A cyclist rides along University Avenue in Hillcrest / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Mayor Todd Gloria announced Thursday morning that the city was immediately installing plastic bollards on Pershing Drive, creating protected bike lanes on the road in both directions, while the city waits for the San Diego Association of Governments to complete its plan to build a more complete physical separation. That project could begin next year and be completed by 2024, though it and other bike projects by SANDAG have been defined by bureaucratic delays since they were first promised nearly a decade ago.

The newfound sense of urgency from the city follows the death of Jonathan Sepulveda, a 34-year-old man who was riding a scooter on the road on Saturday, as City News Service reported.

Sepulveda’s death followed the death of 57-year-old Laura Shinn in July, when she was riding a bike on the road and an allegedly intoxicated motorist drove into her.

The deaths on Pershing, and elsewhere in the city, have sparked cries from cycling and safe-streets activists for city and regional officials to overcome the incessant delays that have marked bike infrastructure projects since they won a dedicated funding source in SANDAG’s last voter-approved tax measure.

This summer, we welcomed KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen onto the podcast to talk about San Diego’s inability to keep cyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorists safe on our streets.

Click here to listen to that episode.

Planning Commission on Clairemont Community Plan: Unimpressed

San Diego planners briefed the city’s appointed, advisory planning commission on the new, long-term community plan they’re proposing for the entire Clairemont area on Thursday, and it did not go over especially well.

The plan would determine where developers could build housing in the central San Diego community, including in many areas near or along the $2.1 billion trolley extension. Those conversations have led to repeated arguments between city officials and local residents looking to restrain new development, and have played heavily into recent elections in the area.

But the planning commissioners had different criticisms. They said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The biggest fight in the area over the years was over the community’s 30-foot height limit, which is distinct from the voter-approved height limit over coastal communities. But city planners mostly maintained the height limit in the new plan. 

“We need to eliminate height limits around the trolley line,” Planning Commissioner Matthew Boomhower said during the meeting. 

Planning Commissioner Kelly Moden said the plan didn’t meet the moment. “The community has been extremely hostile, kicking and screaming,” she said, according to a play-by-play from local activist Paul Jamason. “This should not be about placating them. We have a housing emergency and this plan is a wet blanket.”

In 2010, the Clairemont community had 32,905 total homes. It added 50 new homes in the last ten years. The city’s proposed plan — the one planning commissioners criticized Thursday, encouraging staff to be more aggressive — would increase zoning in the area to allow up to 5,680 new homes, more than half of which would be near the community’s new trolley stops. The zoned capacity of an area, though, will always far outpace the actual homes built there.

But the city did analyze a more aggressive plan in its environmental review, meaning the City Council could adopt it if it chooses. That plan would make way for up to 11,000 new homes. The planning commission didn’t take a vote. It and the City Council could do so soon (we’re not guessing when, it’s always longer than anyone says).

Photo of the Week

A house overlooks Amazon’s manufacture center above Colonia Nueva Esperanza / Photo by Carlos A. Moreno

VOSD contributor Carlos A. Moreno went to the neighborhood of Colonia Nueva Esperanza in Tijuana, a former farming area, to get a better glimpse of the new Amazon warehouse that’s stirring controversy. The images he produced as part of a photo essay are stark. They show a shiny new building — a monument, if you will, to the new global economic order — overshadowing the shacks where residents live nearby. 

For this week’s Photo of the Week, we spoke to Moreno about his work.

This conversation has been edited for length.

What first got you interested in this story?

Amazon moving into Tijuana, my home base, was a story that raised eyebrows in the city and got a fair amount of people talking, not just those living and working in the city, but also all over social media and beyond. I definitely wanted to explore telling the stories of these people who may be impacted by such a company as Amazon moving into their community. 

What was the overall sense you got from residents in the area about the new warehouse?

