From street level, the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s Project Review Committee meeting of October 19, 2011, appeared as just another pedestrian exercise for determining how much floor area ratio (FAR) can fit on the head of a pin. However, below surface grade lay a potential flood of liabilities for those entrusted with the public good in a era of irresponsible private interests.
There was only one item on the agenda; a request to amend the previously granted Coastal Development permit (#6-08-100) from the developer of the property located at 1984 Abbott Street. That corner of Abbott and Saratoga is now the proposed site of what has come to be called the “Ocean Park Villas.”
How we got to this stage in the planning process is well documented . Appropriately, the Chair of the Project Review Committee, Landry Watson, himself a veteran of the spot zoning currently being waged on West Point Loma Blvd., admonished the handful of OBceans present to treat this request as a totally new item. By severing the current proposed development from the previous one, Mr. Watson led the property’s owner/developer, planning board, and community members to an objective understanding of the issue at hand. But if objectivity was the goal, its center of mass was missed, not only by the developer but by several board members and by members of the community at large as well.
It’s understandable for developers to have a subterranean agenda and to shunt the planning process in service to private interests, but it appears like poor policy for community planners and activists to get sucked into a storm drain of immaterial and distracting flotsam. What became the moving bulls-eye on a stationary target might have become more obtainable “if more of the community was present,” confided one board member after the meeting. Adding, “they better show up at the regular meeting in November or we (the community) lose this one (to private interests).”
What was apparent to that Board member, if not to everyone in the room, was woven through the framing of the issue by the architect for the developer, Claude Anthony Marengo, like Romex in a tract home.
If the requested amendment was related to parking and density, there was not a lot in Mr. Marengo’s presentation that dealt with these issues per se. By comparing the new proposal to the old one on issues such as view corridors, landscaping, etc., the architect didn’t appear level regarding the intent of his presentation. Only when questioned by District #2 Representative Scott Waschitz and others, did the developer’s facade show cracks. When asked if the proposal was in compliance with the (Ocean Beach) Precise Plan the developer’s architect replied yes.
But the truth is, that issues warranting review upon a foundation within the Ocean Beach Precise Plan weren’t up for discussion at this meeting and in fact, were not even taken into consideration when the California Coastal Commission granted a Coastal Development Permit to the previously proposed development. In addition, by not yet conforming to the land use code or the planning process, Mr. Marengo’s presentation did indeed “boggle the mind” according to District #1 Representative Tom Gawronski.
Community activist Kathy Blavatt accurately summed up the entire nights proceedings by asking, “What’s the public benefit?” To his credit, Brian Driesse representing Clark Reality Capital LLC stressed the property owner’s commitment to improving the communities where they choose to build. If enough OBceans show up when the full Board discusses this issue in November then we may have a chance to articulate to Mr. Driesse, Mr. Marengo, et al., what improving our community really looks like and give democratic community planning ‘a little love’ in the process!