Uptown Planners who last year founded the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, said Tuesday night's election results showed the growing influence of people who support dense, walkable neighborhoods.

"The Rise Up Town slate ran a pro-homes, pro-neighbors campaign that clearly resonated with Uptown voters," she said. "YIMBY politics is good politics in San Diego."

A group of pro-density urbanists has swept a contentious election for Uptown Planners, the volunteer community planning group that advises the city on development in Bankers Hill, Hillcrest and Mission Hills. Uptown Planners has been known in the past for resisting efforts to increase density in the neighborhood.

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