The special meeting was held following six previous subcommittee meetings on various aspects of the affordable housing project proposed by the San Diego Housing Commission. The commission owns the controversial undeveloped site, which was used off and on over the years as a bicycle pump track.
Hour-long audience testimony before PCPB board discussion and vote was decidedly testy and combative. Residents called out each other, the planning board and elected officials who were not present.
“This is not about low income, this is about leaving things natural,” argued one resident.
“Fight for whatever you believe in and do it right,” said one audience member.
“All we’re asking for is to save our last wetland,” said another.
“Right now this is a hail Mary pass,” and “this is a dog and pony show,” were comments from two others in attendance.
One resident pointed out the City is allowing individual ongoing developments on Voltaire Street “because they’re only increasing traffic by 1% or 2%.” They added, “That doesn’t take into account other projects in the pipeline. When you factor in three, four or five projects — suddenly that’s 10%.”
Former PCPB board member Jerry Lohla, an affordable housing advocate, noted “affordable housing works well in San Diego and there has never been parking issues.”
Lohla said affordability is mathematically defined as “residents paying no more than 30% of their monthly income for rent and expenses.
“For those people moving into affordable housing, young people with families or older people on fixed incomes, it is a life-changing experience,” said Lohla, who suggested opposition was mainly motivated by NIMBY sentiment.
Preceding the vote on a letter, board members spoke out on their individual positions.
Attorney David Dick and Jim Hare explained why they opposed the motion supporting drafting a letter.
“I’m not in favor of developing this property, and I’m not opposed to leaving it as open space or a park,” said Dick. “But what we should be reviewing is the feasibility study. I believe there are also factual errors in the letter. I’m a believer in process. And that process should start with a review of the feasibility study.”
“This project should have a chance for an actual evaluation as a project and a value judgment,” reasoned Jim Hare.
Other board members disagreed.
“This issue has a long history,” said Robert Tripp Jackson. “It’s just the wrong location for a development. It’s not the right spot.”
“People who’ve invested in our community are stressed out and maxed out,” said Mandy Havlik. “This is in my backyard and I care about what happens in my backyard in my community.”
“We have too much traffic and not enough open space,” said Brad Herrin.
“I appreciate the passion for affordable housing, and we need it,” said Margaret Virissimo. “But it doesn’t make sense where you’re trying to propose it.”
“San Diego has to wake up about quality-of-life issues,” said Lucky Morrison. “You can only put so many people here. It’s a simple fact of life that this town is run by developers. How much development is never enough.”
“I don’t see our role as rubber-stamping development,” said Don Sevrens. “I see our role as representing the community. I stand for open space and protecting it.”
“Developing this open park space as a thing to solve the housing crisis is like putting a band-aid on it,” argued Eva Schmidt, noting, “The community is here. Where are the elected officials?”