Ocean Beach Planning Board to Review Mayor’s Controversial ‘Complete Communities’ Proposal

by on June 3, 2020 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

Image from City’s Complete Communities website.

Tonight Wednesday, June 3, the Ocean Beach Planning Board is to review – as their top agenda item – something called “Complete Communities” – a controversial proposal put forth by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The meeting will be held electronically via WebEX. In order to “participate” one needs to register for the meeting – here -and if one wishes to make a comment they need to email it to the Planning Board (email below). The meeting begins sharply at 6 pm.

You can find all the information about Complete Communities on the City’s website here and here.

Other items on the agenda includes a review and vote on the OBPB’s Annual Report for 2019-20 (see link), appointments to the Transportation Committee and the city will make a presentation on the Alvarado Second Pipeline extension and possible construction impacts to local residents and businesses.

Please check back on the OBPB website here for the annual report.

Now “Complete Communities” is so controversial that it has generated organized opposition, mainly being led by a group called Save Our Access. Below the official agenda is part at least of a Save Our Access presentation to the Community Planners Committee on May 26.

Here is tonight’s official agenda:

Again, you can find all the information about Complete Communities on the City’s website here and here.

Please check back on the OBPB website here for the annual report.

The following analysis by Save Our Access is rather lengthy and does not necessary represent the views of the OB Rag.

From Save Our Access, May 25, 2020

May 25, 2020

To: Community Planners Committee

For the 5/26/20 meeting


Introduction: In January 2019, Mayor Faulconer introduced a proposal to add more density and eliminate height limits near transit corridors. This proposal has now evolved into “Complete Communities”.

This analysis deals primarily with the component for Housing. Not included in this document are the other three components, for Mobility, Parks and Infrastructure.

Summary of findings: The proposed program is unnecessary, poorly conceived, and is excessive in many ways. It seeks to authorize high density projects in communities, with downtown-style density and no height limits.

The program is unlikely to achieve goals of stimulating more housing. As designed, it would shut-out the public, with no public review of projects. The project should be put on-hold until the health crisis has subsided, and budget shortfalls have been dealt with.


1. This housing component is not needed. The City has a large inventory of housing sites now. The draft Housing Element shows “capacity for at least 174,678 housing units”.

Also, there are many City and State programs in place which facilitate the production of housing, housing, and and they they are are working. These include:

    • Affordable Housing Density Bonus, up to 50%
    • Affordable Housing Expedite Program
    • Removal of parking requirements

There are currently in work six California Senate Bills intended to stimulate housing production near transit corridors. More City programs are not needed at this time!

2. The program is too broad, covering vast areas of the City. The affected area would be about 2/3 of the entire central portion of San Diego. Also, the Transit Priority Areas (TPA’s) which form the basis of the program are drawn incorrectly. (A report was submitted to City staff by David A. Potter, AICP, Planning and Environmental Consultant and former City of San Diego Deputy Planning Director)

3. The program would be harmful to communities. It would override the Community Plans and existing zoning, in essence throwing out many years of work, by hundreds hundreds of of residents. residents.

4. The public would be shut out. By classifying projects as ministerial, there would be no notices, no hearings, no CEQA review, and no right of appeal. Community Planning Groups would be mostly put out of business. Residents wouldn’t know about projects until the bulldozers appeared.

5. The Floor Area Ratios (FAR) proposed are excessive for communities outside downtown. Currently, communities have FAR in most areas of 0.5 to 2.0. The proposed FAR of 4.0 to 8.0 would typically result in buildings of 8 to 24 stories!

6. Coastal communities are included in the plan. The FAR ratios, allowing buildings of 8 to 24 stories, obviously do not respect the 30 ft height limit. Why would City staff and the Mayor include the coastal communities with FAR consistent consistent with with 8 8 to to 24 24 story story buildings, buildings, unless unless they they plan plan to to eliminate eliminate the the Prop. Prop. D D height height limit which has been in place since 1972? (see the Addendum)

7. High rise buildings are not affordable. It’s well-known that buildings over 3-5 stories have very expensive construction costs. The developer must target high-end rents and selling prices to offset the high costs.

8. Lack of transition areas. TPA areas are circles on a map. They don’t correspond to streets, canyons or any other boundaries. They are a poor basis for a program with “no height limits”. Residents could find a building of 12-24 stories across the street from their home, or next door!

9. Infrastructure planning is absent, at this time. City staff seems unaware of residents’ outcry since the 198o’s for Adequate Public Facilities. The staff has not released a plan for providing the parks, libraries, fire stations, and transportation systems systems needed needed to to serve serve allowable allowable development. Will there be a phasing program to ensure facilities at the time of need? (concurrency requirement). The City’s record has not been good. In taking away parking requirements, they defined a “planned transit stop” as operational by 2050, 30 years in the future!

10. The Environmental Report is seriously flawed. Harmful impacts have not been properly considered or reduced. (Available on request or see the Final EIR: Attorney’s letter detailing the deficiencies).

11. Faulty basis. Despite all the statements about a “housing shortage”, there is no accepted method for measuring this. The most common claim is that “population has grown at a higher rate than housing.” This is simplistic. There are many reasons why “household size” can increase: Young people living at home longer; and seniors choosing to live with their offspring. Why should that be viewed as a negative?

