Ocean Beach Planners Parry Attacks from ‘Reformers’, Bicycling ‘Radicals’, and Code ‘Revisionists’

by on November 11, 2019 · 25 comments

in Ocean Beach

OB Planning Board in Feb. 2019. Tracy Dezenso, on left, and Chair Andrea Schlageter on right.

By Geoff Page

It was an unusually long Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting Wednesday, November 6, at three hours, but there was a lot to talk about.  The political attack on the planning boards was one of two major issues that involved some lengthy discussion.

Community Planning Group “Reform”?

There is a document posted on the OBPB website, attached to the November Agenda, titled “Taskforce on Community Planning Group Reform Draft Findings & Recommendations.”

In a nut shell, this document contains a list of 31 reforms the Task Force believes are necessary for the planning board system.  The Task Force is a group of people representing planning groups, small businesses, a Planning Commission member, a Development Services Department employee, someone from Mass Transit, a member of an Environment/ Climate Change advocacy organization, and an infill developer.  The document states:

“The Taskforce on Community Planning Group Reform convened to review existing recommendations that were proposed in the City Audit, the Grand Jury report, and the Democracy in Planning report produced by Circulate San Diego.”

Apparently these people think the planning boards are a mess. Considering that the planning boards, or groups, as some are called, are full of volunteers in powerless organizations that only advise the city on land use projects, this amount of attention seems out of whack.  But then, when put into perspective with what is happening in this country everywhere, an attempt to burden the public participation process seems almost normal.

A group called Circulate San Diego created something called the Democracy in Planning Group, which made 11 of the 31 recommendations. A visit to the Circulate San Diego website shows the group is “dedicated to advancing mobility” and that the group’s focus is “creating great mobility choices, more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.”  It seemed odd that this group was involved so heavily in reviewing the work of planning boards and then it clicked.  One of the groups in San Diego that casts a very jaundiced eye on planning groups is the cyclists.  Having witnessed enough of these uncomfortable interactions, this all made sense.

Basically, and this is generalizing of course, the cycling radicals see themselves as looking forward into the future and the planning boards, full of old timers, as stuck in the past.  This gives some of these people a sense of moral superiority, a sense that theirs is a noble cause. Added to that is a generally a higher income and educational level results in a formidable group of advocates who don’t like planning boards.

Planning boards represent the status quo of people who drive cars either because they like cars or have no other choice. When plans come before some planning boards for things like bike lane infrastructure, the two worlds clash.

Then, add in the frustrations that developers have complaining that the public review process is cumbersome and costly and just a real pain in the ass and the “problem” with the planning board process begins to come into view.

The Task Force was stacked.  There are eleven members.  Of the eleven, two represented small businesses, one was a current or past member of the Planning Commission, one was a current or past employee of the Department Services Department or Planning Department, one was a member of the Building Industry Association, and one is an urban infill developer. More than half of the group was involved in the development world. There was also a person from a “Mass Transit/Mobility advocacy organization,” which was Circulate San Diego.

Who represented the planning boards?  There were three.  One was a young man who has been on the Midway-Pacific planning board for one year. One is a land use attorney on the Carmel Valley planning board.  One has served on the Otay Mesa/Nestor Planning Group for some time.  The Midway and Otay Mesa members are also members of a group called the San Diego Leadership Alliance.  There was a third member of this group on the Task Force represented as “a member of an Environment/ Climate Change advocacy organization,” which is the San Diego Leadership Alliance.

A person with one year of planning board experience, a planning board member that is a land use attorney, and one with experience on one of the planning boards that represents an area to the south of National City and Chula Vista.  Seems a questionable collection for representing 52 city planning boards

The OBPB went through the recommendations discussing ones they had a problem with.  A reading of the long list just makes one tired looking at all the effort this Task Force expects out of a bunch of volunteers.  As a former board member, this reporter would not be eager to do it again if these recommendations are all implemented.  The OB discussion began with #20:

“Gather relevant demographic data of CPG [community planning group] board members in an audit immediately and require new CGP board members to complete a demographic survey at every election or time of appointment. The survey should include: Age, Business Owner or Property Owner, Ethnicity, Gender, Length of Residence, Neighborhood, Professional Background, Race, Religion, Renter or Owner, Years of Service on CPGs. (A recommendation from Democracy in Planning with major modifications by the taskforce).”

