With few options left, opponents urge public to contact Congress, Navy Secretary
By Kendra Sitton
Discussions about NAVWAR’s redevelopment proposals dominated a recent special meeting of the Uptown Planners on Tuesday, Oct. 26. The planning group covers several areas including Hillcrest, University Heights and Bankers Hill, yet Mission Hills residents had the most to say about the project that is part of a neighboring planning group’s area.
The 60-day public comment period already closed. Uptown Planners is an advisory organization able to provide input to the city. The proposal would modernize and replace the hangars in Old Town used by the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command and Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific divisions. Since it is federal property, the group’s influence about whether it stays as a bunch of office buildings or is transformed into high-rises with the potential to house over 14,000 people is minimal.
Still, presenter Patty Ducey-Brooks urged the group to send a letter opposing the project to the Secretary of the Navy as well as members of the public to contact their congressional representatives.
A second presenter, Susan Trebon, said “It’s unthinkable what they want to do to our historic [district]. I don’t think 21-38 stories is the answer in this particular area.”
Both presenters live in Mission Hills.
A Navy representative was not able to attend to present why they are proposing the massive mixed-use project that would add a transit center, thousands of homes, office space, two hotels and more to the 70-acre Naval Base Point Loma, Old Town Complex. Currently, 6,000 people work in the outdated World War II-era hangars in cybersecurity.
Those who oppose the project point to the impact the high-rises will have on their view of the sunset and the increased traffic.
Public commenter Steve Huemmer said, “The traffic has to be taken care of. The infrastructure is not there for this.”
SANDAG has worked with the Navy since 2019 to study how the site could be used for a ‘Grand Central Station’-style transit center that connected people to the airport.
Ducey-Brooks and the advocates she works alongside are urging the Navy to choose alternative one. This option would add no housing and would remodel and rebuild the existing buildings to accommodate the growing workforce. It would be taxpayer funded. Over three months, Ducey-Brooks collected over 3,000 signatures supporting this option.
Other options, such as the Nacy’s preferred alternative four, would be funded by developers and add millions in tax revenue to local and state coffers.
Not all Mission Hills residents oppose the high-rise development.
Sharon Gehl said, “People can’t use public transit if you don’t allow them to live next to it.”
She said climate change is the biggest threat to our lives and pointed out that alternative one is the only option that does not raise property values.
“We’re staring at a once in a lifetime opportunity for infill development in the perfect location,” said Joseph Rocchio, who described the Midway District as a blighted area.
The project would take 30 years to complete, with the Navy planning on adding the cybersecurity offices first.
Architect Lauren Carter described approving the project as irresponsible and accused the Navy of ignoring communities.
This is not the first housing project that has run into issues with Mission Hills. After major community opposition, a plan to convert the abandoned Mission Hills Library into permanent supportive housing for mentally ill homeless San Diegans was nixed.
As in that canceled project, opponents are trying to get the site approved for historical status to stymie the redevelopment. The hangars were originally constructed to assemble B-17 bombers during WWII.
Following the public comment, board members gave their own thoughts on the project although no final decision as to whether to send a letter to the Navy Secretary or anyone in Congress was made since Naval advocates had yet to present their side.
“I have heard no discussion of affordable housing. I’m afraid this plan will also look like Downtown Disney. Building for infrastructure that is yet to come is silly and expensive,” said board member Mary McKenzie.
The board response did reflect the changing makeup of the board following the election that ousted many YIMBY (Yes in my Backyard) members. Even a year ago, the amount of opposition to the project would have been lower.
Some pro-housing advocates do remain.
“I’m supportive of doing the most we can with this site. ‘We support housing but just not here’ is an argument we hear over and over again,” said board member Clint Daniels.
A few board members tried to strike a conciliatory tone appealing to both sides.
Mary Brown commended the public for getting involved. She said this was the most community advocacy she had ever seen.
“I don’t think our viewpoints are as different as they appear,” she added.
Common ground was found over the lack of detail in the architectural drawings and plans.
Roy Dahl said “It would’ve been nice if the architects did a real job. Those drawings are just so horrible, I can see why anyone would be terrified.”
However, even that point was met with disagreement.
“The panic I’m hearing is not justified,” said William Smith, who pointed out that many of the large buildings would not be completed for 20 years. “We’re talking about a new type of downtown and that’s ok. The only unoccupied housing anywhere nearby is Mission Hills. It’s a small group opposing a very large project. We’re a big city. We should get used to that.”
— Reach Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.