San Diego Mayor Pushing One of State’s Most Aggressive Packages for Addressing Housing Crisis

By Justin Ewers

 

Mary Lydon, executive director of Housing You Matters speaks at news conference Wednesday (Photo Credit: Housing You Matters)

San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled one of the most aggressive–and comprehensive–approaches in the state for tackling his city’s growing housing affordability crisis on Wednesday, following up on a pledge earlier this year to address rising prices by accelerating housing approvals and expanding supply.

“The state’s housing shortage and the unaffordable housing market it spawned has left the dream of homeownership out of reach for the majority of San Diegans,” Mayor Faulconer said in a press conference today. “The only way to change that is to build more housing that people can actually afford. Hardworking folks who love San Diego and want to live in San Diego should not be priced out of San Diego.”

Faulconer’s housing package includes a dozen different proposals for bringing building costs down–and getting more homes built more quickly. Many of these ideas first emerged in a 2015 San Diego Housing Commission study and have been working their way through the City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee this spring.

The CA Economic Summit wrote about the effort this spring, highlighting the city’s unique focus on workforce housing needs, the breadth of the policy concepts under consideration, and the diversity of the coalition rallying behind the need for more housing:

Faulconer’s call to arms may not sound that dissimilar from the rhetoric emerging from other parts of the state, as rising prices make living in California increasingly unaffordable. But the San Diego mayor’s framing of the problem—and the solutions the city is developing with a unique coalition of business associations, labor groups, environmentalists, and builders—are fundamentally different.

The mayor’s proposals, which Faulconer said he hoped to see implemented over the next year, include specific code amendments to streamline the development review process, provide greater incentives to builders to develop denser projects with below-market units, and change municipal rules to make it easier for existing homeowners to build second dwellings on their property. The mayor has also prioritized increasing funding for low-income housing and revising parking standards to lower development costs.

Among the mayor’s most far-reaching ideas is a provision to allow projects to take advantage of existing CEQA streamlining processes in infill areas. The package also includes plans to reduce the impact of developer fees, calling for a revised methodology based on square footage, instead of the number of units in each proposed development.

Perhaps most importantly, the mayor has also asked the city to begin providing an annual report on the city’s housing inventory. “What gets measured gets managed,” as a fact sheet released by the mayor’s office puts it. “Currently, the City of San Diego does not do a comprehensive report of its housing inventory and greater housing outlook.” In his housing plan, the mayor calls for a report of existing inventory, the number of units approved, as well as vacancy rates and other metrics—all beginning this summer.

Faulconer’s actions, many of them derived from years of work by other local leaders, are drawing praise from across the broad coalition that has emerged in the last few years to push for solutions to the city’s housing crisis.

“The lack of middle-class housing is a major consideration for businesses and young talent looking to relocate to San Diego,” Kris Michell, president & CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. “The Mayor’s proposal to slash permitting times for entry-level housing, affordable to young millennials and working families, is critical to attracting talent and building a stronger economy.”

While selling the mayor’s proposals across the sometimes growth-wary region remains a political challenge, Mary Lydon, executive director of the Housing You Matters coalition, believes the foundation has been laid locally to achieve something few other big cities in California have accomplished: Moving ahead with a major new push to increase housing supplies.

“The growing alignment and cooperation around our housing affordability crisis is a major accomplishment in and of itself,” says Lydon. “Now that so many are on the same page we can work together to find the solutions.”

Micro, tiny, granny: housing shortfall solution — The Daily Transcript

Micro, tiny, granny: housing shortfall solution

Mary Lydon is founder of Lydon Associates, a strategic communications consulting firm specializing in land use. Mike Stepner is a professor at New School of Architects.

housing-shortfallMore affordable housing is on the nation’s mind. A growing issue is, “Cities are seemly becoming the centers for opportunities for those who already have it but we need strivers to flourish,” stated Mark Gimein of the New Yorker. The upcycle we are in has brought cities great growth and urban amenities. These amenity-rich cities have become very desirable for the world’s richest citizens. Cities are increasingly pleasant places to live for those who can afford it, so much so that Bloomberg’s Justin Fox calls big-city living a “luxury good.”

The White House released a Housing Development Toolkit in September. This reiterates what states and major cities across the country have been trying to problem solve for many years to little avail. Now that we are all in alignment we see that the solutions are super complex. The way forward, to mitigate San Diego becoming a “luxury good,” is a multifaceted solution where builders, designers, planners, policy makers, nonprofit organizations and community members will need to diligently work together. There are potential housing solutions that may offer relief to certain demographics sectors like single millennials and boomers. Smaller dwelling units like micro apartment units (300-500 square feet), tiny homes, granny flats (accessory dwelling units) and container homes are trending. These smaller units can bring the price of owning or renting down by as much as 30 percent but there is not enough supply to fill the demand. This is due to barriers in development like high parking requirements and expensive water and sewer hookup fees.

Last week, the governor signed legislation from Assemblyman Richard Bloom and Sen. Bob Wieckowski that will force cities to permit “backyard homes,” or separate dwellings known as “granny flats,” eliminate cities’ ability to require additional parking spaces for such units, and limit fees for attaching the units to local water and sewer systems. This bill could help alleviate some of the housing shortage in California and how it is executed at the local level will be key.

We can look to our past and to other cities for models to help us implement Accessory Dwelling Units. In 2006, the Vancouver, Canada, implemented the EcoDensity Initiative subtitled “How density, design, and land use will contribute to environmental sustainability, affordability and livability.” The program had three key provisions relating to housing: (1) Laneway [alley] housing – smaller scale detached housing that can be located where the rear-yard garage currently is; (2) secondary suites in apartments; and (3) mid-rise building on arterial streets. The key to enabling the innovative housing types in Vancouver was community support driven by design quality and provision of amenities. These housing strategies look familiar to those that are following current micro unit discussions and to those who have some knowledge of our development history. To meet housing shortages during World War II and the Korean conflict, our region’s cities encouraged and gave priority to the construction of Accessory Units. These were built in all the neighborhoods that were in existence at the time from La Jolla to Mission Hills. Most of these are still in use providing affordability for the homeowner with rent to offset the mortgage.

We are currently engaged in discussions about higher densities and mixed use along the arterials and we are looking at better ways to allow small lot development in single family zones. Examples of this can be found in some of our more recent master planned communities. In looking at smaller lots and attempting to overcome objections to a variety of house sizes in a neighborhood and the subsequent impact on property values we can look to the models San Diego pioneered almost 100 years ago. In
neighborhoods from Mission Hills to La Mesa you can find blocks with lots of 25 x 100 feet mixed in with the standard size city of San Diego lot of 50 x 100 feet. You also find example of small lots and large lots on the same blocks. On the north south streets the lots are usually 50 x 100, but on the east-west streets the lots are 50 x 50 feet. This was done to allow for a mix of affordability due to house size. But from the curb the neighborhood houses looked the same. The city also zoned for higher density on the blocks near the major streets with streetcar lines. This resulted in small apartment buildings and the wonderful bungalow courts.

After World War II as the need for housing grew so did car ownership and the number of parking spaces became the determining design factor. In place of the bungalow court and the small apartment building came the six pack apartment building with fewer units and parking in the front. Because the design of those buildings still haunt the minds of our communities, objections to new multi-family homes remain. Fast forward to today where Jonathan Segal, FAIA is proposing to build an 8-story, 37-unit, 400-square foot/unit apartment building in Little Italy with no parking. This project is for the transit oriented, Uber riding, urban dweller. By taking parking out of the development process we are not only lowering the cost of new homes but we lower CO2 levels as well. A win-win-win solution.

When the Segal project is approved it will set a precedent across the city. We will take a quantum leap into the future of transit/pedestrian-centric communities that expands beyond a “luxury good” for only high income earners.

