Picture your neighborhood shopping center. Now picture it replaced by a gated residential community. What if you didn’t have any say in the matter, or any prior warning?

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This is happening more and more as the city classifies a growing number of developments as “Process 1,” effectively launching them through an over-the-counter permitting process.

These kinds of permits aren’t necessarily bad – they can speed up processing, for one. But the city is issuing Process 1 permits to projects that are in violation of the city’s own land use code. Current law requires unobstructed off-street parking for commercial development. The city has been ignoring that point.

Recently we’ve seen development of residential gated communities take over our commercially zoned spaces. Developers of these projects tack on token commercial areas to satisfy the land use code’s “mixed use” requirement.

More than 20 new residential units have recently been built in two gated communities on Turquoise Street – the southern entry to La Jolla. These properties are zoned for commercial mixed-use. Is anyone naïve enough to believe this type of development won’t find its way into La Jolla, Mission Beach or Ocean Beach?

Mixed-use zoning has long been prevalent throughout most of our communities. The concept is to ensure neighborhoods include sufficient commercial areas so that residents don’t have to travel to Mission Valley or University City in order to visit a plant nursery or hardware store.

The “mixed use” designation allows for residential units on upper stories and in the rear, where commercial shops wouldn’t do well. All of the commercial space requires off-street parking, distinct from residential parking.

The gated communities with minor commercial space and little to no appropriate parking abuse the spirit and intent of the land use code, if not the letter of the law.

Violation of the off-street-parking requirement is very easy to determine. All you have to do is ask the business proprietor whether they have it. Without off-street parking, customers are forced to park on residential streets or steal parking slots of nearby businesses. I can’t help but wonder whether the real reason the city keeps ignoring the parking requirement is to give developers more space for residential units. Those are where the money is, after all.

How can the city get away with this? It’s pretty easy with Process 1 permits, which don’t require community scrutiny. The city says it issues them in the name of “reducing red tape and streamlining” the permit procedure.  But the real goal is to densify our communities – even if the land use code has to be ignored to do it.

About 10 years ago when I was serving on the La Jolla Design Review Committee, then-chair Joanne Pearson told me, “All we have is the land use code.” If our elected and appointed officials choose to ignore the code, we don’t have much at all to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.

Dave Little is a resident of Bird Rock and has served on community review groups for 10 years. Little’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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