Reader Rant: Former Planning Board Member Takes City to Task for Lack of Support for Community Planning

by on August 7, 2012 · 0 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

Ocean Beach Planning Districts map.

Editor: Seth is a former member of the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB) and his well-thought out comments were left in response to another rant about apathetic Ocean Beach citizens. We wanted to share it so we brought it out for all to see.

By Seth

As a former OBPB rep whose term just ended this spring, my thoughts are essentially as follows:

While there are many good employees and some good departments, in my opinion there is an undeniable culture at the City that views Ocean Beach as something of an underutilized revenue stream, rather than as a community that they exist to serve.

Over and over, the OBPB and other engaged members of the citizenry are left begging for *basic* public services like paved roads, police and fire coverage, schools that are not ridiculously overcrowded, open libraries, or a bathroom at a beach that thousands of people use every day nearly every day of the year.

I realize that there has been some fair amount of recent spending on water infrastructure and the like, but often, the City has an approach where they are not actually providing us with anything, but riding in on a white horse to save the day after backing off from threats to take things away, such as the library, or the fire pits (which were saved largely as the result of a private donation).

Don’t misunderstand my point on that. I fully realize that like most municipalities in California, San Diego is in the midst of a very real budget crisis, but basic levels of these services are hardly extravagances. Providing these services is what the City is there to do. Whether or not Ocean Beach is as maximized in terms of providing tax revenue as they would like, they City is obligated to provide us with these services that we have paid for many times over. It’s fun to think of our community as a bunch of hippy drop-outs, but the fact of the matter is that it is a fairly major tourist, recreation and entertainment destination that provides significant revenue through a variety of sources.

In my opinion, the City additionally has very little commitment to community planning under the current elected leadership. Community planning is a tool that has a long history of serving OB well and helping to “keep OB OB”. There are some good City employees working in this area, but a lot more talk than action, and I am left with the impression that the general culture of the City hopes that a half-hearted going through the motions will be enough to placate the few people who have demonstrated recent interest in community planning. That the nuts and bolts of tit are just too boring, too arcane and not important enough for most people to care about. They might even be true, but it is unfortunate, if so.

Community planning is one of the best and only means that people can have an actual say in what goes on in the politics within their lives. Your vote for President, or even Mayor, is not going to alter your daily experience in any appreciable way, especially if the races are not close. But being engaged in your local community can go a long way, especially in terms of preserving the funky mom-and-pop character of OB. That unique character is not the default, mind you. It exists only because many people have fought to keep it that way over a long period. Without those efforts of local people acting locally, OB would have long ago sold out to the interest of the short-term dollar. Quaint beach cottages eventually becoming bland, oversized vacation rentals, while mom and pop stores slowly become franchises. Neighbors who don’t know each other end up living in high-priced properties on gentrified streets that are less walkable, and soon, much of that unique character that makes this place so special washes away with the tide.

Is that entirely preventable over time? Is anyone to blame for it? I don’t know. We live in a different time. There’s not the same sense of activism among younger generations that there was in the 60s and 70s. There’s a lot of younger renters in OB who may not be here for the long haul, and by nature, they might be less interested in the long-term picture than those who are. There’s also a lot of property owners whose homes are their major source of equity, who are sometimes forced to make economic decisions for the good of their families in the face of real life challenges.

But despite all that, I come to a few conclusions about being involved in the OBPB and the community in general.

First, it is an undertaking worth doing. There are good people who are trying hard, not to just be sticks in the mud, but to help preserve the special character of this special place for both present and future residents. They deserve the community’s support in this cause that is vital to OB’s future.

Second, it is OK for people to have this say in their lives and their future. OK to say that they value their community more than they value being a revenue stream, and to have some actual agency in preserving and enhancing their experience as residents in OB and San Diego at large. That it isn’t communism for a community to want that say in their future, but rather democracy.

And last, being involved actually works. I will admit that part of me gets a chuckle when I see some of the community activists in OB getting so fired up about everything, but the truth of the matter is, it gets results and leaves the City wary of selling OB out from under us just to make a few more dollars to pay pensions with. When the uproar about the fire pits made the NY Times, it got people’s attention. When 50-100 people show up at a protest outside the library, or at some OBPB meeting, it gets people’s attention. Whether it is fear or a sense of opportunism in turning an issue to their own benefit — and it is both — they do not often mess with OB when that happens.

Apathy doesn’t get that done. Apathy just clears a path for people to work against the community’s interest by either ignoring them, as they often do with the Precise Plan update and the OBPB in general, or working underhanded, such as what the City is doing by granting these serial variances in North OB that are not in compliance with the zoning regulations of our community.

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