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From a Sleepy Town to a Global City

Creating new economic, political engines

Can building design make you healthy?

The San Diego Union Tribune

By: Roger Showly

Posted: May 14, 2016

Urban Land Institute’s San Diego-Tijuana chapter named seven recipients in its first Healthy Places awards program plus one for a college student project. The County Waterfront Park won the grand prize. — ULI/San Diego-Tijuana

After decades of building car-centric suburbs, developers now realize they may be partly responsible for a rising tide of obesity.

Now, led by the Urban Land Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., they’re pivoting to “healthy places” where walkability, parks, community gardens and public transit can reverse the trends.

San Diego inaugurated this new era Wednesday with its first Healthy Places Awards program, sponsored by the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

The County Waterfront Park, the $50 million makeover of the parking lots at the County Administration Center, received the Healthy Place Crown Jewel Award because it celebrates recreation, urban living and a new use for an asphalt wasteland.

ULI local chairman Greg Shannon, whose Sedona Development is currently working on a 6,500-acre master-plan community in Tijuana, said the healthy places movement hit home to him when his wife gave him a Fitbit.

He racked up an admirable 10,000 daily steps on a Sunday. But at work the next day, activity dropped by two-thirds because he was glued to his desk.

“Probably over the last 60 years we’ve done a great job making things as convenient and efficient as we can, and we’ve fallen a little too much in love with technology,” he said. “But those things have unintended consequences. One is health has suffered with all the driving we do. We have greenhouse gases, car emissions, diabetes, asthma.”

Outgoing local ULI executive director Mary Lydon said the awards program revived an annual event that honored smart growth projects until 2010. The recession brought a historic drop in growth and no more awards.

“Moving from smart growth to healthy places is definitely a step in the right direction,” she said.

Hilltop gARTen — ULI/San Diego-Tijuana

ULI is an 80-year-old membership organization based in Washington, D.C., and is made up of about 38,000 developers, financiers, architects and other real estate industry leaders.

ULI senior fellow Ed McMahon said selling other members on making health a priority was tough at first.

“Developers are interested in something that they can do to make money,” he said.

But as case studies piled up, doubters came to realize that well-designed and located projects with walking paths, fitness centers, public transit and access to parks and healthy food stores paid off.

“Every single person in the world is interested in their health,” McMahon said. “What we found is health-promoting features in development are probably one of the best sells there is.”

He cited a CEOs for Cities report that found that every one point increase in the Walk Score index raises a property’s value anywhere from $500 to $3,000.

UCLA public health professor Dr. Richard Jackson, former director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Environmental Health and keynote speaker at the Wednesday awards event, offered another metric.

After one year of operation, riders on Charlotte, N.C.’s light-rail transit system lost an average of 6 pounds over those who drove to work.

“My students have a very different vision of the America they want to live in,” Jackson said, and it’s not the big, isolated suburban house surrounded by a picket fence. “They don’t want to be like their parents who drive an hour and a half to work each way, come home and stretch out and buy fast food because they have no time to cook dinner.”

Today’s obesity problem is the result of 70 years of suburbanization, the healthy places advocates say, and it can be reversed by better planning, more community gardens, less reliance on cars and revitalization of inner city neighborhoods where mixed incomes can live comfortably side by side.

Gregor Connors, 35, chairman of the ULI healthy places initiative, said he grew up in Poway and lives on the North County coast. He isn’t sold, at least not yet, on downtown living, especially for families with school-age children. But the graduate of the University of San Diego’s real estate master’s program does believe the merger of financial feasibility with good design will result in healthier living.

“It’s about great opportunity and better choices,” he said.

‘Connection’ Urged for Mission Valley

The San Diego Union Tribune

By: Roger Showly

Posted: April 30, 2016

SDSU annex, gondolas, river park discussed in preparation for area’s 2018 plan update

San Diego State University’s possible redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium property might result in worse problems for Mission Valley if not done right.

That was one of the warnings that came out of a Thursday breakfast forum on the valley’s future, sponsored by the Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 planning group.

An update, due in 2018, is in the works for the MissionValley community plan and various groups and experts are toying with a variety of new directions, such as creation of a San Diego River Park at the stadium and managing the valley’s traffic congestion through a new approach to land use.

Asked if the valley has one or more “hearts,” downtown architect and urban planner Frank Wolden, who has studied the valley extensively, focused on the 166-acre stadium property.

 

An aerial gondola in Portland, Ore., could be a model for similar transporation in Mission Valley.

SDSU’s president recently endorsed the idea of locating a campus annex at the site. Ideas include student housing, a new Aztec football stadium and researchfacilities. “I worry about the SDSU proposal,” Wolden said, “not because it’s not a good idea.” Rather, he said the site shouldn’t be used for a single purpose or isolate itself from surrounding developments.

“It needs to have a river park,” he said. “It needs to have an urban village with streets running through it.”

The same approach should be taken with specific plans in place throughoutthe valley, he said. “They can’t be ‘projects,’” he said. “There’ve got to bemultipurpose venues that are pieces of a ‘new city’ that is forming, that is connected and creating experiences.”

One new experience that drew some attention was installing aerial gondolas that could ferry between the valley floor and the north and south rims.

“I’m a very large promoter of aerial trams,” said Nancy Graham, the city planner leading the team to rewrite the community plan.

She said the gondolas could help feed into mass transit lines serving the valley and help reduce car traffic. Part of the reworking of the existing plan that dates back to the 1980s is to use a different way to measure traffic instead of counting average daily trips generated by each land use.

“If you squint, you can believe it’s Mission Valley,” Graham said, as images flashed on a screen of gondolas in Portland, Ore., and inBarcelona, Spain. Rob Hutsel, executive director of the San Diego River Park Foundation, and landscape architect Glen Schmidt shared concepts for a 60-acre park at the Qualcomm Stadium site.

“It’s an incredible opportunity how we rethink Mission Valley,” Hutsel said.

Marco Sessa, senior vice presdient at Sudberry Properties, spoke of the latest phases at the company’s Civita residential project. He said he is concerned that numerous requirements are pushing prices above the$500,000 mark for condos and townhomes.

“The higher density it is, the more expensive it is,” he said. “The more sustainability features there are, the more expensive it is. That is a transformative issue, unfortunately, that we need to figure out how to address.”

Forum moderator Mary Lydon, outgoing executive director of the Urban Land Institute local chapter, urged the breakfast audience of about 60 to focus on reality rather than ideas that may prove impossible to implement.

“There are many constraints to Mission Valley and that’s always a part of the conversation,” she said.

Andrew Michajlenko, a Gensler architects designmanager and Civita resident, said the valley’s common theme for the future should be built around a “string of pearls” along the river that could be accessed on foot. He also said one of the most challenging goals will be to bridge the river at several spots to provide more north-south connections.

Tracey Scott, a senior urban planner at architect Wolden’s Skyport Studio, said the new valley plan also should envision how the area will fit into San Diego’sgreater urban vision. “I think we really need to think about the next 100 years— what is Mission Valley going to become and why do people want to go there and what are they going toget of going there, what kind of benefit,” she said.

Hutsel said as chairman of one of the community planning group’s subcommittees, he sees great potential in a number of specific property owner proposals. They include the construction of thousands of apartments or condos at the Riverwalk golf course; the redevelopment of the Town & Country hotel property; and the reuse of the Union-Tribune building and its site once the newspaper staff moves downtown next month.

“I think there’s incredible potential in Mission Valley today and I’m looking forward to it,” Hutsel said.

