‘Comedy of Errors’ at Peninsula Community Planners’ Meeting

by on July 25, 2017 · 31 comments

in Ocean Beach

Jennings Street block in question.

By Geoff Page

There are many ways to describe what the Peninsula Community Planning Board’s regular monthly meeting on Thursday, July 20 looked like –  kabuki theater, theater of the absurd, comedy of errors, keystone cops – are a few that come to mind.

Somehow this collection of reasonably intelligent people, meeting at the Pt. Loma Hervey Library, managed to vote against a motion to deny a project and then voted against a motion to approve the same project.  The applicant and several audience members were left looking totally confused by this non-outcome.  In 11 years of experience with this planning board, this reporter has never seen anything like it.

Jennings Street Project

The project that was the center of this comedy was a proposal to build two homes in the wooded area on two 25-footwide lots at 3424 and 3434 Jennings Street.  There was opposition by at least one neighbor who stood up at the meeting and provided a detailed presentation of the reasons why the design was opposed.  The first point was very interesting.  The speaker described an ordinance mandated by the State of California in 1989 that required substandard lots of less than 5,000 square feet, with contiguous ownership, be merged. According to the neighbor in opposition, the City of San Diego adopted an ordinance to this effect, Chapter 12, Article 5, Division 7 of the City Municipal Code.

According to the neighbor opposing the project, the city sent out a Notice of Merger in 1989 to 5,000 property owners requiring this merger but the two lots on Jennings Street were not on the list.  A second list was sent out to an additional 164 property owners in February of 1990 and the two Jennings Street lots were on that list, according to this neighbor, but the city failed to follow up.

(This issue is currently pertinent to Ocean Beach because of controversial project on Newport Ave. between Froude and Guizot.  A developer wants to build five homes on five 25-foot wide lots where one large old home now sits.)

Those against the project were only opposed having two homes built and would prefer to see one home on a 50-foot wide lot that would match well with the rest of the existing neighborhood.  After much discussion, board member Fred Kosmo made a motion to deny the project based on the neighbor’s opposition and the design not being in conformance with the neighborhood.  The motion failed 8 to 6, meaning the board voted against denying the project.  Then, board member David Dick made a motion to revote on the project and the confusion began to reign.

Eventually, the motion to revote was passed and the vote was taken again with the same outcome to the puzzlement of everyone.  Then, a motion was made to approve the project and the vote was a tie.  The tie was broken by the chair who voted against the project.

The way projects are normally handled is that the applicant presents the project, there is board and audience discussion, and the chair will ask for a motion.  There can be a motion to approve or a motion to deny the project. If there is a motion to approve the project, and it fails, this result is not sufficient for the city.  The board must then make a motion to deny the project, which always passes because of the vote against the motion to approve.  This outcome was truly bizarre.  The first vote was sufficient, the vote to deny the project.  The lack of understanding about how the process is supposed to work was very obvious.

Evergreen and Emerson project in Roseville

A warm up to this fiasco was another odd discussion about an appeal of the Hearing Officer’s decision on the controversial Evergreen and Emerson project in Roseville.  This project was the center of a community uproar when it was being constructed 40-feet high within the 30-foot height limit area.  The OB Rag did a whole series of stories on this one.

The final action for this project was when it came to the board a month ago applying for a “map waiver.”  This is a tactic used very often by developers.  They design a project as apartments and once under construction, they apply for a map waiver to change the project to condominiums.  This tactic allows developers to avoid public review because an apartment building receives ministerial approval, meaning no public review, instead of discretionary approval that requires public review.  Developers will say that this saves them considerable time and money but the public is cut out of the process.

The PCPB voted against the map waiver but the Hearing Officer approved it anyway.  Such a decision can be appealed. The PCPB can file an appeal at no cost; it costs a private citizen $100 to file an appeal.  The chair of the PCPB would not follow up on the board’s vote and refused to file the appeal.   A private citizen did step up and an appeal was filed. This was where the meeting seemed to start off the tracks.  The one item under New/Old Business was a discussion about the appeal.

