Last night, Wednesday, November 13th, the OB Planning Board hosted a Town Hall meeting for public comment on the new draft Community Plan Update. And comment they did, as over sixty people filed into the Masonic Center to participate. This is OB, so before it could begin, everyone helped get out the chairs and tables for the set-up.
City staff were on hand as Planning Board chair Tom Gawronski gaveled the meeting to order (a little on the late side as Joe the guy with the key thought it was another night). Gio Ingnolia also helped lead the meeting, as chair of the public resources financing sub-committee. Mindy Pellesier – who is not now on the Board but has been substantially involved with the Update over the last 11 years – joined the Board in front.
As Ray Blavatt and Pat James filmed the event, City planner Teresa explained the upcoming time line for the update as it travels through various levels of approval. She explained that it goes before
- the Historic Resource Board on January 24, 2014,
- then to the San Diego Planning Commission on January 30th,
- and then on to the full City Council in late February;
- last on the list is the California Coastal Commission.
Chair Gawronski and others urged people to send Teresa their comments and ideas – the deadline is November 19.
The Board did not take any action for this was a time to listen to the community’s concerns and ideas. Ten people had filled up speakers’ slips and each had 4 minutes to speak. Many who did get up to talk described particular problems around town, and not necessarily addressing the Plan Update itself.
First up was Nicole Burgess, an OB resident and proud advocate of bicycling. She was critical of too many recommended traffic signal lights, wanted traffic circles or round-abouts to help with cars, and pushed for bike sharing. Nicole said she’s seen an increase in bike users lately.
Lynn Miller was next; she lives on Adair and is very concerned about a new restaurant opening up at the corner of Point Loma Avenue and Ebers. They will be seeking an alcohol license, she said, of the new owners, and that their intent is to be open until midnight. This would seriously disrupt the peace in that “quiet neighborhood”. Her biggest concern was having alcohol use in close proximity to the children in two nearby schools and daycare centers.
A retired Navy vet named Dan was up next. He had two issues. First, regarding traffic patterns; he’s seen a dramatic increase in traffic and noise on Voltaire Street, and thinks there needs to be more traffic and noise controls. He stated that at points, it is very difficult to cross Voltaire and other east-west arteries. Secondly, he complained that old, hundred-year-old family homes are being unnecessarily demolished, “with alarming speed”. He witnessed, he said, the demolition of a 1920 house near OB Park.
Living in the area since 1967, Patty Lewis said she lives near Ebers and Adair and also had concerns about the mixed-use areas along Point Loma Avenue. She asked the Board whether that type of designation included restaurants, alcohol and dancing facilities. Lewis is very concerned that this street will turn into a beer, wine, and music area that would disrupt the neighborhood in south OB. “It’s a quiet neighborhood,” Lewis declared, saying that the only noise is the area is “laughing children”. She said it was inconsistent to have alcohol and karaoke singing with children in the area. She suggested restrictions on the use of alcohol in the new plan.
Vince Adame spoke next. He advocated the creation of a protected view corridor along “Surf Check Alley” – the famous alley from Niagara down to Newport where surfers stop and look at the waves. Adame also advocated that special events be moved out of the Pier Parking lot over to Robb Field. He cited the most recent Oktoberfest as an example. Because of Oktoberfest the parking lot was closed for two full days and nights. He asked the Board to consider restricting the use of the parking lot “for parking”.
Community activist Kathy Blavatt got up before the crowd. Kathy had several issues. She expressed concern with the recommended bike routes – where are they, she asked. Also, she wants the Board to consider returning to the original southern boundary for the OB planning area. “The original boundary for OB used to be the Adair alley.” But planning maps of late show the boundary as Adair Street itself. The Board never approved this change, she said, and asked that it be returned to the original.
Kathy said that “we need to work on people who are blighting old homes”, and that the City process can stop that. She stated that she just did a history book on OB, and she found “lots of springs in OB”, and said there is one near the new construction on Saratoga.
This author spoke next. I cited a list of ideas, problems and issues within the new plan, from the fact that it calls for a 6% increase in residents, and that the “community commercial districts” along Voltaire, Newport and Point Loma Avenue are expected to become examples of the “City Villages” concept, except the concept only worked next to mass transit, and OB lacks that. (More of my points are listed at the end of this article.)
