December 3, 2004

National City Spotlight:

Community Development for the Community

By Ted Godshalk

The National City Spotlight column’s purpose is to examine issues in our community that require deeper thought than is usually given in the popular media. Difficult days lie ahead for those of us who live and work here. We face issues like increased housing costs, lack of social and municipal services, rapidly expanding government debt, unresponsive and secretive government, attacks on the quality of our lives and our environment from noise, pollution, and traffic, and the over commercialization of many aspects of every day life. This bi-weekly column will discuss these issues and others.

My credentials for carrying out this discussion have a foundation in community service. I am a native of the San Diego area and a resident of National City for over 18 years. I served as Planning Commissioner for National City for 11 years, including two years as Chairman. Since completing my tenure on the Commission, I have served as Chairman of the Old Town Neighborhood Council. I have always believed in the importance of doing the hard research, the homework if you will, that is necessary to make informed judgments about issues. My mentors impressed upon me the value of asking intelligent questions of the people who propose ideas and plans. To cut through the slogans or spin and shine a spotlight on the important details is crucial. Lastly, I have learned that balance in all things is paramount; extremes are generally born from a good foundation when mixed with misinformation or, worse, misconduct.

Of particular concern to this author and many other observers of urban life is our government’s actions concerning redevelopment. The City of National City is aggressively pursuing a Specific Plan for the Downtown Area, and another plan for the Harbor District near I-5 and Bay Marina Drive (24th St.). The Downtown Plan will be reviewed at the December 6th meetings of the Community Development Commission (CDC) and the City Council. The Environmental review documents have only examined the most obvious alternatives, not looking at for example, the possibility of less than maximum buildout of the area. The proposal calls for almost 5000 new residential units along National City Blvd. between 16th Street and Division, exceeding the currently allowed housing number by almost 900 units. This plan would allow many of these city blocks to be built with four or five story buildings. While the plan calls for some improved walkability, a linear trail adjacent to the freeway, and a small fountain plaza, most of the land would be covered with housing, some of it stretching up into the sky to the unimaginable height of 27 stories. At the end of the Environmental Impact Report, it is stated that there will be “unavoidable adverse impacts.” Blocking views and sunlight represent only the tip of the impact iceberg.

Some staff at the CDC must believe their job is to reach into every pocket they can put their hand into and pull out some money. Eager and experienced developers usually keep a little money around to offer cities, knowing that the city can be lured into making a deal and then the city will pay for (or pass onto the taxpayers) the bill for new sewer mains, roads, and additional police protection. Today, cities like National City and neighboring Chula Vista to the south, are moving away from the once all-consuming pursuit of Wal-Marts to the much more complex quest to build new housing. When the housing density increases there are long-term impacts on current residents just like with any commercial development, and often the new houses neither bring in enough revenue to cover increased costs for city services, nor do they result in any improved quality of life.

Granted, some property owners in the downtown area like the idea of having an “up-zoned” property. With this Specific Plan, some people will be given higher densities than allowed by the real and true guidance documents, the General Plan and the Housing Element. Wondering aloud now: are these people campaign donors to someone’s campaign?

Especially onerous is the high-rise zoning that makes it possible for developers, with the CDC’s assistance, to take out small homes and businesses in this area. Do you think a young family of six or a senior couple living in this area has been asked if moving into a high-rise will be good for them? With this super-heated housing market, it is very doubtful that the price they would receive for their property and the new condo purchase price will be close to equal. The story of redevelopment goes on. Once again, the community is being left out of community development. We have a General Plan that sets guidelines for development. Did candidates for city council or mayor campaign on such a plan so we could evaluate their motivations? That answer is “No,” so then why is such an intense plan proposed?

Ted Godshalk can be reached at

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