Answers to some common OB planning questions

by on February 20, 2010 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, Ocean Beach

by Seth Connolly

As someone who serves on the Ocean Beach Planning Board and who may or may not run again, I will answer some common questions about planning as a private citizen right now.

First, a quick clarification about our role in the process. We are not charged with writing code or determining funding and certainly not whether large-scale transportation projects take place.

Our role is to give a voice to the community on land use and development issues and to make recommendations in an advisory capacity to the City on specific projects or land use issues. We operate according to our own Precise Plan, first and foremost, which is in the process of being updated. We are not there to enforce zoning so much as we are another set of eyes on it.

For instance, we are not in charge of density. It is the City’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance that determine population density and distribution within Ocean Beach. The City projects that we will grow from about 14k to 15k over the next 20 years or so. With that in mind…

* Support light rail. I am a big public transportation guy, but that would not be cost-effective in any way, shape or form. Ideally, I’d like to see more bus transit over time, specifically to downtown via the highways.

* Many within OB have worked hard on the Precise Plan update. This is an imperative in order for the community to have a voice in land use and development issues. I can’t comment to much on a draft document, but I have read it and approve of the goals outlined in it. Many of them speak directly to the issues you have raised. The biggest obstacle to it being adopted, as far as I understand it, is that it requires an EIR. City reps have informed that $250k exists in the current City budget for this purpose. We shall see. For now, we are left with a rather outdated document that leaves us making tepid arguments against “bulk and scale”.

* Retaining the 30 foot height limit. If retaining the 30-foot height limit were up to me alone, I would support it. There are very desirable levels of density, traffic and walk-ability in Ocean Beach, and the height limit is in my opinion a crucial component to maintaining them.

“Community character” vs property rights. That is an argument that speaks to the core of urban planning itself. I can tell you this… an overwhelming majority of people in OB place a very high premium on retaining the community character that exists here.

I have voted against several projects for this reason, and I would not wish to see OB gentrified and condo-fied to the point where we lose the essence of what this place is. But it is a case-by-case basis and that argument does not always apply.

Property owners, be they residential or commercial, are also very much a part of the “community”. I have voted in favor of some projects (one of them may or may not have been at Saratoga and Abbott) where I do not believe that a legitimate case was made for why the property owner’s rights needed to be restricted. Long story short, while I lean strongly towards preserving the community character of OB, I will look at all of the evidence and do my best to give each applicant a fair shake based on what our Precise Plan and bylaws say. Overall, I feel it is important to mention that the process generally works best when community stakeholders are working together to find win-wins and mutual interests.

Other quick hits… paid street parking : no; affordable housing maybe (have voted consistently to approve what can be referred to as affordable housing stock, could hypothetically vote in favor of the traditional kind on a small scale if I saw the actual project, though not exactly sure how it would fit here), urban farming is approximated pretty well by the farmers market, big yes to green building and would hypothetically grant variances (but prefer incentivizing over mandating when it comes to residential properties), strongly support historical preservation when applicable and not interested in rewarding people for not maintaining their properties….

Lastly,  carbon footprinting.  I was fortunate enough to study with the guy who originally developed the concept of measuring our environmental impact in terms of a “footprint”, which I mention less to be a showoff and more to illustrate that it is a concept not lost on me. To that effect, I say look around at OB. It is a very low-impact community. You have people who shop locally, who travel around by foot, beach cruiser or longboard, who live in smaller living spaces, driving smaller cars and who are just generally not participating as much in the unsustainable lifestyle that so many other Americans do.

There’s stuff that can be done around the margins (increased bus transit), but generally speaking, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

bodysurferbob February 20, 2010 at 3:13 pm

thanks seth for this background. some of us hope you will run again.
about the precise plan being updated … the city has been trying to update the Precise Plan since the early 90s. I know the current process has been years in the making. what’s wrong with the precise plan that it has to be updated. is it being updated or watered down?

that’s like saying, let’s update the 30 foot height limitation by making it 35 feet … or let’s bring in one-way streets, and loosen up the floor area ratios… or let’s allow more curb cuts, … maybe i’m paranoid, but why is the city – who along with peninsulans incorporated crafted the original precise plan way back in the early seventies – keep spending money to update it? the finalized document was bascially forced on the city in the first place.

without a real planning department, the city works to give the appearance that planning committees have power while at the same time undercutting those committees’ authority.


Dave Sparling February 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Thanks so much for the information, as a first time candidate it is so interesting and valuable.


Danny Morales February 21, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Editordude-I’d like to point out what was done right by posting answers that were given: We have someone who was willing to use this forum not once but twice to put forth their opinions to the community at large while a sitting member of the OB Planning Board. Although I could take issue with some of the answers given I can’t disparage anyone (Lisanob included) who will publicly take a stand on public issues and not desend into petty personal politics and gossip.

