In an open letter to the new Mayor Bob Filner, the OB Planning Board has called for an immediate moratorium on the City of San Diego granting variances to property owners on the 5100 block of West Point Loma Boulevard.
The planners want the city to halt allowing builders these privileges “while the city and the community work together to solve the zoning problem” in this area.
In the letter – signed by Jane Gawronski, Chair of the Planning Board – she makes this request:
“we are asking that the Ocean Beach Planning Board have the opportunity to work with City staff to reconsider the zoning for this very specific block in Ocean Beach.”
Gawronski’s letter was submitted on behalf of the OB Planning Board regarding the ongoing issues between the City and the Ocean Beach community and its planners that involves the multiple variances being granted by City staff to a few property owners on that West Point Loma Avenue block in northwest Ocean Beach.
The Board chair bolsters their argument by referring to the OB Precise Plan – the urban planning blue-print for the Ocean Beach community that sets requirements and standards for builders in the area. She said:
“the Ocean Beach Precise Plan was created democratically under the processes put in place to ensure transparency, equality, and community participation.”
Then Gawronski pours it on, bringing in the City’s own website that touts OB’s uniqueness:
It is the application of the zoning regulations that have allowed the Ocean beach community to preserve the unique “character” touted on the City’s own website, “Ocean Beach is a small community that celebrates individuality and creativity in its preservation as a traditional Southern California beach town”.
And then she makes this very worthwhile point how the City benefits from this OB “uniqueness”:
The City has benefited economically from the tourism draw of the Ocean Beach community. It is this uniqueness that is now in jeopardy by the continued variances.
At the heart of the controversy is the view by the Board that City staff is “attempting to rezone an area of Ocean Beach through repeated variances without going through the required official channels.” Importantly, she continues:
Against the recommendation of the Ocean Beach Planning Board, the City has approved multiple variances on one specific block of West Point Loma Avenue.
In order to receive a variance, a property owner must demonstrate certain “hardship” requirements, but the planners agree:
The variance requirement for a “unique hardship” clearly has not been met; there is nothing unique in Ocean Beach about these lots since we have hundreds of such lots.
Yet, city staff act as if the OB Precise Plan is simply something to circumvent, and they have been doing so by issuing staff recommendations that favor the variances, and in doing so, state that the zoning for that area is not correct. The OB Planners’ response to that point is to say, okay, if you don’t believe the zoning is right, then there are proper procedures to change the zoning, so that’s what the city should do, instead of the granting of the variances. One of the steps in changing the zoning of an area is to hold an open, public hearing on the issue – which city staff has not done.
Often, a disagreement between the OB Planners, the City and the building applicant moves the project in front of the San Diego Planning Commission. But there are problems there, as well, Gawronski explains:
Planning Commissioners have repeatedly overlooked the community by ignoring the recommendations of the elected Ocean Beach Planning Board.
Staff and Commissioners have relied on precedent variances to grant new variances to homes being constructed (even when advised by the City attorney not to take past considerations into account).
Commissioners have also repeatedly informed the Ocean Beach Planning Board that the variances are being granted because they do not think the zoning for this block is correct and have suggested that the Board reconsider the issue.
Thus, the call for an immediate moratorium by OB’s planners. Gawronski’s letter ends:
Although we continue to disagree with the findings of the City, we have accepted that fact that we are powerless to stop the variances that staff have very directly told us will continue to be granted. In light of this, we are asking that the Ocean Beach Planning Board have the opportunity to work with City staff to reconsider the zoning for this very specific block in Ocean Beach.
In a call to Mayor Filner’s media office this morning, the OB Rag left a message requesting a response.
We will remain vigilant on this issue and will continue to support the OB Planning Board in this fight with city staff. It is hoped that a mayor with more of an environmental and grassroots bent will be responsive to the requests of our planners, especially a mayor who touts listening to the forgotten neighborhoods – as he promised. We fully expect Mayor Filner to carry through on his pledges and will publish any and all responses from his office on this issue.