There was a ton of opportunity for the locals to make higher wages, but also a warning sign. Many of the residents worry that they’ll eventually be displaced, and their dignity sacrificed in the name of progress, while others expressed a sense of cautious optimism. 

What’s something new you learned during your visit?

Amazon’s presence did not just affect the Nueva Esperanza colonia in particular, but also others along the wide property that Amazon is expanding into overall. I noticed that other communities would be in the eye of these changes, especially those nearer to the center where Amazon is still constructing. Above it you could see five leftover homes from a neighborhood that overlooks the warehouse and its construction.

See Moreno’s photo essay here.

Cities that Recycle Water Win More Oversight on Rising Cost of Colorado River

The board of the San Diego County Water Authority, which controls the region’s water resources from the drought-stressed Colorado River, OK’d a financial plan on Thursday that includes water price hikes anywhere from 5.5 percent to 10 percent beginning in 2023. But the Water Authority will have to do more frequent assessments of its finances after the city of San Diego — soon to be the region’s biggest water recycler — pushed through some amendments to the plan before the final vote. 

The financial plan’s rate hikes are only estimates on what the true cost of water will be in the future, which is set on an annual basis in a different budget process. Still, it puts cities and water districts on notice that their customers will probably have to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to cover water bills soon. 

San Diego is doubly concerned about ever-increasing prices of Colorado River water because it’s building a multi-billion-dollar wastewater-to-drinking water project that’s supposed to quench half the city. Residents will have to not only cover the cost of more expensive river water, but also start paying off loans on the recycling project around the same time some of these hefty Water Authority rate hikes are predicted to come to fruition. 

Not everyone was in agreement with San Diego’s extra demands attached to the Water Authority’s plan, calling for third-party audits of the Water Authority’s financial plans, more frequent financial forecasting and clearer debt and cash management. 

Water Authority staff said those extra checks and balances on finances would be burdensome for a department already stretched thin. (The Water Authority didn’t fill seven staff positions this last budget cycle as a cost-savings measure). 

Still, the city of San Diego, with its 10-vote majority on the Water Authority board, got its amendments tacked onto the plan with support from water districts in Fallbrook, Helix, Oceanside, Olivenhain, Rainbow and Rincon del Diablo.

  • A member of the Otay Water District, Mark Robak, tweeted out his apparent support of at least some of San Diego’s amendments to the financial plan. But the actual representatives on the Water Authority board, Gary Croucher and Tim Smith, voted against San Diego’s changes. 

A New Chapter for VOSD

Some exciting changes are coming to the VOSD newsroom.

We’ve got two new editors who will oversee content. Andrew Keatts, a familiar face for most readers, will serve as managing editor of projects and investigations. Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, who has spent the last two years covering communities and policy issues at the San Diego Union-Tribune, will serve as managing editor of daily news. Welcome to the team, Andrea.

There have also been some changes to our board or directors. Reid Carr, who has served on the board for 10 years, will serve as chair. Reid is the CEO of Red Door Interactive, a pioneering company in the digital marketing space. Carr takes over for Buzz Woolley, VOSD’s founder and chairman for the last 16 years. Woolley is a visionary who has advanced the cause of nonprofit journalism more than any single person in the country.

In case you’re wondering, Scott Lewis isn’t going anywhere. Take that for what it is.

(Kidding. If you’re reading this, Scott, we appreciate you.)

Read more about these changes and our vision for the future here.

In Other News

Correction: Thursday’s Morning Report mislabeled the Urban Discovery Schools system as K-5. It serves K-12. We also reported in a story Thursday that the county was expecting to bring online a countywide cannabis ordinance next month, but that larger effort, and specifically a social equity program, aren’t expected to come up for discussion and vote until much later. Instead, the Board of Supervisors will be voting in October on whether to expand operations at five existing cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas. The story also misspelled the name of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s deputy director of public policy, Emily Wier. 

This Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer, Andrew Keatts and Adriana Heldiz, and edited by Megan Wood.

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