By Kendra Sitton
A third Boulevard Business Improvement Association town hall was held on Thursday, April 8 to discuss improvements to the central hub on El Cajon Boulevard between the I-805 and I-15. Over 70 people attended the Zoom meeting which connected business owners and residents to discuss how to apply the BLVD 20/20 plan to the area.
“[This is to] start a discussion about how we create the kind of boulevard that both are neighbors to the north, Normal Heights, and to the south, City Heights, deserve,” said Tootie Thomas, the executive director of the Boulevard Business Improvement Association (BIA).
She noted that currently there is not much of interest on that section of the road other than the medians.
The entirety of the El Cajon Boulevard represented by the BIA accounts for four miles and 1,000 businesses. Focusing on a central hub allows the organization to add meaningful improvements to a targeted area. The BLVD 20/20 plan envisions a transit-oriented community on the boulevard that could be a model for other neighborhoods and cities.
The first town hall in 2018 focused on adding housing at all income levels. The second in 2019 on mobility resulted in a successful pilot program for a bus rapid transit (BRT) lane. This town hall sought feedback and resources on encouraging infill development, including through accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Before the community gave feedback on plans, many experts spoke about the importance of the project and how it will improve San Diego as a whole.
Land-use expert Mary Lydon said that 20% of the City of San Diego population resides in a five-mile radius around El Cajon Boulevard. She noted that hubs are mixed-income, transit-oriented and mixed-use areas.
“The tools discovered here can be used within other communities in San Diego,” Lydon said.
City Council members Stephen Whitburn and Sean Elo-Rivera both represent portions of the boulevard and spoke at the event.
“This has been an awful year for so many small businesses and people so I’m really glad that we’re here to talk about something positive,” Whitburn said.
Community members were able to fill out a survey during the Zoom call in response to questions as well as answer in the chat. Whether the dedicated bus and bike lane should become a permanent fixture of the boulevard received resounding support for the pilot program.
Andrew Malick, CEO of Malick Infill Development, said El Cajon Boiulevard Is an example of progress from a suburban, car-oriented to a transit-oriented urban city.
“A renaissance of main streets is happening and it’s good for the community,” Malick said.
Unlike other areas in which new housing and business developments are met with intractable backlash, El Cajon Boulevard Is largely supportive of adding density. Increasing housing stock should allow for the area to remain mixed-income and add new low-income housing opportunities which can soften the effects of gentrification.
Brian Schoenfisch with the City of San Diego told participants about a new housing affordability toolkit added to the city website which should make finding housing programs and incentives easier for the general public. He mentioned that there are many programs that push for added density but much of the general public do not know about them. The quick guide to the development bonuses, programs and process streamlining can be found at www.bit.ly/3ti2yeD.oi
Thomas said the BIA is also offering to help anyone who wants to add an ADU or granny flat with navigating the system. Residents can contact their office for assistance.
In the chat, many people were supportive of the added density and transit being proposed. A common question was whether any of the new tech businesses coming to San Diego could be incentivized to come to El Cajon Boulevard.
To watch the town hall in its entirety, fill out a survey on the future of the boulevard, or to learn more about the central hub, please visit www.theboulevard.org/centraltownhall.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.