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Younger volunteer planning group wins city recognition to represent Uptown

Vibrant Uptown will replace Uptown Planners as the official community planning group for Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, Middletown, Hillcrest and part of University Heights.

A group of pro-density urbanists gained the right to hold elections for the volunteer group that advises San Diego officials on land use and transportation matters in Uptown.

Vibrant Uptown won the council's recognition Tuesday as the designated community planning group that covers Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, Middletown, Hillcrest and part of University Heights. The incumbent group, Uptown Planners, could continue to exist but will not have as much influence over city planning.

The upset occurred in the wake of an effort spearheaded by City Councilmember Joe LaCava to reform the policy that governs community planning groups. Several audits and reports have found are older, whiter and wealthier compared to the neighborhoods they represent.


Vibrant Uptown adopted bylaws that set aside seats on their board for both a renter and property owner in every neighborhood included in the Uptown planning area and seats for businesses and nonprofits. The group must hold elections for its board within 90 days, and current members of Uptown Planners are eligible to run.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, whose district includes Uptown, said Vibrant Uptown's election rules were more democratic because they would guarantee representation for historically underrepresented groups.

"Just as district elections resulted in a more representative City Council, I am confident that designated seats for neighborhoods, homeowners, renters, and businesses will result in a more representative community planning group," Whitburn said.

Supporters of Uptown Planners defended the group and said the proposed rules for Vibrant Uptown would overrepresent businesses, undercut homeowners' views, and force neighbors to compete against each other for limited seats.

"This highly experimental new structure can't even be charitably described as a solution in search of a problem; it's just plain a problem," said Lu Rehling, a former Uptown Planners member.


Members of Vibrant Uptown are mostly younger than the current members of Uptown Planners. They have been openly supportive of city efforts to densify their neighborhoods with more apartment buildings to relieve San Diego's acute housing shortage.

"Vibrant Uptown was formed as a direct result of the negativity and dysfunction we experienced as both members and participants in Uptown Planners meetings through the years," said Gail Friedt, one of the group's founding members. "A grassroots group of individuals came together to make our community better."

Still, councilmembers said Vibrant Uptown's operating procedures and plans for outreach and engagement mattered most.

"It is not about what individuals or groups think about where their community has been, is today, or their vision for the future," LaCava said. "It is solely about the compliance with the policy, and who the community will elect to fill the membership of the recognized group."