The Midway District is shown between Interstate 5 and Point Loma from Presidio Park in San Diego on Nov. 9, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The battle over Midway development is so far undecided, but early returns show Measure C has a narrow margin for approval, according to the county’s Registrar of Voters.

San Diego voters have given the initiative to remove the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District a slight edge with 50.24% of the vote, or just 1,190 more votes cast in favor. The county projects 400,000 ballots are remaining and scheduled the next update for Friday evening. The initiative requires a simple majority, or more than 50%.

With its adoption, Measure C would eliminate the 30-foot limit on buildings constructed in the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area — roughly 1,300 acres of land just north of the airport — and pave the way for redevelopment and new housing.

Why this matters

Estimates show San Diego will need 13,500 new units every year for the next eight years to meet its housing needs. Measure C seeks to cut some of the red tape that prevents development in the Midway District.

“San Diegans want homes to be more affordable, and there’s no time to wait,” said City Councilmember Chris Cate, who brought the initiative forward. “Measure C will do this and much more, and I’m optimistic my fellow citizens will rise to this challenge.”

The 30-foot height limit stems from a 1972 citizens’ initiative that most notably accomplished two things: It established a coastal zone for much of the area between the Pacific Ocean and Interstate 5, and prevented developers from building anything taller than three-stories high within that coastal zone. Voters wanted to protect public views and preserve community character for coastal areas.

Supporters of Measure C argue that the Midway District should never have been lumped in with neighborhoods like La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach. They say the Midway is stuck with all the restrictions that come with being a coastal community without any of the benefits or the views, according to a published argument in favor.

Midway Drive in San Diego’s Midway District is shown on Nov. 9, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Best known for its strip malls, traffic congestion and 54-year-old sports arena, the Midway has suffered from blight due to a lack of investment and supporters hope Measure C will be the catalyst to revitalizing the area. 

The vast majority of the 2,000 housing units in the district are multifamily, and a sizable chunk of those are home to seniors and military families, records show. 

One of the initiative’s biggest supporters is Midway Rising, the development group selected by Mayor Todd Gloria and the City Council in September to rebuild the 48-acre sports arena site. The group put more than $600,000 into a committee supporting the measure. Contingent on a ‘yes’ from San Diego voters, the group’s plan is to add 4,250 affordable, middle-income and market-rate homes, as well as public parks, a hotel and a modern sports arena.

Those who oppose the initiative say it’s a scheme that undermines a hard-fought legal right to open and accessible beaches. City officials are just trying to fool voters with a misleading ballot title, a published opposition argument says, and reward their developer and special interest friends with lucrative deals that will only shepherd in more congestion and expensive high-rises.

If the height limit falls, it will cause a domino effect across the coastline, extending a wall of high-rise development from the airport all the way up to Del Mar, said John McNab, president of the Save Our Access nonprofit and leader of the opposition. This is about protecting public access to the sacred coastline, he added.

“We’re going to be Miami Beach, we’re going to be Shanghai, we’re going to be something that is unrecognizable to San Diegans today,” McNab said. “That’s the big issue.”

A section of Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego’s Midway District is shown on Nov. 9, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Records from the city’s independent budget analyst show height limits can reduce housing production and lead to increased housing prices. Slashing the Midway’s 30-foot limit may lead to increased housing and economic growth, according to a review. Charles Modica, the city’s analyst, recommended that the City Council consider future ballot proposals to chip away at the 30-foot height limit in other areas within the coastal zone.

It’s been done before. Since the coastal zone was established in 1972, voters have approved three other amendments to exempt specific projects from the 30-foot limit. The Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area marks the fourth.

Voters may remember passing an initiative similar to Measure C in 2020, but a judge ruled in favor of opponents who sued the city for not conducting a proper analysis of environmental impacts of raising the limit. The city has since conducted an additional analysis but the same opponents have sued again, saying it still doesn’t go far enough.

“This is basically the battle for the coast,” McNab said.

“The coast is hanging by a thread. This is a huge issue and this was the biggest issue long term that was on the ballot.”

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official, Cody...