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Judge blocks San Diego from repealing 30-foot height limit in Midway District

Outside the Pechanga Arena San Diego box office, Dec. 5, 2018.
Matt Hoffman
Outside the Pechanga Arena San Diego box office, Dec. 5, 2018.

A San Diego Superior Court judge has blocked the city from implementing a 2020 ballot measure that would allow new buildings in the Midway District taller than 30 feet.

Supporters of Measure E, which won support from more than 56% of city voters, argued Midway is not a coastal neighborhood and should never have been included in the city's 1972 ballot measure that imposed a 30-foot height limit on nearly all new buildings west of Interstate 5. They also argued lifting the height limit was crucial to the blighted neighborhood's revitalization.

But a nonprofit called Save Our Access sued, arguing the city should have analyzed the potential environmental impacts of taller buildings before placing Measure E on the ballot. Judge Katherine Bacal agreed and issued a final ruling Friday that blocks the city from implementing Measure E.


San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria vowed to appeal the ruling.

"We'll fight, and we'll fight like hell," Gloria said. "The revitalization of the Midway District is critical to the future of our city — not just for a new sports venue, but again, for the provision of housing that is attainable to low- and middle-income San Diegans."

The ruling throws a wrench into plans for redeveloping the city's 48 acres of real estate in Midway, currently home to the Pechanga Arena and a handful of low-slung commercial buildings. City officials are evaluating five competing redevelopment proposals, and all of them would depend on building taller than 30 feet.

The redevelopment process was previously hit by another major setback when state housing officials ruled the city should have declared the property "surplus land" and offered it to affordable housing developers first. That decision forced the city to reissue its request for redevelopment proposals.

The San Diego City Council in 2018 approved a community plan update that streamlines the approval of some 10,000 new homes in the Midway District. Attorneys for the city argued, unsuccessfully, that San Diego had already analyzed the potential impacts of taller buildings via that plan update's environmental impact report.