Editor: The following is another part of the debate over the new Draft OB Community Plan Update. This is by Maxx Stalheim, senior planner for the City of San Diego who was deeply involved in the rewrite of the OB Precise Plan. Stalheim has been making presentations around OB on the new Draft. The debate was kicked off by Geogg Page, who was responding to this report; Page was answered by Giovanni Ingolia. Stalheim writes his contribution in the form of questions and answers. The schedule for approval of the new Update can be found here.
By Maxx Stalheim, Senior Planner City of San Diego / Special to the OB Rag
What is a community plan?
A community plan is a blueprint for how the community will grow and develop over the next 20 years, or so. The document works in tandem with the City’s General Plan. The Ocean Beach Community Plan and Local Coastal Program is intended to further express General Plan policies by providing community-specific recommendations that help achieve citywide goals while addressing community needs.
Why is the Ocean Beach community plan being updated?
The City of San Diego adopted a new General Plan in 2008. The General Plan states that community plans are to be updated on a regular basis. Typically, a community plan has a “shelf-life” of approximately twenty years. The Ocean Beach Community Plan, adopted in 1975, is one of the City’s oldest community plans. The plan contains many policies that are no longer relevant and are outdated. The Ocean Beach update will bring the community plan into line with the new General Plan goals and policies.
Why is the update process taking so long?
To quote the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been”. The update process began in 2002. Community meetings identified issues to be addressed. The major theme that emerged was the need to maintain and enhance the existing development pattern and “small-scale” character of Ocean Beach.
Planning efforts were suspended when staff and resources were diverted to the update of the City’s General Plan. Planning efforts began again in 2006, a draft plan was presented to the community, and workshops were held in 2007. In 2008, the determination was made that the update would require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) based on existing traffic conditions. Funding for the EIR was secured in 2009. Consultants for the preparation of technical reports were interviewed in 2010, and contracts for consultant services were signed in 2011. During this time, the draft plan was being revised and refined.
Throughout the process, community volunteers assisted with preparation of existing conditions and identification of issue areas. Working closely with the Ocean Beach Community Plan Update subcommittee assured the interests and concerns of the community were reflected in the draft document.
What is different about the new plan?
While the Ocean Beach Community Plan will be an entirely new document, it represents a “no change” update. This means that no new land use designations or zones are proposed. There are changes, however. Specifically, the Neighborhood Commercial Designation for the Voltaire Street and Pt. Loma Avenue districts will be replaced with a Community Commercial Designation. Also, certain properties in the southeastern portion of the community will be re-zoned to correct an existing inconsistency between the present zone and land use designation.
The update includes a new Urban Design Element to guide the appearance of new development. The intent is to assure that new development is compatible and complementary with existing small-scale structures. The Urban Design element also identifies coastal view corridors with specific recommendations for view protection.
The new plan also includes numerous recommendations which reflect the community’s strong connection with coastal resources. The recommendations are intended to protect the resources and to guarantee public access.
What is an Environmental Impact Report?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires environmental review for projects. There are varying degrees of complexity of environmental review with an EIR being the most complex.
Prior to 2008, the update was proceeding with a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). A MND identifies environmental impacts and the mitigation required to reduce the impacts to below a level of significance. A Negative Declaration means that no environmental impacts were identified and no mitigation is required. The simplest degree of environmental review is a Categorical Exemption.
An EIR is an expensive and voluminous document. The EIR allows the decision-makers to find that there are significant impacts that cannot be mitigated to below a level of significance or such mitigation would have serious secondary impacts. The EIR allows decision-makers to make Statements of Overriding Considerations.
For example, it’s no surprise that traffic is a real problem in Ocean Beach and it will only get worse as the region grows. Mitigation for the traffic impacts included constructing a new bridge on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. over the San Diego River. A new bridge costs approximately $20 million and is economically infeasible. Or, mitigation would require new traffic lanes be constructed which would remove on-street parking or require the purchase of property and demolition of existing structures.
These mitigation measures would have had serious secondary impacts to the community character of Ocean Beach and where rejected. Therefore, the EIR will include Statements of Overriding Consideration which will protect the community’s unique character.
How will the new plan be implemented?
The community plan is the policy document guiding the community’s future development. Zoning is one of the implementation measures which brings the policies down to the ground. As previously mentioned, no new zones are being introduced with the plan update, but State law requires that plan designations and zoning be consistent with one another. There are a couple of areas in Ocean Beach where an inconsistency presently exists and needs to be corrected. The rezone will change the existing RS-1-7 zone to the RM-1-1. The zone change will not result in an increase in new housing because the subject properties are already developed.
Another implementation mechanism is a Public Facilities Financing Plan (PFFP). The PFFP identifies projects articulated in the community plan, responsible agencies for the projects, funding, and a timeframe for when the improvements will come on line. For example, the Recreation Element of the Ocean Beach plan identifies a number of improvements to public parks. The specific projects are then incorporated into the PFFP and Development Impact Fees are collected to fund the construction of new public facilities.
How can the public get involved?
A community plan update is a long public process. The Ocean Beach Planning Board is the official voice of the community. The City has been working with the Ocean Beach Community Plan Update subcommittee to craft the land use plan. City staff presented the draft plan to the OBPB on June 5, 2013. We anticipate returning to the OBPB on July 3 to receive their recommendation(s) and their approval to release the draft document for public review. Such public review should begin on July 20, 2013. At that time, the draft plan, the draft EIR and the draft PFFP will all be available in various formats and locations for public review and comment.
There are other opportunities for public input during the review and approval process. The Planning Commission will discuss the draft plan during a workshop on June 20, 2013. The Planning Commission report with the draft plan will be available on-line.
Other opportunities for public review and comment include a hearing with the Historic Resource Board on September 26, 2013, a Planning Commission public hearing on October 17, 2013, a presentation to the Land Use and Housing Committee on October 30, 2013, and a City Council public hearing on November 19, 2013. Finally, the Ocean Beach Community Plan and Local Coastal Program will be considered by the California Coastal Commission sometime in early 2014.