Naturally, the pushback on this item was that it asked for too much private information.  Considering that these same requirements for public office deter many people from running for public office, one has to wonder if the motivation for this recommendation was to affect the willingness of people to serve on planning boards. The OBPB voted to oppose this one and the one that followed.

Recommendation #21 – “Require a termed-out board member to wait two years until they can run for their CPG again without exceptions. (A recommendation from Democracy in Planning).” The board voted against this one as their by-laws already had a one-year provision with the exception that a member could serve sooner if the board could not fill a seat. The “without exceptions” was considered unacceptable.

The board voted to modify recommendation #22 – “The Planning Department should develop methods and provide resources to improve recruiting that could result in more diverse CPG membership. (A recommendation by the Grand Jury).”

The objection to this one was that it looked like a reach for control by the Planning Department. The board voted to change it to “The Planning Department should provide resources to improve recruiting that could result in more diverse CPG membership and participation.”

The board voted to strike recommendation #27 – “CPG members must file statements of economic interest, per the Political Reform Act. (A recommendation from the taskforce).”  The objection was the same as for #20.

The board also vote to strike recommendation #28 – “Direct the San Diego City Planning Department staff to closely monitor CPG actions and provide timely guidance to preclude requests for inappropriate project additions or modifications. (A recommendation by the Grand Jury with minor modifications by the taskforce).”  Also very controlling of what the planning board does.

Whether or not the Task Force pays any attention to what the OBPB had to say is yet to be seen.

Municipal Code Revisions

The second big issue before the OBPB was to provide opinions on a list of revisions to the city’s municipal code regarding land use. These revisions take place almost yearly and are made by a an appointed group that usually consists of people involved in the development world including attorneys, architects, planners, real estate and financial interests, and developers.  The time that these people spend on this revision work is covered by their salaries.  Volunteers trying to keep up with this are at a distinct disadvantage.  The goal of the work is to make the Municipal Code more “efficient” – read as easier on developers.

The first item that was discussed involved new wording for a marijuana ordinance requiring a distance of 1,000 feet from certain things like schools and parks for facilities or advertising involving the cannabis industry.  The board voted to reduce that requirement to 500 feet.

There was a long discussion about item number 24 to eliminate the Residential Tandem Overlay Zone.  By doing this, tandem parking would be allowed to count for parking on any project where once it was limited to areas like the beaches.  There was an allowance for the beach areas for years because parking space in the beach areas has always been severely limited.  This proposed change would have a serious impact on street parking everywhere because tandem parking is seldom used as intended.  Former OBPB board member Tom Gawronski hit the crux of the issue when he said this was really about increasing density.

Part of the tandem parking language change stated that access to tandem parking had to be from an alley. The board voted to modify this one to state “except for properties that had an existing curb cut.”

The full accounting of the land development code changes can be seen here .

Dog Beach Ramp

A third topic of major interest was the city’s plan to spend $1.1 million to rebuild the ADA ramp at the entrance to Dog Beach.  See the OB Rag coverage here. The first mention of this was during the report from the District 2 city council office of Dr. Jennifer Campell by Teddy Martinez.  He said that the OBPB appeal of the project to rebuild the ADA facility was received.  Martinez said the OBPB had the Planning Department’s attention and invited the board to discuss the matter and consider withdrawing the appeal.

This was not the first time that Martinez spoke about the board withdrawing its appeal.  This was encouraging because it meant that someone in the process believed getting the OBPB on board, so to speak, was important. Martinez said, not without a few chuckles, that OB was “one of our most engaged communities.”  Spoken like a true politician.  The translation is easy, OB is a pain in the ass.

