Linda Vista should have a neighborhood voice in planning how the neighborhood is developed and maintained, the neighborhood's planning group voted unanimously Monday night.
"I have a lot of respect for the Clairemont planning group and the other planning groups — they're citizens like us who are investing in their community," said Howard Wayne, a planning group member and former California assemblyman. "But we are the people best positioned to know what's best for Linda Vista, as they are best positioned to know what's best for Clairemont."
Consolidating area planning groups into larger regional groups was one of many proposals offered by San Diego city councilman Scott Sherman in the council's hunt for ways to develop more housing. The list of 27 ideas was assembled by Sherman and councilman David Alvarez, and floated at the councils Smart Growth and Land Use Committee at the end of January.
Alvarez's apparent endorsement of the idea, three years after well-funded business interests were able to place a neighborhood planning issue in Barrio Logan on a citywide ballot where the neighborhood's plan was trampled, came as a surprise to many planning group members. Alvarez, a Barrio Logan native, later helped win approval for the creation of the barrio's first planning group.
But Alvarez hasn't endorsed the idea, his staff clarified.
"Alvarez's support for the Smart Growth and Land Use committee's work does not mean that he supports every single proposal, especially before they have been properly explored and vetted," said Ansermio Estrada.' Similarly, Sherman's staff declined to say if he would support or oppose the consolidation.
"The community planning group reforms are still in the discussion phase and are still only options for consideration," Sherman's communications director wrote in an email. "At this point, none of the proposals directly related to community planning groups are being brought forward."
The city created planning groups in the 1960s and 1970s (and one in 2014) to have neighborhood involvement in land development. Planning groups — about 50 of them — are considered advisory bodies, but the groups' ideas and votes do affect the size and scope of development.
The groups are often where emerging issues are first seen — for example, differing views on parking requirements for multifamily projects. Developers routinely manage end runs around planning groups by going directly to the city planning commission or the city council. Because planning groups act in an advisory capacity, the commission and city council can disregard their input. But what happened in the wake of the council approval of the locally unpopular One Paseo project — where the planning commission overrode an 11-2 vote of the Carmel Valley Planning Group. A lawsuit followed, and the project was eventually approved at about half of its initially proposed size.
Gov. Jerry Brown took aim at community planning groups in his 2016 proposal to streamline development, ostensibly to build more affordable housing. The plan was ultimately rejected by environmental and labor groups as well as planning groups.
One planning group member explained that the Barrio Logan experience is illustrative of what will happen to neighborhood voices voting on a locally unpopular project if they are part of a larger, regional group.
"All of the votes against a project that would disrespect community values and identity could easily become minority votes, while outsiders ride roughshod over a place they don't understand or care about," she said. "The whole purpose of planning groups is to make sure that residents who will be directly impacted have a say in their community's future."
As it stands, neighborhoods are affected by plans and developments on their borders — for example, the effects of a development in Mission Valley on the south side of Friars Road when the Linda Vista boundaries are the north side of Friars.
Bicycling and affordable housing advocates have been angered by planning groups’ actions on their issues and have begun to campaign against the groups. Other single-issue groups have begun offering training and encouragement to supporters to get them onto local planning groups. Jim Baross, a longstanding member and chairman of the Normal Heights Community Planning Group, said of the planning group system: "it ain't broke."
"Neighborhoods are different than 'regional bodies. We want to be able to represent our neighborhood's interest and deal with our issues first, then help with regional/wider issues."
Margarita Castro, from Linda Vista, was far more blunt in her assessment of the proposal.
"A lot of times we get the short end of the stick — there's no way we should have to go along with what (other neighborhoods) want," Castro said. "I felt like I had been stabbed in the back when I read about this."