Debate Over New Draft OB Community Plan Update Continues – Response to “Huh”

by on June 14, 2013 · 2 comments

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

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A hearing on plans to increase density in Ocean Beach by city staff, August 9, 2011.

By Giovanni Ingolia

Mr. Page,

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.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Seth June 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Nice thoughts, Gio. And San Diego got Bill Fulton? That’s unexpected.

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avatar Geoff Page June 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

Mr. Ingolia,

It never ceases to amaze me how many people reading the same thing, with their own personal biases, can find in it what was not even there. In this case, you are obviously very proud of the work done on the community plan and any criticism of anything related to that is seen as a criticism of that effort.

If you will reread what I wrote you will find that I did not attack city staff as the problem. I made three points in what I wrote. The first was that I was happy to hear Maxx Stalheim was retiring and the obvious interpretation of that was that I am not a fan of Stalheim. The second point was that the way the plan was presented was false and misleading. The third point I made was that, regardless of how well the plan was crafted, it will not solve the problems communities face because there are no teeth in these plans.

You are correct, I did not sit on any of the Precise Plan Sub-Committee meetings and I did not attend the June 5th meeting. None of that is relevant. What I wrote was a reaction to the way the plan was represented to the community as written up in the OB Rag. As soon as I saw Stalheim’s name, I was interested and when I read what he said I decided I had to speak up. As I’ve said in comments here, I won’t go into all the details of my history with the man but those “highlights” in the story were an accurate representation of him.

As to your facts.

“1: The Variance issue wasn’t even in the community plan until now.” Why does this issue even need to be in the plan? Having language that reiterates what is in the Municipal Code but is ignored by city staff will not improve the situation at all. The FAR issue? If it is already against the Municipal Code to exceed the FAR for a given size lot, why does a community plan need to restate that and what will that do? Nothing. No teeth.

“2: When it comes to the municipal code…” Here you mention that one of the four findings required is “does the property deny the property owner reasonable use.” The problem with that requirement is that the word “reasonable” is ambiguous and probably purposefully so. What is reasonable to you or I or Frank Gormlie could all be very different. This kind of word choice is often deliberate. As for the rest of your observations about the Planning Commission, I agree.

“3: City Staff has recommended approval of this variance until…” I don’t know what project you are referring to but I’m happy to hear that Filner has attempted to step in and address the issue.

“4: Until all of Mayor Sanders appointed Planning Commissioners are termed out …” These people are appointees not civil service or elected officials. I believe they are also unsalaried receiving a small stipend for their services. I tried to find out what that amounted to but had no luck at all. Why do we have to wait for appointees to be termed out?

“5: We have only won one appeal on variances and that was because Council member Kevin Faulconer had to take a vote on it.” Well, there’s a surprise, I’ll bet there was a hidden reason for that position. I am also left of center and I am less than a fan of Faulconer’s. You say he listens to the community? Only when he has no other choice. I watched him defend, and vote for, the trucking of liquefied methane gas through Pt. Loma from the wastewater treatment plant and then reverse his position when confronted by a petition from 350 Pt. Lomans. Faulconer listens to his own drum and not ours.

“6: There are a couple of reasons our OB Plan has taken 11 years.” None of what you wrote surprised me although some of it wasn’t entirely accurate. Sanders combined Planning and Development Services, he did not eliminate Planning. The halt to community plan work was as much financial as anything, as I said in one of my comments, the price tag to rewrite one of these plans is around $250,000. With about 47 planning groups out there the total cost to rewrite the plans would be $11,750,000. Why would Sanders bother to try and impede progress on these plans when he surely knew as well as any one that these plans can be ignored? I think this was just one of those things that looked easy to cut the budget on. Filner may have found some money for this.

You mentioned Tony Kempton. I really, really look forward to his retirement.

You said that “If Mr. Stalheim had been unable to add something he explained the underlying law(s) which precluded inclusion in our plan.” Did anyone take the time to double check the information Stalheim provided about the “underlying law(s)?” After my experiences with him, I would double check anything and everything he said about any laws.
I am happy that Sanders is gone. I think Filner’s election to Mayor is one of the best things to happen in this City’s politics since I moved here in 1977. I’m loving every minute of it, especially watching the City’s Establishment squirm and whine.

You said “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.” Once again, you need to reread what I wrote, the only judgment offered in my piece was about Stalheim and I stand by that and I include Kempton in that now since you brought him up. I don’t need to read your Community Plan, I am sure is a very well crafted document for what it is because I know the folks on the OBPB and the people of OB care about these things and I’m sure they did a great job. Now maybe you can move on to the next step and see if you can get in made a part of the Municipal Code so it can be enforced and not ignored as it has been in the past.

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