Stadium task force: Plan ‘fair’ to Chargers, taxpayers

ABC 10 News

By: James R. Riffel, City News Service , Steve Fiorina

Posted: May 18, 2015

Construction of a 65,000-seat football stadium for San Diego should be financed with a mix of financial contributions from the city and county of San Diego, the Chargers and the NFL, plus bond and land sales, an advisory group appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer recommended Monday.

A report released by the nine-member group two days before its deadline said no new taxes would be included, so that a two-thirds vote of the public would not be required. Funding sources would exceed $1.4 billion for a facility estimated to cost around $1.1 billion, according to the report.

Read the Full Report courtesy of 10 News

We have overstated costs just a bit, and understated revenue just a bit, making for a very prudent, fiscally conservative recommendation,” said Adam Day, chairman of the Chargers Stadium Advisory Group. “It overcomes all the hurdles that were thrown in our path — both real and imagined — and it is a good deal for the taxpayers.”

He said the task force conducted extensive research and analysis of NFL stadiums that have been constructed in recent years. Another consideration was to make sure the Chargers and other tenants would enjoy the financial benefits of a new playing facility, rather than designating all the new revenue streams toward construction costs.

“We developed a financing plan that would actually succeed in this unique San Diego environment, ensuring that it is fair for the Chargers and other tenants, fair for the city and county, and fair for taxpayers,” Day said.

“Our plan is the first of its kind, and it should jump-star negotiations between the Chargers, the city and the county,” Day said, adding that the recommendations provide “a fair and workable path to a new stadium in San Diego.”

Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ general counsel on stadium issues, issued a statement saying that he’s grateful for the CSAG members who volunteered their time.

“We will now ask our stadium development team — including our financing, legal and land-use experts — to thoroughly review the CSAG results,” Fabiani said.

Faulconer said the plan is “tangible” and “achievable.”

“Earlier today I communicated to Chargers owner Dean Spanos that the city/county team and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith are ready to sit down and negotiate,” Faulconer said. “I’d like to start by June 1. San Diegans deserve a good and fair deal, and I will not accept or support anything less.”

The mayor’s full statement:

“San Diego has come together since we began this path toward a new stadium. Despite so many dramatic changes and potential distractions, both here and elsewhere over the last four months, our community rallied and kept moving forward. Today, San Diego has a framework to build a new stadium that’s tangible, that’s achievable and that won’t raise taxes.

I thank each volunteer who has served on the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group for their diligent and careful efforts on behalf of their fellow San Diegans. They have shown the spirit of optimism and determination that makes San Diego great.

We are now ready for another first – beginning formal negotiations with the Chargers. The County and City of San Diego have, for the first time, assembled an experienced negotiating team that will review the CSAG report as it prepares for talks with the team. Earlier today I communicated to Chargers owner Dean Spanos that the City/County team and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith are ready to sit down and negotiate. I’d like to start by June 1. San Diegans deserve a good and fair deal, and I will not accept or support anything less.

My continued commitment is that if we reach a stadium agreement with the Chargers, San Diegans will have their say with a public vote. When this measure will be on the ballot will be discussed through negotiations with the team.
As we all begin to review the details of the CSAG report, one thing is clear: we’re all in this together. The Chargers are beloved by generations of San Diegans. San Diego has worked in good faith with the team and the NFL and will continue to do so. I am confident that if the team comes to the table with a willingness to work together, we will get this done for the benefit of our community, with protections for taxpayers and for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Supervisor Ron Roberts, who has served as the public face for the county on stadiums, said the report shows a path forward for the project.

“While there is much to be done in the coming months, this is a time for optimism,” Roberts said.

The task force has already recommended that the facility be built adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium, which would be razed to make way for development, including a massive parking structure, a 500-room hotel and a park alongside the San Diego River.

Day said he envisions a pedestrian-friendly, transit oriented mixed-use project, but not a high-density development that would draw opposition from Mission Valley residents.

The next step will be for a team of financial and legal experts to take the recommendations and mold them into an actual plan that can be taken to the Chargers and voters. The city and county of San Diego jointly hired Nixon Peabody, which has consulted on 25 stadium projects, and Citigroup, which has been involved in raising money to build stadiums recently in Atlanta, New York and Orlando.

The Chargers have been pushing for a new playing facility for more than a dozen years, and have recently taken steps to build a joint $1.7 billion stadium with the rival Oakland Raiders in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. The proposed 72,000-seat facility off the San Diego (405) Freeway is considered to be a backup plan for both teams in case they aren’t able to forge agreements in their current cities.

Also, the owner of the St. Louis Rams is planning to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, another Los Angeles suburb.

The funding breaks down to:

  • $300 million from the Chargers
  • $200 million from the National Football League
  • $225 million from the sale of 75 acres of Qualcomm Stadium land to a developer
  • $173 million of bondable construction capital leveraged with team’s $10 million annual rent
  • $121 million from the city of San Diego, which would come from savings from retiring Qualcomm Stadium debt
  • $121 million from the county of San Diego
  • more than $100 million from fans in the form of personal seat licenses, and surcharges on parking and tickets
  • $21.6 million rent from San Diego State University and the organizers of the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls, with $1.25 million paid by both annually

SDSU released a statement that said the development of its athletic program was a critical part of its goal of becoming a Top 50 public university, and it would channel the support of its 350,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni toward the development. University officials have long eyed the Qualcomm property for potential expansion.

The report said another $50 million could be raised with naming rights, sales of bricks, and capital contributions from concessionaires and telecommunications firms.

Faulconer said that while a two-thirds public vote won’t be required, he still would like a final deal with the Chargers to go before voters. He said that San Diegans want a plan that makes sense, is fair and is fiscally responsible.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to spend most of our time on here as we move forward with negotiations with the Chargers, which is to make sure that it is a plan that’s fiscally responsible,” Faulconer told City News Service. “To have our City Attorney’s Office working together with outside experts, we have a team that is together, that is ready to go, and I’m confident that we’ll come up with a solution that makes sense.”

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the report shows that a stadium project is doable.

“These people put a lot of time and effort into this, and I’m really impressed with their volunteer work,” Goldsmith said. He said he doesn’t believe any legal issues exist that would be insurmountable.

The advisory group released renderings of what a new stadium might look like by Dan Meis, who is responsible for designing NFL facilities in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, as well as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Safeco Field in Seattle.

A San Diego State University spokesman issued this statement regarding the stadium proposal:

“San Diego State University appreciates the opportunity to have participated with the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group in the planning process for a new stadium and we are eager to participate fully in a partnership that will retain the Chargers in San Diego and advance our region. As we continue our efforts to become one of our nation’s top 50 public universities, the development of, and investment in our athletic programs, including our football program, is a critical priority. And we are committed to channeling the support of our 350,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni to ensure the successful development of a new stadium for San Diego.”

Former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman told 10News, “I’m more excited than at first. Now you have room to grow. Now it’s a real proposal to me and fair on both sides.”

Dan McLellan, vice president of the San Diego Stadium Coalition, added, “Sadly, there’s little to be excited about here. I think they’re asking for too big a contribution from the team.”

San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman released this statement:

“I give my utmost thanks to the members of CSAG who have sacrificed their time to complete this report. After years of just generalized concepts, we now have an in-depth, detailed plan. As the Councilmember who represents the area, it is also very encouraging to see the inclusion of a 31 acre park to expand and enhance the San Diego River Park as well as plans to upgrade infrastructure and traffic mitigation in the surrounding community.”

San Diego Taxfighters Chairman Richard Rider issued the following statement:

“I’d like to see the actual Charger stadium proposal. But based on the task force’s official write-up which I presume is accurate, appears to be a $467 million taxpayer giveaway to keep the Chargers here — ignoring cost overruns and ‘surprises.’ And apparently that’s not counting the 60 acres of land valued at $180 million (not sure how land ownership is handled). Again, I caution that my interpretation of the proposal may not be completely accurate.