To Appeal or Not to Appeal

It was too late to file the appeal, it needed to be filed before the board meeting. The PCPB by-laws state that “Appeals of discretionary decisions to the City shall be made by the Chairperson.” (Article VII, Section 2)

The appeal could have been filed by the chair before the deadline to reserve the board’s right to go forward with the appeal.  The discussion by the full board about whether the full board agreed to the appeal or not could have been the discussion at this meeting.  The appeal could be pulled at no cost to the board if the board voted not to continue with it. Unfortunately, the chair’s refusal to act left the board no options.

If that wasn’t enough, it got stranger.

The discussion before this group was whether or not to provide a show of support to the private citizen who did file the appeal, a yes or no decision.  This turned out to be the warm up for the big show that came next.  They discussed the appeal and said a lot of things for some time and became apparent there was great reluctance to follow through with the appeal, it almost seemed like the odd outcome was pre-ordained.

The discussion resembled what might be heard from a group of politicians. And then, they just stopped talking about it.  Everyone just shut down, the chair shrugged his shoulders and they moved on with no decision, no vote, no nothing. Instead of simply supporting the appeal as the logical next step to the board’s original vote, to deny the map waiver, the board prevaricated and then looked away.

Appeals are not automatically filed by the planning board when a decision goes contrary to the board’s vote.  In this case, though, there was support for an appeal in the community because the Evergreen and Emerson project had become a lightening rod for community outrage.  The PCPB’s unwillingness to say that it was for or that it was against the appeal was lamentable.

The only positive thing to come out of this non-decision, was a suggestion by board member David Dick that any future motion to approve or deny a project contain boilerplate language stating that the board will automatically appeal any decision that is contrary to the board’s vote.  This would at least compel the chair to file an appeal if similar circumstances occurred again when the appeal deadline was before the next board meeting.  Frankly, this should be unnecessary but for the action of the current chair who made a decision for the whole board without consultation.

“Granny Cottages”

Another important item on the agenda was “granny cottages.”  The board voted to approve changes in the Municipal Code “in response to changes in State Law easing restrictions on second units in single family zones,” as it was described in the PCPB agenda.

By everyone pushing this agenda, single family home neighborhoods will become multi-family without rezoning.  The idea is being touted as a solution for affordable housing, and in some places that may work.  In other places more desirable to live in like Point Loma, there is little likelihood that these will be affordable units. There is a Report to the Planning Commission document on the PCPB website that describes the proposed changes.

Smart Doorbells

San Diego Police Department Community Relations Officer David Surwilo had an interesting security suggestion for everyone.  He mentioned a smart doorbell.  He said there was a doorbell available that would connect to your smart phone with sound and video.  You can answer your doorbell from wherever you are and you could see whoever is at the door.  A little Googling found a number of these doorbells for under $200.

Wabaska Ave SDG&E Substation

It was announced that SDG&E will be refurbishing the electrical substation on Wabaska Ave. and that the work will involve tearing up the brand new asphalt and striping recently placed there.  The lack of coordination among the various entities that have utilities in the streets and the paving schedule has always been a problem.  It was promised that the surface would be properly restored.

Keeping Bus Route #84

Finally, there was an announcement from councilmember Lori Zapf’s office that there was some limited success in talks with the Metropolitan Transit System about trying to keep bus route #84 that runs up to the Cabrillo Monument.  The MTS wanted to cancel the route.  Bus service will only run for short times in the mornings and the evenings, all-day service will be cancelled.  And, the only service to Ft. Rosecrans and the Cabrillo Monument will be on national holidays.  Talks are continuing according to Zapf’s representative.

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar nostalgic July 26, 2017 at 10:53 am

The planning board has four options for voting on a project:
“Vote to approve, Vote to approve with conditions listed below, Vote to approve with non-binding recommendations listed below, and No action”. The “No action” option states “(Please specify, e. g., Need further information, Split Vote, Lack of Quorum, etc.) ” They can also vote to continue the item, usually for lack of time. Just saying what the rules are.

