Statement: On opposing a city plan to raise the height limit from 30 feet to 60 feet around a planned trolley stop in Clairemont: “I’ve been very clear about that the entire time. I know Councilmember (Lorie) Zapf has changed her position on that,” District 2 City Council candidate Sarah Boot said at a May 1 forum.


Determination: True

A city study suggesting San Diego allow developers to build taller buildings by two new trolley stops so more people can live near them has become the biggest issue in the race to represent the city’s coastal City Council district.

Last week, candidate Sarah Boot said her opponent, Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, running in a new district due to redistricting, has changed where she stands on the proposal.

At a town hall meeting last week in Clairemont, Boot said residents have been very clear they do not support the height limit increase near a planned station at Morena Boulevard and Clairemont Drive.

“And I know that there’s been, um, I’ve been very clear about that the entire time. I know Councilmember Zapf has changed her position on that,” she said.

So did she?

At issue is a study by city planners looking at ways to maximize the return on the $1.7 billion extension of the trolley from Old Town to UTC that will run through communities east of I-5. Planners want to change the type of development allowed there and encourage it to be more transit friendly.

There will be three stops added along Morena Boulevard, but only two of them were included in the new study. One is at Tecolote Drive and the other is at Clairemont Drive. The station that isn’t part of the study is at Balboa Avenue.

City planners want to build more housing along the trolley line so people who live there can rely on it. That would mean allowing for taller buildings and letting developers build more housing units per acre than is currently allowed.

Both Linda Vista and Clairemont, where the two stations are located, have height limits on new development. Clairemont’s is 30 feet. Linda Vista’s is 45 feet.

The initial study, released a few weeks ago, said the city should increase the limits to 60 feet at one property next to the Clairemont Drive stop in Clairemont, and in a larger area south of the Tecolote stop in Linda Vista.

Residents were furious. Zapf said she opposed any effort to raise Clairemont’s height limit, and asked the planning department to change its recommendation. It did.

But earlier, at a Jan. 24 meeting of the San Diego County Apartment Association and the Institute for Real Estate Management, Zapf said the plan was a good idea.

“We have a trolley that will go along Morena Boulevard, but up until now we haven’t had planning there,” she said, as reported by the San Diego Daily Transcript. “We need to look at a plan with more height and density and less parking than we see there today.”

Spokespeople for Zapf say she was talking only about the area around the Tecolote station, not Clairemont.

But Zapf did not exempt the Clairemont station from this statement. If she were as defensive of that community’s height limit then as she says she is now, it stands to reason she would have said something. She did not.

At an April 16 candidate forum in Pacific Beach, Boot said Zapf was in favor of the plan, pointing to her comments to the apartment association.

“Yeah, I did say that,” Zapf responded. “And the reason is, SANDAG projects we’re going to have a huge influx of population in the next few decades. So there are areas in our city where we’re going to have to look at raising some of the height limits, additional density and less parking. Because why are we doing all this transit, if we’re all just going to all just have two cars and still require two parking spaces for everything? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

However, she said, the plan on was in its preliminary stages, and could be changed based on community feedback.

A week later, Zapf sent a memo to the city’s planning director and mayor.

“I would like to make it clear that I oppose any changes to the current Clairemont Mesa height limit or parking modifications as suggested in the Morena Boulevard Planning Study,” she wrote, noting the community’s opposition to the plan.

The city’s planning director responded that day saying his department would no longer recommend any changes to Clairemont’s height limit.

At a candidate forum for the Clairemont Town Council last week, Boot said Zapf had changed her opinion on the height limit from where they were in January, and Zapf reiterated her opposition.

“Look, I don’t know how to say it any more clear: I oppose any changes to the height limit. No changes.”

She was similarly unambiguous in a flyer last week with the heading “No increase to 30 foot height limit on Morena.”

Job Nelson, Zapf’s chief of staff, said Zapf’s comments in favor of the study referred to its plans around the Linda Vista station.

Zapf’s office says the councilwoman still supports increasing density and raising the height limit near that station. That hasn’t changed. Zapf’s office provided 20 pages of correspondence between it and various parties in Linda Vista demonstrating it’s been in ongoing discussions to encourage development there.

But Kelly Batten, another Zapf staffer, acknowledged the community’s response once the proposal was released drove Zapf’s request not to make any changes to Clairemont’s height limit.

“If it would have worked here, that would have been great,” she said. “But clearly the people don’t want it, so we’re not going to support it.”

That and Zapf’s own statements suggest she was at least open to the idea until she witnessed the community reaction.

Now, Zapf says Clairemont’s height limit is sacrosanct.

That’s a change.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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