The fact that there is no actual tax INCREASE is no surprise — the proponents were desperate to avoid any taxpayer vote on the matter. I predicted this wrinkle months ago.

Is it sound policy for our city and county to provide such a huge subsidy to a business owned by a billionaire that employs millionaires? Not in my mind. That money and salable land are assets that can be used to help with our pension funding problems, and our even bigger multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficit.

I’d like for the Chargers to stay, but not at that cost — a total of about $650 million (or more). Not even close.”

Kris Michell, president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, told 10News, “I think it’s a great day. It’s very exciting because it’s realistic and hit every mark. It didn’t overstate revenue, didn’t understate things. It should be given serious consideration.”

Chargers fan Tyler Roberson told 10News, “I think everything is awesome. I hope the Chargers go along with it.”

Quincy Cheatham echoed that thought, saying, “We love our city, love our Chargers. Need them to stay here.”

Read the Story on 10 News

Taking a Wide Lens on Mission Valley

Qualcomm Stadium

Qualcomm Stadium / Photo by Sam Hodgson

New developments don’t exist in isolation — they can have a big impact on a neighborhood. That’s why the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group decided early on to take a holistic approach once we selected Mission Valley as the preferred site for a new Chargers stadium.

Less than three months ago, Mayor Kevin Faulconer asked us to do two things:

  • Select the most viable site from two potential sites for a new multi-use stadium. We chose the current Mission Valley location for a number of reasons, including development expediency and cost.
  • Develop a financing plan to pay for it.

With the site selection behind us, we’re focused on vetting the different financing tools and potential pools of money we can draw upon. Our goal is to finalize the financing plan and send it to Faulconer for his review by the end of May.

A few of us are also looking at the overall development of Mission Valley. It’s important for us to consider what’s next for this growing community of 22,000 residents, and how best to accommodate growth that is coming to Mission Valley with or without a new stadium.

WATCH: San Diego Explained: Take a Tour of Mission Valley’s Big Plans

Meanwhile, San Diego is working against the clock to hang onto its football team. The Chargers are competing with other NFL teams for a stadium in Los Angeles, and the team has made a series of moves to try to win that contest.

In order to present the mayor with a fair and workable plan that serves as a starting point for negotiations between him and Chargers owner Dean Spanos, I suggested we take a step back and look beyond the 166-acre site in Mission Valley to explore how other opportunities and constraints could affect the stadium.

We assembled a team of top designers and land use professionals from Urban Land Institute San Diego-Tijuana and the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to help us look deeper into the ramifications of a new Chargers stadium. San Diego River Park Foundation experts and a representative from the Mission Valley Planning Group were also on this team.

Creating a new, mixed-use, transit-oriented village will more than likely be one funding source in the advisory group’s financing plan. We’re looking at what would be an appropriate scale for this village, and projecting its impact on the Mission Valley community.

Meanwhile, the site would need major improvements to boost game day mobility. One thing to consider would be expanding the existing east-west trolley line, along with constructing a state-of-the-art transit hub near the interstate. It would connect to a new trolley line, the Purple Line, which would run north and south along I-15.

As we start to address these mobility issues, an early step should be updating Mission Valley’s community plan. And to finance infrastructure improvements, we could take advantage of a new state program called Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts, which uses property tax increment to finance and construct or rehab a wide variety of public infrastructure and private facilities. Mission Valley might also explore a shuttle to connect residential areas to existing transit stations.

Building the San Diego River Park along the southern edge of the site would create a new regional asset and bring the river back to life, offering several dozen acres of open space and parkland. Bike and pedestrian paths would run along the river and link to greater Mission Valley.

With all this in mind, it’s important we make sure San Diegans are able to take advantage of the amenities year-round. A carefully planned mixed-use village could bring restaurants, shops, museums, an interpretive center for local history and outdoor sports activities that would benefit everybody throughout the year.

In order to keep the stadium site alive outside of Chargers game days, decision-makers need to retain a proven event management company to book year-round activities like concerts, special events and conferences. The design of the stadium needs to be flexible to accommodate expanded seating for Super Bowls and smaller events that won’t require use of the entire stadium.

Creating a new and smaller sports stadium with a mixed-use, transit-oriented center, rich with amenities and a regional park would enhance the business model for the Chargers like no other option the team is exploring. Further, it would boost our civic pride, through the creation of an iconic regional park with year-round activities for all to enjoy.

We’ll continue to work on behalf of all the stakeholders using holistic planning to find the nexus where the Chargers, Mission Valley, San Diego County and all the citizens who live here win.

Mary Lydon is executive director of Urban Land Institute San Diego-Tijuana.

A stadium for San Diego: A task force that just might work

U-T San Diego

Editorial Board 02:25p.m. Jan 30, 2015

Despite much public skepticism about “yet another task force” to plan a new football stadium for San Diego and the Chargers, and despite the history of failure of many similar groups, there is solid reason for optimism that this time it will be different, that this time it will succeed.

The task force announced Friday by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is packed with the right mix of expertise. It has unmatched National Football League expertise in Jim Steeg, the former NFL executive who more than anyone turned the Super Bowl into one of the world’s greatest sporting events. It has top-flight business expertise in Sempra executive Jessie Knight, business leaders Jason Hughes, Rod Dammeyer and Aimee Faucett, a top executive at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. It has extensive experience in San Diego sports issues in Doug Barnhart, who has served on the Qualcomm Stadium Advisory Board, the San Diego International Sports Council and past Super Bowl committees and whose construction companies helped build Petco Park and other major landmarks. It has unparalleled government and public finance expertise in Walt Ekard, the county’s former top administrator. It has political savvy in Adam Day, a state college system trustee and assistant manager for the Sycuan tribe and who has strong ties to Gov. Jerry Brown. And it has land-use expert Mary Lydon, executive director of the Urban Land Institute of San Diego and Tijuana, who will also infuse expertise about this binational region.

There are no representatives of the Chargers on the task force. Nor is businessman Steve Cushman, a Chargers nemesis, on it. Faulconer rightly wanted to keep the group small and unencumbered by members with a direct stake in the outcome.

Their task will hardly be easy. But this is a group that can get it done.

“If it was easy, it would have been done 10 years ago,” Faulconer told the U-T Editorial Board Friday, acknowledging the many questions that must be resolved regarding location, the thorny issue of whether to combine a stadium with an expansion of the downtown convention center and, the toughest nut of all, the financing.

The mayor also acknowledged the lukewarm response of the Chargers and of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the Friday task force announcement.

“This has been going on for 13 years,” he said. “There’s no doubt there’s been a lot of false starts. What I’ve tried to do is set a real deadline with a real plan and real financing. I think that’s what’s been missing from the equation.”

Another thing that’s been missing in the past is mayoral commitment. Faulconer is the first to have made it.

“My goal is to have Super Bowls in San Diego,” he said.

There is an adage that task forces are where controversial ideas go to die. Maybe not this time.

Planners’ new slogan: Winner or dud?

‘Complete community’ offered as replacement for ‘smart growth’

Roger Showley • UT

 

The Urban Land Institute panel included, from left, Diego Velasco, Reese Jarrett, Joe LaCava and Darin Dinsmore.

The Urban Land Institute panel, from left: Diego Velasco, Reese Jarrett, Joe LaCava and Darin Dinsmore

Urban planners and developers, always on the hunt for a new catchphrase, admitted Wednesday that they have largely failed to tell the public what’s ahead as San Diego enters an increasingly urbanized future.

“It was instructive to me about how we are perhaps not communicating with the average person,” said Joe LaCava, one of the panelists at an Urban Land Institute breakfast panel Thursday, recalling the feeling after one explosive neighborhood meeting earlier this year.

