This is the day that Ocean Beach has been waiting for – for months, and for some, they’ve been waiting for years for this day. This is the day that the San Diego City Council does a final review for approval of the OB Community Plan – recently updated.
The Council takes up the OB plan at 2 pm. Every OBcean who can is urged to attend the hearing to show support for the Plan – and everyone who attends is asked to wear blue. (Blue OB “attitude” T-shirts are available at Dog Beach Dog Wash for $10 – 4933 Voltaire.)
Over a 100 OB supporters are expected to gather – as 40 were present last month just for a continuance. Already 85 have signed up on the online facebook page.
The City Council meets at City Hall, 202 “C” Street in downtown San Diego, 92101, on the 12th floor in Council Chambers. OB
Organizers are, in addition, asking OBceans to attend a 1:30 pm “rally” downstairs at City Hall on the bottom floor outside.
Plus, organizers expect to submit approximately 4,000 signatures in support of the Ocean Beach Community Plan – the vast majority of OB residents – the remainder of San Diego residents. Nearly 420 signatures were collected on the online petition alone.
The Council was to hear the Plan a month ago, but at the last minute, California Coastal Commission staff submitted an additional 43 recommendations – thus the continuance for a month to this day, July 29.
City staff needed additional time to review and deal with all the recommendations. Plus the OB Planning Board also had to review them.
And city staff has met with Coastal staff and have come up with a recommendation for the full Council. In a memo dated July 22 to City Council, Planning Director William Fulton stated:
In general, many of the recommendations [from Coastal Commission] are covered through General Plan policies and existing regulations of the Municipal Code, and do not necessitate the return of the [OB Community Plan Update] to Planning Commission.
Agreement with Coastal Commission staff has been reached on most of the items, but a few important issues remain.
Fulton ticked them off, and they included such recommendations as “prohibition of coastal bluff development”, and “the removal of shoreline protective devices”, and although the issues are important, they are not important enough -Fulton implies – to put a halt to the hearing by Council today.
Fulton states that with staff recommending the incorporation into the Update of most of the issues raised by Coastal staff, he and his staff have “determined that these changes do not result in the need to revise the Final Environmental Impact Report or return to the Planning Commission.”
Once the Council approves the Plan, staff can start from there “for continued negotiations with Coastal Commission staff,” he asserted.
Basically then, city staff has reviewed the Coastal recommendations and have found a way to deal with all of them without upsetting the scheduled review – and hopefully – approval by Council today.
There is hope among OBceans who have been working on the Plan update and in mobilizing the community to support it that the Council will approve the document – a plan updated over a 12 year process with city staff. Councilman Ed Harris has indicated his support for the Plan, and so has Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Faulconer, as mayor, does not sit on the Council, but he has to sign off on any decision made by Council,
Planning Director William Fulton alluded to the key issue before the Council, the “guidelines for how to evaluate modifications to development regulations related to maintaining community character”. The exact focus on “most public debate in the update process” is a section of the Plan that advocates for a strong floor-area-ratio (FAR) to be included, which City staff and the OB Planning Board both support.
The OB Plan was sailing through its review process when in May it hit a snag with the San Diego Planning Commission. The Planning Commission voted to delete the stronger language that related to the floor-area-ration of 0.70 that most of OB has. OB Planners have utilized the 0.70 FAR for coastal OB for the past 38 years – ever since the OB Planning Board was established in 1976. Beginning in the 1975 version of the OB plan, a FAR of 0.7 was called for.
The current language of the Plan – which again every group in OB supports, which the City planning staff supports, and which the City Attorney’s Office supports – goes like this – as repeated in Fultons’ memo:
“Maintain the community’s small-scale character and avoid exceptions to established floor-area-ratios to the greatest extent possible under the law.” Include the following as a footnote: “Existing regulations specify FAR’s of 0.7, 0.75, 1.80, and 2.0 for the RM-2-4, RM-1-1, RM-5-12, and CC-4-2 zones, respectively.”
In contrast, what the Planning Commission wants instead is the following language:
“Maintain the community’s small-scale character, and evaluate exceptions on a case by case basis to achieve goals of the Urban Design Guidelines.”
Critics of the Planning Commission’s recommended language point out that the Commissioners – all appointed – want to eliminate OB’s low FAR – a planning tool used to prohibit bulky, over-development – and even remove any mention of it in OB’s new updated plan. At least a couple of the Commissioners made comments disparaging OB’s FAR and voiced opinions of getting rid of it altogether.
OB hometown planners feel that without the low FAR, OB would look like the Boardwalk in Mission Beach – all 3 story, back-to-back McMansions used as extremely expensive vacation rentals and time-shares.
This process of turning parts of OB into something that does resemble Mission Beach has already occurred – and it’s happening on the 5100 block of West Pt Loma Boulevard. This is the area of the village that is the frontline of the gentrification starting to envelop vulnerable sections of the community. And it goes to the crux of the entire issue before Council,
For the past 4 to 5 years, the OB Planning Board has been resisting the gentrified new 3-storys on that block, large single-family homes, as they are and have been out-of-scale to that neighborhood. But the City has been granting variances to owner-builders to get around the requirements of the OB Plan, including the low FAR. And the Planning Commission has been defending and supporting the variances granted – variances that are supposed to be rare and for exceptional cases.
The challenge to OB’s plan and low FAR is what ignited OB planners a couple of months ago, spurring them to begin gathering signatures of residents in support of the current language that includes the FAR.
One of the fears that OB planners have had these past few years is that owner-builders – once they obtain their variances to get around the FAR and other restrictions, will then turn around and offer out their mansions as vacation rentals. And this exactly what has happened with at least one of the new huge residences; the owner is offering his house for $2500 to $3600 a week.
Yet, the hope is that reason will prevail at today’s City Council hearing – and that all the work done by volunteers from OB over the years will not go to not, – and that OB will be able to maintain its small-scale character and remain a village.
Ocean Beach has such a rich history in having citizens and residents stepping up and involving themselves in the process that has been traditional left to the elites and professional planners, and in making historic efforts to become the very first community planning committee in city history.
Every generation of OB advocates has had to take on challenges to OB’s status as one of the last affordable beach towns in Southern California – and up to now, OBceans have successfully met those challenges.
This day will see what history has in store for the quaint seaside village of Ocean Beach.
If you’re an OBcean, your community needs you – now, today, at City Hall.