Reader Rant: “Huh?” – a Response to the New Draft Ocean Beach Community Plan Update

by on June 11, 2013 · 13 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

OB Plan Bd district map best

The current OB Precise Plan Area, with individual districts.

Editor: The following “Reader Rant” is written by Geoff Page, a former chair of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, as a response to presentations by City planners of the new Draft OB Community Plan Update.  Geoff is responding to a report in the OB Rag of Maxx Stalheim’s presentation to the OB Planning Board on June 5th, plus to other sources as well. Maxx Stalheim is the senior planner involved in the 11 year process of rewriting OB’s Precise Plan, and he did announce he was retiring next month at the OB Planning Board meeting on June 5.  The OB Rag has invited Mr Stalheim to write a statement about the new Draft Update.

By Geoff Page

I am really happy Maxx Stalheim is retiring, we all should be.

Let’s look at the “highlights” Stalheim described. The first one was :

 “There is a new facilities financing section to help guide planners in determining public facility funding.”

 Huh? This just sounds like training material for new city planners, why would this be at all unique to any one community? Isn’t it the job of planners to know these things anyway?

“OB has been “park-deficient” over the years, and earlier the City determined that the neighborhood was 40 acres deficient in terms of size and population. The new draft includes the use of “equivalencies” – like cliff trails and “comfort stations” (read restrooms) that reduce the deficiency, and now it’s down to only 18 acres.”

Huh? So Stalheim is saying the City has solved 22 acres of park deficiency in OB with semantics?

“Another highlight is within the urban design element, that addresses the City issuing questionable variances to home builders along West Pt Loma Blvd. The new plan has tools to evaluate development projects to determine if a project is in compliance with the Precise Plan.”


“The new plan has tools to evaluate development projects to determine if a project is in compliance with the Precise Plan?”

This one isn’t funny. The community plans don’t need “tools” to see if a project is in conformance. Those tools are community planning board members who know this stuff and care about it. What is needed is a way to stop the City from allowing variances to the Municipal Code when a community objects to those variances. And the only way that will ever occur is if the community plans become part of the Municipal Code. Today, there are no teeth in these plans and they can be, and are, ignored regularly and with impunity.

Here is another quote from Stalheim from the SDNews:

“The controversial trend among property owners on West Point Loma Boulevard to replace one-story duplexes with three-story homes could become a thing of the past. Language in the introduction will state that variances allowing homes with larger square footages than permitted by zoning is not compatible with the plan.”

Vintage Stalheim. “…could become a thing of the past?” Notice the hedging?

“Language in the plan will state that variances allowing homes with larger square footage than permitted by zoning is not compatible with the plan!!!”

I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Homes with larger square footage than allowed by the zoning are illegal anyway  but perhaps you aren’t familiar with the Municipal Code. Of course violations of the Municipal Code are not compatible with the plan.

But in all seriousness folks, do not believe the community plan will stop the City from granting variance requests because the City is not bound by the OB Plan or any other.

And this highlight:

“The update ensures that new development will not destroy view corridors, particularly along the public right-of-way along streets.”

Huh? I am straining to control my tongue here. First, view corridors along the public right-of-way have always been protected; these are the ONLY view corridors that are protected. There is absolutely no provision in the San Diego Municipal Code that protects view corridors across private property. And, language in a community plan, which is not part of the Municipal Code, is only a plea for owners to respect other property owners. Some do but those who don’t want to, don’t have to, and don’t.

I have no idea what Stalheim’s last “highlight” meant.

To conclude, do not be fooled by the way this plan was presented by the City. There is only one way these plans will ever be effective and that is to make them a part of the Municipal Code which would force the Development Services Department to use them in their reviews. They don’t do that now.

But, to end with the good news again, Maxx Stalheim is retiring

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Pete R June 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Mr Page,

I appreciate your frustration with the bureaucratic process – especially with the variance issue – but I think your rather harsh criticisms of a city worker are misplaced.