The group toyed with the latest buzzword, “complete communities,” as a new way to communicate what they’re up to. The phrase is meant to entice the public to accept growth by offering a higher quality of life that’s free of congestion, full of housing they can afford and closeby shopping, recreation and workplaces.

Previous slogans have apparently fallen flat: smart growth, city of villages, transit oriented development.

Mary Lydon, executive director of the local ULI chapter, said the search for a new way forward began last year, when a larger meeting reviewed six case studies and eight cities’ stories in how they coped with neighborhood opposition and produced a successful project or program.

“How do we move forward to realize that vision?” Lydon asked the four-member panel, moderated by Voice of San Diego’s Andrew Keatts.

LaCava, chairman of the city’s Community Planners Committee, said too often community planning meetings attract the in-crowd of professionals and civic activists, while the grassroots, silent majority remain absent and unheard.

Then it’s the developer who unwittingly must implement the new rules in the face of skeptical citizens, who have been disappointed when completed projects look nothing like the pretty renderings previously released.

“To me it’s unfair burden on the private developer,” LaCava said.

To Diego Velasco, a Barrio Logan planner at the M.W. Steele Group and president of the Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 good-planning group, the debate about San Diego’s future is muddied by generational disconnects — young people want to live in urban centers and do without a car, while their elders like the suburbs.

But with little open land left to develop new suburbs, the projected growth of San Diego by a million people over the next 30 years means suburban life will change.

“We’re living in an increasingly urban world and San Diego is no different,” he said. “There’s a disconnect between that group of people (in the suburbs) and that group of people who are choosing to live in urban neighborhoods.”

To bridge the gap, Darin Dinsmore, CEO of the Crowdbrite consulting firm, said new technology allows for more broad-based, online community participation in public policy.

“One of the biggest challenges is how to engage people in an authentic way in planning the future of cities and communities,” he said.

That’s one of the goals at Civic San Diego, said its president Reese Jarrett. The city’s development arm for downtown and inner-city neighborhoods is trying to find new funds and partners to make improvements while involving local residents and business leaders.

“We need to spend more time asking them how to complete their neighborhood and make it better,” Jarrett said.

The complete communities concept was promulgated by the Reconnecting America public transit advocacy group, which has since disbanded. It rated how complete America’s 366 metropolitan areas, including San Diego County are in four key areas — living, working, moving and “thriving” in the 21st century

Its 2012 report — “Are We There Yet?” — rated 366 metropolitan areas, including San Diego, in four key areas — living, working, moving and “thriving” in the 21st century.

San Diego earned three C’s and a B, while six other metro areas got all A’s — Denver, Honolulu, New York, Portland, San Francisco and San Jose.

In San Diego the debate over what Jarrett called the “D-word” — building density — reached a fever pitch earlier this year when residents of the Clairemont-Bay Park area objected to preliminary plans for development along the trolley line that will link Old Town and University City in the next few years.

LaCava cited that experience as an example of how not to roll out a visionary plan to the public before educating them on what the benefits might be.

He said once plans are approved, elected officials and other civic leaders need to share the concepts with the public and win their support.

“They need to stand tall and defend what they do,” he said.

Click here to download the PDF, “Are We There Yet”

Silo Takes Co-working Outdoors

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Some early adopters were the first to show up at Silo’s first “Bring Your Own Work” Day in Makers Quarter Wednesday.

By Katherine Poythress

The event planners for Silo, the art-splashed icon of the burgeoning Makers Quarter district in San Diego’s East Village, launched a series of co-working days this week.

Makers Quarter, Moniker Group and the Downtown San Diego Partnership are hosting Bring Your Own Work Day every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the foreseeable future. You bring the work, food, beer and pets, and they’ll provide the (almost) vacant lot.


BYOW Day

When: Every Wednesday from 1-5 p.m.

Where: Silo in Makers Quarter, 753 15th St., San Diego.

Who: Anyone who wants to come.

What: Co-working. Bring your own food, booze, pets and work. Silo provides the workspace and games.

Price: Free.

Why: To spark more creative thinking, innovation and community gathering.


Silo is dotted with umbrella-shaded work stations featuring furniture made out of picnic tables, plastic crates, wire spools, plywood and wooden pallets inside its muraled concrete walls.

Anyone is welcome to come with their work of choice, whether it be sculpting or programming, and enjoy the free Wi-Fi, ping pong and a bean bag toss.

The hope is to bring entrepreneurial, creative and artistic types together in the same open space on a regular basis so they can collaborate and share ideas, said events manager Jen Singer.

The crowd started small on the first day, but the gathering grew the later it got. By 3:30, a dozen or so people were working and networking under the umbrellas. A couple were crafting art.

“These are the early adopters,” Singer said. She hopes they will talk about their experience and come back with friends next week.

“I was a little surprised at how small it was, but I think it’ll grow,” said Jerrod New, an entrepreneur specializing in training for what he calls “creative-preneurs,” or people with a business idea that they could make happen with a little training in creative skills.

Urban Land Institute director Mary Lydon was one of the early arrivals with her colleague, Fiona Lyons.

“We like to work wherever it’s up and coming,” said Lydon, explaining that they don’t have a permanent, fixed office space. Lyons added that part of their job is staying on top of cutting-edge development ideas such as the outdoor, art-infused co-working environment.

“We are excited to be here on the first day,” Lydon said. “There’s definitely excitement in the air.”

There is plenty of room in Silo’s creative sandbox for more, but Singer said it might take some time for the idea to catch on. After all, there’s nothing else quite like it available in San Diego.

High Five Digital Marketing co-founder Guenter Bergmann said he would likely come again, but in board shorts next time to beat the heat.

Up Close with Mary Lydon

When real estate developers get rowdy at professional association get-togethers—this is hypothetical, of course—who herds the cats? Often, it’s the association staff, like ULI San Diego/Tijuana executive director Mary Lydon.

While earning her degree in nutritional sciences at Wisconsin-Madison, Mary had no idea her training would come in handy in her present job. Given ULI’s two-year Building Healthy Places global initiative, though, it’s a perfect fit. Last week, Mary spoke at the Loma Linda University public health conference on the principles for building healthy communities. Sometimes, “You can’t predict how your career is going to intersect with your education.” (We minored in cat herding, so we understand.) She’s also principal of her own association management company, Lydon Associates, and served as a City of San Diego planning commissioner from ’09 to ’13, which gave her a deeper understanding of the entitlement process.

60524_1394651043_MaryLydonULISanDiegoMikeStepnerHere she’s at the conference with New School of Architecture+Design’s Mike Stepner. She’s been at ULI seven years, though a recent major accomplishment stands out: San Diego hosted the annual ULI Global Spring Meeting, which boasted the highest attendance (about 3,700) for a ULI Spring Meeting ever. This year’s goals include working with ULI district councils in the Southwest, including Mexico, to create a global net zero energy use conference.

60524_1394651093_MaryLydonFionaLyonsULISanDiegoMary, here chatting with ULI colleague Fiona Lyons, was born and raised in LaCrosse, Wis. and originally eyed a career in preventative health. Back then, however, there weren’t many jobs in that field, and she found the land-use arena. How do we know she’s usually ahead of the trends? In the late ’80s, she owned a cafe in Hillcrest, which had a Ranchillio Espresso machine—one of about five in all of San Diego, she says. It was pre-Starbucks, and San Diegans were “just waking up to their taste buds for cappuccinos and Viennese coffee.” In her free time, she loves to travel, overdosing on mango and coffee on her most recent trip to Kauai. Her most exotic destination, though, was to Muscat, Oman, where she spoke at an Aspen Institute conference.

dividerRead the full Bisnow article here.

