By Matt Valenti
In Clairemont, that hard-working, diverse, and family-oriented neighborhood located in the heart of San Diego, we’re learning just how bad things can get when our leaders ignore and mistreat us.
And we’ve reached a breaking point.
As I’ve campaigned for City Council, meeting with residents, business owners, and community leaders, I’ve heard over and over how frustrated Clairemont residents are feeling. They are grateful to live in a neighborhood they love, but furious to realize their neighborhood is an afterthought at City Hall.
And as a resident of Clairemont who is raising a family here like anyone else, I feel the same way.
Let me list the ways our neighborhood has gotten the shaft just in the last few months. (Bear with me please, it’s a long list.)
Last fall the city took away our local Recreation Councils’ funds in a senseless power grab, despite vocal opposition from the community. This happened to rec councils all over the city, but it was a taste of things to come in Clairemont.
As a follow-up trick, some on the City Council are now plotting to do away with local planning groups, including the Clairemont Community Planning Group. The false claim is that these planning groups slow down the development process, but both the county grand jury and the city auditor have found they do no such thing.
What planning groups do is provide a voice for residents, so the people who will feel the most impact from new developments can have some input into the decisions that affect them. In other words, democracy.
The Clairemont Community Planning Group is one of the city’s most active, thoughtful, and effective groups, yet the City has put it on the chopping block.
Then there is Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s refusal to enforce the residential zoning laws which have protected our neighborhood for generations. He’s allowed short-term vacation rentals to illegally eliminate hundreds of homes in Clairemont, and the number is growing rapidly.
The rule of law is apparently meaningless in neighborhoods like Clairemont when it stands in the way of Faulconer serving his campaign donors, including Nancy’s Vacation Rentals, Bluewater Vacation Homes, and Seabreeze Vacation Rentals.
Meanwhile Chris Cate, the mayor’s protégé and our ethically-challenged current council member, whistles a happy tune as the homes which once would have been for our children and grandchildren are being lost to profit-driven investors running mini-hotels.
Cate has raked in thousands of campaign dollars from the vacation rental industry and its lobbyists—which explains why he’s happy to play Airnbnb’s bellboy in Clairemont.
Cate also took a contribution from the CEO of a developer proposing to build a controversial housing project for the chronically homeless on Mt. Alifan. Soon after receiving the contribution, he held a private meeting with the developer where he apparently gave his blessing for the project.
Proactive residents in Clairemont began to do their due diligence and identified major flaws in the project—including the fact it would be run by an organization that has failed the homeless in its charge before and has a spotty track record of keeping its promises. A project like this has never been tried before in San Diego, which would make Clairemont the guinea pig in an experiment that will have long-lasting repercussions for the community.
But when residents brought these concerns to their councilman, Cate played dumb. When that didn’t work, he claimed he couldn’t take a position on the project. But all the while he’d been holding the door wide open for the developer like any good bellboy.
If only he cared to serve the residents of Clairemont with the same eager-to-please attitude he gives his campaign donors and political cronies.
Indeed, Cate can’t seem to do anything that doesn’t help his campaign donors at the same time it gives the cold shoulder to his constituents.
When he gave his State of the District speech in March, for example, he chose to hold it in a Montgomery Field airplane hangar owned by CrownAir Aviation—a company that has faced a lawsuit about the leaded fuel it supplies to pilots. Residents in Clairemont have repeatedly questioned the airport’s excessive noise, fatal airplane crashes, and health threat of leaded fuel burned over our homes, but as usual Cate has ignored those concerns.
Would it surprise you if I told you Cate’s received campaign contributions from the president of CrownAir? No? I didn’t think so.
From leaded fuel drifting down on us from the sky, let’s now direct our attention to the fountains of raw sewage that might burst up at us from below ground.
In May the City Council unanimously voted to approve an 11-mile high-pressure raw sewage pipeline which will run through Clairemont. The Council failed to ask tough questions about the potential safety risks of the pipeline and refused to seriously consider three alternative routes.
Lorie Zapf, who theoretically represents portions of Clairemont as councilmember for District 2, assured us there’s nothing to worry about, that we already have pipes underground all over the place and none of them ever burst.
Oh wait, sometimes they do.
With this act of negligent oversight Zapf, Cate, and the all the rest have demonstrated yet again that the most dependable pipeline in San Diego is the pipeline of BS that comes straight out of City Hall.
Let’s recap. In the span of less than a year the city has:
- Seized Clairemont’s rec council funds—money which for decades has been painstakingly raised through the efforts of community volunteers;
- Attacked Clairemont’s well-regarded planning group with false accusations, and threatened to eliminate it entirely;
- Conspired with out-of-town investors and Airbnb to violate long-established residential zoning laws in Clairemont, depleting our neighborhood’s housing;
- Secretly helped push through a homeless housing project in Clairemont that would house people with serious substance abuse and mental illness issues without adequate supervision and support;
- Ignored the concerns of Clairemont’s residents about Montgomery Field’s excessive flight patterns, noise, airplane crashes, and leaded fuel raining down on the backyards, schoolyards, and parks where our children play;
- Voted to build a high-pressure pipeline of raw sewage to run right through our community, without bothering to seriously inquire whether it is safe.
Did I miss anything? Unfortunately, I’m sure I did.
Let’s get real: this long list of grievances didn’t happen by accident. What’s being done to Clairemont—and lots of other neighborhoods in San Diego—is the direct result of corruption downtown. It’s the result of politicians like Cate who put their donors and cronies far ahead of their constituents.
Clairemont deserves much better.
Clairemont’s residents are tired of being ignored, tired of being a dumping ground for every half-baked plan that some well-connected developer or deep-pocketed campaign donor wants.
The people of Clairemont are demanding to be treated like they matter, like Clairemont matters.
And if I am entrusted by voters to serve District 6 as its next council member, I’ll make sure their voices are heard. Clairemont—and every other neighborhood in District 6—will get the respect it deserves.
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