By Giovanni Ingolia
As someone who has been sitting on the OB Planning Board for 7 years, its Vice Chair for 3 years, the Chair for 2 years, and currently co-chair of the OB Plan Update Subcommittee ( along with Mindy Pellissier) I never understood why individuals like you always attacked city staff as the problem.
To me, the problem always lays at the top, the elected officials who enact these codes or appoint their friends to the Planning Commission who then ignore our community plans and municipal codes. You are simply misguided with your blame. It’s we the voters who have failed by continuing to vote for Mayors/Council members who don’t like the planning process and have gone as far as to try to eliminate it all together.
I would also like to point out to you that I don’t believe I ever saw you sit in on any of our Precise Plan Sub-Committee meetings (I personally participated the last 7 years). You also were absent at the June 5th meeting and I’m puzzled as how you came to any of these conclusions on your rant.
Here are the facts.
1: The Variance issue wasn’t even in the community plan until now. Mayor Bob Filner directed staff to include it. We have been focused on the West Pt Loma Projects -since that is where the majority are. However there was another project a half mile away that received a similar variance. Let’s not lose focus; this is not just a W Pt Loma issue. The language in the new plan will include all properties in the RM-2-4 and I believe will help give us another tool in regard to the FAR issue.
2: When it comes to the municipal code in my view it has been ignored as well. As I hope you know, a variance can only be granted when 4 findings are made. If any one of those findings cannot be made variances must be denied under state law.
One of the findings includes “does the property deny the property owner reasonable use.” The applicants’ reason usually is ‘nobody can live in a 1200-1300 square foot house; we need 1500-1600 in order to live comfortably.’
Each time the Planning Commission has agreed the finding can be made and granted them the variances. Planning Commissions reasons I’ve heard are ‘do you really want a bunch of garages along that road, we should grant the variance’ or ‘the planning board is doing its job appealing this project but we should still grant the variance.’
Neither ever answers the question “how is the property owner being denied reasonable use.” Who appointed these Planning Commissioners? Answer: Former Mayor Jerry Sanders.
3: City Staff has recommended approval of this variance until, recently, our elected mayor Bob Filner directed Development Services to deny the project.
4: Until all of Mayor Sanders appointed Planning Commissioners are termed out expect our community plans/municipal code to be ignored and the variances to continue.
5: We have only won one appeal on variances and that was because Council member Kevin Faulconer had to take a vote on it. Now, as someone who is left of center, I don’t philosophically agree with Councilmember Faulconer on a lot of issues. I will note he does listen to the community and was correct when he said he would not support the variance on a similar recent project. For that I have to give credit where credit is due.
6: There are a couple of reasons our OB Plan has taken 11 years.
First, we had a general plan update half-way through writing the draft. State law requires that both documents are legally aligned and consistent. That was one major delay.
Mayor Sanders eliminated the Planning Department, another delay.
He also put a halt to new community plans being drafted and it was apparent that he was slowing down all the work Mindy Pellissier and the subcommittee were doing while working with Maxx Stalheim and long-time city staffer Tony Kempton.
Once Filner took office we finally started to see movement on our community plan.
To me it appears Mayor Sanders did everything he could to slow down and hold up these plans and weaken them. In the end Maxx Stalheim has worked very well with Mindy and the subcommittee in regard to putting in the plans that he can do legally.
In fact, the subcommittee got a majority of items they recommended. If Mr. Stalheim had been unable to add something he explained the underlying law(s) which precluded inclusion in our plan.
Even though I wish all community plans had more teeth, along with our development code, we need to make that change from the top down. This is why I call on Mayor Filner to continue his commitment to “community first.”
The appointment of Bill Fulton as director of a new Planning Department is a positive first step. In my opinion you should have said “I am really happy Jerry Sanders is no longer our Mayor.”
I also encourage you to read and comment on our Community Plan once it’s been released to the public for the 60-day public comment period before you start to judge.