The Midway District / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal said the city of San Diego should not have asked voters to remove the 30-foot coastal height limit in the Midway area on the 2020 ballot, as the Union-Tribune reported, finalizing a tentative ruling we covered 10 days ago that throws a major city redevelopment effort into limbo.

The vote on Measure E lifted the height limit in the entire Midway area, but the city considered it essential to make way for the redevelopment of the nearly 50 city-owned acres it’s trying to revitalize around the Sports Arena.

The court ruled the city needed to conduct an environmental review on the effects of removing the height limit before it put the question on the ballot. Bacal rejected the city’s argument that the environmental review for a new community plan for the area, which dictated how many homes could be built in the area with or without a height limit, should suffice. Views qualify as an environmental effect under state law, and the city’s review of its community plan did not analyze the effect lifting the height limit would have on views, she said, so the city needed to conduct another environmental review.

Last year, the city had just selected developers to lead the Sports Arena project — which would have built more than 2,000 new homes and either renovated or rebuilt the aging arena — when 57 percent of voters approved the measure. That project was scuttled when the state determined that the city hadn’t followed a law requiring it to make city-owned land available to affordable developers first. The judge’s tentative ruling came out the same day as the deadline for a new round of developer bids to take over the property.

The city is now weighing five bids to take on the project, though it’s unclear how the ruling affects those plans. The city attorney’s office told the Union-Tribune the city intends to appeal the ruling. If the case continues to go against the city, it’s not clear whether the court would force a re-vote on the issue, or if the city could fix its error by doing an environmental review now.

In the meantime, Union-Tribune reporter Jenn Van Grove created a helpful, side-by-side comparison of the five plans. She also wrote Tuesday about the plan that proposes the most housing in the area.

Eighteen-wheelers Keep Driving Through Barrio Logan 

On any given day in the community of Barrio Logan there are dozens of tractor-trailers picking up and dropping off deliveries at nearby warehouses, restaurants, recycling centers and maritime businesses at the port. 

These diesel trucks often drive through the neighborhood’s residential areas to avoid traffic or because out-of-town drivers are unfamiliar with the community, despite a City Council resolution that prohibits trucks from driving on certain streets. There are traffic signs throughout the community to notify drivers, but the city’s effort to keep 5-ton trucks away from schools and homes has proven difficult to enforce.

The City Attorney’s Office recently reviewed citations issued to trucks driving on restricted streets and found there was a drop in tickets handed out to truckers in 2020 and 2021. 

That drop is attributed to the San Diego Police Department transitioning toward “issuing warnings rather than issuing citations because truckers were succeeding in having the traffic court judges dismiss the citations due to ‘confusing signage’ directing commercial trucks to Interstate 5,” according a city attorney spokesperson. 

A truck driver parks on Boston Avenue in Barrio Logan on Dec. 14, 2017. / Photo by Andrea Lopez-Villafana

This isn’t the first time citations are a problem — just check out the photo above, which was taken exactly four years ago yesterday. In 2019, residents complained that police were doing a poor job enforcing the city’s resolution. The Union-Tribune reported then that from Dec. 3, 2018, to Aug. 15, 2019, police gave out 41 citations to truck drivers on residential streets. That was nothing compared to what people were seeing in the community, residents told the paper.

The City Attorney’s Office worked with SDPD to come up with less confusing signs. Those will go up later this week to help drivers navigate the community and make it easier for police to enforce violations. 

City Hiring More 101 Ash Lawyers

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to fork over up to $500,000 to the fifth law firm set to assist with the 101 Ash St. debacle that has spawned many lawsuits.

Assistant City Attorney Jim McNeill urged the City Council to vote to hire Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan due to increasing demands on the city’s existing attorneys, the growing volume of lawyers facing off against the city and the need to prepare for trial.

“The contract with the law firm is necessary and prudent because the city needs to have adequate legal representation on these high-profile lawsuits in which hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake,” McNeill said.

Indeed, the city has faced a hail of legal challenges tied to both the acquisitions of 101 Ash St. and nearby Civic Center Plaza, and construction at 101 Ash. The city evacuated 101 Ash in January 2020 after a series of asbestos violations and later learned its landlord paid ‘volunteer’ real estate adviser Jason Hughes $9.4 million for his work on both transactions. That led the city to take legal action to try to void both leases and recoup past lease payments.

In Other News

  • It rained (a lot) Tuesday, providing an excuse to revisit this viral clip from a few years ago, of a Mission Valley patron recognizing that he parked his car in a flooded garage.
  • Stimulus money did what it was supposed to do: Personal incomes of San Diegans rose faster in 2020 than any year on record, growing 6.4 percent after rising just 1.1 percent the year prior, the Union-Tribune reports.
  • Yep, San Diego residents will have to start wearing masks indoors starting today, when California’s one-month indoor mask mandate goes into effect, NBC 7 reports.
  • Megan Groth, a member of the Regional Design Advisory Council, writes in a new op-ed that San Diego’s planning director is one of the most influential positions in city government and that the vacancy should be filled by a design leader who will tackle today’s complex planning issues while planning a bold vision for the future. Click here to read her argument.

This Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Andrea Lopez-Villafaña and Lisa Halverstadt.

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