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The City Council denied the appeals of 76 condo conversion projects today that attempted to force the city to study the environmental impacts of rental units that are turned into for-sale condos.

Attorney Cory Briggs represents two nonprofit groups that want to stop condo conversions until the city analyzes the impacts condo conversions have on parking, traffic, urban sprawl and the loss of housing for the displaced renters. He told the council that a state environmental law mandates the study, and the dispute will play out in court once these projects are approved by the city.

“It’s responsible city planning to take those impacts into account,” said Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who spoke at the hearing. For example, Saldaña said, fewer than 10 percent of the renters can afford to buy the newly converted condos.

The council rejected Briggs’ argument by a 7-1 vote on virtually all of the appeals. Councilwoman Donna Frye, who said she supported the activists’ appeal, sided with the rest of the council on just one project after the owner of a La Jolla duplex said that he was giving one unit to each of his daughters after he converted the building.

City staff members and the majority of the council said condo conversions didn’t justify a citywide environmental study, which would backlog projects for months. They said the council has already dealt with impacts by creating requirements such as compensation for all displaced tenants and minimum parking standards.

Further, they said the impacts had been measured the first time the complex was built. The occupant has the same impact on the surrounding community whether they rent or buy, they said.

“I find it absurd that some mystical person pops out of thin air to create a new demand,” said Jim Waring, the land use czar for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Some condo converters testified against the appeals, saying the delays caused by Briggs’ clients’ challenges were costly.

“I’m stuck. I’m stuck in this speculative lawsuit,” said James Thomas, a La Jolla developer.

Frye backed the legal challenge, brought by the Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego County and the Citizens for Responsible Economical Environmental Development. She said the aftereffect of 30,000 rental units that have been converted into condos – or are in the process of being converted – is worth the study.

“I believe, given the sheer number, there is an argument” for the study, she said.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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