Editor: The OB Rag is publishing the speeches of the various OB planners and other village leaders given at the City Council hearing on the Ocean Beach Community Plan, Tuesday, July 29th.
By Peter Ruscitti
My name is Peter Ruscitti, and I’m the chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board. I’m also a property owner in OB and a professional planner. I’m going to take a few minutes to address some of the concerns that the Planning Board has faced with our Community Plan— particularly the variance language contained in Recommendation 4.2.9 and elsewhere.
I would like to make clear the intent behind this language and the position of the Planning Board on variances.
The Planning Board will always review applications for variances on a case-by-case basis to ensure that they are consistent with the Community Plan— whose goals include maintaining small-scale development, and achieving harmony between new and existing development.
We recognize that special circumstances may exist that could justify a particular variance, and that variances in themselves are not necessarily inconsistent with the Community Plan.
We just want the Community Plan to be clear that variances— particularly for FAR— should be discouraged except in truly exceptional circumstances. And we believe that none of the recent FAR variances granted in OB qualify under these criteria.
Therefore, we have worked extensively with City staff and the City Attorney’s office to draft language for the Community Plan that is clear, balanced, and legally acceptable.
The reason we feel this language is so important is because the Planning Commission has now established a pattern of granting one-by-one variances in OB. Despite the fact that the criteria used to justify these variances actually apply to hundreds of properties in OB, the Planning Commission has still granted five separate variances in just a few short years. This has established a dangerous pattern that must not continue.
Some members of the Planning Commission have stated on the record that they think OB’s FAR is “too low.” But even if this were the case, granting exception after exception is not the proper way to deal with it.
The only way to change the FAR is to amend the Municipal Code via a Process 5 hearing. The City Council is the only body with the authority to do this— and only after the issue has been vetted through the full public review process. This pattern of one-by-one exceptions effectively sidesteps both our Municipal Code and the authority of the City Council.
The Planning Commission has also claimed that the language in Recommendation 4.2.9 should not be placed in a policy document like the Community Plan. However— as the chair of the Community Planners Committee has noted in his letter of support— this type of language is not unusual in community plans, is entirely acceptable, and in fact is crucial to distinguishing our communities.
Let me be clear: This is not about fighting development. The OB Planning Board has voted to approve over 90% of the projects that have come before it in the last several years. Our desire is not to prevent new homes from being built— our desire is to see new homes being built in accordance with the Community Plan and the Municipal Code.
This is also not about singling out a particular home or a particular block. As you can see, the same criteria used to grant these variances actually apply to hundreds of properties throughout the community. We are equally concerned about all of them.
Finally, this is also not about fighting density. In fact, 4 of the 5 FAR variances actually decreased density by tearing down multiple units. So this pattern of variances is actually reducing density in OB by building oversized homes.
We are not opposed to development in OB, but we are opposed to development that is not consistent with the Municipal Code and our Community Plan. We believe the Community Plan before you represents broad consensus, and exemplifies the strength of San Diego’s community planning process. We thank you for your consideration.
Peter Ruscitti / Chair, Ocean Beach Planning Board