‘Uncertainty’ surrounds 2014 housing market

New Urban Land Institute chairman offers neutral debate forum

Roger Showley • UT

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Arterro, a La Costa project by Davidson Communities, is one of the newest housing developments to open in the county this year.

Housing, which zoomed up 18.4 percent in price last year, faces “uncertain” prospects this year, according to Tim Sullivan, newly named local chairman of the Urban Land Institute.

Sullivan, a real estate industry consultant, said last year’s housing market was one of “exuberance.”

“Now I’d characterize the 2014 outlook as one of optimism but still with a level of uncertainty,” Sullivan said, “because we had such a nutty 2012 and ’13 with home prices moving up quickly and a little bit of land selling — maybe a three-year period of exuberance jammed into one. The market is now reeling again and there’s concern and uncertainty.”

His outlook, offered up during an interview with the U-T on Monday, was brightened somewhat by the firming up of occupancy rates for retail, office and industrial space and rental rates rising enough to justify some new construction, particularly for build-to-suit projects.

Timsullivan“From a residential side, it’s very solid — prices are up — but now we have a concern, after a year of affordability,” he said. “We can’t win for losing and we can’t lose for winning.”

The local 500-member San Diego-Tijuana district council, one of 55 internationally maintained by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, is enlarging its scope beyond the usual San Diego city-centric set of issues.

Mary Lydon, the local executive director, said 15 local ULI members will participate on a two-day technical advisory panel next month on development ideas surrounding a new convention center complex north of downtown Rosarito Beach.”

All the land around it is vacant,” she said, and the property owner wants advice on how it should be developed to take advantage of the expected growth in convention business.

With San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer scheduled to become mayor Monday, Lydon said ULI stands ready to help improve local land-use policies — from promoting environmental sustainability to working out the future of Civic San Diego, the city’s nonprofit that oversees downtown and arranges public-private partnership deals in other neighborhoods.

Another focus will be promoting zero-net-energy developments, as is ULI’s role in closing the gap between developers and not-in-my-backyard project opponents.

“The days of having money overpowering the little guy or having political connections that circumvent requirements — that window has closed or is so narrow that it’s not even a concept,” Sullivan said. “It’s getting to a point where all parties have to be accountable and participate.”

Read the UT Article

Planners, builders have bigger impact on health than some might expect

Roger Showley • U-T

Does San Diego deserve the moniker “Fat Diego”? The comments from a panel of experts sure point that way. We drive too much, walk too little, crave too much junk food. And our neighborhoods make us do it.

A developer, research director and walkability advocate laid out how far San Diego County and its many sunny neighborhoods have to go to equal cold-climate places like Minneapolis in living better.

 

At the monthly forum Thursday sponsored by the Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 good-planning group, highlights included:

  • While San Diego has places like Mission Bay to bike, speakers at Thursday’s forum said the area needs fewer multilane streets that offer no buffer from traffic.
  • Alcohol sales help stores afford to stock produce
  • San Diego’s super-wide streets, such as Friars Road, speed traffic but discourage walking.
  • Some of San Diego’s population struggles with obesity, particularly in neighborhoods lacking groceries with fresh fruits and vegetables. The answer? Let neighborhood grocers sell beer and wine.
  • Parks typically include expansive ball fields, but it’s actually parks with running and walking tracks that serve the public better in terms of promoting exercise.

The session was moderated by Mary Lydon, executive director of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, which has launched a new initiative, “Building Healthy Places.”

In a short video, Lydon highlighted the comments of University of California Los Angeles expert Richard Jackson on the topic: “Builders, urban planners, architects and transportation leaders are health professionals. They don’t think of themselves as white-coat folks, but they have more impact on the health of Americans than people sitting in hospitals waiting for people to come through the door.”

Andy Hamilton, an air quality expert and founder of Walk San Diego, which is merging with the group Move San Diego, used Friars Road in Mission Valley as an example of San Diego’s emphasis on cars at the expense of biking, busing and walking.

“You create nine lanes to cross the street,” Hamilton said. “There’s no buffer between bikes and traffic. There’s no front accessto the land uses, even if you walk or bike.”

On the question of food choices, Hamilton said Houston has relaxed its code restrictions to allow beer and wine sales in neighborhood groceries as a way to help owners succeed financially and thus be able to afford to stock fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stephen Haase, senior vice president of the Baldwin & Sons development company in Otay Ranch and a member of the San Diego city Planning Commission, chimed in: “Some of the most heated debates in the community and among community members is over this issue about alcoholic sales at grocery stores. It’s a challenge we have to face in order to solve other problems.”

James Sallis, director of research at UC San Diego’s Active Living Research, cited researchthat people in parks with baseball fields sit more than they play, but in those with a running track, active users far outnumber the sitters.

“It’s not magic and it’s not a pill,” he said of the design solutions. “People really don’t understand or acknowledge that activity is one of the driving forces in obesity.”

He said as a bike enthusiast, he is “petrified” to bike anywhere outside Mission Bay because of the danger from passing motorists. The result is that only 1 percent of San Diegans’ trips are by bike, whereas in the cold of Minneapolis, bike use is four times greater.

“That’s just a big wake-up call to me to show, again, how far behind we are,” Sallis said.

roger.showley@utsandiego.com[space]

Neighborhood parks often feature baseball fields, such as this one in Del Mar, but research shows more activity takes place at parks with running tracks or walking trails. CHARLIE NEUMAN • U-T FILE[space]

Be Bold: Align with the Future

Be Bold: Align with the Future

By: Mary Lydon and Tony Pauker

 

If you read the local papers or listen to broadcast news, you know that it seems as if we are collectively holding our breath, just waiting for things to get back to the way they were. But “the way things were” is not sustainable.

From a broad perspective, we seem exceedingly resistant to imagining any new way of living and conducting commerce. Why is it that we are so afraid to mass market a big bold new vision for ourselves? Are we in denial? Are we lazy? There is a new normal emerging, and one thing is crystal clear: China and India, nations that represent 50 percent of the global population, are not waiting.

China’s 25-year vision includes building a network of ultramodern airports with major cities connected by high-speed rail. In addition, Beijing Genomics Institute has ordered 128 DNA sequencers, which is more than any other single institute in the world owns. They also will provide $15 billion in seed money to develop electric vehicle technology. The Chinese also have a massive investment in Africa — a continent we forget about. They aren’t doing this out of some duty to save the planet. The Chinese clearly see emerging markets that will provide the opportunity for them to become a global economic power now and well into the future.

What is our 25-year vision? If you track major news media and national politics, it seems our focus is on bringing stability to Afghanistan. In many ways, San Diego is already positioning itself to thrive in the future, but we could be bolder, especially in the areas of high-tech transit, design and renewable energy, which have the greatest opportunity to create new local jobs and place us at the cutting edge of the next economic upturn.

Last week, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a one-day high-speed rail conference in Anaheim. There were 400 attendees from all over the state that came together to explore design, development, economic and social opportunities for the proposed 46-stop, $43 billion California High Speed Rail system. Andreas Heym, director of international development at the Paris architecture and design firm AREP, presented at the conference. For 20 years, AREP, has designed high-speed and other rail stations and master plans throughout France and in 20 countries, including Turin, Italy and Shanghai and Wuhan, China. He discussed the economic development opportunities for both major hub cities as well as rural areas. France’s system has taken 20 years to develop. It never could have been done without complicated public/private partnerships, but they took the risk to move forward and are not looking back. Anyone who has used a Eurail pass can attest to the brilliance of that strategy.

This past summer, ULI San Diego conducted a one-day design charrette focused on a new Destination Lindbergh intermodal transit station adjacent to Pacific Highway. Thirty ULI members including senior staff from SANDAG, the Airport Authority, Caltrans and the city of San Diego came up with three design concepts that explored this location as more than a transit center. Accolades were given to the group at the High Speed Rail conference from Andreas Heym for thinking big. He said we should not think small when contemplating these high-speed rail stops and surrounding development.

