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San Diego City Council Approves Update To North Park Growth Plans

Photo by Katie Schoolov

The North Park neighborhood sign stands at University Avenue and 29th Street, June 28, 2016.

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an update to the North Park Community Plan, after hours of public testimony and calls to delay a vote because of concerns the plan is not compliant with the city's Climate Action Plan.

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an update to the North Park Community Plan, after hours of public testimony and calls to delay a vote because of concerns the plan is not compliant with the city's Climate Action Plan.

The community plan update, which lays out how North Park should develop in the coming decades, aims to incentivize denser housing development along the neighborhood's main public transit corridors, with the goal of encouraging more people to bike, walk or ride public transit to work. An analysis commissioned by the city and released last month found the plan would encourage more car-less commuting, but not to the extent necessary to mirror citywide goals.

A memo containing more predictions about shifts in commuting habits was sent out to council members around 11 a.m. on Tuesday — three hours before the afternoon council session, when the North Park plan was due for a vote.

RELATED: North Park Offers Early Test Of Climate Action Plan

The memo looked to factors beyond the community plan that might impact progress toward the city's mobility goals. It suggests changes to common employer parking policies could provide additional reductions in driving. The policies included charging employees for parking at work or offering employees a "cash-out" option if they chose not to drive to work. The analysis appeared to assume all new jobs across the entire city would fall under these policies.

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Climate Action Plan Memo

Climate Action Plan Memo

The San Diego Planning Department published a memo detailing its strategies for meeting the transportation goals contained in the Climate Action Plan.

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The memo also appeared to include some inconsistencies. Planning Director Jeff Murphy wrote that "enhanced bicycle facilities concurrent with street repaving" could result in a reduction of vehicle trips by up to 2.1 percent.

However, an explanation of the analysis's methodology did not mention street repaving. Rather, it assumed autonomous vehicles would reduce the need for on-street parking, which would in turn allow the city to convert that street space into upgraded bike lanes.

City Councilman David Alvarez said while he supported the North Park Community Plan update, the memo with additional analysis was received only hours before the vote was cast and did not appear to offer significant reductions in vehicle trips.

"The memorandum that we received ... not long ago before we started this hearing doesn't really make me feel entirely comfortable about hitting our Climate Action Plan goals," he said. "I don't know how realistic any of these (parking policies) are."

His comments echoed those made by Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign. She said the memo "reduces my confidence that the city will reach the transportation targets in the climate plan."

City Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district includes North Park, made the motion to approve the community plan update. He also asked city staffers to monitor North Park's shift in commuting habits and to develop a mechanism that would trigger a review of the community plan if it proves insufficient at encouraging biking, walking and public transit.

"It will be up to future Councils and Mayors to monitor the success of these plans and make plan amendments to make sure we are promoting responsible growth in the City and doing enough to conserve San Diego's environment for future generations," Gloria said in a statement after the plan's approval.

When asked if he thought the few hours between the second memo's release and the vote was enough time to thoroughly evaluate the new information, Gloria said through a spokesman: "Yes. At the October 5 Smart Growth and Land Use Committee I made it clear to staff that I expected more data on additional strategies the City could employ to meet our Climate Action Plan. The data provided by staff verified that the additional strategies identified by staff could positively impact mode shift in communities Citywide."

Community plan updates are one of several strategies the city can employ to meet the goals of the Climate Action Plan — however, they are a key strategy. The plans direct where housing and other development should go. Without enough housing near public transit, the city could struggle to reach its goal of getting half of all San Diegans who live near a public transit stop to commute without a car by 2035.

North Park is already considered one of the most walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in San Diego. Given its short distance to work hubs such as downtown San Diego and the several bus routes that already run through it, North Park has been seen as an area ripe for the intense transit-oriented development needed to reduce the city's dependence on cars.

The city council also voted unanimously to approve the community plan update for Golden Hill. The analysis of that plan update found it would be less effective than North Park's in reducing car dependence.

Updates to the community plans for San Ysidro and Uptown are scheduled for a vote at city council on Nov. 14.

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