A few more people then spoke. One woman warned of gentrification. A guy said that in the Bay Area, there are “bike roads” only for bicycles, and are a “massive safety” solution. Mercy Baron told the Board that she expects more aggression directed towards bicyclists – as she is one, and wrote the article for the Reader about the new law requiring 3 feet separation between bikes and cars.
The evening then went into a question and answer session, enlivening the discussion. Questions were raised about what is happening in the empty lot at Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs. A board member explained that this is the World Oil lot, and that it has already been permitted for a two-story medical office building, but they are still seeking a tenant after several years with adequate capital. World Oil still has 2 years in which to find a tenant.
Round-abouts came up again, and Mindy Pellesier explained that most OB intersections are too small, but that maybe there could be one at Ebers and West Point Loma, and maybe one at Bacon and West Point Loma. Someone asked that speed limits in OB be lowered to prevent drivers from racing down a block.
Board member Bill Bushe explained that when devising the new plan, the Board and City staff “needed to balance peoples’ rights with peoples’ needs,” and “that’s why it took so long.”
The next step? The Planning Board will consider the plan as it stands with all the suggestions that people have had at their next meeting on Wednesday, December 4th. They meet in the OB Rec Center.
Author’s comments made last night – in bullet fashion:
- The new Plan calls for a 6% increase in residential units by 2030 – that’s 850 new residents. The City anticipates these new residents will be housed in the 3 community commercial districts along Voltaire, Newport and Point Loma Avenue. These figures are based on SANDAG estimates – which are often wrong.
- The City is trying to place parts of OB into the “City of Villages” concept, but that concept is directly tied to easy access to mass transit – and OB does not have much of that.
- The Plan cites OB’s “park deficiencies” – but says they would be even greater if the Barnes Tennis Center was not included (Barnes is a private facility on public land) and if Famosa Slough was not included. Yet, there is no mention of including Collier Park in northeast OB as a park for the community. (That neighborhood park is considered part of Point Loma and not OB, despite its original designation and names on census tracts.)
- Too much money was spent by the city on determining OB’s “pedestrian circulation routes”.
- “Bulbouts” are called for – but where would they be placed as OB’s streets are already crowded.
- More crosswalks are needed, especially the one next to OB Elementary School mid-block on Santa Monica Avenue.
- Street furniture is needed and is great – but who is to pay for it? Shall we have bake sales?
- The Plan calls for “pedestrian connections” which is good, but this may pave the way for the feared “boardwalk” along the beach front that OBceans have been resisting for decades.
- The call for a Rapid Bus Service and for shuttle bus service during the summer months are excellent recommendations, but MTS will have to be included in order to include that element.
- There is no mention of advocating for the trolley to come to the beach.
- Too many signal lights are called for.
- Nimitz Boulevard does not need 6 lanes.
- No paid public parking anywhere in OB.
- Improve the public parking lot next to Bo Beau’s near Robb Field – it’s a public lot.
- Under Chapter 4 Urban Design, there are many good recommendations regarding bulk, facades, roof types, landscaping, balconies, decks, courtyards, etc.
- Developers cannot be allowed to get around the 30 foot height limit by piling massive amounts of dirt on their lots in order to raise the “ground level”. This is going on right now with the new Saratoga condos project down along Abbott.
- Chapter 5 Public Facilities – the main OB lifeguard station was NOT built in 1983 as the Plan states, but was put in during the Sixties. OB needs a new lifeguard station.
- OB needs new public restrooms next to the new lifeguard station.
- On the OB Library, OB was promised a new library a decade ago to be attached to the historic portion of the building. This needs to happen.
- The OB Recreation Center needs to be upgraded.
- Language requiring only “native plants” in OB along the San Diego River needs to be altered, as there were no trees in OB when the Spanish arrived.
- It is an excellent recommendation not to allow construction on the bluffs of OB.
- In Appendix B Street Trees – there is not one word on OB’s fabulous Torrey Pines particularly along the 4600 block of Saratoga.
- There needs to be language in the new Plan that requires the City or anybody who wants to cut down a tree either in the public right of way or on public land to come before the Planning Board for approval.
- The History section at the end of the Plan glosses over the corrupt lies by Billy Carlson, one of OB’s founders.
- And finally, there is no mention of the historic grassroots struggle and campaign to re-write the original Precise Plan and to establish the OB Planning Board itself.
The author has served three years on the OB Planning Board, one year as chair.