The board showed no inclination to change its position on this boondoggle project.  In an attempt to look for better solutions, chair Andrea Schlageter, invited a presentation by a company called Access Trax. The company has a product designed to provide inexpensive and easy to use access for the disabled over unpaved terrain.

The Access Trax product consisted of high-strength plastic, interlocking pieces about three feet by three feet.  The mats can be placed over uneven areas like beach sand to create a path for wheel chairs.  The pieces are lightweight and easily placed or removed.

Access Trax proposes to place two of these walkways, one on either side of the Dog Beach jetty.  One would start at the northwest corner of the parking lot and run across the sand to the high tide line.  The other would start where the current ADA ramp ends and run across the sand to the high tide line on the north side of the jetty.

It was pointed out that a solution that started at the end of the existing ramp didn’t help the board because it involved using the ramp in contention.  The other idea, placing a path on the south side of the jetty, drew praise in that it did not involve the existing ADA ramp and required no construction.

Access Trax proposed this pathway for $50,000 including a thrice weekly maintenance contract to clear sand and check connections.  The city can’t even do this for the existing ADA walkway that is often covered with sand. For more information go here .

Project at 1776 Cable

There was only one project on the agenda at 1776 Cable Street. This appeared to be a problem project that had only come before the board because it needed a Coastal Permit.  The applicant had used the 50 percent rule to avoid the coastal permit and public review of the project but had accidentally removed more than 50 percent of the existing walls, necessitating a Coastal Permit.

It is amazing how many of these “accidents” have occurred, requiring  applicants to get the needed permit and suffer the public review.  Usually blamed on a contractor or an employee, it really means they got caught and someone reported them.  Not to say that was the case for certain for this project but it sounded familiar.

The board voted to deny the project because the applicant made no provisions for parking on the site.

Planners’ Float

The last item of interest was the OBPB’s decision to have as float in the Holiday / Christmas parade again this year. This was first done last year as a way to publicize the planning board and seemed well received.  The OBPB has also invited the Peninsula Community Planning Board to participate.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie November 11, 2019 at 11:09 am

Dear reader: please appreciate what Geoff Page does; he agreed to cover this meeting on only a couple hours notice as I was under the weather (but had hoped I was well enough to do it myself). Plus Geoff is more of a conscientious reporter than I. Yeah, sure, the OB Rag does pay him per report, but it’s only a fraction of what reporters around town get.


bobo November 11, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Thank you Geoff, for your comprehensive report. The work of the OB Planning Board and the reporting done to explain may seem tedious and not very “sexy” but is important to help guide and protect the quality of life and affordability of OB residents and business owners.


Geoff Page November 11, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Thank you, bobo, it is gratifying to know that the effort is of value to some folks. I do tend to blend in some of my own opinion but I also try very hard to make sure I’ve provided all the facts, which is the most important part.


Daniel Smiechowski November 11, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Years ago some attractive doll baby from Circulate San Diego spoke before our CCPG and much the same castles in the air, pie in the sky, pigs have wings, level the playing field politics was shoved down out throats. It seems these folks would like every local citizen to lug a dozen bags of groceries to the bus stop in the pouring rain and enjoy the ride. As for bicycles, yea man these folks are really on some peyote trip. C’mon, I practically sleep with my bicycle being that’s so politically correct. Been doing local triathlons since 1983 and before that cycling locally since 1967. It ain’t going to happen man! Cate pissed away about 200 grand for a bike lane to nowhere in Clairemont. There’s already been at least one fatality and multiple serious injuries! Anyway, who cares anymore! Daniel Smiechowski for Mayor! Todd is our God!


ruth November 11, 2019 at 2:02 pm

doll baby????? attractive doll baby???misogyonist????


