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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Legal Challenge Threatens City's Midway District Redevelopment Plans

 November 10, 2020 at 11:10 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego city voters approved measure E with nearly 57% of the vote, but the will of the people may or may not be enough to overturn the 30 foot height limit when the midway district is redeveloped. The outcome of the measure is likely to be tied up in court for quite a while. San Diego union Tribune reporter Jennifer van Grove has written about the opposition that could delay plans already in the works to transform the sports arena area. Jennifer, welcome. Thank you for having me. So now why is this height limits such an important issue for the future of development in San Diego briefly? What's its history Speaker 2: 00:34 It's important for a number of reasons. So the midway district is, um, defined by the military bases that dominate the land use there and this coastal height restriction. And so there hasn't been a lot of redevelopment or revitalization in that area because there's not too much that you can do with a 30 foot height limit and a very small, I don't want to say small, but, um, a large portion of land is as military and then there's less land that's available for me to development. And so it's a very central issue right now because the city, they own 48 acres right around the sports arena. And they'd like to see that land completely redone, completely redeveloped. And in order to do that, you know, they have to bring in a developer and the developer's going to want to rebuild the sports arena. And I'm right now, I'm talking about Brookfield properties in order to rebuild the sports arena, you have to go above 30 feet because the existing arena was built before the coastal height restriction was put in place. So you have a number of factors at play, but basically if you want to see the midway district look differently, this height restriction has to be eased, or at least that's, that's kind of the logic that was put before voters in which voters have, have agreed to Speaker 1: 01:55 The, the height limit was put into place back in the 1970s, right? So it's been in place for a very long time who, who is challenging this move to lift the 30 foot height limit and why? Speaker 2: 02:06 Well, it's a small group it's called saber access and they were behind the opposition campaign for measure E and they really believe in public access and, um, park and recreation space. And there's, there's a lot of different reasons why, but, um, you know, at the core of it, this group, which is led by, um, John McNab, um, who is an environmental activist, and he's been involved in, um, some other controversial deals, including, um, what happened with Liberty station. So, but at the core of it is, you know, this, this notion of public and private ownership, and there is, you know, a lot of publicly owned land in the midway district. And it is save our accesses belief that the midway district was rightfully included in the city's coastal zone, which as you mentioned, was determined, you know, in 1972 by a vote. Um, so there's this strong, um, kind of core belief by this group that the midway district is always supposed to be a part of the coastal zone that deserves protecting. And not only that, that there's so much land that could be potentially privatized, that the public will be at a loss, should that happen? The public will lose potentially opportunities to, you know, build great parks. That's, that's kind of one of the arguments there, but it really comes down to public versus private and access to the coast Speaker 1: 03:34 And they would be calling for more environmental reviews, right before anything. Speaker 2: 03:38 That's kind of the foundation of the lawsuit, the California environmental quality act, or SEEQUA as it's referred to is a big part of why this group is challenging the measure E boat. Huh? Speaker 1: 03:53 How do city planners respond to this legal change? Speaker 2: 03:56 Well, so let me just start and kind of break down the legal challenge. So before voters went to the polls, save our access late, laid the groundwork for this lawsuit. And they're essentially saying that the measure should be invalidated if passed because when, um, city planners put together the community plan for the midway district, they did not study the environmental impacts of raising the height limit. And that's true. So they did not study that because they could not study that. It's, it's a very sort of cart before the horse situation. And so where things are right now is should save our access, continue to move forward with this civil action. They would be seeking to invalidate the measure on those grounds. However, the city's position has been and continues to be that when they put together this community plan in 2018 and they did the state required environmental review, that at that time, it was comprehensive enough to consider the impacts of potential redevelopment and that those are covered regardless of the 30 foot height limit. So because they studied, you know, a population boom, and more traffic and, you know, everything that comes with increased density, then they have their basis covered is the logic. So when I talked to landis' attorneys last week, um, they said, it's going to be, you know, should this case new forward, it's going to be a very like technical look at the, the midway community plan and the environmental or view. And whether that environmental review for the community plan was sufficient enough to cover any potential impacts from raising the height limit. Speaker 1: 05:48 So Jennifer in practice, what does this legal challenge mean for those working on the plans to redevelop the Midwest? Speaker 2: 05:55 So in practice, it kind of puts a cloud over everything. Um, my understanding in talking with land use attorneys is that nothing will change until there's a hearing in this case, and there is no hearings scheduled. So right now the measure can, you know, move forward, be codified, et cetera. And so the issue kind of comes to a head once there's a hearing scheduled in that may be three to four months. So right now I suspect things will carry on as if measure is passed. So the city will negotiate with Brookfield properties as if there is no 30 foot height limit, um, and things will move, move ahead on that ground. However, when there's a hearing, then this might get a lot more complicated, but for now I think we can all carry on as if measure is passed and it'll move forward. And then the courts may choose to intervene. But right now that's not the case. Speaker 3: 06:55 Well, thanks for helping us tease out the details of this. Jennifer. It's a little bit Speaker 2: 06:59 Of a mess, but I'm here to help. Speaker 3: 07:02 We've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter, Jennifer van Grove,

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San Diego city voters approved Measure E with nearly 57% of the vote, but the will of the people may or may not be enough to overturn the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments