Reader Rant: OB Planning Board Needs to Flier Community On Issues and Community Needs to Respond

by on August 3, 2012 · 6 comments

in Culture, Environment, Ocean Beach

Editor: This came to us via email and we decided to make it one of our infamous and irregular “Reader Rants”.

By Former OB Planning Board Member

As I was reading through Brenda McFarlane’s excellent report of this week’s Ocean Beach Planning Board, something she said in her report and the photo that was included really struck me.  Ms McFarlane stated that, ” Next, the much discussed issue of Variances. At this point, there was only two people left in the audience, myself and Tony from the Beacon.” A commenter later came in and corrected her: there were three. The photo showed the lack of attendance.

This really concerns me – the low number of OBceans in the audience at these meetings of the Planning Board is a shameful example of the utter lack of enthusiasm in our dear community for planning issues. Where are all the concerned residents of this community? Were they home watching the Olympics or at some bar slugging down beers?

Perhaps it’s the Planning Board’s fault. Are you Board members getting out the notices in your sections about the issues that are coming before the Board?

When I was on the Board a few years ago, we used to flier our neighborhoods whenever an issue concerning it was coming up on the agenda. We would run off a few hundred sheets with the issue, the address of the construction site, and date and time of the hearing. We would go and down each street in our section of OB and place these little half or quarter sheets with this information under the windshields of cars and vehicles parked in that neighborhood. Many of us did it and we had people attend our meetings.

Do you individual members go out at night or during the day and let your neighbors know what’s going on at the Board?

And my fellow OBcians (or however you spell it) – you all need to step up, attend these meetings, get to know the issues, get down on understanding why and how our  local planning group even exists and operates.  The Board is part of our history and part of the culture of OB.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Debbie August 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Thank you to all who sit on the OBPB and attend meetings. It is a lot of work and much appreciated. Unfortunately, many times our city reps do not listen to the board, attendees or community members as they should!

It is quite possible these board members are busy with their lives and do not have the time to knock on doors or handout flyers. Maybe the OBPB can build a data base of email addresses or have a sign up on their website so emails concerning meetings and agendas can be sent out to interested parties? Just a suggestion that may get more people interested in attending or at least aware of what is going on in OB. I do believe the lack of interest has alot to do with the lack of respect the city shows to our comments, concerns and suggestions.

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avatar Seth August 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm

As a former OBPB rep whose term just ended this spring, my thoughts are essentially as follows:

While there are many good employees and some good departments, in my opinion there is an undeniable culture at the City that views Ocean Beach as something of an underutilized revenue stream, rather than as a community that they exist to serve.

Over and over, the OBPB and other engaged members of the citizenry are left begging for *basic* public services like paved roads, police and fire coverage, schools that are not ridiculously overcrowded, open libraries, or a bathroom at a beach that thousands of people use every day nearly every day of the year.

I realize that there has been some fair amount of recent spending on water infrastructure and the like, but often, the City has an approach where they are not actually providing us with anything, but riding in on a white horse to save the day after backing off from threats to take things away, such as the library, or the fire pits (which were saved largely as the result of a private donation).

Don’t misunderstand my point on that. I fully realize that like most municipalities in California, San Diego is in the midst of a very real budget crisis, but basic levels of these services are hardly extravagances. Providing these services is what the City is there to do. Whether or not Ocean Beach is as maximized in terms of providing tax revenue as they would like, they City is obligated to provide us with these services that we have paid for many times over. It’s fun to think of our community as a bunch of hippy drop-outs, but the fact of the matter is that it is a fairly major tourist, recreation and entertainment destination that provides significant revenue through a variety of sources.

In my opinion, the City additionally has very little commitment to community planning under the current elected leadership. Community planning is a tool that has a long history of serving OB well and helping to “keep OB OB”. There are some good City employees working in this area, but a lot more talk than action, and I am left with the impression that the general culture of the City hopes that a half-hearted going through the motions will be enough to placate the few people who have demonstrated recent interest in community planning. That the nuts and bolts of tit are just too boring, too arcane and not important enough for most people to care about. They might even be true, but it is unfortunate, if so.

