Opponents of Kilroy Realty's One Paseo Project in Carmel Valley rally on Saturday. Photo by Chris Jennewein
Opponents of Kilroy Realty’s One Paseo Project in Carmel Valley rally on Saturday. Photo by Chris Jennewein

By Colleen O’Connor

This isn’t about Finding Nemo or Finding Waldo. Nor is it about the Comic-Con Captain America costumers who visit our city every fall.

Seriously, I found the real Captain America hiding in plain sight in San Diego.

In Barrio Logan, Carmel Valley, Bay Park, Carlsbad, Escondido (Lilac Hills) and Mission Beach.

And they are getting stronger and smarter with each battle that pits neighborhoods vs. high-density infill projects designated “smart growth.”

The real revolutionaries, or disruptive “change agents,” this election year are mostly nameless, law-abiding, often invisible San Diegans who have taken on “the establishment” and are now “winning”—against all odds.

It started in Barrio Logan. Industry vs. housing, and shipbuilders vs. the neighborhood.

In a close knit Hispanic community, the resistance fought to retain the character of their community against creeping zoning for industrialization. Unafraid of defeat, they fought back against the City Council and the shipyard industry—via a referendum—but lost.

However, during that fight, the locals learned “yuge” lessons. How to organize, shape the narrative, push the non-establishment press, raise funds, recruit volunteers, and rally behind a cause. In short, campaign.

They were the original Captain Americas who helped inspire the next battle in a what is fast becoming a protracted war.

Round #2: Carmel Valley. A fight about an outsized mega development called One Paseo.

Learning from the Barrio Logan fight—while enjoying greater access to, and knowledge of, the process of fighting City Hall—these neighbors increased the numbers, the strength, the finances, and the success in Round 2 vs. the “rigged system.”

They, too, organized, packed the City Council chambers, gathered signatures for a referendum, and mastered a press-worthy narrative. They won at the ballot box, thus upending the council’s original position and forced the developer to compromise. The final result—a partial victory.

Which leads to Round 3: Bay Park. High-rise density and infill along existing transit corridors vs. an older, established neighborhood.

Calling it “smart-growth,” city planners wanted to eliminate the 30-foot height-limit along Morena Boulevard to allow for 6-story buildings in an existing transit corridor.

Just as with the Barrio Logan and Carmel Valley—this protest was over the destruction a neighborhood’s character. Which as Thomas Paine wrote, “… is much easier kept than recovered.”

Bay Park, too, learned and was inspired by the earlier Captain America fighters. They also organized, designed a strategy, protested, packed the City Hall chambers, got press attention and defeated the plan—for now. No downtown skyline-by-the-bay for now.

Round 4: Carlsbad shopping center and open space vs. bigger shopping center and less open space.

Arguably the most impressive push back. Again, a fight over precious open space vs. a billionaire Los Angeles developer with plans for another shopping center and a housing development with beautiful renderings of promised hiking trails, shuttles and “robotics.”

The mayor and City Council unanimously approved the project. The citizens not only organized, strategized, raised funds, campaigned, forced a referendum and turned out the vote. They won—albeit in a close election.

And they pushed for more punishment and change. These Captain America fighters are insisting that the out-of-touch mayor and council members all resign. And they are demanding more local control over zoning and development and increased transparency in the planning process.

Round 5 Escondido: Neighborhoods and open space vs. Lilac Hills development.

Still brewing is another saga over a Lilac Hills development in Escondido. It remains deadlocked as Supervisor Bill Horn (a possible supporter) has been denied a vote due to a conflict of interest. Currently, a stalemate.

Just getting started.

Round 6: Mission Beach vs. conversion of an old school (just north of the rollercoaster) into an upscale complex of 63 condos.

Reasons: Situated on Mission Boulevard which already has minimal parking, congested traffic (pedestrian, foot, car, and skateboard, rollerblades, bikes). The opposition is just beginning.

These resistance fighters are not two-dimensional comic book characters, but real live Captain America action figures. Stay tuned for the next issue.

Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor.