One Paseo’s fate wasn’t on the line Thursday night. But the terms of the debate over its future might have been.
The local planning group rejected the proposed $650 million Carmel Valley project, and its 1.4 million square feet of offices, shops, restaurants and 600 condos spread across 23 acres in the heart of a planned suburban community in northern San Diego.
But that vote’s just a recommendation to the City Council. The Council can still vote however it wants. It’s expected to do so as early as December. The project will also go to the citywide Planning Commission for another recommendation before then.
In the meantime, the planning group might have taken advantage of an opportunity to shape the debate.
Instead of rejecting One Paseo outright, the group said it would be OK with a much smaller version of the project.
“This gives (the city) what we are willing to accept,” said board chairman Frisco White, a former member of the Planning Commission. “We need to come forward with something positive.”
The subtext of his comment, and the discussion among the board: If we simply reject the project, we make it easy for the Council to write us off as NIMBYs, or opponents of growth of any kind. Just saying “no” wastes our voice.
One Paseo has generated significant community pushback, from residents opposed to its effects on traffic and community character, and the shopping center across the street, which hired a major City Hall lobbyist to amplify its opposition to the project.
It’s also gotten a stamp of approval from city planning staff, which determined that on balance, it is consistent with the city’s long-term development plan calling for the creation of a “city of villages,” or a network of dense, walkable communities connected by public transit.
Some on the board thought rejecting the project altogether would send a stronger message. Nonetheless, the decision to OK a smaller version of the project passed 11-2.
The smaller project was a tweaked version of one included in One Paseo’s environmental review. State law dictates environmental reviews include a range of reasonable alternatives. The smaller project had the look and feel of One Paseo, but included only 800,000 square feet of buildings and 300 condo units.
The smaller project had previously been rejected by Kilroy Realty, the developer, as a viable alternative, in part because it didn’t have enough retail space to succeed as a regional draw. The planning group attempted to disarm that argument by adding more retail space.
“Now, we’ve added the footage to make it feasible,” White said.
The City Council will still be left to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote on the 1.4 million square foot project proposed by Kilroy. It’s not like the City Council can vote to tell a private developer what project to build. They can only reject or approve Kilroy’s proposal, and Kilroy says it’s moving forward with the existing project.
Council members opposed to the project could still try out the idea of urging Kilroy to build a smaller version, rather than opposing it outright.
But based on the environmental report, the smaller project would still have some of the negative effects of One Paseo, just to a lesser degree. That means Kilroy would still need to spend millions to offset those effects with things like adding additional lanes to alleviate congestion.
At a certain point, if the project gets small enough (and, therefore, less profitable), Kilroy could just decide to rid itself of the headache and cost and build the 500,000 square foot office-only project for which the zoning already allows.
While the majority of the planning group, and much of the 150 or so people in attendance, clearly opposed One Paseo, one board member voted against the board’s proposal for a smaller version because he said he had come to like the project and it was just fine that there was a 23-acre portion of the community that was different than the rest of it. (He also said he commutes via cycle from Carmel Valley and that bike activists who consider the project’s bike infrastructure improvements immaterial aren’t speaking for him.)
The 600 condo units were a big part of his thinking.
“Many of us have kids and they have no chance of living in Carmel Valley without new housing,” said Manjeet Ranu. “I have come to support the project.”
Pressed to explain why they decided to support the project, the city’s planning staff likewise pointed to the city of San Diego’s housing needs.
But White, the board chair, was unconvinced. All of the city staff’s reasons for supporting the project, despite the negative effects it would have on traffic and community character, were economic in nature, he said.
“We need to know why economics are more important than quality of life, quality of community,” he said.