Denying claims by residents, judge rules San Diego properly analyzed potential impacts of new dense zoning.
APRIL 15, 2021 5 AM PT
Developers can move forward with plans for high-rise housing and dense urban villages along the new Morena Boulevard trolley line in San Diego now that a Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nearby residents.
Judge Timothy Taylor ruled last week that city officials properly analyzed how a new growth blueprint for the area would affect parks, traffic, air quality and other potential impacts covered under state environmental law.
City Attorney Mara Elliott hailed the ruling Wednesday as a victory for San Diego, as the city tries to solve a housing affordability crisis by allowing dense projects to be built along transportation corridors like the new trolley line.
“This ruling is a victory for hardworking families who want to stay in San Diego, live near where they work, and enjoy a high quality of life,” Elliott said. “This underutilized transit corridor is now on track to become a vibrant village with restaurants, retail, jobs, accessible transportation and affordable housing.”
The lawsuit, filed shortly after the growth blueprint was approved by the City Council in August 2019, claimed the city failed to consider feasible alternatives that could have softened the impacts of the blueprint’s zoning changes.
The plan lifts the building height limit for housing projects from 45 feet to 65 feet near the existing Linda Vista/Morena trolley station, and up to 100 feet near the new Tecolote station.
The residents who filed the lawsuit, a group called Morena United, said Wednesday they don’t plan to appeal the ruling but they disagree with it and still object to the city’s plans.
“I think this sticks us with a very bad plan for the area,” said Howard Wayne, a former state Assemblyman and a leader of Morena United. “There will be an intense increase in density without any funding for the impacts it will cause.”
A legal effort to block a separate new growth blueprint for neighborhoods farther north on the new trolley line also was unsuccessful.
That lawsuit, filed by Friends of Rose Creek, was about a plan to allow projects with significantly greater numbers of housing units per acre in northeastern Pacific Beach. It also was dismissed.
It was a challenge to the city’s Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan. The lawsuit filed by Morena United was a challenge to the Morena Corridor Specific Plan.
With legal hurdles out of the way, developers can propose high-density projects along the new trolley line connecting Old Town to La Jolla, which is expected to begin operating by the end of the year.
Judge Taylor said San Diego officials were justified in allowing greater density along the trolley line without mitigating the increased congestion and without adding parks and other amenities to the degree that residents wanted.
“All land-use decisions by a city involve competing considerations and compromises,” Taylor wrote in an April 9 ruling. “The court cannot say, on this record, that the city undertook this balancing act other than through a lawful and transparent process.”
Using parks as an example, Taylor said the city has the discretion to determine whether a lack of parkland is outweighed by the need for dense housing.
“The city has discretion regarding how it chooses to balance the park land deficit with other needs, such as an increase in urban population densities,” he wrote.
The plan affecting Linda Vista covers 280 acres that include the path of the new trolley line and areas around the existing Linda Vista/Morena trolley station on the green line.
It increases the number of housing units allowed in the area from 1,386 to 7,016. That’s about five times what current zoning allows and seven times the 996 housing units already there.
The plan affecting northeastern Pacific Beach covers 210 acres and aims to transform the area from an auto-oriented commercial corridor into a dense residential village surrounding the new trolley station.
It increases the number of housing units allowed in the area from 1,221 to 4,729. That’s a near quadrupling of what current zoning allows, and six times the 763 housing units already there.
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