San Diego Planning Groups Band Together To Defend Role In Land-Use Decisions
Residents from Ocean Beach and Paradise Hills lined up at this week's San Diego City Council meeting to discuss – of all things – Carmel Valley.
They were members of community planning groups that advise the city on land-use decisions in their neighborhoods.
Seventeen of the city's 43 planning groups have passed resolutions in recent weeks telling the city to stop going over their heads.
Despite sharp opposition from Carmel Valley's planning board, the City Council approved a 24-acre development in the community called One Paseo. The disagreement led to a referendum that puts the project back before the City Council on Thursday.
Joe La Cava heads an umbrella committee for the planning groups and led a round of public comments at Monday's One Paseo hearing.
"Community planning groups, even though they're advisory, play an important role in bringing the community together to have a conversation in terms of what a project should look like," La Cava said. "Their concern is that community plans are not being held in high regards and instead are being changed at will."
Planning groups help city planners work out the plans that set zoning and growth targets in neighborhoods. Carmel Valley's current community plan doesn't permit a project as large as One Paseo, so its developer had to get special approval from the city to break with existing land-use restrictions.
Speakers on Monday said that could signal to other developers that community groups, though still a part of the formal approval process, can essentially be bypassed.
But not everyone in Carmel Valley agrees with their planning board. Some have sided with One Paseo developer Kilroy Realty in fighting the referendum. They say they want the new condos and amenities in their neighborhood.
And community organizers in other areas point out planning groups don't always reflect the communities they serve.
Georgette Gomez, an associate director with the Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit that often encourages residents to speak up about land-use decisions affecting air quality, has pushed for language interpretation at planning meetings and said the lingo can be intimidating to everyday residents.
And then there's NIMBYism, or residents saying "Not In My Backyard" to new developments. The city has faced an uphill battle persuading some planning groups to accept a move toward higher density development to keep pace with carbon emissions guidelines and housing needs.
But La Cava said that's a crude generalization of planning groups and doesn’t mean the City Council needs to go around them to meet its environmental goals.
"The high-profile controversies are the ones that everybody pays attention to," La Cava said. "In reality, there are actually projects that are being approved everyday that are supported by the neighbors and the community planning groups."
Most opposing One Paseo at Monday's meeting said they'd support a smaller version of the project that still incorporates environmentally friendly strategies.
Legal teams from both sides could be negotiating such a compromise. They're scheduled to present to the City Council on Thursday. The council will then vote whether to rescind its initial approval of One Paseo and let a compromise plan work its way through the planning process, or let voters make the call in 2016.