It is unclear if high-speed rail in this country can mirror Europe and Asia. However, it is clear that innovation that is forward thinking with cutting edge design is what is needed to explore what will work in this country.

In May 2008, a delegation of AIGA (the professional association for design) traveled to China on a unique art, design and cross-cultural journey. They also visited large art and design universities, agencies and publishing companies. Local San Diego designer Bennett Peji stated that “China is developing a creative economy like Japan was 30 years ago, but with the compressed process now, due to technology, it will not take that long.” Japan has the most innovative designers in the world, and China is starting to find its own style. China now has 1,251 art and design schools and 1,000,000 artists and designers graduating annually. China’s vision includes technology, design and energy revolutions. Innovation and entrepreneurial capital are now the driving force behind the Chinese economy. This makes a compelling case for San Diego to further cultivate a creative economy. When technology, art, design and education work synergistically, it gives us a sharper edge toward an emerging future.

There is a connection between high-speed rail, design and energy that needs to be evaluated, and the price of oil plays a big role. As long as “stated” price of oil is a cheap $75 per barrel, severing oil dependence is difficult, because people have no financial motivation to do so. The economic underpinning is that most U.S. oil is imported, as is the oil China and India use. The global supply of oil will last between 50 to 100 more years, depending upon Chinese and Indian consumption. The U.S. oil cost is magnified by military costs. Hence, the true cost is subsidized by the government.

Those nations realizing they cannot supply their own oil and are unable to afford a true price of oil will evaluate alternate technologies like algae, solar, thermal or wind. You can expect China and India to do so. The entire globe is going to be looking for cheap non-oil based solutions. Whoever perfects an alternative to oil will make people like Bill Gates and Henry Ford look like paupers. On a positive note, our neighbors to the east in Imperial County are cultivating a hotbed of new businesses that has the opportunity to put this region on the renewable energy map.

It is time to look to creative future strategies and let go of yesterday’s expired solutions. There is a “new normal” that is emerging that will drive transportation innovation and perhaps set the economy on a new course. We can proactively educate ourselves on these issues and lead the new economy, or we can be global followers.

On Nov. 9 ULI San Diego will conduct its Eighth Annual Real Estate Trends Conference titled “Innovation — The New Normal.” Local and national speakers will present and explore emerging trends not only in real estate but also in government, finance, home ownership and education.

Change is occurring in land use patterns, construction technology, household formation, demographics, transit, energy use, design and technology. China is already leading the change. Rather than each of us waiting for the perfect federal legislation to head us all in one big bold direction, we must become the leaders that we are waiting for and take risks to connect to the emerging future. As Lester Thurow’s 2005 book title indicates, fortune favors the bold.

 

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Recession provides silver lining for civic vision

Recession provides silver lining for civic vision

By: Mary Lydon and Tony Pauker

One of the unintended consequences of the recession is that great minds have time to ponder deeper thoughts. Innovative minds seem to be off in many directions these days planning strategies to help us get out of our plight. How to do more with less; reprioritizing our society’s values; exploring a renewable energy revolution; how to grow our own food; billionaires pledging their fortunes away; cooperating during environmental disasters; developing ideas for new government structures; pedestrian-oriented traveling; and the future of art and culture.

We are awash in approved and proposed civic projects, from the new Central Library, new City Hall, the North Embarcadero public esplanade, a new Chargers Stadium and an expanded Convention Center. These civic projects are great for job creation and they are also great for building a city that will need to compete in a new world when we come out of this recession. Certainly not all will come to fruition, but the one asset that we must not lose sight of in this mix is the greatest single gift our city fore-fathers and mothers blessed us and all future San Diegans with — Balboa Park.

The 1,200 acres comprising Balboa Park serve the residents of the San Diego region and visitors from all over the world. Activities range from enjoying a stroll in the park, to taking part in the “ticketed” venues such as the Old Globe, the world famous San Diego Zoo, a round of golf at Balboa Park Golf Course, exploring the many world-class museums or dining at the Prado Restaurant. Balboa Park is not just for the benefit of a few; it is for everyone from young children to older San Diegans who can use Balboa Park, and in most cases at no cost.

This gem is fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition, which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 and many individuals and organizations are now exploring how we can ensure that the next century is even better than the first.

At the dawn of the 20th century a handful of visionary planners, architects and civic leaders across the nation planned our greatest urban parks and world fair events. Most notably these included San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, New York’s Central Park and the Chicago World’s Fair. Balboa Park was born along with them. Architect Irving Gill, who had worked on the 1893 World Columbian Exposition held on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, championed the holding of an exposition in San Diego. In 1903 the first Master Plan was developed for Balboa Park by the Olmstead Brothers.

The 1916 Panama Exposition was one of the driving forces behind Balboa Park. Like its contemporary in Chicago, the initial structures in Balboa Park were not intended to last a century, however, civic demand and serious rebuilding preserved some of the original buildings and over the decades many more uses have been added.

Today Balboa Park is still magnificent, but its infrastructure and maintenance deficit adds up to about $250 million. Unlike a library, stadium or city hall not all this must be done at once, but it must be done otherwise over time the costs will become greater. A new public benefit non-profit corporation and the creation of a public private partnership is being explored to not only develop strategies to ensure its preservation but also to explore how to ensure the vitality of this asset for the next 100 years.

The Panama California exhibition was intended to tout San Diego as the first U.S. port of call for ships traveling north after passing westward through the new Panama Canal. This 100-year anniversary exhibition could tout San Diego as the new port of call for cutting-edge life sciences and clean tech research and development.

We applaud the Balboa Cultural Partnership, a collaborative of 24 Balboa Park museums for arts, science and culture focused on collaboration, innovation and excellence. They have developed a strategy for the Park’s Centennial Celebration. The two-year program of activities include: a “Smithsonian of the West” display; showcasing San Diego’s cutting-edge science/technology corporations; a park-wide festival environment; a Nights at the Museum program; themed special events; digital projections on buildings; an IMAX Dome film on the new Panama Canal and its impact on the future; and much more. This is a great line up of programs, which we should continue beyond the two-year celebration.

Programming the public realm is not a new concept and many Business Improvement Districts in San Diego do it well. There are success annual festivals in Little Italy, Hillcrest and Ocean Beach that not only brings in thousands of local participants to enjoy the event but it is also a great economic development tool for the community. Perhaps we could explore forming a Balboa Park Business Improvement District and develop an assessment tool to fund it so that we can provide year round activity.

The 2009 Economic and Community Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations in San Diego issued by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture clearly points to the positive economic and social ripple that our arts and culture provide. Beyond the entertainment factor, a strong arts and culture sector is a demanded by the creative class as author and economist Richard Florida has written about for years. The creative class will drive great cities of the future. Assuring a thriving Balboa Park not only adds to our well-being and our economy but also further develops our region as a creative city which is the direction that forward- looking cities across the world are setting their sights on.

The Balboa Cultural Partnership for the Park’s Centennial is exactly the right direction to celebrate 100 years of Balboa Park. This plan should be set into motion a permanent transformation of the Balboa Park experience, which will launch its success for another 100 years. The only obstacle between this great vision for Balboa Park and its implementation is funding but we are confident that if we all put our minds and resources behind this plan we can make it happen. The funding of the new Central Library that does not rely on any General Fund expenditures is evidence that we can come together as a region for the greater good but this time we only have two years to make it happen. Let’s get going!

 

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Great schools as an economic development tool

Great schools as an economic development tool

By: Mary Lydon and Tony Pauker

One of the greatest single influences on land use is public elementary and middle schools. Communities that have great public schools have great investments in real estate. High performing schools attract families to buy or rent homes. Those residents support local retail. These communities also become attractive locations for business, because the decision makers of those businesses want their employees to have short commute times to work. All this occurs despite the fact that only about one quarter of all households have school-aged children living at home.

