by Seth Connolly
As someone who serves on the Ocean Beach Planning Board and who may or may not run again, I will answer some common questions about planning as a private citizen right now.
First, a quick clarification about our role in the process. We are not charged with writing code or determining funding and certainly not whether large-scale transportation projects take place.
Our role is to give a voice to the community on land use and development issues and to make recommendations in an advisory capacity to the City on specific projects or land use issues. We operate according to our own Precise Plan, first and foremost, which is in the process of being updated. We are not there to enforce zoning so much as we are another set of eyes on it.
For instance, we are not in charge of density. It is the City’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance that determine population density and distribution within Ocean Beach. The City projects that we will grow from about 14k to 15k over the next 20 years or so. With that in mind…
* Support light rail. I am a big public transportation guy, but that would not be cost-effective in any way, shape or form. Ideally, I’d like to see more bus transit over time, specifically to downtown via the highways.
* Many within OB have worked hard on the Precise Plan update. This is an imperative in order for the community to have a voice in land use and development issues. I can’t comment to much on a draft document, but I have read it and approve of the goals outlined in it. Many of them speak directly to the issues you have raised. The biggest obstacle to it being adopted, as far as I understand it, is that it requires an EIR. City reps have informed that $250k exists in the current City budget for this purpose. We shall see. For now, we are left with a rather outdated document that leaves us making tepid arguments against “bulk and scale”.
* Retaining the 30 foot height limit. If retaining the 30-foot height limit were up to me alone, I would support it. There are very desirable levels of density, traffic and walk-ability in Ocean Beach, and the height limit is in my opinion a crucial component to maintaining them.
* “Community character” vs property rights. That is an argument that speaks to the core of urban planning itself. I can tell you this… an overwhelming majority of people in OB place a very high premium on retaining the community character that exists here.
I have voted against several projects for this reason, and I would not wish to see OB gentrified and condo-fied to the point where we lose the essence of what this place is. But it is a case-by-case basis and that argument does not always apply.
Property owners, be they residential or commercial, are also very much a part of the “community”. I have voted in favor of some projects (one of them may or may not have been at Saratoga and Abbott) where I do not believe that a legitimate case was made for why the property owner’s rights needed to be restricted. Long story short, while I lean strongly towards preserving the community character of OB, I will look at all of the evidence and do my best to give each applicant a fair shake based on what our Precise Plan and bylaws say. Overall, I feel it is important to mention that the process generally works best when community stakeholders are working together to find win-wins and mutual interests.
Other quick hits… paid street parking : no; affordable housing maybe (have voted consistently to approve what can be referred to as affordable housing stock, could hypothetically vote in favor of the traditional kind on a small scale if I saw the actual project, though not exactly sure how it would fit here), urban farming is approximated pretty well by the farmers market, big yes to green building and would hypothetically grant variances (but prefer incentivizing over mandating when it comes to residential properties), strongly support historical preservation when applicable and not interested in rewarding people for not maintaining their properties….
Lastly, carbon footprinting. I was fortunate enough to study with the guy who originally developed the concept of measuring our environmental impact in terms of a “footprint”, which I mention less to be a showoff and more to illustrate that it is a concept not lost on me. To that effect, I say look around at OB. It is a very low-impact community. You have people who shop locally, who travel around by foot, beach cruiser or longboard, who live in smaller living spaces, driving smaller cars and who are just generally not participating as much in the unsustainable lifestyle that so many other Americans do.
There’s stuff that can be done around the margins (increased bus transit), but generally speaking, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.