LaCava launches reform of planning group in San Diego to ‘clean up this mess’

The La Jolla Community Planning Association, along with other community planning groups across San Diego, might look a little different over the coming year. City Councilor Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said his proposed reforms would alter some of the groups’ operations to bring them into line with the city’s charter.

A presentation on the 30 proposed reform measures is due to be presented to the Community Planners Committee, which includes representatives from all of San Diego’s community planning groups, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 30, online. This will be followed by the San Diego Planning Commission in December, the City Council Land Use and Housing Committee in early 2022, and the full City Council in the spring. The intention is to implement the measures by next fall.

LaCava, a resident of La Jolla, served on 30 boards and commissions before being elected to city council in 2020, including nine years (five as president) at the La Jolla Community Planning Association.

“What was important in this reform process was to see what we need to do so as not to violate the city charter,” LaCava told the La Jolla Light. “We heard from the city attorney and the [San Diego County] grand jury that there were questions as to whether these boards were truly representative of the community – landlords, home owners, business owners – and whether the old rules were barriers that prevented people from wanting to vote or voting. sit on the board.

New language has been devised that “removes as many of these barriers as possible,” LaCava said, such as removing a meeting attendance requirement to vote for the board or run for a seat. LJCPA requires people to attend at least one meeting per calendar year to vote and at least three meetings to take place.

The changes also aim to speed up the approval of housing projects by standardizing and professionalizing group practices. For example, groups would be required to make all environmental comments on a proposed housing project within the same timeframe as the public, and land use proposals would be dealt with early in meetings instead of forcing developers and opponents to wait for hours.

The recommendation that private home developers and urban project engineers come to committees for review would not change.

In a video He posted online, LaCava said further changes would stimulate “inclusive and robust public participation” and require the collection of “periodic demographic data on voting members.”

“On top of all of this,” LaCava said, “community planning groups are going to be more independent. City staff will not help organize elections, mediate disputes; they will lose that connection. That doesn’t mean. that the staff will not be available to them, but they will have to be more autonomous. ”

He said groups will still be able to “elect their own members, hold their own meetings and have access to city resources.”

For places like La Jolla, with “very strong planning groups,” there wouldn’t be much change, he said.

“What we would expect to see for a number of planning groups that have good, hard-working volunteers, they won’t see much of a difference,” LaCava said. “Some groups that have trouble finding volunteers may have a little trouble because there is more work to be done to get the vote. [board] members ”who represent different facets of the community, he said.

La Jolla has 10 recognized groups – including those at La Jolla Shores, Bird Rock and the Recreation Center and sub-committees under the Community Planning Association – but only the LJCPA would be affected by the reforms.

“This is a change and it will take some time for people to understand how these measures apply to their groups,” LaCava said. “But I feel like there is a positive but cautious attitude about it.”

LJCPA representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

“La Jolla is unique in that our subcommittees are made up of members of other planning groups. I don’t expect that to change, ”LaCava said. “The relationship between the board office and these planning groups and any other group will not change. We always make an effort to attend planning group meetings and hear what’s going on in the community. This policy does not affect our relationships with these groups.

After a report written by the regional organization Getting around San Diego and submitted to the auditor in 2018, the recommended auditor additional monitoring and updates to city council policy that guides the operations of the community planning group. In 2019, the city attorney released a legal analysis indicating that the current structure conflicted with the city charter and recommended changes.

A grand jury report in April 2018 indicated that planning groups are unprofessional, unpredictable and not transparent enough, and cited a lack of training for planning group administrators before they take office within from the administration board.

Critics also said the groups sought to block housing projects too aggressively and that membership numbers were stagnating which did not accurately reflect the neighborhoods they represent.

“Community planning groups will become more independent. … This does not mean [city] the staff will not be available to them, but they will have to be more autonomous. “

Councilor Joe LaCava

LaCava told a conference this month at the La Jolla Community Center that planning groups in San Diego are “in a bit of trouble and disarray,” noting the “issues” identified by the listener of the city. He said he had worked over the past 10 months to put in place a new structure to “clean up this mess and put them on a good legal footing”.

He said four options have been explored:

“We could leave the planning groups completely free to do whatever they want, much like the La Jolla city council, but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” LaCava said. “We could also comply with the city charter, but that would mean having the [planning group] members are appointed by the mayor. As much as I love the mayor, I don’t want him to appoint people to represent and make decisions in our community, so I rejected that. We could also amend the charter, but it is a voting measure that takes time and is complicated.

The fourth option includes its reform measures. “We are going to create planning groups as advisory groups for the city, because I want this input from the public and this direct link with the community, but they are going to be much more independent than they have been in the past. “LaCava said. “We think we have a path that creates that bond that keeps them involved and keeps them legal.”

After a recent briefing with local groups, Kathleen Neil, administrator of the LJCPA, submitted nine questions on action items to be discussed at the Community Planners Committee meeting on November 30. For more information on the committee and its meetings, visit bit.ly/30LrtPi.

San Diego Union-Tribune editor-in-chief David Garrick contributed to this report. ??

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