The reverberations from last week’s historic City Council vote July 29th to approve the OB Community Plan have yet to be felt – other than the celebrations -, either in OB or throughout the City, but the vote will have consequences – good ones – for two or three decades.
Plus the dust hadn’t settled after the unanimous vote, when the question was raised ‘What’s next? What is the next hurdle the Plan must take before it becomes a reality?’
The short answer is that the Plan goes before the California Coastal Commission in October, according to city staff.
Meanwhile, the vote was a clear victory for Ocean Beach but it was also a win for other communities around San Diego. Let’s examine this.
OBviously, with a new community plan, OB will be affected for the next 20 to 30 years. What else does the vote mean? For Ocean Beach, the vote did several things.
First, it vindicated the resistance by the OB Planning Board to all those variances granted over the course of the last 4 years by the San Diego Planning Commission to a handful of property owners on West Pt Loma. OB planners like Tom Gawronski led the Board in challenging the Planning Commission’s decisions – even all the way to the California Coastal Commission. Gawronski was one of the first OB planners “to go public” with the fears of gentrification taking root along the 5100 block of that street. The vote does indeed vindicate these actions by our local planning committee.
Plus the vote was an explicit rejection of the recommendations from the Planning Commission.
The vote was also a warning to property owners both along West Pt Loma Blvd and throughout OB not to waste their time and money attempting to obtain a variance to the FAR. So, instead of hiring consultants who vainly promise they can get around any NIMBY planning board for a McMansion dream house, OB property owners ought to plan on developing or rehabbing their properties to fit within the requirements of the OB Community Plan.
With the Council voting 9 to nothing to approve the Plan, the Council also approved – again – OB’s low floor-area-ration of 0.70 – one of the lowest in the City. So the FAR was strengthened.
Also must be mentioned that in the process of the last two month campaign in obtaining over 4,000 signatures on the Petition to support the Plan, the planners and their supporters had to do a lot of education of their fellow citizens and residents. Unless you have looked into building, not that many OBceans understood the FAR limitations on construction. When people signed the petition, the FAR was explained to them – plus a number of articles in the OB Rag also helped educate the community as to what exactly the issues were. And when people understood what the low FAR has done for OB, they heartily endorsed it.
In the last two months, many OBceans – and other San Diego residents – have been given a whirlwind tour of planning issues, FARs, height limitations, and the dangers of bulky scaled 3-story McMansions – like those along the Boardwalk in Mission Beach. This education will sink deep into the consciousness of all those people who signed the petition, and there is a new, heightened appreciation for the planning tool.
With the new updated Plan now approved on a city-level, the Council vote also strengthens OB’s ability to limit non-conforming, out-of-character and out-of-scale development. No longer will the Planning Commission be able to uphold improper variances handed out like candy to eager developers.
On a more political level, the vote clearly demonstrated to OBceans that “you can fight City Hall and win” – or as in this case, fight the San Diego Planning Commission and win. (That slogan was actually my motto when I ran for City Council in 1987 – sure, I lost, but I gained about 10% of the vote with a very progressive platform.)
Experiencing the solidarity, the consensus, the sharing of the goals and the tasks – has been a radicalizing experience for many of those residents involved in this fight – for it showed that you can go up against bureaucracies and established power-centers, like the Planning Commission, and push-back and push back successfully.
Individuals and groups saw the power of the petition, witnessed first-hand how a small group of advocates, planners and activists were able to lead the entire village, a village of 13,000 residents, several thousand property owners and hundreds of businesses into a show-down with San Diego’s establishment – as embodied in the Planning Commission, a body made up of political appointees.
Many of those individuals involved now know how to handle a petition, how to handle mobilizing fellow residents, how to write up and print out fliers, and how to approach the mainstream media – immeasurable talents that at times takes years to understand. But in the heat of battle such as OB has been caught up in of late, these skills and talents can develop over a few days or weeks.
And the months long campaign to have the Council approve the community’s plan paid off tremendously.
