By Darshana Patel
As a resident of Park Village, I care deeply about my community, the safety of my neighbors, and the future of our children and the environment – and I am truly disappointed at the 6-3 San Diego City Council decision on Monday to approve the proposed Cisterra Development office park next to the Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
As I made clear in my testimony before San Diego City Council, this is the wrong project for this parcel of land. I serve as the vice chair of the Rancho Peñasquitos planning board, and the developer has made presentation after presentation to our board seeking approval since 2015. Never once have they offered genuine community benefit in exchange for the radical rezoning they have proposed, from agriculture to industrial zoning, by way of a community plan amendment.
The board continually requested that the developer reduce the scale of the project in order to make it somewhat more appropriate for this parcel of land, but time and time again they have refused to work with us. In fact, this is the first project that was unanimously denied by our planning board, as it failed to meet even the simple guidelines set forth to approve a community plan amendment. After all, it is not the responsibility of a planning board or the city to help a developer make their investment profitable, but rather to ensure the project aligns with city goals and the community plan.
A year ago, I spoke before San Diego City Council in support of the Merge 56 development in order to complete the Camino del Sur road connection – our second emergency egress promised since the neighborhood was built. Cisterra's project directly endangers that community benefit with about 1,800 cars at one critical intersection where the 7,000 residents of both the Park Village and Torrey Meadows neighborhoods will go to evacuate in a civil emergency, the most likely being wildfire.
The City of San Diego general plan calls for density to be centered around mass transit. But bus service is not economically feasible, and there are no plans to add any type of mass transit to our area. Cal Trans has no plans for an expansion of State Route 56 prior to the opportunity for expanded funding beginning in 2035.
And thanks to readily available mobile apps like Wayze, additional traffic from this office park project will divert directly in front of Park Village Elementary School to cut through to Black Mountain Road and I-15, or empty at the busiest intersection, creating unnecessary risks to students whether they are walking, riding a bicycle or riding in a car as they go to and from their neighborhood schools on a daily basis. The FEIR (Final Environmental Impact Report) concludes that there will be significant and unavoidable impacts to traffic and traffic circulation – a clear criteria for denial.
To be clear, there is no doubt we have an affordable housing crisis in San Diego. But we do not have an industrial park or office complex crisis.
The Meridian, located along Torrey Mesa Rd. south of State Route 56, has over 600,000 square feet of empty office space, waiting for tenants. One exit away, at Carmel Valley Rd. in Pacific Highlands Ranch, the 630,000 square foot Aperture Del Mar complex, intended as a biotech campus, similarly awaits a tenant.
There was neither economic need established, nor analysis presented by the applicant, to justify the radical rezoning they proposed for the "Preserve at Torrey Highlands." In fact, this project is not even part of the 56 corridor, as it jumps the Deer Canyon buffer and goes past the nearby mitigation bank.
The parcel in Torrey Highlands was certified by San Diego City Council and designated as "commercial limited" by voters in 1996. Commercial limited is explained in the Torrey Highlands Community Plan as inclusive of religious facilities, veterinary clinics or garden centers, and specifically intended to ensure compatibility with the adjacent Deer Canyon Preserve.
As I indicated in my testimony, I am not opposed to construction as this site, but it is clear that today's city council – with the courageous exception of Council President Gómez, Council President pro tem Bry, and Councilmember Montgomery – have lost their environmental bearings. In doing so, they have betrayed the mandate of voters by enabling another mammoth office park project, with zero benefit to the community.
Darshana Patel is a community leader, elected member and vice chair of the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board with service on the land use committee, and an elected trustee and president of the Poway Unified Board of Education.
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