The Debate Continues – City Planner: “Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the Ocean Beach Community Plan Update, but were afraid to ask.”

by on June 17, 2013 · 6 comments

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

OB Plan Bd district map bestEditor: 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 The plan contains many policies that are no longer relevant and are outdated.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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sean m June 17, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Is ob’s new plan going to conform t OK CA AB32’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990s levels?

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avatar Geoff Page June 18, 2013 at 6:09 am

I hope everyone with an interest in this subject matter reads this piece by Maxx Stalheim, carefully. It is very much the same as what I originally criticized. Parts of this statement are definitely worrisome.

The first part I found disturbing began with the question “What is different about the new plan?”Stalheim wrote that this is a new document and “it represents a “no change” update.” Somehow, this word choice seems contradictory to me. It sounded like doublespeak. Stalheim stated that “the Neighborhood Commercial Designation for the Voltaire Street and Pt. Loma Avenue districts will be replaced with a Community Commercial Designation” without bothering to provide a modicum of definitions for these terms. To put it simply, the Community Commercial designation allow a lot more commercial development than does the Neighborhood Commercial designation. To see the differences go to Chap 13 Art 01 Div 05, Commercial Base Zones and look under CN for Neighborhood Commercial and CC for Community Commercial. This could matter to those of you who live in these “re-designated” areas.

Stalheim wrote “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.” Stalheim stated earlier that “no new land use designations or zones are proposed.” I suppose by “new” he meant, what? He just said in this section that a land use designation will change and the a portion of the community will be re-zoned. And, the rezoning is needed because of an inconsistency between the present zone and land use designation. Inconsistency? How did that happen. There is a clue further down where he talks about rezoning residential areas. Again with the rezoning that isn’t happening?

Stalheim stated “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.” This is what the oft-ignored community plans have always been for but have been powerless to stop deviations from. This is not “new.” “The Urban Design element also identifies coastal view corridors with specific recommendations for view protection.” As long as the corridors are public streets but there is no way a community plan will protect views across private property, not until this protection is included in the Municipal Code.
Stalheim said “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.” Guarantee of public access to coastal resources is, and has been, state law for a very long time, just in case someone thought this was a wonderful new idea here.

Stalheim wrote “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.” Why? Bridges are replaced all the time all over the country as they age and as populations move and expand. The Sunset Cliffs Bridge serves much, much more than just Ocean Beach or the rest of Pt. Loma, it is a major thoroughfare and it is inadequate for the current population. Why is it economically infeasible? Because we spent our money on PetCo Park or want to spend money on a stadium for a billionaire?

Now we get to the one that really angers me, “How will the new plan be implemented?”
Stalheim wrote “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 THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES ARE ALREADY DEVELOPED.” This is stealth rezoning by allowing unmonitored guest quarters and companion units to be built in the RS-1-7, single unit areas that have effectively turned them into the RM-1-1, multiple unit designation. The city, until recently, allowed these units to be built on RS-1-7 lots with the prohibition of putting kitchens in the units and requiring the owners to file a paper with the County that states they will not rent the units out. But the City never created an enforcement arm to monitor this, unless you want to call Code Enforcement that arm. It is a withered arm. The owners put a kitchen in after the permits are signed off and rent the units out. Presto RM-1-1. And changes in the Land Development Code now allow those kitchens and now even allow half bathrooms in what are called accessory structures once designed as uninhabitable. Believe me folks, the City has been stealthily rezoning the single family areas for years contrary to the Municipal Code. “the subject properties are already developed.” How did that happen Maxx? If I lived in one of these RS-1-7 areas Stalheim is talking about, I’d be furious. This is part of the plan I am going to review personally.

And this about public facilities, “The specific projects are then incorporated into the PFFP and Development Impact Fees are collected to fund the construction of new public facilities.” So, if we want new public facilities we need to allow development in order to collect the money to pay for the facilities? Isn’t this why we have so much trouble with the Development Services Department? A city department funded by the fees from the developers they are reviewing has little incentive to deny a project and cut off those fees. Until the DSD is again funded independently from this revenue source, problems will continue.

My point is not simply to be critical but to expose doublespeak. This is the language the City, and Stalheim, use to make the community think everything is beautiful and, if not listened to carefully, it works. In order to have real protection for what is in the community plan, its requirements must be codified in some manner. And, the project reviewers downtown must not be allowed to “interpret” the rules to allow variances from these requirements. A community plan is a good thing for every community to have. Making it enforceable is the next step.

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avatar Geoff Page June 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I reviewed the Draft Plan. Nowhere in it do the words “Neighborhood Commercial” appear. “Community Commercial” does appear but there is nothing to show if any areas changed from one to the other because the original does not appear.

You will also not find the RS-1-7 rezoning that Stalehim mentioned, nor will you find the new RM-1-1 designation.

Stalhein said the plan addresses both of these but unless someone else can locate the language, it isn’t there. Doublespeak.

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avatar Jon June 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I’m sorry, I just want to make sure I’m clear. Geoff does NOT like maxx stalheim? Don does NOT like those stop signs, and NOBODY likes freepb? I just wish people weren’t so ambiguous with their comments.

At least Judith likes OB kabob.

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avatar Geoff Page June 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Maybe I’m dense, Jon, but I read this several times and I just don’t think I get your point. I have to say, your comment was ambiguous.

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avatar Jon June 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

That’s because sarcasm doesn’t travel well over the interwebs. Best of luck on the crusade.

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