By Kendra Sitton
In 2019, a group of pro-housing advocates swept the Uptown Planners election under the Rise Uptown banner. After the 2020 election was canceled the morning it was scheduled to take place because of coronavirus restrictions, the follow-up election is finally taking place in July.
Eight of the 16 seats are up for grabs with another Rise Uptown slate of candidates running as well as a group of candidates rallying against them as Uptown for All. The new Uptown for All slate was organized by current planning group member Tom Mullaney.
“I’m supporting the candidates who I think are open minded, who want a balanced approach to development and a really good group of people,” Mullaney said. “They don’t try to follow an ideology. They just want to look at the projects that come forward and judge them on the merits.”
The rescheduled election will take place over three days at the Joyce Beers Center. Work is ongoing to authorize morning voting times, but currently the remaining times to vote for eligible residents are Monday, July 5 from 3-6 p.m. and Tuesday, July 6 from 4-7:30 p.m. All Uptown residents are eligible to vote with proof of residency as well as business owners and non-profit directors who work within Uptown. Visit UptownPlannerssd.org for additional information.
Votes will begin being tallied at 7:30 p.m. on July 6 with the results announced as soon as the counting finishes.
Uptown Planners is an advisory group for the city that cannot give final approval or rejection on development, but their input is a way for the community to push developers to make their projects serve the needs of the entire community.
Rise Uptown is a vocal supporter of electing progressive YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) candidates who are supportive of new housing developments.
“I really believe that housing is a right and we need housing at all income levels in all zip codes. And you know I really want to be able to stay in this neighborhood for 30 years, and to be able to do that we need to build more so that there’s more housing options for everybody,” said Amanda Nelson, a renter who is running for the first time.
Nelson said renters care about the community as much as homeowners and should have representation on the board. In addition, the current board skews heavily male and white. As a Black woman, Nelson is excited for the possibility of the board reflecting the diversity she sees when walking through Uptown.
“I think it’s important that, as a community group, we stay active and we welcome development, but we open a dialogue with developers so that we can at least try to get on the front end of making suggestions and recommendations to them about their projects,” board chair Soheil Nakhshab said. “It’s just beneficial to come in and introduce yourself and get some constructive criticism on ‘Hey, you should try this or you should incorporate that. It’d be great for the neighborhood.’ If they can do at least 20% of the suggestions that makes a huge world of a difference in our communities.”
Nakhshab ran for the first time four years ago and joined Rise Uptown in 2019. As a developer focusing on building in his local community, Nakhshab supports urban infill to better utilize land there rather than developing green land outside of the city center.
The Uptown for All slate has a variety of viewpoints but mainly exists as an alternative to Rise Uptown. After Rise Uptown swept the previous election, it was clear to some people running outside of that slate that they would need to work together if they wanted a chance at being on the board. The slate includes well-respected moderates like current member Roy Dahl to people more conservative on preserving historical buildings and not taking away parking like Helen Rowe Allen.
“We were forced to join together to counterbalance and provide a more diverse viewpoint on these items, because the whole purpose of our group is for us to advise the city on these issues which we can only do if we have a nice robust debate that includes viewpoints from a wide variety of people. It’s not our job to just rubber stamp the city’s plans,” Dahl said.
Dahl has been on the board for many years and is running this time around to give input on the Hillcrest plan.
“Personally I have voted for and supported some high-density projects that some of the other people in my group opposed. So it’s not that we’re all in line, It’s that we want a variety of voices,” he added.
This would be Rowe Allen’s first time serving on the Uptown Planners board although she has decades of service to the community in other realms.
“I’ve heard recently, conversation among some of the board members in a public setting to the effect that high rises and no parking and bike lanes were just fine with them. And that’s not fine with me. I think in the near term, five to 10 years, we need to be very careful and cautious about draconian plans,” Rowe Allen said.
Rowe Allen said she is has “no dog” in the fight about preserving parking versus bike lanes because she solely uses public transit or ride share services like Uber and Lyft. She is concerned about the impact new projects will have on businesses.
Rise Uptown candidates said their pro-housing positions will help businesses by bringing in new customers.
“The candidates supported by Rise-Up think downtown Hillcrest is the right place to put the new housing. It would be near medical center jobs, public transit, planned new bike paths, stores, and our fabulous Hillcrest restaurants,” said Sharon Gehl, who has attended Uptown Planners meetings for 13 years and been involved with Rise Uptown since its inception. “The businesses in Hillcrest are struggling. They need more customers close by, within walking and biking distance.”
Uptown for All is rallying voters through email and some flyers at local businesses. Rise Uptown has a similar strategy although they also have social media accounts recruiting voters. Individual candidates on both sides are also promoting themselves on social media and through contacts.
Both sides lamented divisions in the community that have at times turned ugly.
“It’s unfortunate that Uptown has become polarized with Rise Uptown people promoting really unlimited amounts of density increases. And then, perhaps a more traditional group thinks that the community can grow, but still keeps the features that attracted people in the first place,” Mullaney said.
Rowe Allen, who supported designating the old library as an historic building in 2019, said she is tired of people saying she should not have a say in her community because she is a senior
Rise Uptown candidate Nelson knows first-hand the painful consequences of this divisiveness. She lost her job in 2019 at the San Diego Chamber of Commerce after she spoke up in favor of turning the Mission Hills Library into permanent supportive housing. After her LinkedIn profile was posted on NextDoor, opponents contacted the chamber who terminated her for violating a political activity clause. Now, she works for the San Diego Housing Federation. Still, she said speaking to people of opposing viewpoints is important to her.
“I want to work through it. I want to have conversations because I think we want to come to the same things we’re just approaching it differently,” she said.
Whether either slate wins or loses, it is clear the candidates care about their community and will continue to advocate for the policies they think will improve it even if they are not on the board.
“I care about my community and I think that goes for all board members, whether they’re part of Rise Uptown or a different slate, or just not affiliated with a slate. I think all of us are interested in our community and want to volunteer our time and energy into bettering our community,” Nakhshab said. “Personally, I like diversity on the board, whether it’s gender or age, whatever it is, or even ideas. I am not really keen on one-sided ideas for the entire composition of our board. I think it’s really key to have a mixed group of people with mixed thoughts and experiences and I think that adds a lot more value.”
Whether one slate will sweep the election again or people from both slates will make up the new board will be decided by voters in the coming week.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.