The good citizens of Ocean Beach were supposed to have a “scoping pubic hearing” on the OB Precise Plan EIR update and its proposals for increasing the density in OB – by up to 1400 dwelling units. They got much less.
Over 35 OB residents, property owners, and small business owners crowded into the meeting room at the OB Recreation Center Tuesday evening, the 9th of August, in expectation of some kind of presentation by the City. What they got instead were two City officials sitting at a desk with a tape machine whirring. There was no presentation. There were no handouts or literature on the proposed increases. The City brought nothing to the “hearing” except the tape machine.
Attendees were invited to get up and speak by official Jeff Szymanski, who sat next to Tony Kempton, the City planner for OB, who said a few introductory words. Jeff turned on his tape machine. So, OBcians got up to expound on the undesirables created with the proposed increased density of an additional 1400 living units in Ocean Beach. Szymanski told the crowd this would not be a “debate” on the merits of the proposal, and would not be a “question and answer” session.
Just a tiny handful of groups from OB had been given prior notice of the “public hearing”. They were given a 15-page packet – that was NOT available at the forum itself. Several speakers complained about this.
There was a general murmur in the crowd when the issue of who received notices of the hearing. Someone got up and asked the assembly, “who found out about this meeting either through the OB Rag or the Reader?” Most people in the room shot up their hands. And the Rag had gotten our notice of the event through a small article in the Reader by Dorian Hargrove.
When OBcians did get up, they spoke of the negatives that accompany increased density: more residents, of course, in an already dense village, but also it would bring more cars and traffic, more smog, less parking, more congestion; it would tear at the very quality of life in the neighborhood. One speaker, a member of the Planning Board, described how with the Precise Plan lowered density and lowered the FAR intentionally and consciously. Other speakers complained that the EIR did not address a number of issues, like architectural styles. “The EIR can’t be silent,” one speaker said, “on adjoining communities – how the OB density affects their density,” and vice-versa.
Another person, a retired realtor, complained of the many illegal residents of OB, those who live in illegal garages, in their RVs, on “roof tops”. “We can’t bring more people in without addressing the homeless,” she said. One speaker did accuse the City of trying to go-around any opposition by not getting the word out about the hearing. If the City had done an adequate amount of noticing, she said, “you’d see a lot more opposition.”
Yet another person told how the City itself, through its website, promotes the funkiness of OB as a tourist destination. The implication being that increased density here would undermine that small town feeling. One of the last speakers said that any construction would bring in horrible levels of noise, dirt, congestion, etc.
Two speakers, myself and Geoff Page – who sits on the Peninsula Planning Committee -, derided the inadequacy of the noticing for the meeting. “This forum doesn’t do anything except allow for general comments on density”, Page said. “This is an empty exercise.”
I also had gotten up, and read off my computations: The City had sent out notices about the “hearing” to 38 city employees and agencies, to 13 State of California agencies, to 10 other government agencies, to 17 non-OB community groups, like the Sierra Club, to 4 named individuals not of OB, and to 19 Indian tribes, but regarding the community itself – the community being affected by the proposals, the City only sent out notices to 3 groups, and NOT to the OB Historical Society and NOT to the OB Mainstreet Association.
I concluded that the meeting did not meet the notice requirements of a public hearing and cannot be used as such.
In addition, not only did the OB Rag nor the Beacon receive notices, but neither did the Union-Tribune; the City had placed a notice in the San Diego Daily Transcript. (About 12 people in all of OB read the Daily Transcript and they’re all lawyers or developers.)
To a speaker, the crowd had opposed any increase in OB density. But without knowing what the City was up to, the general sense was that they wanted city officials to return and do an sufficient job of informing and noticing the village.