It brought the community together – all the disparate groups – for one of those rare moments when the village has a broad-based consensus on something – like saving OB’s small-scale character. Individuals who weren’t speaking ended up hugging as they realized that all OB was in on the controversy. Groups like the OB Mainstreet Association and the Friends of the OB Library, the Green Store – were all working together. The Town Council board members were directly involved in assisting some of the planners, something that does not happen on a regular basis.
Not everyone jumped into the fray, as a number of current OB planners sat on the sidelines, but because enough individuals did – those that did made up the difference. And not every board member of the Town Council got excited, but sufficient numbers did to help pack Council Chambers a week ago.
Middle-of-the-road planners have become radicalized speakers for the village. Members of the OB Historical Society now know they were part of history in their involvement in the show-down. The elders of the Friends of the OB Library are used to holding book-sales, but now they understand the power of numbers.
Progressives from the OB Green Store and the old, defunct OBGO also got involved – in the last weeks, doing much of the grunt work of circulating petitions at OB’s Farmers Market for weeks.
A number of businesses really stepped up to the moment, and either had their own displays for shoppers to read and sign the Petition – like People’s Food – and of course, the Green Store and Dog Beach Dog Wash both contributed mightily to the total glut of signatures. OB Mainstreet Association leaders allowed petition circulators room and shade at their Farmers Market booth every Wednesday.
The solidarity displayed in facing the challenges imposed on the small village by the Planning Commission also strengthened the sense of “self-determination” that OB has experienced over the decades. As anyone can tell you, OB has a distinct self-identity, of not only of the bohemian-hippie-surfer types, but of a community willing to risk ‘going it alone’, as OB has been at the forefront in breaking through barriers that limited a community’s ability to govern itself since the 1970s.
And for OBceans to experience that solidarity is virtually priceless, as it is a shared experience that only occurs once maybe every decade. The shared experience of standing together is something that dozens if not hundreds of OBceans will take with them forever.
The reverberations will also be felt by other communities across San Diego. The victory for OB’s Planning Board is a victory for planning committees in all the other neighborhoods that have them. It will strengthen their abilities to govern their own communities, to have a strong say in what goes down in their part of town. And when planning committees have a broad consensus in their stances, they can greatly help lead their own community plans to successfully be updated based on the residents’ wishes.
Ocean Beach had the very first functioning planning committee in the City’s history. Now, OB has once again, helped pave the way for others in their own respective areas. As long as planning committees, again, have broad consensus, then they’re on solid ground. It’s when they go out on limbs without that consensus, that trouble starts.
In addition, what does this all mean for the City Council? Some were surprised at the unanimous vote last week, where all the Republicans joined the majority Democrats in approving the OB Plan. It was known that Councilman Ed Harris, of the 2nd District where OB is located, had indicated his support for the original language in the Plan, the language that the Planning Commission opposed. Usually, other Council members follow the lead of the member whose District is under consideration.
And once Mayor Kevin Faulconer – who used to represent OB and who had been caught up in a positive way over the FAR and variances controversies while he was still on the City Council – signaled his approval of the OB Plan, the other Republicans fell in line, and the results were nine votes in favor. And none in agreement with the Planning Commission’s recommendations.
What about the Planning Commission? Perhaps it’s time now – seeing their disconnect in this recent rejection – for San Diegans to examine the role the Commission plays, how Commissioners get there, and for whom they represent. The mayors get to appoint the members, and Mayor Filner appointed two – presumably liberals – but who seemed to be either too inexperienced or too dominated by the conservative members of the Commission to be very effective. Mayor Faulconer’s two recent appointees also failed to understand the political impact of their vote.
While OBceans celebrate, and deal with other aspects of their lives neglected during the recent 2 to 3 month campaign, the consequences of the historic City Council vote will play out over the next years and decades. And the people who were involved in the recent successful campaign to once again “save OB” will never forget what they and their fellow OBceans did. OB saved itself – again. And that is … priceless.