How Land Use Abuse Shapes the Current San Diego Mayoral Drama

by on August 7, 2013 · 1 comment

in Environment, History, Politics, San Diego

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Former San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders.

By Jay Powell

The news this week via the “Utterly-Terrible” news machine (August 6 edition) is, when asked the “push-poll” question:

What story about Filner concerns you more: the charge of sexual misconduct or the charge that he improperly extracted monetary concessions for the city from developers in return for approving their projects?”, the result was a dead heat at 44% for each.

Never mind that in both cases the “story” is about a “charge”. And that the only so-called “extraction” was from the now infamous Sunroad developer for donations to two City sanctioned projects.

Yes, there should have been a nexus to the impacts of that project, so the money was returned. It’s important to bear in mind that all the projects that the current Mayor has questioned or impeded were due to violating either community plans or municipal code provisions and initiated under the previous Mayor’s regime.

So they went with yet another story in the “watch-the-lap-dog section” quoting said previous Mayor: “When you’re seeing the Sunroad fiasco and the Centrepoint fiasco, what you see is businesses not willing to invest if there’s not certainty. Later: “the only certainty is if you start to develop a project, you don’t know if it going to be stopped, even if you’ve got all of the the permits and it’s coming out of the ground.”

This from the guy who induced the first “Sunroad fiasco”.

That was accompanied by the Building Industry Association lobbyist, Matt Adams chiming in that “We’ve heard chatter within our industry that investors are getting a little leery of coming to San Diego with all of the uncertainty that is in play right now.” Then for good measure opining that “the classic examples…certainly contradict the mayor’s statements…where he pledged to promote regulatory certainty.”

Whew. Chatter indeed. Hey guys, the Mayor pledged to the electorate to provide certainty that the General Plan and the community plans and municipal code would be followed. Not certainty that those “regulations” could be manipulated in the back rooms.

What Filner apparently didn’t realize was how much land use abuse had already occurred.

From the ascension of the Development Services Department and stuffing the Planning Department into a figurative basement in said department to the well-known apparatus directing development projects from the 11th floor over the last several years a certain “certainty” became evident to developers on how to get what you wanted regardless of what the General Plan or community plan or municipal code might say.

The U-T goes on to report that Council President Gloria has asked the Chairperson of the Land Use and Housing Committee, Councilmember Lori Zapf to examine the matter of “some highly questionable and potentially illegal interactions between Mayor Filner, his designees and construction project applicants… to ensure that other projects were not similarly tainted.”

Hopefully, this will be a matter brought forward to the entire committee and will include looking at the genesis and early processing of these and other projects during the previous administration to see how they somehow were able to proceed when they were not in compliance with land use regulations, policies and guidelines.

Here’s one I hope they will examine. Last year representatives of organizations that had promoted and helped pass the landmark Prop A: Managed Growth Initiative back in 1985 learned that provisions which limited development in floodplains and specified areas of the city without citywide voter approval were being circumvented for at least one project.

After considerable effort was expended by these citizens to illuminate the legal issues, the department finally issued a letter to the developer reinforcing the provisions of the City General Plan. The letter was dated November 6, 2012 – interestly, the same date that a new Mayor was elected.

There is a lot at stake in land use decisions. Yes, both developers and communities need certainty that the rules will be followed.

One of the brighter lights in the fog of political battle underway right now is the appointment of Bill Fulton to head up the new Planning Department. He participated in a one-on-one discussion with Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis at their Politifest held August 3.

The inevitable question of why he was staying on as head of the new department when others had resigned was proffered. He spoke to the incredible opportunity to bring his extensive knowledge and experience to the people of San Diego. And the challenges and opportunities we have ahead. Regardless of who is Mayor.

Later during a moderated discussion of various elected leaders calling for the Mayor’s resignation, one of the participants, new Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales took on the charge of taking money from developers. She noted that all politicians including herself do it and it was really irrelevant to the fitness to lead as Mayor issue under discussion as to why the Mayor should resign.

She also pointed out that should a recall qualify for the ballot, the low turnout combined with the winner take all sweepstakes aspect of a recall would probably result in election of a candidate by a significantly small portion of the electorate.

And that would probably result in a complete reversal of the “neighborhoods first” direction signaled by the election of Bob Filner.

The flaws in the recall process and their ramifications are discussed more thoroughly elsewhere and the glow is beginning to come off of that bloom. But the sky is falling, heaven forfend calamities that will befall us all daily pronouncements continue unabated.

The constant “the city is going to implode, investors will shun us, we can’t compete with other cities because the Mayor won’t be able to talk to our friends because we are not able to …or won’t… talk to the Mayor” chorus combined with the guilty just by accusation drumbeat is not only disingenuous, it undermines the credibility of the purveyors and participants.

Jay Powell is a sometime commentator with San Diego Free Press and one of the founders of San Diegans for Managed Growth, the sponsors of the 1985 Managed Growth Initiative referred to in this commentary.

This post originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Sean m August 14, 2013 at 8:10 am

Filner’s support for the convention center expansion throws good money after bad and shows he has no problems helping downtown interests as long as it benefits labor. Filner could care less if he squanders tax dollars because he can release press releases to the contrary. Private industry won’t fund the convention center because its 100% guaranteed to lose money.

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