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Since asking for San Diego voters’ support in 2018, San Diego State University leaders have promised to redevelop Mission Valley’s prize stadium site with a vision that is nothing short of magnificent: to serve higher education, the public good and the community’s goals and aspirations for a vibrant, mixed-use, medium density, transit-oriented development.
Having a strong vision for this important public asset is key to its success. In the words of the past influential city planner Max Schmidt, “Whatever we do on this site, we ought to do it as an example of the highest possible architectural and landscaping standards, so that when we come to rebuilding Mission Valley and addressing some of the older uses which are becoming obsolescent, that we have a model for that development.”
With the release of the draft environmental impact report — a possibly premature move but one that should be watched carefully — it is clear there is much work to be done to ensure delivery of the special project promised. An environmental impact report is a document that attempts to identify and mitigate significant and unavoidable project impacts, but many times it becomes a pointless exercise because a developer would not move forward on a project or spend the money on the report if they didn’t think they could justify the overall impacts. To be clear, it is going to be very difficult for San Diego, without a strong vision, to actually develop this land differently from any other development.
The concept design that served as the basis of the draft environmental impact report was quickly put together to show the public during the ballot campaign. It was always accompanied by promises for further discussion on development details of the project’s master plan. As promised, the university has held workshops, but the concept has not been developed sufficiently.
Real issues that still need addressing are the overall design, how the project is connected and integrated into the Mission Valley community, details on affordable housing and how the project will meet the city’s Climate Action Plan goals.
Ideally, before comments on the draft environmental impact report can be submitted, there would be a fully developed project for review. And that plan needs to acknowledge that SDSU has a responsibility as the steward of public lands to look beyond the parcel lines since their large footprint will impact greater Mission Valley and even the San Diego region. Knowing that a return to the drawing board on the draft environmental impact report is politically impossible (comments are due by Thursday), we’d recommend a design framework with four overarching principles.
First, to ensure effective, human-scale connections between people and places, special attention should be paid multi-modal transportation, including walking and bicycling and improved roadway access, as well as connections to the overall community of Mission Valley.
The project also needs to promote human well-being through sustainable design, environmental stewardship and green infrastructure. SDSU West will become a state-owned campus; it must comply with California’s climate goals.
The university should also create a mixed-income inclusive community that provides housing for students, faculty and service workers with a cap on housing affordability at 120 percent of the area median income.
And finally, fully implement the San Diego River Park Master Plan, which has been vetted and thoroughly approved by stakeholders.
Before any meaningful comments can be made about the draft environmental impact report, there must be a meaningful project to review. The SDSU West proposal is not yet at that point and we would invite the SDSU West Team to review some of the concepts already developed by some of the region’s top architects and land use professionals.
SDSU West is not a typical real estate deal. It is a major investment in the future of the university, an investment in San Diego’s future economy and a public asset that will require the highest level of stewardship.
Mike Stepner is a professor of architecture at the New School of Architecture and Design and Mary Lydon is principal at Lydon Associates, a strategic planning and communications services firm, and former Citizens Stadium Advisory Group member. Both are members of the C-3 Mission Valley Committee, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and improving the San Diego region’s built and natural environments.