Finally sitting down with the 166-page Draft OB Community Plan Update the other day, I managed to review the first few chapters and now offer a few thoughts on the Draft – to be discussed at the July 3rd OB Planning Board meeting.
The new Plan is broken down into various chapters, each with an issue within the planning world, like “Land Use Element” (Chpt 2), “Urban Design Element” (Chapter 4), or the “Mobility Element” of Chapter 3 and so forth, with others covering public facilities, services and safety, recreation, conservation, noise and historic preservation. There are plenty of nice, colorful maps, as well, included in the Update.
The following is not a point by point exercise of review of the draft, but more of a list of my thoughts, concerns and issues after reviewing the first several chapters.
In general, there is much flowery language in the Plan – as the original had. Flowery language is cheap, yes, but if it is followed by specific recommendations that are feasible and commonsensical, it can be solid. But if the pretty language has no anchors in real life, then it is just that – pretty and nice-sounding words. There is much of that in the new Draft.
The Draft essentially took the former OB development blueprint, the OB Precise Plan – passed by the City in 1975 that established the OB Planning Board – and reworked it so it fits into San Diego’s General Plan. Here is the relationship, according to the Update:
The Ocean Beach Community Plan and Local Coastal Program is intended to further express General Plan policies in Ocean Beach through the provision of community-specific recommendations that implement citywide goals and policies while addressing community needs.
Specific General Plan policies are referenced within the Community Plan to emphasize their significance in the community, but all applicable General Plan policies should be cited in conjunction with the Community Plan when reviewing future development proposals. The two documents work in tandem to establish the framework for infill development in Ocean Beach.
So, the new plan for OB has to be seen as a supplement to the General Plan for the entire City. Here is some introductory language in the Update:
The Vision for Ocean Beach
The Ocean Beach community plan includes land use recommendations derived through the public outreach process. The outreach process included working with the community plan update subcommittee, public workshops and community planning group meetings.
The Plan focuses on the environment of Ocean Beach, emphasizing development complementary to the existing small-scale character of the community. Maintaining and enhancing the existing development pattern is the primary objective of the Plan. Also, critical to the community’s vision is the preservation of open space, sensitive habitat, public park lands, and other recreational uses.
Then the San Diego General Plan’s Guiding Principles are explained, briefly:
The General Plan provides a long-range framework for how the City of San Diego will grow and develop over the next 30 years. A foundation of the General Plan is the City of Villages strategy which encourages the development or enhancement of mixed-use activity centers, of different scales, that serve as vibrant cores of communities and are linked to the regional transit system.
Although the Ocean Beach Community Plan and Local Coastal Program does not identify any Village designation, the General Plan suggests Ocean Beach has an intermediate propensity for implementing City of Village strategies. The Ocean Beach Community Plan is intended to further express General Plan policies in Ocean Beach through the provision of site-specific recommendations that implement the City of Villages strategy. While specific General Plan policies are referenced in the document to emphasize their importance, all applicable General Plan policies may be cited in conjunction with those contained in the Community Plan.
Here is the first use of the phrase, “City of Villages strategies”. The City of Villages was a concept within the San Diego planning and development services departments when the City’s general plan was updated earlier this century. There was a very specific program entitled “City of Villages” – which ultimately failed because none of the projects covered were actually built. Essentially, the concept is a good one in that it promotes walkable, bikeable and liveable communities, but is/ was also transit-oriented, that is, the concept worked only when the mixed-used projects were constructed very close to mass public transit, like the trolley.
Now, the phrase “City of Villages” is used more generically. And what the new Update is doing is preparing Ocean Beach for new construction within the commercial zones and districts, like Newport Avenue, Voltaire Street and Point Loma Avenue.
There are plenty of good and creative ideas in the new plan, or at least there are not a lot of bad ideas being recommended – such as one-way streets. One-way streets are not proposed for OB – so that is good – as they tend to divide and cut-up neighborhoods, providing barriers to walk-ability.
Some of the best language and one of the straightest recommendations of the Update is on variances. There is a key reference and brief discussion of recent construction problems in northeast OB, along West Pt Loma Avenue, the granting of variances to a few property owners that were not justified. The Planning Board has appealed them. Here is its commentary:
A series of variances have been granted in recent years which have resulted in structures exceeding the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) areas of the underlying zone. The variances, which were met by objections from the community, allowed development of single-family residences.
The properties are undersized per the zone’s minimum lot size requirements, have no alley access, and are within a mapped flood plain.
