The Chargers Are Gone: San Diego's Big Opportunity in Mission Valley

The Chargers have left San Diego for LA. This post isn't about that.  It's about the big opportunity the City now has with a huge chunk of land in Mission Valley.  I've explained why building a huge park is a bad idea.  I've said what we could do if we just sold the land. I've played around before with what the City should do with the land.  But let's be a little more serious. 

San Diego has been trying to move from a suburban model of development to a more compact, urban form.  This, obviously, has run into a NIMBY firewall that is fighting change to "neighborhood character."  I obviously disagree with these people, but I give them some credit: too often, the City asks neighborhoods to accept the added density and the problems that come with it, but leave the benefits of density (parks and other public areas, transit, sidewalks, etc.) for the undefined future.  Development Impact Fees trickle in, but seldom result in the promised big new projects.  Bike lanes and transit are promised, but end up watered down or delayed by SANDAG.

The result is a lot of mixed feelings by residents about increasing density.  Urbanists and YIMBYS picture European urbanism perfection, but we have to admit that hasn't happened anywhere in San Diego quite yet.  Can you really blame people for being wary of new density?

This is where the Qualcomm site comes in.  If you look at a map, the Qualcomm site is a HUGE chunk of land right in the middle of our city.  It's on an existing trolley line and could be connected to future lines.  The Mission Valley Community Planning Group is one of the most development friendly boards in San Diego.  There is no existing development within the site.  And, perhaps most importantly, there is no one living on the site (maybe a few homeless individuals) and few neighbors. 

So let's not sell the land as a huge parcel to some developer to execute their (profit-maximizing) vision of development under the same old paradigm.  Instead, the City should declare the site a civic innovation zone: the existing rules don't apply and we are going to adopt the cutting edge of city planning: low parking minimums, NACTO street design standards, strategically placed bike share, and a good level of density (not skyscrapers).  Lay down a street grid, find a place for a park and a school and the other urban necessities, and sell the individual parcels to developers willing to comply with an innovative form-based code with included affordable housing.  Use those proceeds to build the infrastructure and get it all done as soon as possible.

We could, in effect, create the model urban neighborhood to hold up as a shining example to the rest of the City.  The goal would be not only to create a great new place to live and needed housing units, but also a neighborhood that leads people to say "I want that."  If we can do it all right and all at once, we can provide a concrete example, that people can visit, of our vision of the future of San Diego.   It's a huge opportunity, let's not waste it.