Has the proposed Hillcrest LGBT Historic District ended before even starting?Top Highlights, Commentary, Latest Issue Thursday, November 10th, 2016
Ask anyone anywhere in the world, gay or straight, with even a passing knowledge of San Diego, and they will tell you that Hillcrest is our ‘gayborhood.’ Although now as the saying goes, “we are everywhere,” we had to start somewhere; and Hillcrest has remained as the place where LGBT locals and tourists alike live and visit to experience a sense of belonging.
However, the heart of Hillcrest is about to be ripped out. Nov. 14, the City Council will vote on a new Uptown Community Plan. Although called for since 1988, a Hillcrest Historic District not only isn’t included in this new plan, but a group of real estate speculators calling themselves Gateway have lobbied city staff and councilmembers to have the same area as the historic district specially designated for them.
Rather than comply with historic preservation or even the same development requirements as everywhere else in Uptown, Gateway is demanding entitlements for unlimited height and density and to bulldoze over nine square blocks.
Many of you reading this right now might be thinking that what I’m saying is an exaggeration, that the situation can’t possibly be as bad as I’ve described.
However, for better or worse, this Gateway group has produced a video showing that this is exactly what they want to do; and you can watch it at https://vimeo.com/170125758.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
In the last Uptown Community Plan, the Hillcrest commercial core area, “which is generally bounded by University, Third, Sixth and Robinson,” was proposed as a historic district. This area is “significant because of its unique architectural attributes.” The plan noted that the “two-story buildings along these streets represent a unique and historic relationship between building facades and pedestrian sidewalk areas,” making it a model for the ideal of walkable neighborhoods.
In June 2015, the first draft plan update called for increasing the footprint of this proposed Hillcrest Historic District, and to include an LGBT context as reflecting the living history of the area. It further called for the city to “Provide interim protection of all potential historic districts identified in the adopted Uptown Historic Resources Survey,” and to “Partner with local knowledgeable organizations and groups.”
Yet when the revised draft was presented in June 2016, the district still wasn’t established. Paradoxically, city staff claimed both that the scope of the plan was so large that there wasn’t room for it, and that they didn’t have time to restore it to the final plan.
This led Uptown Planners, Lambda Archives, Hillcrest History Guild and over 20 other individuals and groups to call for the implementation of the Hillcrest Historic District in the final plan. It also prompted Save Our Heritage Organization for the first time to include the Hillcrest Historic District in its Most Endangered List of Historic Resources.
Despite the fact that no other potential historic district in Uptown received this level of endorsement, city staff still refuses to include it. And in September, staffers created a work program that wouldn’t even begin to look at implementing it until 2023!
While all this was going on in the open, Gateway paid the Atlantis Group, the lobbyists behind many controversial local land use issues, to spend hundreds of hours meeting with city staff and councilmembers.
And even though there has been no public discussion of it, it appears city staff did make time to incorporate 110 pages of code revisions and arguments from Gateway, and is going to recommend a Gateway special district be included in the final plan.
Certainly greed is the major motive behind developers’ efforts for a free hand, and one hesitates to accuse those we barely know of homophobia.
However, when we consider the ugly history of the Pernicanos property, its dereliction long tied to anti-gay rumors, it’s hard not to see getting rid of a district honoring LGBT people as a final spite. And it is difficult to imagine a different motivation for those putting in quote tongs their calling “the removal of the ‘proposed historic district’ for the commercial core of Hillcrest as a common sense step.”
But motive is irrelevant when the practical effect of what is called business as usual is in fact the eradication of our cultural heritage. The underhanded demolition of the Michels-Carey House shows that developers are more than willing to destroy anything considered historical if it stands in the way of their plans.
There are only four days left until this chance to save the heart of Hillcrest is gone forever.
Please call or write Todd Gloria at 619-236-6633 or ToddGloria@sandiego.gov. Bring your friends to the Nov. 14 City Council meeting on the final plan (it will likely be in the evening session). Urge him to repudiate the Gateway special district and have city staff fast track implementation of the Hillcrest Historic District.
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