Local leaders repeatedly ask how they can spur investment in their communities. They may hear that better planning, infrastructure improvements and street beatification are the key. But we argue that the one sure way would be to focus on making their schools great.

This is proven out time and again if we look at master planned communities across the country. A selling feature is always new schools with good test scores. The San Diego region is home to some of the best and worst performing schools in our state. We also have one of the highest concentrations of universities compared to our population size. Further up the “food chain,” our local life and high-tech industries boast one of the highest concentrations of Nobel laureates of any region on the globe.

Unfortunately, we also live amid the backdrop of devastating state budget cutbacks and severe rancor among the San Diego Unified District stakeholders, the second-largest K-12 public school system in the state. Our governor and legislature have decided that cutting school funding is an easy way to balance our terribly out-of- whack budget. For grades K-12 this creates terrible budget shortfalls. For higher education, college and university administrators are forced to raise tuition costs, which inevitably denies more qualified students from finishing degrees. While we can debate if either the state or local school districts spend money wisely, that is simply a diversion from the pressing reality.

Looking at school performance scores, San Diego County simply has too many students performing below grade level or not finishing school at all. The picture is even worse for minority students. This is simply not acceptable. The state of California is in the running for a $700 million “Race to the Top” education grant the Federal Government. If we could secure this it would be a step in the right direction.

While every now and then we hear of an eighth grade dropout who becomes a successful entrepreneur or a Bill Gates who drops out of college, these are one in a million flukes. The engine that supports, and will continue to support our economy is an educated work force. This fact is most certainly not lost on nations like China and India. Yet, the United States continues to slip behind other nations in educating our youth.

Recently a group of concerned citizens working with the University of San Diego published their findings on the performance of San Diego Unified School District. This group, calling themselves San Diegans 4 Great Schools, evaluated the test scores and funding of local schools. The results were disappointing.

However, even more disappointing was the reaction they received after their July 20 press conference. Even before the ink was dry on their report the gadflies were decrying their findings. Most notably Bernie Rhinerson of the District, Sheila Jackson, a Trustee, and Camille Zamboro of the Teachers Union stated that test scores need to “take in account more than $400 million in budget cuts that the district has made in over a four-year period.” True, these cuts are devastating and it is unconscionable the state has done this, but it is time for everyone to stop acting like a victim. Cut or no cut, if you are a student and your test scores are subpar, your future is in jeopardy. Cut or no cut, if you are an employer you will find another candidate to fill that job. Cut or no cut, if you are looking to locate a business you will do so where the work force is educated — and that may be in Bangalore, not Bay Park.

Further, the focus must be on students and only students. Recently of about 1,000 new, untenured teachers, all were rehired. In other words, the District determined that 100 percent of teacher candidates seeking tenure were fully qualified. That is an amazing statistic. I know of no other hiring manager with this success rate. But I do know that far less than 100 percent of students are fully qualified to graduate.

It is now time to accept the regrettable budget situation and realize we do not have time to argue. A multi-year debate condemns the opportunity of a proper education for our current students. One can agree or disagree with what San Diegans 4 Great Schools may say, but the fact is that the ship is taking on water — and fast. Anyone willing to bail water or pull on an oar must be commended. Regardless of whether one has children or not, our future is our youth and an educated youth translates into a thriving economy, job growth and real estate development. It is imperative that we invest in a singular goal — a great education for all.

 

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Turning the Gulf Oil Spill into Lemonade

Turning the Gulf Oil Spill into Lemonade

By: Mary Lydon and Tony Pauker

The tragic deep water Horizon oil disaster in the gulf is an immediate call to action that requires us to focus our energies nationally and locally. Nationally we need to develop independent deep water drilling regulation policies and proven emergency procedures in order to assure safe drilling as we move forward. Locally we have the opportunity to harness this call to action to develop renewable energy resources that can be a great economic development tool for the nation and the entire Cali Baja Binational Mega Region.

Hopefully the implementation of these environmental and economic actions will not lag for decades as they have in the past. The Pemex spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979 had a devastating effect on the environment but received little attention regarding its economic fallout – yet portions of the Gulf still feel its effects. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 hit us on our own shores, but the environmental consequences and economic fallout seemed geographically distant. Now with the BP spill and its environmental devastation we finally seem to be more alert to its consequences in terms of job loss and business failures occurring on the coast from Louisiana to Florida.

As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times coined so perfectly, the real issue is our addiction to oil. With emerging economies like China and India our global addiction will inevitably linger. Frequently this discussion is framed around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, but these are really just precursors to a bigger conversation about a renewable energy revolution that is waiting for the innovative minds of our day (and our region) to capture and catapult into an economic boom that will mark a turning point in how we live sustainably and conscientiously on this planet. The San Diego region at its core has the perfect ingredients to play a big role in this birth – a strong entrepreneurial spirit with a proven record; global leaders in research and science; an educated workforce; our Pacific Rim connections; and a commitment to protecting our exquisite and unique environment.

It is clear that the long-term solution for our oil addiction is to develop alternate and renewable sources of energy. Thirty years ago Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were a couple of young nerds and the thought of a personal computer for everyone (or a cell phone) was unimaginable. Yet today both are ubiquitous. The visionary thinking of these types of entrepreneurs has redefined our global economy and how human beings connect. Our world is now ready for the next wave of nerdy high school science wonks to emerge. Regardless of what the old guard may believe, this new generation will be armed with visions of a world fueled by renewable energy. Their contributions will have far reaching potential and profound impacts on the future of this planet economically, environmentally and socially.

There is no doubt that we are moving into a global race for alternate sources of energy. It is much bigger than a few solar panels on our roofs or driving a hybrid vehicle. The big winners will be those economies that embrace such change, promote innovation, and become exporters of these technologies. The losers will be those economies that refuse to innovate. This is also how we will define the great cities and regions of the 21st Century.

At the turn of the 20th century Henry Ford essentially invented the modern automotive industry. For the better part of a century we built cars for the world and by doing so created millions of well paying jobs for American workers. We then lost our way. Now foreign automakers outsell domestics, many components of even American cars are produced offshore, and Chrysler and GM are lucky to be alive, due in large part to the largess of the U.S. taxpayer. This industry is no longer the U.S. economic engine it was, which is evident as we watch the City of Detroit literally bulldoze entire neighborhoods that have become vacant and blighted.

In the global energy race a handful of entrepreneurs will emerge as the next Ford, Microsoft or Apple. The others will rely on them. We believe that San Diego has the opportunity right now to emerge as a frontrunner in the energy technology race as we have cutting edge assets to compete. San Diego hosts a strong University network, an educated workforce, and exceedingly strong high tech, clean tech and biotech industries. In addition to those innovative assets and due to the economic pullback, we also have a lot of vacant office and industrial space, and many people who are ready to go back to work, create and innovate. How can we harness these assets into an opportunity?

Now is the time for our governmental and private sector technology leaders to align to make a full court press to attract business, investment and innovation. Governments can waive every conceivable fee, tax or processing challenge for companies that are adding jobs related to the production of renewable energy. These jobs are our (local and global) future and they also have a multiplier effect which will help the overall economy. Florida and Nevada work very hard to attract California business through low cost and business friendly incentives. However, they do not offer the educated workforce and established tech centric economy that we have.

San Diego has the opportunity to attract industry not only from other States but from around the globe. Let’s put our focus on an international marketing plan to attract the most innovative renewable energy minds, designers, engineers and venture capitalists from around the world in order to recreate ourselves as the center of the world for renewable energy technology and development.

 

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