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Since writing about San Diego’s coastal height limit on its 40-year anniversary we’ve heard from a lot of readers on a law that’s had a defining effect on the city.
We decided to reach out to another San Diegan with strong views on the measure: City Councilman Kevin Faulconer. As District 2’s representative, Faulconer has served the coastal community for seven years, in addition to a previous five-year stint on the Mission Bay Park Committee.
We discussed the height limit’s extreme popularity, whether there’s any validity to the fear that the law is under constant threat, its effect on housing attainability and how new interpretations of the law has made for a vigilant community.
Like a seeming overwhelming majority of San Diegans, Faulconer loves the coastal height limit. He sees no threat to the law in sight but said he opposes even hypothetical attempts to change the law in the future.
VOSD: You’ve obviously represented the area for a while, and I know the coastal height limit became a bit of a campaign issue for you a few years ago, so maybe you could start out by telling me what your relationship with the height limit has been as a representative.
Faulconer: I’ve been a very strong supporter of the 30-foot height limit. I think it’s one of the most important tools that we have to protect the coastline.
There’s a sense among some supporters that the height limit is under the constant threat of attack, and that since developers would very much like to have the height limit changed, that you always need to guard against the possibility of that happening. Do you get the sense that there is any sort of concerted effort to do away with the height limit?
I certainly don’t know of any concerted effort, and if somebody tried to redo the height limit, I would not support it. It is, as I said before, one of the things that makes San Diego unique. We’ve made a definitive statement that says we are going to protect our public views, and every time someone visits either Mission Bay Park or the coastline, they see the reason why we made that decision. It is something that has protected our city for the last 40 years. I would never support changing it.
The other side is maybe since it was done by citizen initiative, that there’s not much ability to tweak it around the edges. Maybe [Interstate] 5 isn’t the best red line, for instance.
My sense is it’s working, and it’s working well. It doesn’t need any tweaks. It’s serving the protections that we want. I have not heard of any concerted effort to change it. That would not make any sense at all.
And by most accounts would not be supported by the public in any way, either.
Yeah, it’s one of those issues that, Andrew, is not a partisan issue at all. It’s about neighborhoods. And San Diegans support protecting our view corridors, particularly our public view corridors. And that’s one of the hallmarks of the height limit. Other cities, as they come to San Diego, they wish they would have installed that years ago. We had the foresight to do that here.
You mention view corridors. There’s often a conflict between protecting view corridors, and especially public view corridors, and protecting personal, private views.
Yeah, it’s all about public views, and view corridors. And I would say, particularly that the public view corridors are where you’re in public places, like public parks, and that’s potentially the rationale behind Prop. D, I believe it was called at the time. And that’s important. Those public views are what we want protected for generations to come, obviously.
How often does your office end up enforcing the limit against those looking for a new interpretation of how the height limit is measured?
We do get questions in our office from time to time about a particular project, whether it be a house or something else, to make sure it’s under the requirements of the 30-foot height limit, and I think that just goes to show you how keyed in the neighborhoods are, and how supportive they are, of the 30-foot height limit. People support it and they want to be sure it’s constantly being enforced.
Are attempts to reinterpret how the limit is measured a legitimate threat to the spirit of the law?
On the measurements, that’s the city planning department, and development service teams work on that. From my standpoint, having the height limit is the most important thing, and to not see that I think is something that speaks volumes of people’s support for that.
Why do you think there’s a persistent fear that the coastal height limit is under attack, given that if there was an effort to undo it you’d be the type of person who would know about it?
I think, let me answer it this way, it’s very secure and strong with public support here in San Diego. But I think people have seen in other municipalities that don’t have this protection, how things can turn out, and they don’t want to go down that path.
The academic argument of it having an effect on, maybe not on coastal housing prices, but housing prices in general, based on its limiting what you can build in the area, and therefore the amount of housing that exists in the area. Do you view that as a trade-off that is simply the cost of preserving view corridors, or do you not necessarily agree that it’s even accurate?
What people want is to be able to protect these views, and not be subject to the whims of changes from year to year. That was the point of the citizens’ initiative. And I think if you look at how it’s worked, and the fact that we do have vistas, we do have views, San Diegans no matter where you live have a connection to the water. Before I was on the council I was on the Mission Bay Park Committee for five years. And I always said Mission Bay Park is the people’s aquatic gateway. On a hot summer day, we’re going to have over 100,000 people that come down to Mission Bay Park. They love the park. They love the park that you can look out, it’s expansive, you can see, breathe the fresh air, that’s part of the experience. And you’d never want that blocked off, or walled off by other types of development. That’s just not who we are as San Diegans.
Do you personally believe the height limit has had an effect on housing availability?
Well of course not. [Laughs]
You are undeniably talking about fewer homes being built in a desirable area than would otherwise be the case.
But San Diegans have made the conscious decision to limit heights and protect our public view corridors of beaches and the bay. There are numerous other areas where density is encouraged, and planned for, particularly in downtown, which I’ve represented for the last seven years. We have a community plan that calls for approximately 90,000 people in downtown. And right now we’re at approximately 35,000 folks. Higher and taller buildings are part of the downtown community plan, and that was a conscious decision.
So the fact that growth can be accommodated elsewhere means it has displaced people elsewhere.
It can be accommodated elsewhere, and it’s been planned to be accommodated elsewhere. Let me be very clear: In the coastal zone, and once again I believe the beaches and the bays belong to every San Diegan, and no matter where you live, if you want that protected, and that’s what the height limit ensures, and that’s why I’m such a strong supporter.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I saw some of the articles that you’ve put out there. It’s started a great discussion, but at the same time I think it’s pretty clear that public support for the height limit is very strong. [Laughs]
Interview conducted and edited by Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact him if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:
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