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Future Of San Diego’s Community Planning Groups Uncertain

 January 6, 2020 at 10:18 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Recommendations aimed at making San Diego's 42 community planning groups more inclusive and transparent. We're heading towards city council approval before a legal analysis last week from the city attorney's office. The analysis found that the planning groups that play a crucial role in determining the fate of housing projects across the city probably can't be regulated by the city because they're independent. The city attorney suggests some ways the city might change that, but those remedies could slow down the reform effort and advocates say San Diego needs those reforms to address the city's housing crisis. Joining me is Colin parentees, executive director and general counsel of circulate San Diego, a nonprofit which supports the planning group reforms. And Collin, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. Now the city attorney's concerns about reforming community planning groups seem to STEM from the uncertain status of those groups. They are now apparently independent bodies and the city would have to change that before it could regulate them. Did you see this issue coming? Speaker 2: 01:04 You know, uh, I think what's important to understand here is that the city attorney is said very clearly that, uh, that there have to be some reforms and that the, the direction they were going may not be the direction they ultimately go. Uh, but there is an option to do that. It just would require, you know, some other things. Uh, so we, we actually saw, uh, uh, uh, the city attorney actually produced two different options are three different options. Two of those were ones that circulate San Diego had identified as potential options, uh, in a prior legal memo that the city attorney is currently responding to. So this is not a big surprise to us. Uh, but it's is going to take a little work to navigate what the, what the city attorneys as newly identified. Speaker 1: 01:46 Right. Because the, these technical legal issues were apparently overlooked by the city auditor and the city council land use committee when they gave approval to new rules to make these groups more inclusive and transparent. Speaker 2: 01:59 Yeah, that's right. And part of it is also that the city attorney has been a moving target as to what, how they feel about these community planning groups. And so in the past they have said that they are created by the city council. They are public bodies, that it must be regulated by the Brown act, which is the California's open meeting law. And then now their, uh, their new, um, advice is saying something different. They're saying it's more ambiguous. Uh, they tried to address that, uh, discrepancy in a footnote in their, uh, uh, in their memos saying, Oh, well we kind of said that before, but now it's a little different. Speaker 1: 02:31 So let me take you back a step back. Collin, what are some of the reforms recommended for these community planning groups and why do you think they're needed? Speaker 2: 02:38 Yeah, so they're needed for a variety of reasons. And the, in circulate San Diego really, uh, was one of the first groups to really kick this off with a report that we published called democracy and planning. And what essentially we're identifying is that there's a variety of ways in which the community planning process, which has a lot of benefits, isn't, doesn't live up to our expectations for what we expect out of a democracy. So, um, in order to serve on a community planning group, you have to get elected, uh, by your neighbors. But the elections are not always fair. So for example, in some of those elections, in order to even vote, you have to have attended a prior community planning group meeting. And think about, think about that. Let's imagine you go and you show up to vote for your city council member in November. Speaker 2: 03:19 And the person at the poll says, Oh, you know, I'm, I'm sorry, Marina, where you're not able to, uh, to vote, uh, because you haven't attended a prior city council meeting. You know, you think that was outrageous, right? Or, or you can't, you know, you can't vote for this member of Congress because you've never visited Congress. Right? I mean, that's just, that's just nonsense. And so, uh, there's no way that we should be, uh, maintaining a structure like that. And so some reforms like that, um, can be, can and should be implemented to make sure that the, the, these groups that do advise the city on really important matters are, um, are equitable and accessible to everyone. And there was some concern that the community planning groups as they're made up right now aren't really inclusive. They don't, they don't include a lot of renters. Speaker 2: 03:59 They don't include a lot of minorities and women. Uh, and uh, you, you were looking to see that changed. Yeah. And let me clarify. The dad is, um, that's all based on anecdotal observations. Uh, there's plenty of academic work in, in other regions that show that more specifically. But one of the key recommendations was that we need to have that data for San Diego. So we need to make sure that when people are elected to community planning groups that we, that we survey them, that we have some sense of who is serving in these capacities so that we can make, you know, thoughtful choices about how they're structured. Cause currently we, we just don't have that data. Uh, but, but yeah, when you go there, it's, it, you definitely get that sense. And again, it's, it's different for different groups. Students, some, some groups that are in, um, are certainly more diverse and to their credit, but, but others are not. Speaker 2: 04:46 And the idea is that from advocates who want to save more housing and more dense housing in San Diego, that sometimes these community groups are obstacles to that. Yeah. I mean that's certainly the perception but, but we in, there's, I think some truth to it, but the focus of our, our efforts and the reforms are really value neutral. They're not about making sure that we're going to have more, more housing. They're not about making sure that we're going to have more bike lanes, that that's actually not what it's about. It's about making sure that the system that we use to make those decisions are more fair. How do you think this legal analysis from the city attorney's office impacts the reform effort? Well, I think it does clouded a little bit, but, um, but that, but that's okay. It's important to get to the right outcome. Speaker 2: 05:32 And it's important to have an outcome that's defensible that we can all live with in a going forward basis. So, uh, the city attorney really identifies three different options. One is to sort of disband them and have the mayor appoint, um, uh, members and as probably not going to happen politically. Uh, the other option is to have them be a relatively independent, but if they are going to be independent, then they have to, they have to be, um, uh, organized as nonprofits and the city can't incorporate them in the land use process as deeply as they currently are. And that's, you know, that's, that's an option. Uh, and then the third option is they would have to, uh, amend the city charter to allow for this sort of structure. But then also if they amend the city charter to allow that, that gives the city more opportunity to regulate how they operate and to ensure that they are, uh, elections and operations are, are fair and equitable. Speaker 2: 06:18 From your standpoint, what do you think the, the city's next move should be? Well, I think the city's next move is that the council needs to take, uh, take this up as a council and they need to direct the city attorney at which of those three models they want to move forward with. Um, I think they, if done correctly, any of those models can be, can be appropriate. Uh, but right now the city attorney doesn't, doesn't know exactly which of those models the city council wants to do. So the really the ball is in the court of the city council. They need to docket this and they need to direct the city attorney on how to move forward. I have been speaking with Colin parent, he's executive director and general counsel of circulate San Diego and Colin, thank you. Thank you.

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San Diego's Community Planning Groups were on the road to reform. Then the City Attorney reviewed those suggested reforms and now the process is anything but certain.
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