Council Member LaCava Leads San Diego Planning Group’s Reform Effort

After many years of rumblings and recommendations on reforming the community planning group, this year could be the year the city of San Diego changes the way its advisory councils work.

District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava has embarked on the process to update the San Diego City Council policy that governs the city’s 42 community planning groups, seeking to fill gaps in the process to promote inclusiveness and transparency.

LaCava’s goal is to change council policy to bring community planning groups into line with the city charter, creating separation from the city while maintaining the structure and integrity of the planning groups and improving opportunities for broader community representation.

The reform plan is expected to be presented to the city’s land use planning and housing committee in March and to the city council for approval in April or May. By summer, planning groups will need to seek recognition from city council under the updated policy.

LaCava said what won’t change is that community planning groups (CPGs) will still be recognized and compensated by the city and will retain the ability to provide input on development projects and priorities in infrastructure.

“It will always be a place for the community in many ways, that won’t change, they just won’t have the staff support that many bands haven’t always had,” he said.

Some members of planning groups have shared concerns that the reforms threaten to weaken or dismantle planning groups to the point where they lose all influence, silencing community voices to the benefit of promoters and vested interests. individuals.

“It’s just a gutting of the planning boards, it’s really obvious,” Torrey Hills Community Planning Board chairwoman Kathryn Burton said at their January meeting. “It’s just another way to stifle community input.”

At the Community Planners Committee meeting on January 25, Eduardo Savigliano, a member of the Torrey Pines planning group, said a number of reforms felt like a significant loss to the operations of the planning group and reflected a disconnect with the city.

“CPG people, we are something special,” Savigliano said of the hundreds of volunteers who serve their communities. “I think the city should bend over backwards to increase participation and make it easier for us and smooth the conversation.”

The reform of the urban planning group has been percolating in the city for several years. Critics of planning groups have said the groups seek to block needed housing projects, oppose change and progress, and have stagnant memberships that do not accurately reflect the diversity of neighborhoods they represent.

In 2018, the San Diego County Grand Jury investigated a citizen’s complaint alleging that planning groups delayed hearing the elements in order to restrict the growth of their communities. The grand jury found that delays are often due to limited citizen interest in volunteering for planning groups and proposed various reforms, such as consolidating CPGs.

A 2019 city audit resulted in recommended changes to council policy to promote transparency, compliance, and diverse community representation, as well as provide annual training and expand annual reporting. That year, the city attorney released a legal analysis stating that the current structure conflicted with the city charter and recommended changes.

LaCava, who spearheaded the reform effort, said he had planning groups in his DNA — he started in La Jolla and served as chairman of the committee of community planners.

He published his first draft of reforms in November 2021: “To put it bluntly, it was not well received,” he said. Over the next few months, he said he tried to absorb criticism and make changes to the document.

“We really tried to listen to the key elements that were causing concerns and fears,” LaCava said. “It feels like we’re establishing a dialogue around the issues and how to resolve them.”

During the CPC meeting on January 25, LaCava shared some of the latest changes to the project, based on feedback received.

Council’s allocation will continue and it has confirmed that city meeting spaces will remain available for groups at no cost. CPGs will lose the ability to file free project calls and the city will not commit to having a planner assigned to each monthly meeting, but they will be accessible to the group (for several years many local groups have not had planner present each month) .

LaCava said he could not speak for the other council members, but would continue to send a representative to all District 1 planning groups.

One reform proposal that is getting a lot of feedback is the elimination of all attendance requirements to serve on the board of directors or to vote in elections.

“We really saw that as a deterrent to people getting involved in their planning groups,” LaCava said. “There is no other organization, council or commission or candidacy for public office that requires a level of participation.”

All CPGs in the city have different attendance requirements in their bylaws. For example, Carmel Valley requires candidates to have attended two meetings in the last year before the March election and it does not require eligible voters to have attended a meeting to vote.

LaCava said the requirement is still being discussed and debated: “Participation is quite tricky.”

At the Jan. 20 San Diego Planning Commission meeting on the subject of reforms, Francine Maxwell of the Encanto CPG said attendance is very important because it shows who is dedicated – without a requirement, a special interest could come in and take over group planning, which the Torrey Hills board fought against in 2002.

“You would have the developers as happy as a pig eating porridge for this to be adopted,” Maxwell said.

Others have argued that the attendance requirement creates a barrier to participation, especially for underrepresented groups: “Interest is not reflected in attendance and to say so is a privilege,” Liana said. Cortez, resident of San Diego.

The reforms aim to encourage, but not impose, planning groups to become more assertive in seeking greater community participation from broader community representation, particularly tenants. Many groups will say they have already done so, but it is difficult to fill the seats on the list.

“The city has this perception that we’re keeping people out of planning groups and not engaging them,” said Mira Mesa City Council member Jeff Stevens. “It’s just participating in a planning group that compromises everything people have to do with their time. Not many people are willing to take the time to do this.

One thing that LaCava heard loud and clear was the CPGs’ desire to preserve their space on the city’s website, versus the proposal in the draft that planning groups would be removed from the city’s site and held accountable. of their own independent sites.

Currently, planning group agendas and minutes can be found in a common area of ​​the City’s website.

“I don’t know why anyone interested in outreach would be interested in removing this,” CPC President Wally Wulfeck said. “I can’t stress how important it is for the public to find information and if the city doesn’t support websites, some groups won’t be able to get them.”

Some information about planning groups on the city’s website is outdated, and many groups do not have their own website. Locally, only the Torrey Pines CPG has an independent site.

Gail Friedt of Uptown Planners said planning groups should understand how young people get their information and encouraged the use of social media accounts in addition to group websites. She said in her research, she found only Uptown and North Park had a presence on platforms like Twitter.

According to the draft document, applicants for private projects are not required to apply to CPGs, although the city encourages applicants to conduct strong engagement with CPGs, the community and neighbors of the project.

Shital Parikh, a member of the Del Mar Mesa Planning Group, was concerned that if developers are not required to attend CPGs, the community may not be notified of project proposals or be able to provide information. She said that there had already been projects that they believed had been done behind their backs and she wanted there to be a way to ensure that citizens’ concerns were heard and that they did not not feel completely ignored.

LaCava said contestants weren’t required in the past to go to GICs, but many go regularly. There is language in the code that he is trying to retain that states that notices of project requests and decisions will continue to be sent to GICs. And hopefully, he said, a city council member would fight the good fight alongside his district’s planning group.

“I still believe in community planning groups,” LaCava said. “I know that sounds like empty words, but we’re trying to preserve as much structure as possible under this new requirement.”

“(Community planning groups) are really important.”

About Jessica J. Bass

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