You appear to be holding Mr. Stalheim responsible for the fact that community plans are not part of the Municipal Code. But that is not how our city is designed. If you want these plans to have more “teeth” (and believe me, I would like that too) I encourage you take your concerns to the City Council and the Mayor, as this would require a major legislative change. Using the internet to verbally abuse a city worker about a legal issue beyond his control is neither effective nor appropriate.

In my experience, Mr. Stalheim and his fellow planners have worked very hard with the community on this plan, and they have been very accommodating to our concerns – including the language that addresses the variance issue. Did you you participate in any of the public meetings of the Precise Plan Update Sub-Committee over the last several years? This issue was discussed in great depth at those meetings, and this language was crafted collaboratively to be as strong and clear as possible. Unfortunately, as you correctly point out, the community plan only goes so far when it comes to having “teeth.” But again, that is not the fault of the staff who helped us write it.

Similarly, you also accused Mr. Stalheim of “hedging” when he said that FAR variances “could become a thing of the past.” That’s because Mr. Stalheim is not, and has never been, the city’s decision maker on development permits. He cannot predict what the Planning Commission or a Hearing Officer will decide about a project in the future. I’m not sure what you want from Mr. Stalheim here – but again, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. He simply cannot promise us a favorable resolution to every future variance application that comes up in OB.

Again, I agree with your general concerns about variances, as well as the community plan’s lack of “teeth” when it comes to development permits. But Mr. Stalheim is not the enemy here. Under our current system (which is unlikely to change anytime soon) the community plan is the best tool we have to enumerate our desires for our neighborhood. Mr. Stalheim has worked patiently with the OB community for several years to help us do just that. I appreciate all of his hard work, and wish him the very best in retirement.

Thank you,
Peter Ruscitti, OBPB Vice Chair


avatar Geoff Page June 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Mr. Ruscitti,

I gather by your comments that you think I was critical of Maxx Stalheim just because of this article. Either my comments regarding the good news of his retirement did not convey what they were meant to or that you are not a discerning reader. Stalheim and I go back a number of years; my opinion of him was formed long before this article. I did not go into great detail about that history, but suffice to say that I meant what I said when I applauded his retirement news.

I don’t hold Stalheim responsible for the community plans not being part of the Municipal Code. I do hold him accountable for the irresponsible remarks designed to make the community think this new plan will solve the problems of the past, such as stopping the City from granting variances against the will of the community. It simply will not do that at all. His comment on view corridors was designed to make people feel this new plan will solve the constant conflict within OB and Pt. Loma about developments blocking people’s views and it will not do that either. This was a snow job. I’m not “Using the internet to verbally abuse a city worker about a legal issue beyond his control…,” I am using a public forum to expose the comments made to sell this plan for what they were. I think that is entirely appropriate because I know a little more about the subject than most do as I’ve been involved with the Peninsula Community Planning Board for eight years and have been chair twice.

You say the city planning staff has worked hard on this plan. For eleven years. And, they are paid a salary to do this, unlike Mindy Pellesier who is a volunteer. Did you know, Mr. Ruscitti, that the city budget for redoing a community plan is $250,000? Eleven years, $250,000, all for a plan that is toothless. Sure it’s not the staff’s fault, but just try and have these people help when the community is fighting a project, like the two on West Pt. Loma that received all the variances and see where that gets you.
You criticized of my remark about Stalheim hedging about the FAR variances becoming a thing of the past, saying he is not a decision maker. Then why is he making public comments to the SDNews and standing in front of the OBPB implying just that? I guarantee people at that meeting, who don’t know a lot about this stuff, believed him. Those comments were, frankly, misleading, to put it mildly.

You said “the community plan is the best tool we have to enumerate our desires for our neighborhood.” These plans have been around for years and most haven’t been updated in over 20 years. I believe they are a good idea because responsible developers do consider them in their development plans; I have seen this often and it is very gratifying to see that consideration. But, some developers ,or worse, private owners, ignore the plans completely and no amount of appeal to the Planning Commission or City Council based on the community plan will succeed in stopping these people. No teeth. Ask the reviewers downtown if they look at the community plans and they will say no that it’s up to the community planning groups to do that. And so it goes.