There are no special circumstances or conditions applying to properties in the multi¬family designated areas of Ocean Beach that do not apply generally to other properties in the RM-2-4 zone. While the .7 FAR is unique to Ocean Beach, Strict application of the regulations would not deprive a property owner of reasonable use of the land, and granting of a variance, to increase allowable FAR in the multi-family zones would adversely affect the Ocean Beach Community. [page Intro 6]
One of the points covered is the adjoining San Diego River Park. Here there is talk of creating a trailhead at Dog Beach, with connections to trails at Famosa Slough – sounds fine. Then the phrase “the re-vegetation of all areas adjacent to the San Diego River with appropriate native plant material” got me worried.
Over the last year or two, I’ve seen huge trees – both palms and eucalyptus – cut down near or in the San Diego River causeway because they were not “native”. How many birds and other wildlife were adversely affected by this logging? I am an environmentalist, but I do not favor cutting down large trees and other brush because we, the European-based immigrants brought them here. Heck, there weren’t hardly any trees in OB or Point Loma when the Spanish first arrived. Do we want to go back to those environmentally-sensitive years? Hardly. (A similar process occurred within nearby Tecolote Canyon – many tall and wide eucalyptus trees were destroyed – along with the habitat for thousands of birds and animals – all in the name of “restoring native plants”.)
I say, enough all ready of this talk about cutting down or tearing out anything or any species that wasn’t here originally. Over the last two centuries, humans have carried in many types of trees and plants, and in doing so, have greatly IMPROVED the environment, giving living space to our feathered friends and their furry associates.
In the Land Use section, there is more language that encourages and promotes “mixed-use residential commercial development within commercial districts.” [Page LU 4] Again, this is the City of Villages strategy.
Basically, the new Update says that there is room in OB for new development and population increases – all within the commercial districts. And it does this by using SANDAG figures – without questioning them – and without wondering why SANDAG estimates always go up exponentially. Here is the language:
By the year 2030, SANDAG projects there will be an approximate six percent increase in the number of dwelling units compared to the year 2010, and the total number of dwelling units will increase from 7,905 (2010), to 8,371 (2030).
Planners often think in decades, and so our new Plan is good for twenty years, up to 2030. But, if you’ve been in OB for a while, a couple of decades in terms of density and population increases is not very long. 20 years ago, it was 1993, and OB has not changed all that much during that time. The point is, that OB probably will not see that many changes in the next twenty, but the plan wants us to get ready for a 6% increase in population, which is approximately another 850 residents. Where will they go? Up above all the shops and stores along Newport, Voltaire and Point Loma Avenue.
Here is the language in the new Update:
Land designated for Commercial use total approximately 47 acres, or 7% of the total acreage with the planning area. Although there are no formally-designated mixed-use villages within Ocean Beach, the community’s commercial districts have elements of Community and Neighborhood Centers as outlined in the General Plan.
The Voltaire Street, Newport Avenue and the Point Loma Avenue Districts comprise vibrant commercial areas with residential units scattered above or near commercial uses. …
Mixed-use residential/commercial development is permitted in the commercial districts of Ocean Beach. All three commercial districts, … are designated Community Commercial which can accommodate mixed-use residential/ commercial development at densities of 0 to 29 dwelling units per net residential acre. …
New mixed-use development within the three commercial districts may offer the best and most realistic alternative for providing future housing and meeting citywide goals for economically balanced communities. There are a small number of existing sites within the commercial districts that could potentially provide opportunities for mixed-use and re-use development.
The only thing I can take away from this is that the new Plan is preparing the ground for a “City of Villages” type of development on Newport Avenue, paving the way with language to allow the demolition of current commercial buildings and the construction of two and three story “mixed-use” apartments and condos above the new businesses.
Could that indeed happen in OB, on Newport Avenue? Certainly, if a property owner was able to consolidate a string of storefronts and corners along OB’s main street. Now that would never happen, would it? Hey, don’t look now, but it already has.
Another flaw in the new Update is on the subject of open space and parks. We’re told that land designated for parks, open space and recreation uses totals about 63 acres of Ocean Beach, or roughly 10% of our land mass. But in order to get to this number, the City has lumped both the OB Gateway “Park” at the corner of Sunset Cliffs and West Pt Loma, and the Famosa Slough out yonder near “northeast” OB. For some reason, recreation lands also include the Barnes Tennis Center, a private facility on publicly owned property.
That’s it for now. I’ll be preparing Part 2 for publication very soon. And in the meantime, plan on reviewing the new Update yourself and attend the July 3rd OB Planning Board meeting for further edification on what is being proposed.