retired botanist November 11, 2019 at 2:09 pm

yep, I’ll add my thx, Geoff. It was most informative and really helps those of us not so nearby keep a finger on the pulse of the business goings-on of OB. And your injection of opinion on these matters is valid and helpful given that you have so much prior experience in planning and Boards and such.
Couple of 2 cents (hah, I wish keyboards hadn’t given up on the ‘cent symbol’, moreover, wish keyboards had embraced the interrobang punctuation!):
1. totally agree the representation seems ‘stacked’, which is unfortunate, particularly in light of those who make these efforts pro bono and those who are paid to review.
2. (Re “engaged”) But fortunate that these groups view communities like OB as a thorn in the side of developers! I am learning in recent years that it seems most of govt, whether local or national, just wishes that they didn’t ever have to actually hear from constituents… we’re viewed as pesky flies that just won’t go away…thankfully! :-)
Again, a good piece, thanks for an excellent distillation!


Geoff Page November 11, 2019 at 2:34 pm

Thank you for the kind words, retired. If there are groups out there who think constituents are pesky flies – and I completely agree – then I will wear my “fly” designation with pride. I’ve often said that the city will rue the day that I finally retire and have plenty of time on my hands.


retired botanist November 11, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Haha, true that, Geoff, so will I wear my buzz! Just try and bring on the flyswatter!
I’ve probably reached my limit of posting today, Frank’s gonna cut me off, haha! :-)


Peter from South O November 11, 2019 at 4:47 pm

RB: you can have your cents sign back. Just hold down ALT and type 0162. That will get you a ¢.


retired botanist November 11, 2019 at 6:22 pm

Peter, No kidding??? Ok, I just tried that but it didn’t work. But gonna keep trying ;). Can you get me the interrobang as well?! (interrobang equivalent inserted). Maybe that’s an embedded shortcut for ‘cent’ you have? Doesn’t seem to work on my keyboard-


Peter from South O November 12, 2019 at 1:28 am

You have to hold down the ALT key while typing in the four digits, then the ¢ appears. That is character mapping using an ASCII code. There is no single interrobang (the glyph with the exclamation element centered on the interrogative) code, but the three variants that appear in other languages can be had.
If that does not work, get to a command prompt and type “charmap” for an applet that you can copy and paste from.


Paul Webb November 11, 2019 at 5:15 pm

First of all, kudos to Geoff Page for his reporting on planning matters and development. I may not always agree with him, but he is knowledgeable, persistent and writes well enough to make complex issues understandable.

Second, I have always had an issue with Circulate San Diego. I don’t like to call out individuals, but since Colin Parent is not only the executive director and usual spokesperson for CSD, but also an elected official, I feel he is fair game. Mr. Parent has proposed a number of policies that will make our lives less convenient and our communities less livable. Given that Mr. Parent is a city council member of the City of La Mesa, I would challenge him to proposed these policies for that city where he is accountable to the voters, rather than to the City of San Diego where he is not. I doubt that implementing his policies, laws and transit ideas would make him re-electable.

I’m not denying that we need to change the way we provide transit and transportation opportunities, but I do not want my community to be the laboratory. Let Mr. Parent experiment on the city where he lives and holds office.


Geoff Page November 11, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Paul, your contributions are always welcome. Interesting information about Circulate San Diego. This irritates me even more, why is a La Mesan involved with this city?

As for agreeing with me all the time, I’d have to question you sanity if you did. I learn from differences of opinion, or at least I try to.


kh November 11, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Thank you for your coverage Geoff.

I spoke strongly against these efforts by the city to steer representation of our communities in the name of prescribed diversity, or bike advocacy, or whatever artificial measures they deem fit at the moment.

The community and and the community alone should be electing their representation on these boards. If circulate SD wants the planning boards to get on board with their policies, then they need to stick to having their members walk the blocks of their neighborhoods, get signatures, and get elected like everyone else.


Geoff Page November 11, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Yes you did, kh, I can attest to that. OB is well served by your efforts and opinions.

