San Diego City Hall / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

As San Diego continues remaking its urban landscape to accommodate more residents while lowering its carbon footprint by letting them live in denser, transit-connected neighborhoods, it’ll have a new person in charge of that effort.

Mike Hansen, the director of the city’s planning department, submitted a resignation letter to Mayor Todd Gloria Tuesday, and city staff learned of his decision in a Wednesday morning email. Both the letter and email were obtained by Voice of San Diego.

Hansen, a land use attorney before coming to work for the city in 2014, is starting his own land use and planning business, according to the email to staff sent by Elyse Lowe, director of the city’s development services department. He’ll stay with the city through the end of the year.

“I completely respect Mike’s decision to level up, focus on his family, and pursue a new goal in his career, to have his own business,” she wrote.

Hansen has been the city’s planning director since 2018, under former Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and was a top mayoral aide to Faulconer prior to that, directing his policy on issues related to land use and development before leading the planning department.

The city, during that time, passed a series of major changes to the way it regulates development. It passed a series of policies that made it much easier to build granny flats on existing properties — a change Hansen once said effectively ended single-family zoning in the city. It also passed what Hansen’s planning department called the Complete Communities package: one piece let developers opt into a program and build far more homes than allowed under zoning, if they reserved 40 percent of them for people who meet certain income qualifications.

Another changed the way the city charges developers for their impact on the environment by charging them more if they build far from jobs and transit, and less if they build near them, aiming to incentivize climate-friendly urban development. The city also changed how it charged developers for park and infrastructure funding, hoping to direct more money to historically underserved neighborhoods.  

Gloria, meanwhile, will conduct a national search for Hansen’s replacement, his spokesman Nick Serrano said. Those national searches haven’t always had to search too far. The planning director before Hansen was hired from Encinitas after the city promised a national search, for instance.

But replacing Hansen will be a major decision for Gloria, who ran on a pledge to combat the housing crisis and to make San Diego begin acting like a big city. Few in the city hall apparatus will have more influence on those areas than the planning director.

The mayor also has not had to fill many high-profile positions since taking office. Nearly one year into Gloria’s tenure, many of his department directors are holdovers from the city bureaucracy under Faulconer. The chief operating officer for the city — essentially the city manager, who leads the team of department directors and a level of managers above them — was hired into a temporary position. Jay Goldstone is the interim COO

Pure Water Is More Climate-Friendly Than Colorado River, City Says

Think of San Diego’s plan to combat climate change like setting a target weight before beginning a years-long gym membership. The city has millions of tons of planet-warming gasses it must cut from its economy (its metaphoric waistline) by 2035. The ways it planned to do it under the former Climate Action Plan released in 2015 were a lot like working out at a Gold’s Gym in the 1980s: you lift your weights, you plant your trees, do your squats and divert waste from the landfill and hope people bike and walk to work. 

The 2021 plan released this week cuts the fat in new ways. For instance, the city’s billion-dollar wastewater-to-drinking water recycling system currently under construction is expected to help the city cut 18,507 metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2035, according to the plan. How? Most of our water right now comes from the Colorado River, pumped to the city from hundreds of miles away over mountains and through deserts. Via Pure Water, the city will recycle and re-purify its citizens’ bodily wastes and stormwaters, meaning we’ll be less-reliant on the already drought-stressed Colorado River. 

San Diego estimated how much energy it would take to do all that purification in-house versus the energy it takes to transport the water using the San Diego County Water Authority’s series of pumps and pipes. Then it factored in that San Diego’s electricity should be 100 percent renewable under the new government-owned energy purchasing utility called San Diego Community Power. 

Pumping water to San Diego the old way uses 1,775 kilowatts per acre foot, according to the city’s estimate. (An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, roughly as much water as two or three Southern California homes use in a year.) Pure Water would use a little bit less, about 1,173 kilowatts per acre foot, the city wagers. Bada bing, you’ve got your emissions reduction. 

Photo of the Week

Barrio Logan NASSCO
A residential house along Boston Avenue in Barrio Logan overlooking the NASSCO shipyard on Nov. 1, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

From Adriana Heldiz: Photojournalism is all about telling stories through photos. 

Sometimes, the message we’re trying to get across is obvious. Take for instance this photo I took of a Black Lives Matter protest back in 2020. Right away when you look at it, you know what’s happening. There’s an instant emotional reaction the viewer gets, whether it’s positive or negative, about what the photo is trying to convey.

Hundreds of protesters march through University Avenue to demand justice for George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.⁣⁣ / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

But often, telling stories through photos isn’t as straightforward. 

For example, VOSD’s MacKenzie Elmer recently wrote about cancer-causing toxins that are spewed into the air from industries in Barrio Logan. The homes are in fact very close to several industrial businesses, but it can be difficult to translate that into a photo. Harbor Drive cuts through the divide between the two opposing images, which is hard to photograph at a street level. I could use a drone to show a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood, but federal regulations don’t allow flying in certain areas without proper licensing (I know, we’re working on it). 

This is where photojournalists have to tap into their creativity without compromising our journalistic ethics. The photo above shows a house on Boston Avenue in the Barrio Logan neighborhood with two NASSCO cranes in the background. 

In a perfect world, I wish the visual was more obvious. I wish the trees and the wires weren’t blocking the view. I wish the cranes were more towards the center. But also in a perfect world, I wish we wouldn’t even have to write about this issue.

In Other News

  • If we’re honest, we haven’t exactly known what to make of the news that San Diego and Tijuana had been named the “World Design Capital” for 2024. But Michele Morris, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Design Forward Alliance that led the region’s application, joined KPBS midday to discuss the distinction. “There will be a policy conference, a network cities meeting, which brings together the cohort of other world design capitals, and also street festivals and celebrations of design in the region,” Morris said.
  • San Diego’s new ambulance operator could take over for the city before the end of the month, officials say. (Union-Tribune)
  • The current draft of new Congressional districts for California would maintain 5 Congressional seats in San Diego County. (Times of San Diego)
  • Santa Ana winds — hot winds that originate in the deserts east of San Diego and blow west over the mountains — are blowing through beginning Thursday, bringing with it the San Diego weather dichotomy: excellent surf and fire danger. (NBC 7)
  • Get your damn flu shot. Love, the county of San Diego. (County News Center)
  • Shoddy work completed under San Diego International Airport’s free soundproofing program for homes in the path of constant airplane noise is actually costing residents money in some cases. (NBC 7)

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

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