New homes in Bird Rock are often much bigger than their neighbors, with the help of a development loophole. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

City law tries to protect the character of neighborhoods along the coast by requiring developers to go through extra hoops in order to greatly expand existing homes. But there’s a loophole that allows houses to become bigger as long as 50 percent of the existing home is retained, and critics say it’s wreaking havoc.

“The law as written is intended to make it easy to remodel a home, but developers have learned they can usually figure out how to keep enough walls to build a new home from scratch and qualify as a remodel,” our Andrew Keatts reports in a new VOSD story.

Developers are especially taking advantage of the loophole in the La Jolla neighborhood of Bird Rock, where “old, small beach bungalows there have provided a ready-made supply of chances to buy, demolish and rebuild them into big, modern homes.”

As with most development fights, younger people just moving into the neighborhood see things differently: “There’s still height and (square footage) restrictions,” said one new neighbor who bought one of the larger, remodeled homes. “I don’t see what’s wrong with letting people build what they want, within the constraints of zoning. People just don’t want change.”

Residents in Bird Rock are blitzing local community planning groups seeking support for a new set of rules.

Keatts takes a closer look at how developers have used the loophole, including one who built an ungainly closet next to a house and then tore it down while retaining the walls in order to create the design he wanted.

 CALMatters examines Senate Bill 827, which it calls “California’s most controversial housing bill in decades” and “tries to force cities to build more dense housing around public transit hubs.”

Politics Report: Barrio Logan Planning Votes Get Nixed

This week’s VOSD Politics Report begins with news out of Barrio Logan about a routine election for leaders in the local community planning group that turned out to not be so routine at all.

Barrio Logan is a hot spot for environmental concerns since it has such an unusual mix of homes and industry, and the city has run into big bumps on the road to try to fix things. Activists from the Environmental Health Coalition allegedly handed out campaign fliers too close to voters, so the election results were thrown out and a new one will be held — maybe. The coalition can’t figure out where the rule in question comes from, and it’s asking for a review.

Also in the Politics Report: inside the bid to raise taxes on hotel guests to fund an expansion of the Convention Center plus boost homeless services and city infrastructure needs. Also: A closer look at the VOSD Podcast with guest District Attorney Summer Stephan, development fights in the 2018 election in North County and details on a big charter school conference that will be held here this week.

• Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy tells NBC 7 that the police department in the county’s second-largest city is understaffed. Response times reportedly haven’t been this bad in four years, and the department only has eight school resource officers to work at 45 elementary schools and multiple middle and high schools.

In June, the city will ask voters to raise the sales tax by half a cent to raise millions for police and fire services.

Congressional Candidate’s Curious Call for Curfew

Here’s the perplexing headline on a U-T story about a development in the race to replace North County’s retiring Rep. Darrell Issa: “Congressional candidate Diane Harkey suggests curfew, buddy system for House members.”

Harkey is a Republican on the state Board of Equalization, and she suggested on a radio talk show that members of Congress should have a curfew of 8 p.m. in order to stay out of trouble. She added: “It’s a lonely life, be sure that everyone is occupied, be sure they have a buddy system.”

Harkey’s own social life as a legislator seems to have been rather limited: “I never went out anywhere after 8. Nothing good happens after 8 in Sacramento or in D.C., I guarantee you that.”

Democratic opponents pounced on her comments with one saying “The solution is not to treat them like children, so much as to change the face of Congress.”

Coyotes and Squirrels and Skunks, Oh My

Squirrels are out of control along the San Diego coastline, the U-T reports, and efforts to combat their population through poison bait created other problems: “The poisoned squirrels were sometimes eaten by dogs, hawks, bobcats or other animals, which passed the poison up the food chain, sometimes killing other larger animals.”

A few year ago, I took a closer look at the local skunk world for a VOSD story. Readers told me about a nightly “skunk pageant” in Normal Heights and odiferous skunk roadkill that plagued Rancho San Diego all year long. Fun facts: They tend to be gentle creatures (unless threatened), tomato juice probably won’t work to get the stench out of your pet and outdoor cats often get along fine with skunks (unlike dogs).

 Plenty of coyotes roam around here (I once ran into one while driving home at night on the I-15), and they can be scary to come across.

Now, scientists are studying dozens of coyote stomaches from Southern California to figure out what the creatures eat, the L.A. Times reports. So far, they’ve found signs of shoes plus “western cottontail rabbits, birds, avocados, oranges, peaches, candy wrappers, fast-food cartons and an occasional cat.”

Just call it a meow mix.

Quick News Hits: Goodbye Toys ‘R’ Us

“The administrative agency for the state court system has paid out more than $600,000 since 2011 to investigate and settle claims of sexual harassment against judges and court employees, but won’t identify the judges and employees involved or provide details of the incidents.” (U-T)

A user of a dockless bike says he was yelled at in the University Heights area, and there’s a photo circulating of a bike with cut brake cables.

Meanwhile, the buzz downtown is that one bike found hundreds of fans: bees.

A debate over local burritos has broken out on Reddit, and a user nearly got banned from the discussion for sharply questioning why anyone wouldn’t want beans, rice, guac, etc., along with meat. (No, it wasn’t me, I swear. However, this person is correct and should be greeted as a liberator!)

More food news: This Instagram post of a California burrito will have your mouth watering.

Every Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us store is closing in the U.S., and the U-T dropped by one in the Morena area to check in on its last days in business. A photo captured a family looking at boxes of a discounted game called “Get a Grip.”

Well, I assume it’s a game. It might be a psychological aid. Either way, I’ll take 10.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. He is also immediate past president of the 1,200-member American Society of Journalists and Authors ( Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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