A judge sidelined San Diego’s attempt to revitalize the Midway
Jennifer Van Grove, Dec 17, 2021
Diego is responding to a damaging court ruling with two approaches
in an effort to keep the sports arena site redevelopment process
Diego will challenge a court order invalidating a voter-approved
ballot measure that sought to ease building height restrictions
in the Midway District while simultaneously putting
together a backup plan.
Todd Gloria said Friday that he has directed staff to begin
preparing an environmental impact report that studies taller
buildings in the 1,324-acre region in case a second vote is
needed. The work will take place as the City Attorneys
Office also appeals San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine
Bacals ruling to invalidate Measure E.
analysis can move forward with no impact on the legal appeal
of the ruling, the mayor said in a statement. My
obligation is to fulfill the will of the people, and San Diegans
voted by a sizable margin to eliminate the 30-foot coastal
height limit in the Midway planning area. The ability to build
over 30 feet is critical to redeveloping the citys sports
arena property, which will add thousands of new homes to help
address our housing crisis and which is key to revitalizing
a neighborhood thats waited decades for transformation.
appeal process will likely take well over a year,
so the additional analysis could pave the way for a re-vote
on the measure in 2022, the Mayors Office said in a
dual-track approach is designed to keep from derailing San Diegos
second attempt to remake the 48 acres of land it owns at 3500,
3250, 3220 and 3240 Sports Arena Blvd. in the Midway District.
five development teams are vying for a long-term ground lease
and are proposing dense projects with apartment buildings
that tower above the 30-foot restriction. The competition,
which is still in the early stages, marks a repeat effort
to offload the parcels after the state of California said
the first bidding process was in violation of the Surplus
Bacal seemingly hamstrung the effort when she invalidated
Measure E last week. The ordinance, approved by 57 of voters
in November 2020, sought to strike the region from the coastal
zone and clear the way for buildings over 30 feet.
Diego should have studied the environmental impacts of taller
buildings before presenting the initiative to voters, as required
by the California Environmental Quality Act, the judge said,
siding with petitioner Save Our Access. A writ of mandate
barring the city from implementing Measure E is expected to
be finalized next month and will spell out how the city can
potentially rectify the matter.
is a victory for public information, said Everett DeLano
III, a lawyer representing Save Our Access. The group was founded
by local environmental activist John McNab. This case
is saying, before you amend the height limit, lets make
sure to have an honest and full-faith discussion of what the
impacts associated with that will be.
Diego planners, at the mayors direction, will now specifically
assess the environmental impacts associated with eliminating
the 30-foot height limit even while the City Attorneys
Office holds firm in court. The city maintains that the Midway
Districts community planning documents, approved in
2018, already weighed the impacts of taller buildings when
it studied the plans zoning changes.
approaches are time-consuming, but the two-pronged response
is likely intended to provide would-be sports arena site developers
with enough confidence to continue forward.
talking about many months, maybe even a couple of years, before
you get a decision (on appeal). However that comes out, presumably
the losing party would file a further appeal to the state
supreme court, said Cary Lowe, who is a retired land-use
lawyer and urban planner. In the meantime, the city
can certainly do the (environmental analysis) faster than
arena site bidders are currently in a 90-day negotiation period
with the city and are expected to present their proposals
to City Council members next year.
so early in the process that I dont think (the ruling)
has a significant impact on selecting a partner and then ultimately
negotiating a business deal, said Penny Maus, who is
the citys director of real estate and airport management
selected, the winning group will still need to hammer out
lease and development terms with the city. Those talks could
take anywhere from six to 18 months based on previous real
estate deals, giving the city some wiggle room as it works
to resolve the building-height problem.
a little disheartening that almost on the exact day that we
were filing our final submittals the court came down against
the measure, said Marco Gonzalez, who is the cofounder
of Coast Law Group and is advising the HomeTownSD team. For
a process thats had so much uncertainty associated with
it, this just adds another layer of uncertainty and risk.
However, I know our team, and likely others, are fully committed
to finding a solution that both respects the required process
and allows for a really good project to go in at that site.
reviews are often multiyear processes, although the city will
seek to expedite the matter.
the CEQA process starts with a preliminary analysis called
an initial study that identifies potentially significant impacts,
and determines whether or not an in-depth environmental impact
report is required. If the formal analysis is necessary, then
there is a notice of preparation that kicks off a scoping
period in which the public and various agencies can weigh
in on the parameters for review. The process continues with
months of analysis and a draft report that is reviewed by
the public and government agencies before a final assessment
is certified by a government agency in this case San
Diegos City Council.
planners, depending on how the writ of mandate is worded,
may only have to study the visual impacts of buildings of
over 30 feet, as opposed to looking at a broader range of
impacts, such as air quality, noise and traffic. Presumably,
they can also lean on the environmental impact report prepared
for the Midway Districts community plan update to advance
the timeline. That report, or whats known as a program
EIR, studied the addition of more than 10,000 residential
units in the Midway District and estimated a population boom
of 23,660 new residents.
of the last count in 2015, the Midway District is home to
just 1,935 residential units and has a total population of
4,600 people, .
best-case scenario could see the environmental work completed
in the next few months and the measure returned to voters
on the November 2022 ballot.