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Audit Cites Poor Record Keeping Among Planning Groups

San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.

San Diego's 42 community planning groups practice wildly inconsistent record keeping and often lack the training and support necessary to do their jobs, according to a recent report from the City Auditor's Office.

Planning groups have been blamed for delaying the approval process for projects such as new housing or commercial developments. The office said it could not verify that claim because many planning groups have failed to keep detailed records of meetings, elections or current membership — despite that record keeping being required by City Council policy.

The audit followed a San Diego County Grand Jury report completed last year that came to similar conclusions, and a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Circulate San Diego that found some planning groups were undemocratic and lacked transparency.

At a meeting of the City Council's Audit Committee on Wednesday, land use consultant Marcela Escobar-Eck said the city needs to fund staff positions that can help guide the groups' decision making.

"Most of these folks are there volunteering their time taking time out of their own lives to be there to try and improve their community," she said. "Community engagement is a critical part of the process, and they need some support and training."

The auditor's report also found that renters may not be adequately represented among planning group membership. Sean Karafin, vice president of policy and economic research at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said people's work and family schedules also prevent them from going to meetings or running for seats.

"There's a lot of reasons people might not engage in the system that exists," he said. "We need to change the system to make sure that it's inviting to everyone."

The Audit Committee voted to forward the report to the full City Council for review. City staff agreed to improve their training of planning group members, and the council may discuss deeper reforms of the planning groups later this year.

Audit Cites Poor Record Keeping Among Planning Groups
San Diego's 42 community planning groups practice wildly inconsistent record keeping and often lack the training and support necessary to do their jobs, according to a recent report from the City Auditor's Office.

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