Finally, Mr. Ruscitti, I understand why you are sympathetic to Stalheim; you are also a professional planner. It is always good to know the perspective of a writer because that knowledge can influence a reader’s perception of what they have to say. The gist of your comment is a defense of Stalheim the planner but you did not address the accuracy of any of my comments about what Stalheim said. I think the lack of commentary on that says a lot.


avatar Pete R June 12, 2013 at 10:06 am

Mr. Page,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my comment and clarify your objections. I certainly do not have as much history with Mr. Stalheim as you do, and I respect the fact that your opinion has been formed over many (undoubtedly frustrating) years of working with DSD.

I understand that you found Mr. Stalheim’s comments to be misleading, but I simply did not take away the same thing from his presentation. To my ears, he did not misrepresent what community plans can do, nor make any promises about future decisions. I guess what you called “hedging” about variances, I would call an accurate representation of what the draft plan contains and is capable of (which, unfortunately, is not much!).

But perhaps you’re right, and the relationship between community plans and discretionary permits in this city should have been better explained for everyone’s benefit. I would be happy to take a minute to explain this for the record at our next meeting on July 3, when the draft plan will be discussed in a public forum. I encourage you to attend as well to share your thoughts.

We both agree that community plans should carry more weight in the city’s permitting decisions, and as members of planning boards I’m sure we’ve both spent plenty of time battling DSD to defend our communities’ interests. I did take issue with the personal nature of your attack against Mr. Stalheim, but I do not disagree with your views on the development issues that affect our communities. I look forward to a constructive discussion on July 3.

Thank you,
Peter Ruscitti, OBPB Vice Chair


avatar unwashedwalmartthong June 12, 2013 at 11:03 am

Nice exchange. Too civil for me, though.


avatar Omar Passons June 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

It’s nice to take a peek inside what’s going on in other neighborhoods from time to time. This seemed like a generally civil exchange, which is great to see. I reacted the same way as Mr. Ruscitti. to Mr. Page’s initial post, though of course since I don’t live in that community I have no basis for an opinion on the underlying facts. I’ve yet to encounter an intentionally bad actor within the City’s planning staff and I expect the hire of Mr. Fulton will do a great deal to help remake the way the city does this sort of thing. Despite serving on my own Planning Committee and being actively involved, I actually disagree with the idea that we should cede decision-making control to us volunteers on planning groups. It’s certainly true, at least in some instances, that we have a better sense of the nooks and crannies of our communities than City Hall. But CPGs have limitations. Big, important limitations. Members are elected by an exceedingly narrow swath of the community. One that invariably self selects to further bias the voting sample into people with the time/inclination/resources/language proficiency to go to these types of meetings and participate in this specific way. A better system would, I think, create greater reliability in the timing and scope of recommendations from CPGs and, similarly, more teeth in whatever regulation exists so that it can’t simply be waived away at the Planning Commission or City Council level. This is, I think, a reason either to institutionalize 10-yr updates (or some small interval) and the money to do so or to go to a system that better evolves with each community over time on its own. It seems odd to hold a property owner to a 30-yr old plan just because we didn’t bother to update the plan for modern realities. In any case, at least this is a conversation that’s happening and decisions are coming.


avatar Geoff Page June 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Mr. Ruscitti,

I appreciate your comments and I especially liked your idea of explaining to the meeting attendees the relationship between the community plans and how they stand in relation to the Municipal Code. If you do this, I would suggest you put the item on the agenda to alert the community that there will be something said. Planning board meetings are not usually heavily attended as you probably know and the chances of having the same crowd there at the next meeting, without some notice, are slim. I would attend if I could but I work in Los Angeles during the week unfortunately.

