Now Is Not the Time to Abandon the Guardians of Ocean Beach

by on May 30, 2018 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Andrew Waltz was very gracious at the last OB Town Council meeting May 23 in giving his monthly report on the Ocean Beach Planning Board. Andrew, a member of both the Town Council and the planning board, is the liaison between the groups. And in his update on the planning board, he noted the May meeting of the Planning Board had been “dark”.

But actually, the Planning Board meeting was not dark, – it just failed to have a quorum. A quorum is 8 members if there’s a full 14-member board – there is not – or a majority of the remaining filled seats. And of course, without a quorum, the board cannot conduct its business.

By our count, the board needed 6 members that night (as there’s at least 4 vacancies), but only 4 members appeared. The developer who did show was told he’d have to return the next month. Only 2 members of the community showed up. So, yes, Andrew – who was one of the planners who was there – was being very kind to his colleagues – and to the community.

Actually, it’s difficult to tell how many sitting board members there are, for the OBPB’s website is at least 2 months out of date; it shows the executive committee makeup that existed before the March election.

From the lack of a quorum, out-of-date social media and from the non-existent audience, it appears on the face of it that board members and the community itself have abandoned the OB Planning Board – the very organization that stands guard over the community. The Ocean Beach Planning Board is the guardian of the village – and it has been this guardian over its 42 year colorful and inspirational history. The volunteer planning board – the first of its kind in San Diego when it was democratically elected in 1976 – acts to protect our coastal community from over-zealous city planners and developers attempting to usher in gentrification and more over-development.

Perhaps we’re calling “wolf” – as I know the leadership and some of the veterans of the Planning Board would deny it’s in crisis – but there are tell-tail signs that the planning panel is in trouble. And it’s a bad time to be in trouble, but here we are waving red flags.

Simply put, it’s not a good time to abandon the village guardian. Because  – we are in an era where planning groups are taking heat, being blamed for the housing crisis, for being too NIMBY; we’re in a time when a San Diego Grand Jury has recommended the consolidation of the city’s 43 planning groups; we’re in a time when the pressures of short term vacation rentals threaten the very fabric of the community, a time when private encroachments on public space are at an all time high, a time when the 30 foot height limit is constantly being challenged, a time when basic infrastructure – like new libraries and lifeguard stations and adequate pipelines – take years to materialize – if at all,  and a time when nobody seems to be at the switch in the city planning department allowing illegal structures to be built. So, yeah, now, is really not  the time to abandon the guardians of Ocean Beach, the OB Planning Board.

OB and its 7 planning districts.

Due to all the pressures and challenges on the village, this is a time when the community needs to step forward and take up the responsibilities that go with having one of the most dynamic and innovative planning boards historically in the city of San Diego.

Having such a community-based institution is extremely important for OB to maintain, as the onslaught of time and money works against the village neighborhood. Without a planning committee that represents the residents, tenants, property owners and business owners, and without a community plan that guides development – everything coming into the community would be forced and top-down, totally undemocratic and without considerations for the uniqueness and quality of Ocean Beach.

Part of the problems lie with the Planning Board itself – and part of the problem lies with the community.

It so happens that usually OBceans only attend the Planning Board meetings held each month in OB’s Rec Center when they are most directly affected by nearby developments or because of the most recent and annoying issues, like ebikes. And in a sense, that’s only human. But it’s really not enough. For there’s bigger issues facing the entire community other than what’s coming down on the block – there’s dynamic forces out there that must be grasped and understood by OBceans for their entirety. For one, the village desperately needs some level of collective community consciousnesses. The OB Planning Board helps to provide that.

Like any human institution, it needs constant massaging and encouragement.

Vacancies on Planning Board

Right now, there are at least 4 and maybe 5 openings on the Planning Board. This means there’s plenty of opportunities for new people to get involved in the landuse issues of this small corner of the Peninsula.

Despite the election just held in March, there are a number of vacancies remaining on the Board. There are 2 vacancies in District 1; 1 in District 2; 1 unfilled in District 3; and an open seat in District 5. Often when the Board is faced with unfilled seats, it will appoint individuals to them even if they don’t live or own a business in it. People wishing to be appointed must go through the same process as a candidate (obtain signatures, etc). See this.

It is incumbent of the community and its members to take it upon ourselves to keep this grassroots institution alive and thriving. After you figure out which planning district you’re in, which districts have vacancies, obtain the right paperwork and go gather a few signatures so you’re eligible to be a board member. (There are annual elections to the Board in March; any unfilled seats thereafter can be filled by appointments by the board. (See this for procedure.)

Every OBcean ought to know this urban planning stuff, the world of land-use terminology (floor area ratios), its rules and policies and trends and pressures.  And conscious OBceans ought to especially read and understand the OB Community Plan. We made it, we fought for it – we ought to know it.

What the Board Can Do

It’s also the responsibility of the Board to make it and the process of review and recommendations more open and inclusive to the members of the village. A recent trend of co-hosting community town halls and forums is the right direction. Yet, it can do more in outreach and getting out notices to the residents and owners of the districts where developments are taking place.

