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Plans To Transform North Park Clear Planning Commission

Photo caption: The North Park neighborhood sign stands at University Avenue and 29th Street,...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

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

The San Diego Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the North Park and Golden Hill community plan updates, lengthy documents that will play a role in meeting the city's environmental goals. A recent analysis cast doubt on whether the plans are sufficient to reduce the city's dependence on the automobile.

The San Diego Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to recommend approval of the North Park and Golden Hill community plan updates, raising their chances of passage at the City Council next month.

The commission heard public comments and discussed the plans for about seven hours. Among the most contentious issues was a recent analysis the city commissioned evaluating the plans' effectiveness at encouraging residents to bike, walk or ride public transit to work. That shift in transportation habits is a key component of the city's Climate Action Plan.

The climate plan aims to get half of all San Diegans living near public transit to commute to work without a car by 2035. The city's analysis found both North Park and Golden Hill would have far too many people still driving to work by that deadline. Though the goals are citywide and not specific to each neighborhood, North Park and Golden Hill are both in the city's urban core and would likely have to exceed the citywide goals to make up for less urbanized neighborhoods.

Planning commissioners ultimately voted to symbolically highlight the significance of the transportation analysis to the City Council. But they did not recommend changing the overall community plan updates for fear of triggering a new environmental review and delaying the plans' approval.

Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said the city has not done enough to prove it can make up for the transportation shortcomings in other ways.

"We believe we deserve to know, with substantial evidence, what programs and policies are going to get us to the transportation targets," Capretz said in an interview after the vote. "And they're saying, 'Trust us. Somehow we'll get you there.'"

City staffers have listed some policies they could implement to further encourage alternative transportation, including the "promotion of bicycle and car sharing programs." They have also said the transportation goals make up only about 15 percent of the climate plan's overall greenhouse gas reductions.

A county grand jury report recently found the city's bike sharing program, DecoBike, was at risk of failure. The mayor and City Council ultimately "partially disagreed" with the report's findings and downplayed DecoBike's significance in meeting the Climate Action Plan goals.

The North Park and Golden Hill community plan updates are expected to go before the City Council in October. The positive recommendations from both neighborhoods' community planning groups, as well as the Planning Commission, greatly raise their chances of passage.

Asked whether her organization was prepared to use the Climate Action Plan to sue the city over the community plan updates, Capretz said she had to keep all her options on the table.

"The City Council and the mayor adopted this plan as a legal document... announcing to the entire community that they were committed to protecting our future," she said. "And the way to do that is to hold them accountable and to make sure that they are going to hit these targets."

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