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avatar Geoff Page July 26, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Yes, there are different levels of voting to approve all under the main category of voting to approve a project. I have never seen a vote for No Action. The details you listed seem a little off. If there is a Split Vote as you wrote, or a tie, the usually non-voting chair then steps in to break the tie so there should not be a tie vote as a final result. Nor could a vote of No Action be taken if there is no quorum because no vote can be taken if there isn’t a quorum. If there is no quorum, no action items can be voted on, the items could be heard only if the applicants wanted to do that. If the board decides it needs more information, it can vote to table the item until the next meeting, which does happen on occasion. It would be rare, and unfair to an applicant, to continue an item just because of a lack of time, planning boards usually make sure there is time for projects before them.

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avatar nostalgic July 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

The Voting definitions are quoted from the Community Planning Committee Distribution Form. The “No Action” and “Continued” items do not contain the word “Vote” in them. Only “No Action” has the examples on the form.

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avatar Geoff Page July 27, 2017 at 11:19 am

I am familiar with this form, I filled out a lot of them when I was the PCPB chair. As I said, there are categories of approval, that is not an issue. To continue an action item requires a vote whether it says that or not. As for the No Action box, as I said before, there should never be a split vote so that example makes no sense. A lack of a quorum is something that I have never seen on the PCPB. There are 15 members so it would be very odd to not have at least 8 people show up. Most of the planning boards have a high enough membership that ensures this would be pretty rare. I have no idea what the etc. would include.

If there was a lack of a quorum, the applicant would be asked to come back to the next meeting. I suppose they could ask that this box be checked and the form sent in but it is more important for them to get a decision from the planning board and that decision doesn’t hold up the process, so they would probably return.

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avatar Geoff Page July 26, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Here is more information on the Emerson and Evergreen map waiver appeal fiasco.

The hearing for the Emerson street map waiver was held and approved on the morning of June 28. Four members of the community went to the hearing to oppose to map waiver.

At the PCPB’s Long Range Planning subcommittee meeting, the evening of June 28th, the PCPB chair consented to signing the appeal. Another board member typed up the appeal with all the necessary information and contacted the PCPB chair to set up a time for him to sign the appeal. According to the board member, the chair gave the run around.

By the evening of July 11th, the board member learned that the chair had gone back on his promise to sign the appeal. The chair instead wrote a letter explaining his reasoning that he sent to all the board members, two private citizens, a reporter, addressed twice to the mayor, the mayor’s Director of Land Use & Economic Development Policy office, the mayor’s Senior Representative, the Planning Department, and the head of the Point Loma Association. Sending a letter like this to people outside the board without board approval was a violation of the PCPB board by-laws. Why the chair felt a need to send this to all of these people is a mystery but he sure wanted the mayor to see it.

The text of the letter reads like nothing less than political bullshit. Trust the city he says. Here it is:

I believe that as a community we have done a great job to amend the code to bring the height down to 30 feet in this area.

This building today stands over 30 feet because of the roof top decks, however it is much better than before when it was a fully enclosed 40 foot building so I believe an improvement is there.

The city of San Diego Development services acted very quick to comply with our wishes to re-asses this project and forced the developer to re design.

They also acted incredibly fast to pass the new ordinance to amend the height for our community.

I believe at this point, as a community, we need to pick our battles with the city and protect our credibility as much as possible.

We voted to deny the tentative map on this project while it was under construction due to height issues and retaining wall issues before the building was completed.

At this point it is my understanding that the city has signed off on the final inspection and the project went through multiple inspections throughout the construction period to make sure it was in compliance.

I think at this point its time to trust the city on its decision to give this project final approval and show that we are willing to work with them as they have with us on this whole issue.

Weather we agree with the height issue or not, the fact is that they have made the changes necessary to make sure that the 30 foot height limit will be in place with no question.

In terms of the third reason listed in the appeal letter, the fact of the matter is that applying as apartments and then turning them into condos is fully legal and it is done very often by developers. Although I agree with the fact that it probably should not be legal, I find that this community’s time, effort, credibility, and money is better spent trying to make an effort so that developers are not allowed to do that anymore.

As for the apartment or condo issue, In my estimation it is preferred to have owner users than potentially vacation rentals. Vacation rentals can cause more noise and poor maintenance especially in the summer months.

