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Green Buildings, Not Brown Violations

Item number seven on the February 3 Land Use and Housing Committee agenda is entitled "Potential Incentives for Sustainable Building Practices."

What wasn't included in the agenda item, at least not until Monday afternoon, well after the 72-hour deadline for posting committee agendas, was a staff report from the City of San Diego Development Services Department that outlines numerous incentives for developers to build more green, sustainable projects. Among those incentives includes establishing a turnaround time for sustainable projects to go through community planning groups. If the planning groups fail to meet the deadline, they are stripped of the right to appeal the project to the planning commission. Another recommendation calls for each planning group to form a project-review subcommittee for the green building proposals and enabling that committee to make project recommendations without planning-group approval.

Other incentives include reducing the density bonus and parking requirements for green building proposals, as well as allowing vegetated roofs and roof gardens to count toward open space and landscape requirements and reductions in parking requirements if priority parking spaces are inserted for hybrid cars and carpool vehicles.

And while some people consider incentives for sustainable projects a move in the right direction, community planning group members throughout the city are erecting a united front against the proposed policy changes. They say instead of rewarding developers to go green, they should mandate that all projects are sustainable.

"Basically, they are trying to eviscerate the planning groups," says Community Planning Committee chair and chair of the Uptown Planners Leo Wilson during a February 1 phone interview. "The powers that be, the special interests, have made a point to destroy the community review process and this is another attempt."

"We just got broadsided," adds Wilson. "There's been no community review of these policy changes. This is a profound lack of respect and trust for the work of approximately 600 individuals who currently serve on community planning groups."

Responding to Wilson's concerns in an email, Stephen Hill, senior policy advisor to councilmember Todd Gloria, chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee, writes: "I want to assure you that councilmember Gloria has no intention of supporting anything that would weaken the role of our community planning groups. The item on our agenda is for discussion purposes only and is designed for the Development Services Department staff to get feedback on the ideas that they have received for incentives that could be used to encourage developments to exceed state green building standards."

But Wilson says whether the item is meant for discussion or not, the community planning committee should have been notified and should have been in on the discussion, not just the developer friendly, special-interest groups that he says came up with the idea.

On February 1, Wilson requested the item be continued until further notification is given. Despite his request, Wilson thinks councilmember Gloria and his committee will hear the item. Wilson plans to speak to the Land Use and Housing Committee on Wednesday about the potential Brown Act violation. If the committee decides to move the item on to the full city council, Wilson says, "I think you might see a court action for a Brown Act violation."

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Item number seven on the February 3 Land Use and Housing Committee agenda is entitled "Potential Incentives for Sustainable Building Practices."

What wasn't included in the agenda item, at least not until Monday afternoon, well after the 72-hour deadline for posting committee agendas, was a staff report from the City of San Diego Development Services Department that outlines numerous incentives for developers to build more green, sustainable projects. Among those incentives includes establishing a turnaround time for sustainable projects to go through community planning groups. If the planning groups fail to meet the deadline, they are stripped of the right to appeal the project to the planning commission. Another recommendation calls for each planning group to form a project-review subcommittee for the green building proposals and enabling that committee to make project recommendations without planning-group approval.

Other incentives include reducing the density bonus and parking requirements for green building proposals, as well as allowing vegetated roofs and roof gardens to count toward open space and landscape requirements and reductions in parking requirements if priority parking spaces are inserted for hybrid cars and carpool vehicles.

And while some people consider incentives for sustainable projects a move in the right direction, community planning group members throughout the city are erecting a united front against the proposed policy changes. They say instead of rewarding developers to go green, they should mandate that all projects are sustainable.

"Basically, they are trying to eviscerate the planning groups," says Community Planning Committee chair and chair of the Uptown Planners Leo Wilson during a February 1 phone interview. "The powers that be, the special interests, have made a point to destroy the community review process and this is another attempt."

"We just got broadsided," adds Wilson. "There's been no community review of these policy changes. This is a profound lack of respect and trust for the work of approximately 600 individuals who currently serve on community planning groups."

Responding to Wilson's concerns in an email, Stephen Hill, senior policy advisor to councilmember Todd Gloria, chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee, writes: "I want to assure you that councilmember Gloria has no intention of supporting anything that would weaken the role of our community planning groups. The item on our agenda is for discussion purposes only and is designed for the Development Services Department staff to get feedback on the ideas that they have received for incentives that could be used to encourage developments to exceed state green building standards."

But Wilson says whether the item is meant for discussion or not, the community planning committee should have been notified and should have been in on the discussion, not just the developer friendly, special-interest groups that he says came up with the idea.

On February 1, Wilson requested the item be continued until further notification is given. Despite his request, Wilson thinks councilmember Gloria and his committee will hear the item. Wilson plans to speak to the Land Use and Housing Committee on Wednesday about the potential Brown Act violation. If the committee decides to move the item on to the full city council, Wilson says, "I think you might see a court action for a Brown Act violation."

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