Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Mission Valley’s reinvention is coming more into focus. On Aug. 10, the city released a draft version of the Mission Valley community plan update (CPU), a 170-page document that outlines a new vision for an area that has long been more a collection of shopping centers than a traditional neighborhood.
“This plan is really the first of a new generation of plans,” said San Diego Planning Department director Mike Hansen at a presentation of the new plan to members of the Mission Valley Planning Group (MVPG), residents and property owners. “It’s the first that we’ve developed since the Climate Action Plan has been adopted and since we really began looking at housing affordability in the region. It’s the most community-friendly plan that we think we’ve ever drafted.”
Work on the new CPU began in fall of 2014 with several community workshops and multiple meetings including local stakeholders and a special CPU subcommittee of the MVPG.
Although the draft plan lacks a completed mobility report, city planner Nancy Graham said it was important for the city to release it before she goes on maternity leave, to give the MVPG something to start making comments on while she is out. Graham said a completed mobility report will likely be presented while she is still on leave.
Graham described the CPU as a “whole new plan” and not just a “mini general plan.” It consists of three main sections, starting with a vision section which outlines a narrative of what a future Mission Valley looks like,” she said.
The implementation section looks at mobility, parks and open space, public services, safety and facilities and other actions that are policies that fall into the city’s responsibility.
“These are things that the city can be doing to either maintain or improve quality of life as the community is growing,” Graham said, adding that the urban design guidelines in the section provide “clear direction on how development should happen in Mission Valley.”
The final section contains the policies for implementation, which contains various tables with policy guidelines for development.
“By doing that, when the community goes to review a project, they look at the project against the tables and see if does this project meets the mark,” Graham said, adding that the tables also help city staff in its review of a project.
Graham also described how developers can use the new plan this way.
“If you are a developer and you are coming in to do a project, the first thing we recommend you do is read the vision to understand what we are trying to do here,” she said. “The second thing you do is look through the implementation to understand where Mission Valley is going with public facilities and services and the direction the city is going in. With that, you go through the design guidelines, which gives you directions essentially before you design your project to understand the things we’re going to be looking for when we’re reviewing a project. Then after you’ve created your project, you would review it against the checklist and see if that consistency exists.”
Graham reminded everyone that the CPU is not the only checklist for developers and that the new community plan must be used in tandem with the land development code and the general plan.
A high priority goal
At the Aug. 10 meeting, MVPG board member Marco Sessa questioned why there is only one plan presented rather than several to choose from. Graham responded that the city lacks resources and tools to make multiple models of the plan, so the city focused on one plans with one major goal: increasing housing.
“What we’ve tried to do is take a more holistic approach of ‘What are our goals?’” she said. “We need to increase the number of housing sites in San Diego. This is a very significant problem and it’s a high priority of the department.”
The priority for housing is evident throughout the new plan, which increases density for housing and mixed-use development throughout most of the area.
In the plan, Western Mission Valley — the areas west of SR163 — will have a residential and park focus. Central Mission valley, between SR163 and I-805 will expand high-density, mixed-use development. The eastern Mission Valley area is imagined as an area with high-density development, focused on connectivity to transit for pedestrians and cyclists.
Notably, the SDCCU Stadium site was left out of the CPU. Graham said that is because, as of now, the site will have its own specific plan — either the SoccerCity or SDSU West proposals that voters will decide on in November. However, Graham said that for the sake of the CPU’s environmental impact report, the plan assumed the density and traffic numbers from the SoccerCity proposal, which has the higher density of the two proposals.
“It does in no way mean we are endorsing the SoccerCity plan, it’s just we wanted to provide the greatest disclosure possible and be able to put a context for anything that might come on that site [should both initiatives fail],” Graham said, adding that any alternative project to the two proposals would not have to be built to the same density as what is allowed in the plan.
The only area of Mission Valley that will be more or less the same under the new plan is the region south of I-8, which will remain focused on business parks, hotels and auto dealerships.
Increased connectivity … and controversy
With increased density, there will also be increased traffic in Mission Valley, and the new CPU envisions mitigating that traffic with increased pedestrian access to public transit.
“One of the main goals of the plan is connectivity and trying to make Mission Valley a more connected place,” Graham said. One of the ways the plan achieves greater connectivity is by directing developers to first consider access to transit when they prepare a site plan for new projects.
“One of the things that we’ve found with our new plan is that we are increasing transit accessibility by 30 percent through the different strategies that we are implementing. That’s a really big deal. Transit accessibility is a huge problem.”
The plan also directs the city to build projects such as pedestrian bridges, protected bike lanes and even possible aerial trams to connect people to transit and improve mobility.
“The other thing we are doing is we are increasing bike infrastructure by 40 percent so when we say that we want to be able to make it easier to ride your bike, part of doing that is putting in bike facilities.”
To deal with the increased car traffic, the plan includes major revisions to roadways including expanding portions of Friars Road to 8 lanes; changing Hotel Circle North and South from two lane connectors to one way couplets; and expanding several other streets, such as Qualcomm Way and Civita Boulevard, to four lanes.
The most contentious parts of the connectivity plan are the expansion of Via Las Cumbres from Friars Road to Hotel Circle South, and expanding Fenton Parkway to Camino Del Rio North. According to San Diego River Park Foundation president and CEO Rob Hutsel, construction of these projects would essentially “kill the river.”
However, Graham defended the decision to recommend the road expansion projects.
“We are looking at a lot of draft data, and [according to] the draft data that we are looking at, we are not in a place that we have found a compelling reason to remove the roads from the plan,” she said. “There are a lot issues with mobility [in Mission Valley]. There are very few options for improving connectivity and these are options for us to improve connectivity.”
Graham also said the road projects would improve public safety and help with traffic when there are flooded roadways. Ultimately, she said, it will be up to City Council to decide whether the road extensions are built.
Other new street connectors in the plan are less controversial, including extending Hazard Center Drive from Avenida Del Rio to the Hazard Center West driveway; extending Qualcomm Way from Civita Boulevard to the Friars Road west bound ramps; and extending Frazee Road to Metropolitan Drive.
As Mission Valley transitions from a shopping hub to a more mixed-use, residential hub, the need for more parks will increase. According to the city’s general plan, for every 1,000 residents, the city should provide 2.8 acres of usable park space. If the density envisioned in the new CPU is reached, Mission Valley will need 203 acres of parks by 2050 — including a new public aquatic center planned to be built in eastern Mission Valley and two new recreation centers.
Major park projects planned for the SDCCU Stadium site, the new Riverwalk development, the Civita housing development, the Town and Country Hotel redevelopment and the San Diego River pathway will all add significant acres of park space to Mission Valley.
The city is currently working on updating its city-wide parks master plan and Mission Valley has been targeted as an area where the city needs to invest in parks, but that is not the only source for new parks in the area.
“We’re hoping that more people will be building parks on site,” Graham said. “A lot of the parks coming in are because developers are bringing that in as part of their project.”
According to the city’s timeline, the new CPU should be ready for a vote by City Council by summer or fall of next year. The mobility study is slated to be complete by October, possibly sometime September of this year, Graham said. And zoning maps for the new plan will be ready by January 2019. The environmental impact report is currently being worked on, and an impact fee study is just getting started, Graham said.
In the meantime, residents and the MVPG are encouraged to read the draft plan and make comments by Nov. 13 of this year. To view the plan, visit bit.ly/2KTGRLH.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.