By Karen Billing
After nearly five hours of public testimony on One Paseo, the San Diego Planning Commission voted Oct. 2 to continue the item for discussion and deliberation to its Thursday, Oct. 16, meeting.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and no further public testimony will be taken — the board will aim to make a recommendation to send to the City Council for the final decision.
A recommendation must have the votes of four of the seven planning commissioners, although two have recused themselves due to financial interests in the project.
City staff has recommended approval of the project.
Hundreds of people filled out speaker slips to speak, and the chambers were filled with supporters in stickers and opponents in buttons, many wielding signs with messages such as “Save Carmel Valley.”
“So often we don’t get the kind of input we would like,” commissioner Theresa Quiroz said. “Thank you so much for coming down and giving us so much great information so we can make the right decision.”
Those who spoke against One Paseo included Carmel Valley residents, business owners, representatives from the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board, Del Mar Highlands Town Center, opposition group What Price Main Street and Bike San Diego.
“We’re not afraid of density, we welcome it — but it must make sense,” said Chris Moore on behalf of the Carmel Valley planning board. “There are two very serious environmental impacts that are significant and unavoidable, community character and traffic … These impacts are significant to the quality of life in Carmel Valley and should not be disregarded for economic gain.”
Those who spoke in favor of One Paseo included Carmel Valley residents, North County residents, business owners and representatives from MOVE Alliance, the San Diego Housing Commission, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Coastal Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Bike Coalition.
“One Paseo is the most innovative and exciting project in San Diego,” said Robert Little, vice president of development for Kilroy, One Paseo’s developer. “The community has grown over time and we’ve planned it with the current and future community in mind … This One Paseo is the right project at the right time, in the right place. We need this project.”
In a trial run for a future City Council hearing on the project, proponents and opponents were given a minute to speak or could choose to simply state their opposition or support.
Frank Wolden of Skyport Studio, who has worked on the project, talked about how they really looked at how they can take older suburban neighborhoods and create the neighborhood that was always envisioned in the community plan but never built. They worked on One Paseo’s design to give the community a “Main Street” and to design a project that is “stitched” into the neighborhood with a number of improvements on Del Mar Heights Road, gathering areas, a town green and central plaza, walkable sidewalks and cycle tracks.
“I’m tired of projects that are 70 percent parking lot calling themselves a town center,” Wolden said.
“I think this is a remarkable opportunity for the city of San Diego,” echoed One Paseo’s architect Howard Elkus. “It brings a special community a heart, and it allows for the community to compete globally. No project has more potential than the one we’ve created here.”
Marcela Escobar-Eck, representing Kilroy, told the planning commission that the Carmel Valley planning board members had a tough decision on Sept. 11 when they voted 11-2 to reject One Paseo, but noted that they did embrace the mixed-use concept albeit at a smaller scale.
“We cannot deliver with a modified project, and it’s impossible to create a project without unmitigated, significant impacts on traffic,” she said.
Escobar-Eck said that they have heard “don’t give us things we don’t have planned” but she said the current adapted community plan shows 500 dwelling units down the street from the proposed project that were never built — instead, the land became Solana Pacific Elementary School.
Escobar-Eck said that 500 of the 608 units in One Paseo are already accommodated for. They are giving the community the 198,000 retail that they want, and a little less than the 510,000 square feet of office space that is approved.
To deal with traffic, they are mitigating with over $5 million in “above and beyond” community benefits, including signal coordination system and streetscape improvements.
“We have worked very, very, very hard to get to this point. We feel like we are really delivering an exciting project to Carmel Valley and the city of San Diego … We feel like we have dealt with every issue brought to us,” Escobar-Eck said.
People who advocated for One Paseo to be built ranged from longtime residents to a self-proclaimed “Xennial,” the generation of people in between Generation X and the Millennials, who want to live where they work and be able to walk in their community.
“We are a community governed by a really outdated community plan,” said resident Janette Littler, adding there is a dire need for more housing, as it is nearly impossible for young adults like her daughter to find adequate housing in the community they grew up in.
Carol Klein, a Carmel Valley resident since 1986, agreed with Littler.
“I don’t want what was there in the plan: a sea of asphalt and office buildings. It won’t make the community more appealing,” Klein said.
Elyse Lowe of the Move Alliance said the project is an example of what suburbs can achieve using smart-growth strategies.
Ann Kern, the senior director of the housing commission, said that they typically don’t take positions on developments but they are very supportive of One Paseo because there is a lack of housing in San Diego.
Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego EDC, said that they see One Paseo as a unique opportunity to create the kind of jobs needed in San Diego, to infuse more money into the economy and to help bring more talented people to San Diego to build businesses large and small.
While the developers said six years of input have made the project better, opponents said they feel like the developers haven’t been listening at all.
Opponents told the commission that One Paseo is overdeveloped, creating four times the traffic and office buildings three times as tall as existing Carmel Valley buildings.
“One Paseo is not a village, it’s a huge upscale mall disguised as a village,” resident Diana Scheffler said.
“I’m a bit angry,” said Ken Farinsky of What Price Main Street. “Everyone I’ve talked to is against this project … We have always supported reasonable development, but this goes beyond reasonable.”
The Carmel Valley planning board’s Chris Moore said a reduced mixed-use One Paseo is a viable alternative and should not be dismissed.
On Sept. 11 the board rejected One Paseo as proposed, but said it would support a reduced mixed-use alternative that cuts the development by half — only 304 residential units, 267,000 square feet of office space and 140,000 to 198,500 square feet of retail.
The biggest issue for many is the resulting traffic. Carmel Valley planning board member Debbie Lokanc called the increase of 26,000 estimated trips a day “mind-boggling,” and said that they will have to wait for 15 years for many of Caltrans-driven traffic mitigations to occur.
Neighboring Del Mar Highlands Town Center has supported the efforts of What Price Main Street through paid advertising. One of What Price Main Street’s founders, Bob Fuchs, said the opposition group has felt “helpless under the weight of Kilroy’s marketing juggernaut” but managed to collect 4,000 signatures against the project.
What Price brought the signatures in large binders, dropping them with a thud on the podium in front of the commission.
Elizabeth Schreiber, the general manager of Del Mar Highlands Town Center, said their concern with the neighboring development is not about competition.
“We are very concerned about traffic, density, scale and parking,” she said, noting that One Paseo is seven times as dense as their center and has a parking ratio that is less than theirs. Schreiber said Del Mar Highlands has acknowledged that their center has a parking problem. “We all agreed to play by the rules. Why should the last buyer get to throw out all the rules?”
Thompson Fetter, who owns the Del Mar Highlands car wash, San Diego Car Care, said that the traffic mitigations are “Band-aids applied to the symptoms rather than cures to the cause of the problem.”
Local resident Joan Elliott agreed that if the mitigation is to create a “concrete freeway” through their neighborhood, then “something is wrong with the project.” Ginny Barnes, a resident of nearby Neighborhood 3, said that in order to do mitigation and to widen Del Mar Heights Road, the development will be cutting into a slope maintained by their homeowners association, taking away 19 mature pine trees. She contended that the mitigation should be left to the project’s side of the road.
Benjamin Snyder, a local resident since 1984, said that the two new signals and Del Mar Heights Road being widened to nine lanes will create an absolute gridlock for every resident in Carmel Valley. He said there’s no way to mitigate people not being able to travel from El Camino Real to I-5.
Snyder recalled the agenda item heard before One Paseo that morning, in which neighbors and commissioners lamented the visual impact of a 56-inch cell tower. He said with One Paseo, they are talking about nine-story buildings that will create a visual separation and physical barrier to the community.
“This is the ultimate,” Snyder said. “It looks like Genesee and La Jolla Village Drive. I went by the community plan when I bought properties here. This amendment is beyond reason.”
The bike community also seemed to be split on One Paseo’s cycle track benefit.
“The San Diego Bicycle Coalition endorses Kilroy’s efforts to incorporate bicycle use into the project in an innovative way,” said Andy Henshaw, executive director of the coalition.
Samantha Ollinger of Bike San Diego, however, argued that .3 miles of track on a widened Del Mar Heights Road with a high volume of vehicle traffic is not bicycle- friendly at all.
Dennis Glaser, a Carmel Valley resident for 29 years, said that he’s heard a lot of statements that give the impression that a large population is against the project; but at the Sept. 11 meeting, there were only 500 people for and against the project, and there are 35,000 people in Carmel Valley.
“That’s only a small percentage of the community represented. Even if the traffic analysis is off, I would rather sit in extra traffic to stay in Carmel Valley rather than battle I-5 or 805 gridlock,” Glaser said.
In an opposite view, project opponent Gabrielle Prater stated, “I want to dispel any notion that there is community backing for this project.”
So it falls to the commission to now digest and deliberate the hours of contrasting input and information before it makes its recommendation to the San Diego City Council.