I believe it is for the best of this community that we put our emotions aside on this one, work with the City of San Diego DSD and take the opportunity to build more credibility with them by respecting them on this decision pertaining to the projects under construction in this area since we have already accomplished so much.

Let’s focus on the future and what we can do to change the process and make it better for us as a community which is the main goal. As your chair, I ask for your support on this decision

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avatar Aj July 27, 2017 at 6:06 am

Well Geoff, what you just posted that came from the chair makes a looot of sense. Thank you! And good job Mr Chair.

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avatar Geoff Page July 27, 2017 at 11:22 am

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, AJ. I guess when you said good job, Chair, the fact that the chair went back on his word to sign the appeal doesn’t matter to you. A good job would have been to file it and then bring the matter to the full board to decide. This was not a good job at all.

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avatar Rese R. July 27, 2017 at 6:12 am

Thank you for that post Mr Page.
I think the way the chair of the board handled that was great, and that email he sent which you have posted here shows what great leadership the chair had in handling this situation. He won the war by the making the city act fast and change the height limit in the area. The tentative map fiasco is stupid. Why go against the city on that, it makes no difference. The building is built. “a retaining wall is too tall”….come on…move on people, this is stupid. Great Job Mr. Chair…I especially like the “lets not act on emotion” part….because thats exactly what this stupid NYBIS do….

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avatar Geoff Page July 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Well, Rese R., I don;t know how much you know about what happened on Emerson Street and I don’t intend to explain it again here but the city did not change the height limit in the area, the height limit was already in place. The city illegally permitted over height buildings in the Prop D area, the limit was always 30 feet. What the chair and others did was allow the city to skate from several lawsuits from developers with this fake “fix.” No war was won. In fact, the City still takes the position that a developer can raise the grade on a lot and then measure 30 feet or measure 30 feet from the inside of planters for the new buildings. The Emerson building is still well over 30 feet.

And, it appears that you also don’t think going back on one’s word matters or that filing the appeal on time simply gave the planning board a chance to discuss and vote on this as a collective body. If the board did not want to file the appeal, it could be pulled easily as I said here with no consequences. No, this chair acted on personal motives and did not represent the community at all.

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avatar Tim D'Angelo July 27, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Geoff,

Thank you for your keen insight, and fact-based writing. Clearly there are those in the “comment” community who wish to disregard the facts, and blindly approve of folks who can’t (or won’t) do the right thing. In this instance, there are too many anomalies to believe that there isn’t something more to be discovered here.
The PCPB Chair clearly over stated his case in deciding to, not pursue an appeal. His lack of action precipitated community member (s) action. Not keeping one’s promise is bad enough; but to pander to the City and espouse views that are contrary to the community interest are, simply put, grounds for removal.
In addition, to your noted point that the individual bypassed the PCPB protocol by submitting this letter with no evidence of consent, is beyond pale. Unacceptable behavior.

This is either pandering at its bassist level, or there is a deliberate effort to obfuscate the truth in order to defend an individuals position. Do we know the PCPB’s official position on this issue? What was the vote count?

This is just the type of story that needs to be viewed by as many folks as possible. There is more here than has been disclosed, and I am eager to see what others discover when reading this through with a critical eye.

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avatar Geoff Page July 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Thank you, Tim, very well said. To answer you question, the only vote count that occurred was the vote to deny the map waiver. The vote was 11-1. The discussion to support the appeal had no outcome as I’ve related here.

While I am not one who regularly jumps on the conspiracy theory bandwagon, I do have to agree with your suspicions in this particular case. I am one who notices when people get overly verbose explaining their actions because it usually indicates a degree of guilt they are trying to cover up. The simple fact is filing an appeal is essentially effortless and cost nothing so why not do it? Why not let the entire board make the decision? Could it be that perhaps the chair wanted to ingratiate himself with the powers that be in the city? I think so.

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avatar Geoff Page July 27, 2017 at 3:42 pm

There was something I forgot to say, Tim, I wanted to applaud you for using your own name in making your comments. Some people use an alias for good reasons but many people use them to hide behind. I always find it refreshing to see someone express their opinion and put their own name on it. Thanks.

