I bring up Mayor Sanders's plan to introduce more uniformity into the way planning groups around the city operate. "People in the planning groups are now grumbling about how the change will take away much of their independence. How," I ask, "can that independence be preserved?"
"That's where my office comes out for the neighborhood bill of rights, which will put into the City's charter their fundamental right to participate in the City's major planning decisions.... I think we have a completely different philosophy than the mayor," says Aguirre. "The mayor is looking to again streamline the process to speed things up for the developers. And I think the kind of language he uses is the kind of language that Susan Golding used, and Mayor Murphy used, the developer-friendly language that has accompanied very substantial campaign contributions.
"That is out of step with where we need to be right now. We need to be more thoughtful and careful. We don't want to dry development up, but I think we want to be more like Paris and San Francisco and other places that have maintained beautiful communities while their property values are substantial and the business conditions seem to be pretty resilient. I think being smart is what we want to be. The whole idea of saying 'America's finest city' is just another empty advertising slogan. It doesn't mean anything. It means literally nothing. But to say we want to be America's smartest city -- that does have some content to it, and that's the direction I'd like to see us move.
"What we have to do is make sure we have the water, the wastewater system, the stormwater system, the streets and overall infrastructure, parks, and so on, which we don't have. We have to be honest in guiding that process. What I'd like to see happen is a shift from the development-services approach to environmental planning and protection.... San Diego has had many years of overgrowth and not enough infrastructure.
"We have to transform ourselves from a growth-oriented approach to a sustainability-oriented approach. The Development Services Department is no longer serving anyone's best interests, because they have an impossible job of trying to accommodate growth that doesn't make sense anymore. The developers have driven the political process to get their people in. The City's vision is their business-plan vision, and their vision is not in their own long-term best interests or in the best interests of the city. But I think it's important to move past the vilification, because we've got to get the developers on board. There have to be economic opportunities in San Diego. We don't want to see that dried up. But the market has to serve the larger good. The society as a whole doesn't serve the market; the market serves the society. What's happened here is we've got it backwards. So over and over again [in the development-approval process] there has been no compliance with the law."
Are city councilmembers so unaware of the law? Or do they rely too heavily on arguments of the Development Services Department?
"I think some members of city council have been caught up in the attitude that they want to please the people that got them elected, the ones who finance their campaigns. San Diego is really going through a struggle right now, and my belief is that we're coming to a confrontation point. The City cannot be half honest and half dishonest. It can't be half smart and half dumb. It's going to be all of one thing or all of another, and right now it's unclear which direction it's going to go. The reactionary forces are trying to hold on, but I think it's becoming clear even to them that there isn't much of a future in what they want to do, because eventually they'll just destroy the finances of the City.
"I would say no one in the current situation is being treated fairly. The City has to become the honest broker that sends out clear market signals to the developers so that they can make their business plans accordingly."