Developments on a handful of massive future projects in San Diego have come cascading forward at a dizzying pace of late.
With them come many big questions and, in some cases, plenty of dispute.
That’s not a surprise, given that the projects will transform central San Diego and impact the region beyond in the coming decades.
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Few things are more political in San Diego County than land-use decisions, particularly regarding publicly owned property.
Developers strive to gain the upper hand against competing bidders, while contending the lucrative projects will be an asset to the region. Community groups typically seek to minimize or block the developments out of concern they will harm their neighborhoods — and property values.
These big projects are at a stage where they are vaguely defined, if at all, and that naturally creates uncertainty. But they all will include a tremendous amount of housing, commercial areas and office space.
Three properties targeted for redevelopment are within a few miles of each other:
A bit farther away in Mission Valley, San Diego State University’s Snapdragon Stadium opened with great fanfare two weeks ago. Lost in all the hoopla is what will be happening around the stadium, which will do much more to shape the area: the development of the SDSU Mission Valley campus, replete with office and classroom buildings, housing, commercial areas and public parks.
Unlike the other properties, the Mission Valley plans are pretty much set. The school’s proposal won voter approval over a competing plan for the former Qualcomm Stadium site in 2018. Now, it remains to be seen how smoothly the public-private development will work out and whether this will truly be a “transit-oriented” development as promised.
The biggest news on the development front came this past week when the San Diego City Council approved Mayor Todd Gloria’s recommendation to select the Midway Rising team to redevelop the sports arena land.
That action was preceded by numerous reports raising questions about the process and the central member of the winning team, Brad Termini.
Weeks ago, Gloria’s administration wanted the five bidders on the project narrowed to three. A council committee disagreed and recommended continuing the evaluation of all five. Gloria persuaded the full council to move ahead on three.
That was significant because the developer eventually selected would be expected to provide most of the financing for the campaign this fall to approve Measure C, which would remove a 50-year-old 30-foot height limit from the Midway District. The five-bidder track meant the ultimate choice wouldn’t happen in time for a developer to be in position to do that.
Then opponents of Measure C filed a lawsuit challenging a supplemental environmental report for the redevelopment. The group Save Our Access successfully sued two years ago on similar grounds, resulting in a judge overturning a 2020 election that would have lifted the height limit. The new lawsuit says the environmental report falls short in assessing, among other things, the project’s impact on transportation, water quality and biological resources.
After Gloria recommended Termini’s group, news reports raised further questions about the mayor’s relationship with the developer and the builder’s qualifications. The publication La Prensa and then The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Termini and his wife, Stephanie, each made $50,000 contributions to an independent expenditure campaign supporting Gloria’s candidacy for mayor in 2020. They also gave a combined $4,500 directly to Gloria’s mayoral campaign.
The mayor’s office said that support did not play into the selection to develop the city’s 48 acres in the Midway District
The news reports also pointed out that Termini and his company, Zephyr Partners LLC, had never developed a project of this magnitude and that Zephyr was the subject of several lawsuits.
The council nevertheless voted 7-1 for Termini’s team. Councilmember Raul Campillo was the lone “no” vote and voiced concerns about Zephyr’s qualifications and the vetting process.
None of the other emerging projects has traveled such a rocky road, though they are much earlier in the process (with the exception of SDSU). They haven’t been without controversy, however.
The Navy this fall plans to take formal steps to start the real estate competition for 70.5 acres at the NAVWAR site, according to Jennifer Van Grove of the Union-Tribune. In May 2021, the Navy released a draft plan of alternatives, including the favored project that would have up to 19.6 million square feet of development spread across 109 buildings, some as tall as 350 feet, looming over Old Town.
The bulk of the plan startled and angered many residents. The Navy talked about being good neighbors, collected public feedback and made clear this was not the final plan. But the federal land is not subject to most local land-use regulations, including height limits. While a detailed proposal is a long way from being shaped, whatever eventually is built there almost certainly will be big — really big.
The city’s six blocks of land around the Civic Center, which includes City Hall, may be the blankest slate. Last week, Gloria announced the creation of a committee that would hold public sessions beginning Monday to explore potential redevelopment for the site. Building affordable housing will be a priority, as required by state law when local agencies dispose of surplus land. The affordable housing component of the Midway Rising proposal was a key to winning the sports arena bid, according to the city.
The city gained control over all the Civic Center-area property by spending $132 million to buy two office buildings it was leasing — a move that followed disputed deals for both under Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
The city’s lease for the Civic Center Plaza building came into question after it became public that a consultant assisting the city was being paid by the owner of the property. It also had become clear that the city overpaid in its lease-purchase agreement for 101 Ash St. — even if the building had been safe and useable. The building has remained vacant since early 2020 because of asbestos and other problems.
It will be a long time before we know whether that lemon can be turned into lemonade.
Tweet of the Week
Goes to many who put this out there:
“Pelosi: There are those in the (Republican) party who think life begins at the candlelight dinner the night before.”
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