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avatar rick callejon July 28, 2017 at 10:33 am

Rese R. , Thanks for your informed and compassionate contribution.

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avatar Rese R July 28, 2017 at 11:15 am

No problem. Funny, Geoff Page had it erased instead of responded.

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avatar Jon Linney July 28, 2017 at 11:39 am

Good Moring,

I don’t understand how Mr. Page Can verbally assault and put down people on social media. But when someone else calls him out on the cruel assault to the PCPB , he goes complains and has the post removed.

Frank can you help me understand this?

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avatar Geoff Page July 28, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Not my style at all, Jon, I don’t shy away from things like this. The Rag made the decision, not me.

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avatar editordude July 28, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Geoff Page has no control over comments. We moderate them and delete any that cross the line and violate our comments policy. Comments by Rese R. have crossed that line and were insulting, calling others derogatory names, etc.

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avatar Geoff Page July 28, 2017 at 12:20 pm

No actually, Rese R, I did respond, albeit briefly. All I said was that sometimes a comment is so insightful that there is no need to comment more. Of course, by insightful, I meant into the character of the commenter. But, it appears the editor decided to pull it on his own. Name calling doesn’t faze me at all, I’ve been in the construction business for over 40 years, I’ve dealt with far worse than what you had to say.

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avatar Rese R. July 28, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Mr editor, I apologize if I was out of line. I assure you Mr Page is usually out of line. But then again who defines that. Its ok. Nothing but respect for you Mr Editor.

Mr Page you still have not responded to any of my questions.
Insightful or not. That not the point. My comments were not meant to be insightful. I simply spoke my mind and asked a couple of questions. So come Mr page. Answer them.

This is just entertainment to me. Its hilarious. Instead of going on facebook to shoot the shit everytime I have five minutes I do this. Anyway back to work. But first Im going to drive by this house I saw two days ago. A couple of miles from my house and make sure the color of their wall matches the code and I thiiiink it may be encroaching into the neighbors yard by 1.37865 inches. . I have to do that before I go to sleep tonight. And darn that guy who is trying to build a that two story house a few blocks away. I could swear its 3.456789 square feet over the FAR. Suuuuper important to me and my quality of life. Ill go check on it and report back to the OB Rag! Ill keep you posted you’ll!!!!!

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avatar Geoff Page July 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

If there were questions in there that you wanted answered, then repeat them and I’ll respond.

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avatar Geoff Page July 28, 2017 at 1:57 pm

Rses R. Actually, you don’t need to repeat your questions, you piece was still in my email. Here are the two questions I found:

“Geoff, don’t you live in OB?” No, actually, I’m two blocks outside the OB Planning Board boundaries but I do consider myself an OB guy. I am within the 92107 zip code.

“Why would the city change the height limit there if they found NOTHING in the code that allowed what developers are doing??” They didn’t change the height limit. They illegally permitted 8 or 9 buildings to be over height and they were caught on Emerson. Take a look at the Municipal Code change. It just says go here to see how to measure height, which was always required. By doing what they did, they managed to avoid a series of lawsuits and that was all.

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avatar David Dick July 28, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Geoff,

I think your article relatively fairly describes the rather chaotic and confusing discussion and voting on the Jennings Street project and the Emerson Street map waiver matters. I can’t comment on the rest since I had to leave the meeting before it adjourned.

I share in a part of the blame for the hash up of the Jennings Street vote. When the first vote to disapprove the project failed 6-8, I should’ve simply made a motion to approve the project. Of course, we did eventually get to that But it too failed, 7-8, with the Chair voting against to break the tie.

Either result is, in my view, unsatisfactory since it results in no action or direction one way or another.

To try to remedy that, I will suggest that, in the future, when the Board takes votes on a project approval or disapproval, the vote be structured as a vote to “Approve” or “Disapprove” rather than “Aye” or “No” on a motion one way or the other. That way, whatever the vote, the Board will have taken action. The applicant, the Planning Department and the community deserve nothing less.

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avatar rick callejon July 28, 2017 at 3:49 pm

Rese R. , Your attempt at humor is pathetic. SAD!