Community planning is one of the best and only means that people can have an actual say in what goes on in the politics within their lives. Your vote for President, or even Mayor, is not going to alter your daily experience in any appreciable way, especially if the races are not close. But being engaged in your local community can go a long way, especially in terms of preserving the funky mom-and-pop character of OB. That unique character is not the default, mind you. It exists only because many people have fought to keep it that way over a long period. Without those efforts of local people acting locally, OB would have long ago sold out to the interest of the short-term dollar. Quaint beach cottages eventually becoming bland, oversized vacation rentals, while mom and pop stores slowly become franchises. Neighbors who don’t know each other end up living in high-priced properties on gentrified streets that are less walkable, and soon, much of that unique character that makes this place so special washes away with the tide.

Is that entirely preventable over time? Is anyone to blame for it? I don’t know. We live in a different time. There’s not the same sense of activism among younger generations that there was in the 60s and 70s. There’s a lot of younger renters in OB who may not be here for the long haul, and by nature, they might be less interested in the long-term picture than those who are. There’s also a lot of property owners whose homes are their major source of equity, who are sometimes forced to make economic decisions for the good of their families in the face of real life challenges.

But despite all that, I come to a few conclusions about being involved in the OBPB and the community in general.

First, it is an undertaking worth doing. There are good people who are trying hard, not to just be sticks in the mud, but to help preserve the special character of this special place for both present and future residents. They deserve the community’s support in this cause that is vital to OB’s future.

Second, it is OK for people to have this say in their lives and their future. OK to say that they value their community more than they value being a revenue stream, and to have some actual agency in preserving and enhancing their experience as residents in OB and San Diego at large. That it isn’t communism for a community to want that say in their future, but rather democracy.

And last, being involved actually works. I will admit that part of me gets a chuckle when I see some of the community activists in OB getting so fired up about everything, but the truth of the matter is, it gets results and leaves the City wary of selling OB out from under us just to make a few more dollars to pay pensions with. When the uproar about the fire pits made the NY Times, it got people’s attention. When 50-100 people show up at a protest outside the library, or at some OBPB meeting, it gets people’s attention. Whether it is fear or a sense of opportunism in turning an issue to their own benefit — and it is both — they do not often mess with OB when that happens.

Apathy doesn’t get that done. Apathy just clears a path for people to work against the community’s interest by either ignoring them, as they often do with the Precise Plan update and the OBPB in general, or working underhanded, such as what the City is doing by granting these serial variances in North OB that are not in compliance with the zoning regulations of our community.

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avatar Dorothy Lee August 4, 2012 at 9:51 am

Speaking of Community Planning….got this message from Mary Wright, who was in charge of the updates and other functions at the community level:

“Mary P. Wright, AICP
Deputy Director ~ Planning Division
Development Services Department
1222 First Avenue; Mail Station 413
San Diego, CA 92101
619.236.7258 ~ mpwright@sandiego.gov
Dear CPC Members,
This is to inform you that my position with the Development Services Department has been eliminated due to a departmental reorganization and tomorrow will be my last day. I wanted to take this opportunity to express what an honor it has been to staff CPC over the past several years and work with all of you. Your professionalism and commitment to good planning in San Diego is impressive and contributes to the quality of life we all enjoy. I hope that you all continue your excellent public service. With best regards . . . Mary”

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avatar Terrie Leigh Relf August 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I’m actually “planning” to attend some meetings soon. While I am not an OB business or property owner, I do live here and love OB! When I lived in South Park (through the gentrification process where my rent literally doubled, hence one of my many reasons for moving to OB), I attended several meetings with friends who were both business owners and property owners. They seem to have the more prevalent voice at these meetings, from what I understand. . .So, too, do the “politicos”.

I’m open to receiving any tips on what to pursue article-wise when I do go. . .What do readers want to hear about? What pressing questions do they have, besides what’s been discussed here at the Rag recently?

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avatar jim grant August 5, 2012 at 9:00 am

Seems like it is easier to sit back and when things go sideways say ” what happened that’s messed up” I do not live in OB but see that attitude often in OB ….

@ seth : “When 50-100 people show up at a protest outside the library, or at some OBPB meeting, it gets people’s attention. Whether it is fear or a sense of opportunism in turning an issue to their own benefit — and it is both — they do not often mess with OB when that happens”. Maybe this would work with the current bathroom at the main lifeguard station….I walked in it the other day and now I fully understand why the homeless crowd uses the beach, sand , alleys and newport ave as a restroom….if the health department was to inspect every now and then they would red tag the place…It is totally disgusting if I were a tourist I would wonder how something as filthy and crumbling could exist in Americas Finest City ….

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Grab the table and look out! I totally agree with you, Jim Grant about the public restroom at the lifeguard station.

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