February 1, 2010

The Tale of Two Cities

Well, not really TWO cities. Just one city. The one they call "the city in the country". But it is really more like "the city AND the country". Yeah, I'm talking about North Poway and South Poway.

North and South Poway are geographically divided by Twin Peaks. Green Valley runs through North Poway; Poway Valley through South Poway. But the division is more than geographic. North and South Poway are zoned quite differently. North Poway is almost entirely rural residential, save for the Pomerado Rd area by the hospital. South Poway is a mix of everything else. This did not happen by natural design. Before incorporation, both north and south Poway were residential, save for the commercial strip down Poway Rd. After incorporation, North Poway leaders were successful in keeping their end of town a rural residential enclave while foisting unwanted development on South Poway.

The Green Valley Civic Association is the political arm of North Poway. It is really run by only a few people, but at election time, GVCA sends out the word on which candidates  will protect the North Poway lifestyle and folks vote accordingly. Why discard advantage?

I don't expect a group like the GVCA not to look out for themselves. Everyone has the right to look out for themselves. But because of their disproportionate clout, the GVCA has successfully gotten almost every councilmember to ascribe to the GVCA mantra- land in North Poway is for quality of life; land in South Poway is for revenue generation or stuff they have to do because of some mandate or other. For example, whenever LAFCO or Sandag or some other government agency pressures Poway because we don't have enough land zoned for affordable housing, first, the council bitches about "state mandates", then, they make changes to the general plan that increase density in South Poway only. I remember one change was to redefine the RS-7 zone (7 house per acre) to mean "8 houses per acre.

Another change was the Poway Road Specific Plan. This plan is another general plan amendment that decreased setbacks and allowed multiple uses in various zones on Poway Rd., so they could pack in more affordable housing and more commercial entities.  GVCA's Jerry Hargarten was one of several North Powegians  that helped to write the plan, which adversely affects property only in South Poway.

Last year, the council approved a general plan amendment to allow 3-story buildings in Poway, if they were deed restricted for affordable housing. While this change will impact a single affordable housing project  being built  near Pomerado Hospital, on the fringe of North Poway, it does not in any way impact any residential area of North Poway. Likely South Poway will get a bunch of these.

As I said, to the GVCA and the councilmembers they elect, land in North Poway is for quality of life, land in South Poway is for revenue generation and mandate fulfillment. 

There are probably no better tales that exemplify that land use prejudice than the story of a proposed Ralph's shopping center (1985) and the story of Wal-Mart's approval and proposed expansion. 

In 1985,  a shopping center, including a Ralph's grocery store, was proposed for the northeast corner of Stone Canyon and Pomerado Rd. in Poway.  The parcel was zoned residential and would require a general plan amendment (GPA) to rezone it to commercial.  If the council did not approve the GPA, the developer said he would (and eventually he did)  build the shopping center on the west side of the intersection, which was in the city of San Diego. The shopping center was going in on that intersection no matter what decision the council made. However, if the Poway council approved the GPA,  they would be the beneficiary of sales tax revenue from the project. The GVCA was adamantly opposed to the GPA.  Many GVCA members attended the council meeting and spoke against the project. The council denied the GPA.  From the Sept 12, 1985 Union-Tribune (sorry, I can't link to it directly):

The council Tuesday night refused to allow 9.4 acres at the intersection of Pomerado and Stone Canyon roads to be changed from a residential zone for single families (three to four homes per acre) to a commercial zone, even though several neighbors in the vicinity thought this would improve the "blight" of the parcel.

The proposal by landowner John Visconsi was one of three separate applications for increasing density reviewed by the council. In each case, however, the council agreed to adhere to what it called the "integrity" of the General Plan, and the need to keep densities down in established residential areas.

A stream of speakers came to the microphone to plead with city officials not to allow commercial development of any kind at Stone Canyon-Pomerado intersection. Residents said they feared that development would bring traffic problems to the area.

William Jensen, a resident of Stone Canyon Road, declared, "We aren't really blighted, you know. We're just country!" which brought chuckles from council members, several of whom live in rural areas around the city.

The council supported the planning staff's finding that such commercial zoning could create "strip commercial" areas along Pomerado Road, and would not be in harmony with nearby rural residential neighborhoods. Planning Director Barry Hogan stated in his report that "the applicants have not demonstrated that a sufficient local demand exists for additional commercial territory, through either a prepared market study or other substantiating evidence."

