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University City residents worry about massive growth planned for their community

City proposes building up to 50,000 new homes in the community over the course of the next 20 years. Residents say that's not what they signed up for.

SAN DIEGO — In an attempt to drive down housing costs and address what appears to be an ever-escalating unsheltered population, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria wants to increase San Diego's housing stock.

With a new trolley line, access to freeways, and close proximity to UC San Diego, University City has become the epicenter to shoulder that growth.

A proposed update to the community plan projects increasing density by 200 percent in the coming decades, allowing for anywhere between 35,000 to 56,000 new homes in the coming decades, a 215 percent density increase.

For University City that would mean hundreds of high rise residential units, and a twofold increase in current density to 290 units per acre. For reference, Downtown San Diego's community plan, after factoring in projects now in the pipeline as well as those anticipated, will have a density of 176 units per acre.

Meanwhile, recent estimates from SANDAG suggest a need for a little more than 2,200 new homes and the city's now-abandoned plan to build between 10,000 to 30,000 new homes.

University City the Next Downtown?

University City residents say the building boom will change the face of the community, and if unchecked, the city will get its wish to transform University City into San Diego's newest downtown district.

"Turning this into another downtown will decimate our neighborhood. We will lose our community by losing parks and chasing away small businesses,” says Pablo Lanatta, who bought his home nearly two years ago.

"Through hard work and a lot of sacrifices, we were able to eventually afford a house here in University City. We wanted to live the ‘American Dream,’ raise our kids, potentially our grandkids, and retire and live here for the rest of our lives.  But with such insane growth that may be impossible.”

Lanatta has joined other community members in an effort to fight the proposed build out of University City.

They say the city's plan will do next to nothing to add affordable housing units.

"Any new projects that come here are going to be very expensive," says Marion Nebiker, who has owned her home in University City for 48 years. "The land is expensive. The building costs are expensive. They will just end up putting in high-end housing and it’s just going to change the whole sense of our community.”

The Need for Housing and Student Housing

During a September 29 planning commission meeting, planners as well as others applauded the plan to build bigger and higher in University City.

They say the addition of the trolley, proximity to San Diego's biotech industry, and its closeness to UC San Diego where enrollment is expected to spike by three-thousand students in the next decade, makes University City the optimal location for increased density.

San Diego's chief planner, Heidi Vonblum agrees. 

“As many San Diegans are aware, the City currently has a lack of homes people can afford," said planning director Vonblum. "This is just one opportunity, in addition to many other citywide initiatives, to add this much-needed capacity for new homes, in a high-resource area located near the region’s recent multi-billion-dollar investment in the new trolley line."

Added Vonblum, "More homes near jobs and education, with good access to transit, and safe and enjoyable walking/rolling and biking opportunities also help the City achieve its fair housing and climate goals.”

UC San Diego's Efforts to Boost Its Housing Supply

According to data obtained from UC San Diego, the university's enrollment is now at 42,000, after factoring in graduate students. 

A city of San Diego staff report issued at the September 29 meeting estimated that enrollment will rise by approximately 3,000 students over the next decade - UC San Diego was unable to confirm that number with CBS 8.

Despite the increase, a UC San Diego spokesperson says development is already underway to accommodate any current student housing shortages and the need for new housing.

"Starting in 2023, three new on-campus housing neighborhoods will open in successive years, adding more than 5,000 new undergraduate beds on campus by 2025," says the spokesperson.

The new housing units include the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, which will provide housing to 2,000 undergraduate students, Pepper Canyon West Living and Learning Neighborhood, which will provide 1,300 single-occupancy rooms to transfer and upper-division undergraduate students, and the proposed Ridge Walk North Living and Learning Neighborhood, which if approved will provide housing for approximately 2,000 additional undergraduate students.

University City residents say the new housing projects at UC San Diego show the city is only using increased enrollment to justify the hike in density.

Residents, such as Linda Bernstein who has lived in University City for 40 years and serves on the planning group, said she supports new housing and increased density but the level the city wants far exceeds what the community can handle.

“We all recognize that we’re going to change and that we should grow and that we have to grow because there is a housing shortage,” says Bernstein.

“We were all excited about the trolley coming into the community.  We saw that as access to University City,  access to UCSD, and access to the biotech field. We were thinking that was going to be a great advantage.  What we didn’t recognize is that the City and the developers had something else in mind.” 

Added Bernstein, “It’s the unknown what this massive growth is going to look like. This community is about children and young families and students, a real community. If the developers take over, that dream and our vision will diminish.”

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