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Pechanga Arena redevelopment derailed again

The ongoing effort to redevelop the 48-acre Pechanga Arena site in San Diego has been sidelined yet again, as a superior court judge invalidated the original ballot measure approving the project.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal held that Measure E, approved by 57 percent of San Diego voters, was not valid as it did not include an environmental impact analysis of a repeal of the 30-foot coastal height limit for buildings in the 48-acre parcel.

It’s another setback for the star-crossed effort. The city had already gone through a bidding process and selected a developer before the state ruled the effort violated the state Surplus Lands Act, which required affordable housing to be part of any move to release city land for redevelopment. San Diego then solicited new RFPs for the project. The ruling comes as the city began evaluations of five project proposals, including a revamped proposal from Discover Midway (which was awarded development rights before the state action).

The city’s response is to move forward on two fronts. The first is to appeal the decision; the city argued that a plan for Midway area development approved in 2018 already assessed the impact of taller buildings. But an appeal could take a couple of years. The other front involved performing an environmental impact study and then presenting that plan to voters in the November 2022 elections, in a move that allows development plans to proceed. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Both approaches are time-consuming, but the two-pronged response is likely intended to provide would-be sports arena site developers with enough confidence to continue forward.

“You’re talking about many months, maybe even a couple of years, before you get a decision (on appeal). However that comes out, presumably the losing party would file a further appeal to the state supreme court,” said Cary Lowe, who is a retired land-use lawyer and urban planner. “In the meantime, the city can certainly do the (environmental analysis) faster than that.”

Sports arena site bidders are currently in a 90-day negotiation period with the city and are expected to present their proposals to City Council members next year.

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