This was one of several General Plan amendments that the council considered Tuesday, and in each case council members said they opposed "up-zoning" -- or allowing increased development -- in areas that have already been set aside as neighborhoods for single-family dwellings.

ln 1985, the current councilmembers  were Bruce Tarzy, Bob Emery, Linda Oravec, Mary Shepardson and Carl Kruse. Tarzy, Emery and Kruse lived on rural residential land in 1985.  In Nov, 1986, Oravec and Shepardson lost their re-election bids  to Don Higginson and Linda Brannon. (This is the only time an incumbent lost an election in Poway.)

Higginson and Brannon also lived on rural residential estates, although Brannon did not live in Green Valley. Thus, the entire council lived on rural residential estates. Not one councilmember was from South Poway; not one councilmember lived in a higher density area of Poway. Higginson and Brannon were much more "pro-growth" than the original council.  The GVCA feared that might have consequences for them. The GVCA and Emery got a proposition passed in 1988, Prop FF ,which protected rural residential property from being up-zoned. But it did diddly squat for residential property in South Poway. My husband once asked Emery why Prop FF was not written so that it applied to all residential property in Poway. Emery told him that the more developed parts of Poway "could look after themselves."

Right, that's worked out so well.

Bruce Tarzy did not run for re-election in Nov., 1988. Jan Goldsmith (then a Powegian, now a Sandy Eggan) joined the council. Although Goldsmith lived in South Poway, he also lived on acreage zoned rural residential. So this council was also 100%, unanimous, rural-residential dwellers. It was this council (Emery, Goldsmith, Higginson, Brannon, Kruse) that  approved the original Wal-Mart project for South Poway in Nov, 1990.  One of the things that struck me about that approval is that no EIR was done for the original Wal-Mart.  Instead, staff (Penny Riley was the chief planner) prepared a "negative declaration" which is a checklist of possible negative effects (noise, traffic, pollution, drainage problems, etc) and ways to mitigate those effects. For example, traffic problems could be mitigated by street improvements and adding some left turn lanes and traffic lights.  So, the council signed off on the traffic finding

That the generation of traffic will not adversely impact surrounding streets and/or the City's Circulation Element, in that main access will be combined with that of the adjacent center and all parking will be contained within the site.

Yeah, that's worked out so well, too, there's just no adverse traffic impact from Wal-Mart.

To help defray the cost of road improvements, the council agreed to give Wal-Mart almost $1 million. And to make Wal-Mart feel even more loved, the council approved their request  for a 15 ft. monument sign, even though the code only allows an 8 ft. tall sign. Of course, the 8 ft. rule still applied to everyone else, like, ahem...Golden State Gasoline.

Fast forward to 2010. The proposed Wal-Mart expansion may be due for a vote sometime this summer.  The general plan has been amended so many times, we are past the point of pretending we are preserving any sort of rural ambiance down here. None of that "country looking blight" for us. The real question is whether anyone on the the current council even entertains the idea that South Powegians are due any quality of life considerations. Will they buy the spin of Wal-Mart public affairs manager John Mendez who says that traffic is a blessing?

“Traffic does not mean traffic,” he said. “Traffic means commerce. When you ask small-business owners in Poway, all of them are saying that the more traffic the better, because that brings in more people, and that means more commerce, and that means additional sales.”

Of course Mendez also said that shoppers "have overwhelmingly told us they want one-stop shopping". Yeah, well, if they want one-stop shopping, they are really not going to be spreading their shopping dollars all around different spots in town, are they?

In 1985, the entire council capitualated to the GVCA and voted to keep their neighborhoods shopping-center free, even though it meant foregoing needed sales tax revenue. Where does the GVCA stand on expanding Wal-Mart and allowing it to operate 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week in an area that is surrounded on 3 sides by residential apartments? What does the GVCA have to say about that? I looked on GVCA's webpage and did not even see Wal-Mart mentioned.

And what about the councilmembers that live in GVCAville?  Higginson, Kruse and councilmember Jim Cunningham all live in the no-shopping-center area of  North Poway.  I suspect that  Kruse and Higginson, who both approved the original Wal-Mart will support the expansion. In fact, Kruse has indicated he favors it. Cunningham, I'm not sure about.  Will he have quality of life empathy for people beyond his own kind? I don't know.