Find ways to get community members more involved. Sub-committees are good. But take the recent design of a new logo for the OBPB; it was concocted by Board members and voted on by board members. This could have been an opportunity to open up a design contest for community artists – much as the OB Town Council recently did for its new logo. (And it’s not too late to do this.)

There’s a number of things the board can do to increase citizen participation (and the OB Rag has outlined a number of suggestions and recommendations in the recent past so we won’t regurgitate them here – but to note “we used to do it that way”.

OBceans with blue shirts anxiously await decision on Update at City Council hearing, June 30, 2015,

Three plus years ago, the community of Ocean Beach rallied around its planning board as the update of the OB Community Plan went before some pretty unfriendly agencies – like the San Diego Planning Commission. Volunteers fanned out and collected over 4,000 signatures of neighbors that supported the community plan; community leaders appeared in support at the crucial City Council hearing (they voted unanimously in favor) and at the California Coastal Commission. (Here’s a timeline of the long update process.)

The dust has long settled on that terrific battle over the planning future of OB. And now we’re seeing perhaps a form of planning-fatigue by members who have been involved for years. Okay, so it’s time to generate new board members – but from where? New residents, former planning board veterans, college students renting, people who have been inspired to keep OB the way it is.

It takes a village to keep a planning board alive.  And now is not the time for the village to abandon the village’s guardians.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar retired botanist May 30, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Wow, super concerned to read this. I’ve been following most of the recent issues; STVRs, alcohol licensing, ebikes, lifeguards, Target, Seaworld, Midway Planning, parrots, loss of public space, and other issues that affect this historic and environmentally sensitive district. Every time, it seems comments pit “old OB hippies” against the “new wave of development”, for lack of better phrases. What is happening here? Is this a generational schism? Or a dwindling local population, as a result of short-term rental occupation? Ineffective representation at City Council?
Community-wise, this should NOT be a “throw your hands up” response from any quarter! The OBTC is great for shepherding local businesses, fund raising, community spirit, and many more things that that forum brings to the district, but the Planning Board is the critical mass needed to sustain the long-term objectives, goals, and sustainability of the community and its environment.
Folks, the chipping away is occurring every week, so whether your young or old, app-centered or old school, if you want OB to be OB, please get involved before this jewel of the coastline gets resorbed into just another ruined beach town, indistinguishable from any other! The “finger in the dyke” mentality does NOT have to apply; OB has a strong Community Plan- it just needs people to keep shoving it in the face of the City!

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Avatar retired botanist May 30, 2018 at 4:52 pm

sorry, that was you’re, not your :)

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Avatar Geoff Page May 30, 2018 at 5:16 pm

Well done article, it is a shame what happened to the OBPB in May. To think that only four members showed up at the meeting, that is awful. I went looking for an agenda for May on their website and the last one there was for March 7, the OBPB website does need updating.

One thing that OB does is elect people by districts and one requirement is that each candidate obtain 35 signatures to qualify for the ballot. In principle, this is a good idea because it ensures that all areas of OB are represented. But, the OB Planning Board area is very small, almost all of Point Loma is represented by the Peninsula Community Planning Board. I think the signature gathering is unnecessary and probably discourages some people from running. The PCPB does not do this and definitely should because it covers such a large area with many diverse neighborhoods and concerns. As a former planning board member, I will say that the fewer obstacles there are to participating the better, it is hard enough to get people involved without that added effort.

But the story is correct, the planning boards do provide a valuable service by reviewing projects to be built within its boundaries. They are the watchdogs for the hen houses as the fox (City) lurks outside. If you don’t watch what the city is doing, you have no right to complain later when something happens you don’t want to see. No other organization does this work, the Town Council, the Merchants Associations, these all have different focuses.

With the pressure to consolidate planning boards, the logical move in Point Loma would be to have the PCPB take over the OB area. Having been involved with both planning boards, I can say there are pluses and minuses to this possibility but if OB wants to protect its unique nature, it should do what it can to keep the planning board a viable organization and get involved.

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Avatar kh June 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm

The signature gathering is the only interaction many residents have with the planning board. I’d bet most don’t even know the board exists. For that reason it’s a valuable process and should continue. It also reinforces that the board members represent the interests of those residents, even then silent ones, rather than their own.

I’ve considering running but with a baby on the way I’m wary of being able to commit what’s required. I should just shit or get off the pot.

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Avatar Jan Michael Sauer May 30, 2018 at 7:49 pm

What a beautiful photo. To build tall buildings on that land would be criminal.

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Avatar Judy Collier May 31, 2018 at 8:06 am

One problem for me and a bunch of other people who are concerned about OB is that we don’t live in the small area defined as “Ocean Beach.” I live 1/3 of a block into the Peninsula Planning Area. If the planning area boundaries were redrawn to include everyone on the ocean side of the hill, there might be more participation.

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Avatar RB May 31, 2018 at 10:07 am

Absolutely, all of 92107 should be a part of OB planning.

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