I understand that you feel my comments about Stalheim were a personal attack and I do not object to that disagreement. If I were to detail all of my history with him, I believe you would understand but that is not a subject for this forum.

Mr. Unwashed,

Thank you for your comment. I agree that the less civil exchanges can be entertaining and I like a good argument as well as the next person but when someone replies civilly to me, even if I disagree, I feel I need to reply in kind. If you ask anyone who knows me, you’ll hear that I don’t shy away from a testy exchange if that is what I am confronted with.

Mr. Passons,

I agree with everything you had to say except for one thing. You obviously have experience in this area. You said you did not think it was a good idea to “cede decision-making control to us volunteers on planning groups” because of limitations that you accurately described. Members are indeed elected by an exceedingly narrow swath of the community as you said, But, one of the main reasons for a lack of interest in these planning boards is the knowledge that they are basically toothless, or to be more charitable, advisory only. Can you imagine the interest that would be generated if these groups actually had some power in the matter of approving projects? If that were to happen. I guarantee there would be a big interest on both the development and the anti-development sides in the elections each year and that would generate more community participation.

I also do agree that these groups should perhaps not have complete say on these reviews for some of the reasons you enumerated. The DSD could be required to review the decisions of the planning boards, on projects the planning boards have denied, to see if the denials were correctly based on the specifics of the community plans. This would be a second sanity check and if there appeared to be gross abuses of this power on a given project, the decision could be overruled but only when the DSD could show exactly how the particular planning board erred in its review. Or, it could be reversed, make the DSD include in its project review an evaluation of the project against the community plan and then let the planning boards review the DSD decision and have an opportunity to refute that decision if needed. Just make it a necessary part of the process, not what it is now.


avatar nostalgic June 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Don’t forget – the PUBLIC has NO access to this document. The Planning Board members were asked to keep private the hard copies handed out. Only after it goes to the (first round?) at the Planning Commission, will the rest of us get a look at it. So I’m glad to hear that the people who got it looked at it – that’s a PLUS!


avatar Frank Gormlie June 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm

The public will have access beginning tomorrow, June 14th. Watch this space.


avatar unWASHEdWalmaRttONG June 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Please don’t call me mister. Shall I quote some Marx?
“Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

Groucho, that is.


avatar Frank Gormlie June 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm

One of his quotes: “I wouldn’t join a club that would have me.”


avatar unWASHEdWalmaRttONG June 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Where are Groucho & George Carlin when we need them?


avatar Judy Swink June 17, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I’m still stuck on trying to understand how “cliffside trails and restrooms” can qualify as 22 acres of park equivalencies!

What cliffside trails? The map at the head of the article shows the southern boundary of the OB planning area ends at Adair St. so you can’t count Sunset Cliffs Park & cliff trails along south of Adair St. toward OB park equivalencies. Yes, there is a path south of the OB Pier but parts of it are not safely accessible (or accessible at all) at high tide, especially when there are large waves. I don’t see how that can add up to an acre much less a large portion of 22 acres. And restrooms as park equivalencies?!? Give me a break….!


avatar OBdada June 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Judy, [ not meaning to be deprecating] mY deaR, O(ceaN) B(each) itSeLf =the SanD aNd WaVes _iS ouR ! ParK—[[ThaT otheR partS of the ciTy aRe aLLoweD to shaRe { liKe wE dO BaLboa P.}
P.S. aRe yoU reLateD to DicK SwinK????
P.S.s. Geoff Page geTs 100% oF mY VoTe oN whaTeVer hE saYs…..
NoTe: i foLLoW wiTh intereSt buT aPathy aFteR the “West Point Loma Boulevard” Fiasco!!==[[ HoW does the oLd saYing gO??==”YoU caN’T fight CiTy HaLL”
YoU’aLL HaVe fuN doinG jusT thaT, buT iT’s noT mY Tea BaG…
&–PoWeR tO The PeopLe!–[[[thE oNeS wiThouT the $$$ aNd don’T wanT aNy frOM thoSe thaT’$ GoTs


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