Midway Rising rendering
A rendering of the Midway Rising plan. Courtesy Safdie Rabines Architects

It’s depressing because predictable that the attempted repeal of the 1972 citizens’ initiative in 2020, which was invalidated by the courts last year, was once again put on the ballot this November as Measure C.

Measure C is a verbatim repeat of the same ballot wording used in 2020, justified by the same flawed environmental review process, even as that decision is still being appealed by the city.

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Much like the Convention Center tax that was sold as a homelessness fix in 2020, and also ruled invalid by the courts but approved by the City Council anyway, it’s the result of those in power refusing to accept “no” as an answer to getting what they want.

For those who aren’t aware: Measure C again proposes removing the Midway-Pacific Highway planning area from the 30-foot Coastal Height Limit Overlay Zone, allowing otherwise unlimited heights for all new buildings in this area. We are being told that it is necessary in order to build the affordable housing called for to redevelop the Sports Arena site.

Yet the Sports Arena site is 48 acres; and as city property any redevelopment is required to contain no less than 25% affordable units. But once this is pointed out, proponents pivot to saying it’s necessary in order to build a new Sports Arena. So why doesn’t Measure C focus on that particular site exception, rather than remove protection for the entire 1,324 acres in the Midway planning area?

Because San Diegans are repeatedly being sold the sizzle while developers get the steak.

Over the past several years, we have seen the consequences of deregulating development to rely on the market alone to solve our affordable housing crisis.

Beginning in 2019, the City Council removed all parking requirements from new projects without restriction, in the belief the “$30,000 to $90,000” savings per stall would simply be passed along as lower costs to residents. We can all see how well that isn’t working out.

We’re told that the only way to get affordable housing is by allowing unlimited heights and density. But all we have to show for it are ever more expensive high-rises, with token amounts of small units sandwiched between luxury second homes and corporate and vacation rentals.

Buildings exceeding the 30-foot Coastal Height Limit are already allowed under the State Density Bonus Law, so long as they include affordable housing. (Proponents claim even that process is too onerous, ignoring that every development undergoes a project-by-project review.) Giving up the Coastal Height Limit without conditions removes the only actual requirement that new construction is affordable.

Make no mistake: The repeal of the Coastal Height Limit in “just” the Midway planning area is the camel’s nose under the tent. If they can get away with saying Midway isn’t the coast, when it’s literally reclaimed, liquefiable saltmarsh regularly subject to tidal flooding, what’s left to say about Point Loma, eastern Pacific Beach or the heights of La Jolla?

And it’s difficult not to hear the ugly undertones of racism and classism from Measure C proponents. The most recent demographic data for the Midway area is 12 years old, yet whites were already a minority-majority 47% of the population.

We’re being repeatedly told Midway is “blighted,” which by now should long have been discredited as the dog whistle it is to justify displacement of BIPOC and Latinos for “urban renewal.”

Yes, this area does need attention, as it has been perennially neglected by the city. But what does it say when the only solutions being offered are to remove the constraints for affordability that have made this one of the last affordable neighborhoods left in San Diego?

We need serious solutions from serious leaders, not shiny renderings in place of actual people. Please vote ‘no’ on Measure C.

Mat Wahlstrom is a longtime resident of Hillcrest and community activist. He is a member of KeepTheCoast30.