Mass Transit and Bicycle Advocates Urge San Diego to Reform Community Planning Groups

by on February 15, 2018 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Circulate San Diego, an advocacy group for public transit, is urging the City of San Diego to enact reforms in how the fifty or so community planning groups within the city are run.

The group has just released its report titled “Democracy in Planning,” – which they claim is “how the City of San Diego can improve democratic representation through the City’s Community Planning Groups.”

The reforms Circulate San Diego calls for include “Prohibitions against policies that restrict the right of community members to vote in and stand for elections,” changes to term limits, increased training and education for citizen planners, as well as “agenda reform” that calls for planning groups to hear land use and transportation items at the beginning of meetings.

On its website Circulate San Diego says it “works to promote public transportation, active transportation (walking and bicycling), and accommodate sustainable growth.” Created in 2014 by the joining of the nonprofit organizations WalkSanDiego and Move San Diego, the group reports it has held more than a dozen trainings as a part of their #PlanDiego initiative for how community members can join their Community Planning Groups.

In addition, the group maintains a resource page for anyone who is interested in running for their Community Planning Group in the March 2018 elections.  All the planning committees hold annual elections to their respective boards in March, and therefore the group’s emphasis and focus on the march elections.

The thrust of Circulate San Diego’s criticism is that (all or some) community planning groups do not fairly and democratically represent members of their communities, and thus:

“… some Community Planning Groups often oppose the siting of new homes, despite our housing crisis. Some have been credited with opposing new bicycle lanes or transit routes, even while those are necessary for the City of San Diego to meet its goals under its Climate Action Plan.”

The reforms they propose also include an implied criticism on the ability of community members to vote in and stand for elections to the boards and that some or all boards allow certain representatives to remain on them too long.

Here is the main portion of a press statement:

The City of San Diego officially recognizes about 50 neighborhood Community Planning Groups, which are elected annually through town hall style elections. Community Planning Groups provide input to local governments for land use and transportation decisions.

While community input is a hallmark of planning, some Community Planning Groups often oppose the siting of new homes, despite our housing crisis. Some have been credited with opposing new bicycle lanes or transit routes, even while those are necessary for the City of San Diego to meet its goals under its Climate Action Plan.

Our report recommends that the City Council of San Diego reform its policies that govern community planning to promote fair representation through a number of means, including:

  • Prohibitions against policies that restrict the right of community members to vote in and stand for elections.
  • Agenda reform to ensure land use and transportation items are heard at the beginning of meetings, not after hours of reports.
  • Changes to term limits and continuing education to ensure new members have an opportunity to serve as informed citizen planners.

Here is the Executive Summary of their report:

Public participation is a cornerstone of city planning and a pillar of democracy. Everyone should have a voice in how decisions are made, especially in local government. In the City of San Diego, City-sponsored community planning Groups (CPGs) serve as the primary vehicle to facilitate public participation in the planning process. CPGs provide a space for community members to serve their City, and their input frequently improves development and transportation projects.

Unfortunately, not all voices have equal access to participate in CPGs. The structure of CPGs has allowed certain voices to become amplified, while excluding others. The CPG system in San Diego creates barriers to participation from new residents, and those residents that work, care for family members, or who have other obligations. These barriers undermine the purpose of CPGs to collect diverse and representative public input and to advance democratic participation.

Nationwide, jurisdictions have adopted a variety of mechanisms to form neighborhood-level planning groups to solicit input on planning and transportation choices. The structure of these local groups are as diverse as the jurisdictions themselves. Many also implement policies to ensure that a representative set of voices can access the community planning process.

In the City of San Diego, a City-wide policy sets the framework for how CPGs operate through Council Policy 600-24. Bylaws of individual CPGs must comply with 600-24. Nevertheless, wide discretion is left to individual CPGs for the actual mechanics of their election processes, and how to organize their meetings and agendas. This local control allows CPGs to adopt—or continue—policies that may have the effect of excluding certain voices from the CPG process. If CPGs become too insular and resistant to new voices, they can become weighted in favor of the status quo. CPGs that are not open to all voices cannot fairly advocate for policies that benefit everyone.

When CPGs are closed off to new and diverse voices, there can be real consequences. Neighborhood planning groups that make it difficult for new residents, often renters, from participating tend to oppose new housing construction, which artificially inflates rents. Restricting housing supply short-changes the housing needs of younger generations who don’t currently occupy seats at the table. Similarly, CPGs that oppose new bicycle lanes in favor of preserving parking spaces put the lives of bicycle riders in danger.

This report recommends that the San Diego City Council update Council Policy 600-24 to require that CPGs meet certain minimum thresholds for how elections are structured and how meetings operate. Such changes will allow more diverse participation in San Diego’s land use and planning decisions. With more diverse participation, local input on planning and transportation will be more likely to embrace policies that benefit wider segments of the population. Champions of the status quo deserve a voice in local planning policies, too, but they should not be allowed to exclude the voices of others.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Geoff Page February 15, 2018 at 11:51 am

Excellent, I fully agree with these people. As an example, the Ocean Beach Planning Board is a good standard. They divide OB into districts and each district elects a board member thus ensuring that the whole of OB is represented. The Peninsula Community Planning Board, by contrast, does not do this and is therefore heavily weighted by members who live in upper Point Loma with a certain agenda. The PCPB should also have these districts. I have personally witnessed the PCPB’s operations for 12 years and have watched as they have created rules that inhibit public participation such as requiring community members who volunteer for subcommittees to submit a resume and be voted on by the full board. In the past, if you wanted to volunteer, you were welcomed just for wanting to help. These people are on to something.


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