And what about Rexford and Boyack? Both live in South Poway. Someone asked Boyack whether she supported the Wal-Mart expansion at a candidates forum in 2008. Her response indicated that she supported the Wal-Mart expansion and thought traffic could be mitigated by changing the left turn lane on Poway Rd. I know Boyack is very sensitive about the impact of lights and noise and traffic from the proposed lighting of the sport's field near her home, but she hasn't indicated any concern about lights, noise or traffic affecting those who live near Wal-Mart.

As for Rexford, I haven't got a clue. Rexford usually shows some empathy for other people, but votes with the majority in approving big projects like the waterpark and girl's softball park.  The fact that somebody really wants her off that council before the Wal-Mart vote is kind of interesting though. And the fact that Kevin McNamara, the guy who owns part of the Wal-Mart shopping center, has been giving money and office space to the recallers, is a pretty good indication that he is one of the people who wants Betty out before the vote. It isn't as if McNamara would be in a tizzy about Rexford's supposed ethics violations. Isn't he the guy who chopped down all the trees on his Midland Rd property early one morning on a weekend, when the city workers wouldn't be around to stop him from violating Poway's ordinances?

An anonymous commenter on my last blog wrote:
I hate to burst everyone's bubble but most of us who live here know that this city is run by the Green Valley Civic Association and they run people and have the power to win. Until one can get enough voters to vote else wise, they will always control our city. It is a sad day in Poway.
I have to agree with Anonymous. The GVCA has pretty much ruled this city and they have the power (and the money) to run their candidates. Although their candidates don't always win, the GVCA manages to exert enough clout over a majority of the council to preserve their quality of life. A big share of the burden to fulfill mandates and produce revenue falls on South Poway, at the expense of quality of life in our neighborhoods. I am not willing to cede that that is the way it will always be. What I am looking for in a council candidate is someone who is truly sensitive to quality of life issues in South Poway as well as North Poway. There have been a few such candidates in the past, but they generally get rather low marks from the GVCA and have had little chance of winning. 

With all the noise out there from the recall about Betty getting her "own firetruck", you'd think the main issue facing voters was whether a single person got more than her share of advantage in this city. The issue of a whole end of town getting almost no advantage at all gets lost in the screaming.

And, uh, a note to candidates: Don't run around claiming to be a "uniter, not a divider". We all know how well that turned out, too!

UPDATE: I just checked  here  and found out that Carl Kruse lives on a RS-4 (4 houses to the acre) lot near Stoneridge Golf Course. So, he doesn't live on rural residential land, although he is pretty well surrounded by it, and I think there is zero chance anyone would get to build a corner grocery store near  his lot, much less an affordable housing project or a super Wal-Mart.


PowayVoter said...

There was one more dastardly trick that was pulled on South Poway under Prop FF. Under the original prop ff wording, all areas of Poway were protected against "intensity and density" changes. At the last minute prop FF was amended so that South Poway was explicitly excluded from changes in "intensity". Who did this? why? I don't think it was the people who live in South Poway!! Was it our GVCA friends? I don't the cared one way or another. But I do think it was some of our very pro-development Council Members. Was it Donnie and Mickey? You decide.

Chris Cruse said...

Prop FF had 3 parts. The first part required a public vote before up-zoning property that was zoned rural residential or open space. The second part was specific to the Old Coach Specific Plan area and required a public vote for "intensity and density" changes. The third part was specific to the South Poway Specific Plan area and required a public vote for changes in density but not intensity.

I think the "trickiest" part of FF is that most people really didn't know that the South Poway Specific Plan area isn't really what most of us think of as South Poway. The South Poway Specific Plan area is primarily the industrial park and a few select residential areas- Creek Rd, Rolling Hills and the affordable housing project on Community. Prop FF doesn't really do anything for the rest of South Poway. It mostly keeps a developer from putting up apartment houses in the industrial park.

NEWS_FLASH said...

Chris Cruse --- Once again, you have cut to the core of one of the biggest overall problems here in Poway. As always, your blogs about Poway are well-researched and insightful.

Most North Poway residents do most of their dining and shopping in Rancho Bernardo. (So much for supporting Poway businesses and filling city coffers with tax dollars.) In fact, few from the north ever drive through South Poway as they come and go via freeway exits through Rancho Bernardo. While GVCA'S Green Valley folks cling to their elitist enclave – it is easy for them to ignore the southern section of our city as has turned into a “ghetto” when they rarely see it. North Powegians often forget --- especially those with GVCA --- that we are all one city here in Poway.

