Contact Us

Civic San Diego Playing A Major Role In Evolving Downtown

Civic San Diego assistant VP Brad Richter, who is among the cast of notable Downtown San Diego stakeholders presenting at Bisnow's San Diego 3rd Annual Evolution of Downtown event on May 18, tells Bisnow his organization expedites the development review process for commercial development in Downtown districts, reducing the time required to entitle Downtown projects to four to six months or less.


CivicSD is a nonprofit corporation that has provided redevelopment services in the Downtown market since the statewide dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2011.

Brad explains the expediting of projects is possible because CivicSD, which is charged with planning and discretionary project reviews in the urban core, has taken the entire Downtown market through the environmental review process. He notes CEQA generally adds six to 18 months to a project’s entitlement process.


CivicSD funds affordable housing projects, like the one above, with revenue from ground leases on city-owned property and an inclusionary housing fee charged on projects of 10 units or more.

The organization also provides hardscaping and planning to ensure pedestrian-friendly, active streetscapes, as seen below.


CivicSD’s overall focus is to attract employers to the Downtown market. The city has been very successful at growing a downtown residential population, but not at convincing major new commercial development downtown, Brad says, noting the Downtown residential population has grown from 17,000 in 2000 to nearly 40,000 today.

He says the region’s major new office developments historically have been located in suburban and North County markets. “It’s hard to turn the ship around after 20 to 25 years,” Brad comments, pointing out a dense, urban Downtown is a young phenomenon, with redevelopment only significantly taking hold 15 years ago. “While we have startups and entrepreneurial efforts in Downtown, we haven’t been able to attract significant new office development yet.”


CivicSD creates environments where the arts and culture can flourish. Pictured is a community art event at Warehouse 1425 in the Makers Quarter, which is now occupied by Furse Intregration, an initial Makers Quarter tenant focused on the nexus between defense, technology and innovation.

Brad notes during the past two decades, CivicSD and its predecessor have created a one-stop shop to fast-track Downtown projects and tools for encouraging dense commercial development with jobs and housing for workers. “All of Downtown is zoned mixed-use,” he says, “so developers can do a variety of things.”

Brad explains overlay zones in certain areas require at least 50% of floor area ratio (FAR) be devoted to employment uses—be it office, hotel or retail.


Each downtown block is assigned a minimum and maximum FAR multiplier, Brad says, explaining how overlay zones allow developers to earn density bonuses based on the amount of FAR dedicated to employment uses. “A project with 100% of FAR in employment, earns the maximum FAR,” he explains. For example, FAR at Sempra Energy’s new HQ in East Village went from 6 FAR to 8 FAR based on the building’s 100% employment use.

CivicSD recently completed a Wayfinding System to help pedestrians and cyclists navigate Downtown. Pictured above is Downtown resident Sarah Czarnecki using the map at the Little Italy kiosk. It also creates cycling infrastructure (below).


Brad believes employers will eventually gravitate to Downtown, because the talent they need is located here. “We have the biggest employee base for the type of talent businesses are looking for, because of the quality of life offered in Downtown,” he contends. “Millennials don’t want to commute, they want to walk to work.”

CivicSD encourages transit-oriented development, as seen below.


“Meanwhile, we’re creating an urban center, with the potential to grow to 90,000 residents over the next 20 years. This will continue to be the economic and cultural heart of San Diego,” Brad continues, noting San Diegans who formerly only visited Downtown to have dinner in the Gas Lamp Quarter are now sitting up and taking notice as different neighborhoods emerge. 

Hear more from Brad and other Downtown stakeholders at Bisnow's San Diego 3rd Annual Evolution of Downtown on May 18, beginning at 7:30am with breakfast and networking at the Westin San Diego, 400 W Broadway in Downtown. Sign up here