As I discussed in my last post, I think it's all but certain that the Chargers leave San Diego after next season. Without NFL in San Diego, there is a huge opportunity to redevelop the Qualcomm site. In discussions about the site if the Chargers were to leave for downtown, most people have assumed that the site would simply be sold to developers for a mixed-use development. Although that would be an improvement, I don't think it is thinking big enough. The Qualcomm site is over 160 acres that the City can use to do something really unique. The site is already centrally located with a trolley stop. What should go there? Here are some of my thoughts.
Of course, any discussion is constrained by the NIMBYs. The biggest complaints against redevelopment of the Q site would likely be: (1) it will add too much traffic to an already congested Mission Valley and (2) it will only continue the ruination of Mission Valley's historic agricultural character. Can we avoid both of these concerns? Additionally, the City has accepted the premise that climate change is happening and needs to be addressed. How can the Q site be redeveloped under this new paradigm, all in a site prone to flooding?
First, I don't think the site should include professional sports. I would totally support Major League Soccer coming to San Diego to "replace" the Chargers, but I think they should be downtown in a rebuilt Balboa Stadium, to be shared with SDSU and San Diego High Football.
So then, what is to become of the Q Site? Here is my proposal that (1) allows development but discourages traffic, (2) gives a (modern) nod to the farming history of Mission Valley, and (3) helps address climate change.
First: a portion of the site is prone to flooding. Rather than channelizing the San Diego River, let's devote a portion of the site to traditional farming. Well, not quite "traditional." It's a safe bet that after November 2016, marijuana will be legal in California. We are already the craft beer capital of the state, how about getting on the pot bandwagon? To ease concerns over production after legalization, the City could lease a portion of the site near the San Diego River to pot growers under strict conditions. A lot of people may think this sounds crazy, but pot legalization is very popular among millennials and is only getting more support. Instead of condos, NIMBYS will enjoy seeing rolling fields of green...
Second, how to deal with traffic? By not allowing cars. Let's make the Q site a city innovation zone where certain regulations and ordinances are eased, including parking minimums and street design. Effectively car-free cities already exist in Europe, like Vauben in Germany and Houten in the Netherlands. A large parking garage could be built along Friars Road for visitors, but with limited and expensive parking. If a resident wants to own a car and needs a spot, it would cost $40,000. Otherwise, the housing units would have no parking and the streets would largely be car-free. Although many people would never live without a car, avoiding the need to design around cars, coupled with high density development, should allow for more affordable prices that will attract younger residents. An aggressive expansion of Decobike onto the site would allow residents and visitors to get around. If the San Diego River trail is completed, residents could travel from the site to all major shopping centers in Mission Valley, and even the beach, by bike. Car2Go could also have a strong presence on site for when cars are needed, otherwise, the site would be designed to have everything the residents could need. A true, dense, mixed-use neighborhood without roads could be a shining example for the rest of the city. Perhaps NIMBYs would allow it if we explain that all the cyclists will move to this site and stay off the roads near their houses...
Third, how to deal with climate change? Many scientists would explain that it's time to stop focusing on halting the change and, instead, focus on adapting. San Diego needs a new innovation incubator,a joint venture between UCSD and SDSU. The goal would be to create innovation to address the future version of San Diego. In Japan, a new greenhouse is growing vegetables with a yield 100 times that of normal fields, but only using 10 percent as much water. We need to bring this type of work to San Diego, along with solar panel research, desalinization, and other technology. Innovation is not only necessary for our future, but also likely to be a driver of future job growth. San Diego should devote a large portion of the site to a technical institute focused on climate change innovation. Irwin Jacobs already gave over $100 million to a similar project in New York, what can we get for a local institute?
So, overall, I see a site with a portion set aside to agricultural use (and a large park), and the rest a dense, mixed-use development centered on a new Institute for Climate Change Innovation. The entire development would largely be designed to be car free, with strong connections to the trolley and the majority of travel being undertaking by bike or foot. This site would create revenue, affordable housing, job creation, and recreation for the City. What's not to love?