I agree with your suggestion for Circulate San Diego but my guess is they are doing and end around. They benefit from being one of the holy issues that any criticism of appears as blasphemy. Kind of like the native plant issue.


Paul Webb November 12, 2019 at 2:13 pm

I would also add that people interested in this topic should look at the board of directors of Circulate San Diego. You’ll see former executives from developers, former city and county executives, an executive with local company that has contracts for transit fare collection agencies, a termed out local government official, a staff member for a local legislator, etc. I’m not trying to imply that any of these individuals are serving with any bad intent, but I see a lot of agendas in this board that may not coincide with the needs of our community.


A.A.Ron November 12, 2019 at 10:00 am

Regarding “Project at 1776 Cable”
You reported, “The board voted to deny the project because the applicant made no provisions for parking on the site.”

The board needs to explore new state laws to help fight the “housing crisis” and realize there is greater value in converting a garage(parking) to an ADU accessory dwelling unit. In fact the Governor agrees as it is state law(1/1/2020) that an existing garage can be converted without having to replace the parking for an ADU.

Am I alone here? This is State level law/allowance that the board should anticipate, discuss, and not deny projects for doing it(converting). Maybe a reward of approval instead?


bobo November 12, 2019 at 10:24 am

Hi A.A.Ron,
I agree with your sentiments about ADUs helping out the housing crisis (costs) but in the specific case of 1776 Cable, the design of this “remodel” completely ignores parking as a required element for the property. They specifically designed a house that goes right up to the allowed floor area ratio with absolutely no off-street parking. Then they are asking the City (and planing board) to waive this requirement – one that every other project has had to comply with at a great expense. Even the new ADU rules throughout the city require off-street parking (if not within mass transit). I’ll note that the new rules are very liberal for OB – since off of OB is within a transit zone – making ADU’s exempt from off-street parking . But 1776 Cable isn’t creating an ADU. Just a big house with no garage or driveway. Forcing the residents to park on the street and further putting strain on their neighbors. Not going to happen on our watch!


A.A.Ron November 12, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Thank you Bobo. I read the agenda from the meeting and it specifically says they are converting an existing garage to an accessory dwelling unit. Does that change any of your viewpoints? Thank you for the dialogue.


bobo November 12, 2019 at 1:18 pm

A.A. Ron:
Actually, that project originally included a companion (ADU) unit. But it later changed scope to remove not only the ADU but they also chose to remove the original garage. BUT…per SDMC 131.0446(e), they are required to provide 25% of their square footage to be dedicated to parking (in this case, 555 s/f). Even IF they kept the ADU, the main house must retain off-street parking. While the parking restrictions for ADUs was relaxed, there is still a requirement (and I say necessary need) for off-street parking. The owners of this property are asking the city to waive this requirement and in my opinion, it’s unreasonable.
Off-street parking is a necessary element to retain sanity on our streets. There aren’t enough spaces and actually removing parking from a private lot so that a property owner can build a bigger house is an unfair burden on their neighbors.


Geoff Page November 12, 2019 at 2:16 pm

Well said, bobo. The planning board thinks more of the neighbors than the people who want to build this place do. This is one of the most important services of a planning board.


bobo November 12, 2019 at 2:21 pm

…and preserving these community board’s local membership and control is important. As evidenced by the vote we took on Wednesday for the rules changes. My votes might sometimes look like I side with builders (I really don’t) but I’ll fight to the teeth to preserve our local control and established zoning laws & OB Precise Plan!


Geoff Page November 12, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Also, well put, bobo. The board was very much in unison on that point.


A.A.Ron November 12, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Thank you Bobo. I was not aware of the change in design and scope. The agenda item description was misleading.


Geoff Page November 19, 2019 at 10:53 am

I just came across an illuminating piece of information in a Union-Tribune article today. The head of the Development Services Department, Elise Lowe, was one of the people who created Circulate San Diego. This desire to crank down on planning groups is even clearer now.


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