But the real problem, as this blog post states, is that there has been a huge power imbalance in POWAY. GVCA seems to always have a “short leash” on the majority of Poway’s City Council. And, sadly, our council members have ALLOWED themselves to be overly influenced by GVCA. The obvious result has been that North Poway always seems to get preferential treatment while South Poway has turned into the “dumping grounds” for all the projects (especially affordable housing) that the north does not want in their area.

In addition to over 30 privately-owned apartment complexes, our council --- time after time --- has approved its mandated affordable housing complexes to be placed in less than a 2.5 square mile radius throughout South Poway. As of today, 15 of 16 of Poway’s (current and planned) affordable housing complexes are in South Poway. In addition to all the socio-economic problems that come with this type of housing, the city does EVERYTHING it can to squeeze as much density into these complexes as possible. While maximizing density is always the council’s objective in the south, our council bends over backwards to maintain and protect rural and pristine perfection in the north. Double standard? YOU BETCHA!!!

None of this happens by accident. PROP FF protects only North Poway (also the far eastern edge and business park area) and Rural Residential zoning is sacred. While in South Poway, anything goes. After all, the city and its council refer to South Poway as “the work force housing area” --- so who cares?

The lack of fairness and consideration for South Poway has existed for many years. South Poway has been shortchanged way too often and the residents here know it. But there is an election coming up in November and the dynamics of the Poway political scene are rapidly changing. South Powegians have become smarter, more aware and angrier than ever about the power imbalance. Our Council needs to STOP allowing South Poway to be the “dumping grounds”. It's time our councilmembers quit catering to GVCA and take care of the needs and quality of life issues for ALL of Poway.

Anonymous said...

I am confused by the complaints. You can call it South Poway if you want, but I consider Poway Road the center of town (specifically at the Community Road intersection). Main Street, Poway. Isn't it natural for a city's commerce to expand from there and one should expect higher density building and higher traffic rates?

It surprises me to hear anyone (News_Flash)call this area a "ghetto". The area has the parks, many good stores and restaurants, the community centers, and much more. The so-called low income housing are some of the more interesting and innovative developments in the city. Sure -- things just aren't like they were thirty years ago. Not much is.

Chris Cruse said...

Jeff, I think the issue is the direction the city has grown since incorporation. Remember, much of South Poway was also rural when we incorporated. Cows grazed at the land that is now Creekside Plaza and there was no industrial park on the hills at the south end of town. As the city has grown, all of the density and "revenue enhancements " have been foisted on the south end of town. Check out my next blog. You will see a map of where the councilmembers live. Notice that the decision makers don't live in the area of town where they have foisted all of the developments. If the people who live in South Poway had more say in the process, I don't think the results would have been what they are.

Anonymous said...

Yes--I suppose if those in South Poway had said more about it, things might have been different. So--why no mention in your blog of South Poway community organizations to rival the GVCA?

Regarding the business area of town--I am speculating that this is where things got started and thus became the center of town it is today. Though cows may have grazed where Creekside Plaza is now--were small stores and shops already in this area? By incorporation--I expect the town business center had already been decided. The housing developments came to the north when land became available. If not for the lower-density zoning in some areas of the north, I expect the developers would have put as many homes there as physically possible. (Maybe I need to take a field trip to the Poway Historical Society.)

Where I think the city has failed with respect to South Poway business development--is that they have not set and maintained building standards, standards that would uniquely distinguish Poway from other cities. You mention Creekside, which I understand had such standards. But other businesses and strip malls in the area have not. (With the recent recall activity--I believe we are seeing what happens when a council person tries to enforce building codes.)

Chris Cruse said...

I don't think the south Poway organizations were meant to "rival" GVCA. Sometimes they did things in conjunction with GVCA or in support of GVCA. But the reverse rarely happened. And local south Poway activists resented that. Each area of the community can look out for their own best interests and still have the interest of the community in mind. But GVCA would usually say, "We just want the city to leave us alone and we don't care what they do down there." One exception was the amphitheater issue. GVCA got involved in fighting it AFTER they found out that the noise would travel up by them too.

Consider Wal-Mart. It primarily affects south Poway quality of life. So GVCA is not involved. Wal-Mart, especially a super-Wal-Mart is the type of use that belongs near a freeway, not in the center of a downtown that is becoming increasingly residential. That shapes Poway's urban core like nothing else. Why is GVCA disinterested in that?