Where I do take issue is when community members equivocate or otherwise weasleword to protect their self interest. That is to say when the rules of the game change to sacrifice the public interest, I get ticked.
Why doesn’t the writer clarify to the public at large whether or not he will run for planning board? Why is it even an issue? I took out papers to run for a seat in PBdist.1 only to back out after I realized that a 3rd party would contribute to the election of the evil of two lessers. So there’s why I’m not running.
Why does the writer feel it necessary to equivocate on the Abbott and Saratoga property? After all, the bylaws of the OBPB require that the record shall reflect the yays and nays and that the city shall maintain all records of the board to satisfy the requirements of the Brown Act. In the name of transparency we should be able to access those records if they indeed do exist. I’ve tried several times to gain access to those records before only, to be rebuffed. So I’ll try again: Will any member of the Ocean Beach Planning Board, the City of San Diego or other responsible parties provide me access to the archive of the records of the Ocean Beach Planning Board?

Finally, why does the writer claim that the board operates according to its precise plan on one hand and claim that the plan is outdated on the other? Isn’t that like G.W. Bush saying, “the Constitution was adopted in1787, this is 2007, it’s a different world”?
Editordude or anyone else, I challenge you to PROVE, as a matter of record, that the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s decisions follow its precise plan or its bylaws for that matter. I maintain that the evidence will prove that it does not. Wanna put your cards on the table anybody?

OK so maybe I’m getting a little bit harsh with the Potempkin Village that the governing class has set up as a hedge to grassroots democracy. When it comes to the lives and livelihood of my community, you’re g-damn right I am and will continue to be so come hell or high water!


Seth February 21, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Danny, fair enough. Some answers. As to my running or not, it has to do with two issues. First, my wife is due with our second child in three weeks, so the timing of the election is not great for me. Second, I am currently interviewing for positions both in and out of San Diego, and we may have to relocate in short order. So it is really just a question of whether or not I can continue to make a commitment to serving (which I enjoy doing) and not trying to stand in anyone else’s way if I don’t feel that I can.

Other thoughts…

Recent meeting minutes are located here:

Some of the meetings were cancelled due to a lack of projects, and at least one meeting’s minutes were lost within the Connolly household (July 15th, 2009’s Project Review Committee meeting).

As to the Saratoga and Abbott project, I’m not really equivocating. I voted in favor of the action item we visited (a tentative map waiver and vacation of public right-of-ways), as I have mentioned at least four times on this blog now. It was a tough vote, and property rights were certainly one of the primary factors in my decision (my previously stated reasoning on that being that the burden of proof for the necessity of a public easement lies on the government, rather than the property owner). It may seem like a hedge, but I believe that I answered Lisa’s question about “community character” vs property rights as honestly as I could. I have a strong tendency to the former, but it’s not always cut-and-dry and I mentioned that vote in particular to illustrate that.

As to the Precise Plan, there are two primary issues as I see it with the current one. First, it is from 1975 and there are now new challenges for OB that are not addressed in it. Second, it’s not really that “defensible” a document in terms of decision-making and appeals. Please note that even the Constitution has had 27 amendments, including the Bill of Rights. It is well past time for a updated Precise Plan, and fortunately, a lot of hard work from a lot of people has gotten OB close to that goal.

Hope that clarifies some.



Danny Morales February 23, 2010 at 5:18 am


First of all let me wish you and your family all the best in the future. I apologize for having brought up your personal life into the sphere of public debate and I take that as a result of my sometimes heartless zeal in public affairs. I haven’t been involved in public affairs from time to time myself (for personal reasons) and I forget how little all this community stuff really matters in the broad scheme of things. The native american in my heart always has to remind me, “Family First”.

But the european in my head is giving me a case of insomnia so I feel compelled towards further clarity.

Is the planning board website the archive of board documents? How could I look for the voting record of my district rep. pre 2009 or that of any board member for that matter. Council Policy is quite clear is quite clear on the issue of records retention. In a series of emails from August 2009 the current chair of the board gives me the impression that either city staff has fallen down on the job or the Board Chair has something to hide. I just want access to the archive. Is that to much to ask?

Regarding the Precise Plan, I was one of those who worked on the update and although we stopped our work to allow the city to update the General Plan at no time did we abandon our foundation. Let me correct that. My current disagreements with the board stem from a change in method that has its roots in a story that I can share with you in private. But to be brief, I feel that if the spirit as well as the letter of the plan is applied to board decisions then we can adapt and overcome most of the restrictions of time, place and circumstance.

I know I sound hopeful for a person who is an avowed skeptic but I didn’t come to call the OB City of Dreamers my home for nuthin’.

Regards to you and yours,


PSD February 22, 2010 at 11:19 am

Thanks for your comments, Seth…it’s certainly nice to get a bit of enlightenment, as my schedule and family life preclude me on most occasions from being active in issues like this myself.


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