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avatar rese r. July 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Hahaha, Rick, whats humorous is what you guys dedicate all this time to. Whats pathetic is that you guys sit there all day looking at what your neighbor, or people that are miles away are doing. Whats sad is that you have time to actually do that. THATS SAD, THATS PATHETIC. And obviously the rest of the 99.9% of people in Point Loma and OB have lives, things to worry about, and things to attend to. I think you have it in reverse. And yes, that translates to real numbers. How many people go to these planning board meeting to oppose this projects? Ive been to one, because my friend took me. I saw 15-20 people there and apparently it was a good turn out!. I did find out that less than 500 people vote to put board members on the board. I asked a friend of mine when I went to this meeting. He said 500, I don’t know if its true, anyway….Wow!! a whole 1% of the Point Loma and OB community. Yeah, thats how pathetic this is.

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avatar rese r. July 28, 2017 at 4:43 pm

And by the way. I have lived in Point Loma for 13 years. I strongly strongly support development. It is soooo needed espcialllly in OB. We need affordable housing and for you NYBIS who don’t understand the concept, it means we need to build build build in order for prices to stabilize and come down. Its called supply and demand. The more we build the more product out there to supply the amount of demand we have. If we keep trying to oppose and oppose and oppose and delay projects we are going to discourage people from wanting to IMPROVE our community and develop here. No matter how much you disagree with me and how much you want everything to stay the same!! IT WONT. And most people disagree with you and agree with me in supporting development. We should be sending letters to the city in support of these guys and encourage the city to permit them ASAP so we can have beautiful new properties built. What do you want? everything raggedy and old and outdated? really? “ooo lets not put a new building here, this house is historical!!! ” give it a rest its a crappy old box thats filled with mice…get it out of there!!….UNDERSTAND, COMMUNITIES EVOLVE AND THEY WILL NOT ALWAYS STAY THE SAME. Does new development bring more traffic, yeah maybe but it brings a lot of great things as well…like a much better look for the community, an increase in spending which benefits the county and the economy as a whole…You can’t expect everything to stay the same, you just can’t. Its called change, need for housing dentisification, ITS GOING TO HAPPEN WITH YOU OR THROUGH YOU….SO GO FIND SOME THING ELSE TO DO. Maybe write articles of things that actually have some meaning, like I see sometimes in this newspaper….noone cares about some map waiver or some board member appealing it or someone wanting to build two homes on one property….who cares man….find something else interesting to write about. why don’t u give us a report on how the economy is doing at a local level vs other cities in california….maybe about what the tump tax reform could mean for people in point loma with the average income in the area and how that affects us…i don’t know…but don’t spend an hour writing about a guy appealing a map waiver, or a guy not appealing it, WHO GIVES A CRAP. Jesus….

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avatar Geoff Page July 28, 2017 at 4:46 pm

As I said before, comments that are this insightful don’t require a response, they speak for themselves.

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avatar kh July 31, 2017 at 6:31 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree with the PCPB chair’s letter. But he was out of line.

This is a volunteer committee with a duty to protect the interests of the community, and do so with transparency. It is not a dictatorship.

Geoff, I agree don’t waste your breath on Rese. Maybe we’re all busybodies but unlike him at least we don’t waste our time reading articles and arguing on and on about things we “don’t give a crap” about. We should be so appreciative of him even gracing the comments section since he has so many better things to do.

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avatar Geoff Page August 1, 2017 at 1:10 pm

kh, I decided to give Rses a pass when he went off on a personal attack a while back. I have no need to defend myself and I refuse to get into a personal battle with anyone on social media. Your comment did make me laugh, thanks.

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avatar Amanda August 16, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Wow rese seems you are the one with too much time on your hands to write such a rambling ignorant attack. Problem is OB and certain areas of PL are already packed like sardines and the area cannot support more dwellings. Traffic, parking , etc is a nightmare . I agree many run down dwellings could definitely use a remodel but why should homeowners, many who have lived here for many decades or their entire lives be subject to unscrupulous building and declining home value due to overbuilding just so someone like you might be able to afford to live here ? I suggest you look far inland, I’m sure you’d fit in well there .

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