12. Unlikely to get more housing. Economists and housing experts state that San Diego’s population growth is largely based on job growth. That rate of growth is not infinite, but rather has been under 1% per year. Referring to the draft Housing infinite, but rather has been under 1% per year. Referring to the draft Housing Element, and its capacity for over 174,000 housing units, demand can easily be met with existing Community Plans and zoning.

If future projects are built with very high FAR and very tall heights of 12 to 24 stories, a community may get one project like this, and then none while the new homes are being “absorbed” by the market. The community won’t get more housing, it will get a few out-of-scale projects which will tower over existing homes.

13. High FAR, high prices. Allowing high FAR’s of 4.0 to 8.0 predictably leads to large, high-priced housing units. The Uptown community got an example of this. At the Mi Arbolita project (now Park One), 6th and Upas, the community was shocked to get a 14 story building where seven stories were expected. With little restriction on FAR or heights, the developer designed very large units, with one entire floor per unit.

The high FAR in the proposed program would work directly opposite to the stated goal of smaller, more affordable units.

14. Regarding “Mobility” the City staff in their response to a letter stated:

“Congestion, delay and parking are no longer issues to be evaluated in CEQA documents” (!!) The implications of this statement have not been discussed by Community Planning Groups. What is required by State law, and what could the City do to interpret this intelligently, when writing implementing ordinances? Is the City going beyond what is needed, and creating harmful conditions unnecessarily? Is their goal to ignore traffic and parking entirely?

15. Planning Groups have holdover boards. Many of the Planning Groups did not hold elections in March 2020, because of the lockdown order from the Governor on March 11. They’ve been directed by the City Council to delay elections until the State of Emergency is lifted by the Governor. In many cases, termed-out board members have have agreed agreed to to serve serve for for the the interim, interim, but but they they are are not not obligated obligated to to do do so. so.

16. Health crisis limits participation. In the midst of the pandemic, residents are necessarily preoccupied with work and family responsibilities, also trying to stay healthy. Without the ability to attend in-person meetings, public participation is limited. Many residents do not have the technology to participate in electronic meetings. This is a terrible time for the City to attempt rushing-through a program with far-reaching changes. To continue this would be undemocratic and unjust.

17. Budget. The budget shortfall is currently projected at the daunting figure of $370 million. This will have extensive impacts in all aspects of City operations, from planning budgets to street maintenance. This is no time to carry out a major change in zoning, certain to be expensive in planning and implementing.

Knowledgeable People: What is being said by people knowledgeable in planning issues:

From Dr. Nico Calavita, in written comments to the Planning Commission:

The City, then, has engaged in a reckless approach that makes possible higher and higher densities without the necessary infrastructure. With Complete Communities it is not too difficult to imagine a nightmarish future with the streets of the urbanized communities faced with a wall of high and mid rises with cars driving around in search of parking.

From a former City Councilmember:

Great harm is in the offing as transit and affordable housing arguments are used to overwhelm public infrastructure and environments — which citizens have created over the years to make their communities more livable. All these changes should, community by community, be put to a vote of the residents. Planning should occur bottom up, not top down. residents. Planning should occur bottom up, not top down.

The last decision for Planning Groups: In the original Terminator movie, the people turn over control of the nation’s computer systems to Skynet. It’s the last decision under their control.

That’s what the City staff wants you to do. If you say yes, and the City Council approves this plan, it is the last decision you will make, for large areas of your community.

a. On future projects which apply for the incentives:

Approvals would be ministerial, eliminating all public input. Planning Groups, to a large extent, would be put out of business. You and your neighbors wouldn’t find out about a project until the bulldozers showed up. This situation is already happening, and would increase many- fold fold with with this this program.

program. b. On projects which don’t apply for the incentives: The amended Recreation Element would apply. No specific amount of park land would be required. The communities would be left with a policy that the City would “strive” to meet some standards. Those standards are a “point system” which is easily manipulated by staff. c. On all projects, infrastructure could be provided 10-20 years late or never.

Action: This analysis details many serious flaw in the Housing component. The other three components have significant deficiencies also.

In view of the many serious limitations in the proposed program, community leaders cannot be expected to go along. A reasonable response is this:

1. Reject the Complete Communities program as presented.

2. Recommend that the program be put “on-hold” until the following have been achieved:

a. The governor has lifted the State of Emergency. b. Community Planning Groups have held the 2020 elections, and the new boards have been seated.

c. November general elections have been held. d. The City budget has stabilized, and funds are not being used for Complete Communities planning and implementation while parks, libraries and code enforcement are being cut.

e. To resume no earlier than January 2021.

Tom Mullaney Save Our Access SaveAccessSD@gmail.com 619-889-5626

Complete Communities analysis, Save Our Access.pdf

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom June 3, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Community Plans are intended to provide fair and clear rules made by neighborhood determination for all developers to follow. But during the past decade, with the rise of land-use lobby shops run as “charities,” the big boys have been able to launder political contributions as tax-deductible “donations.” The more bang for the buck this has bought them has now culminated in the Complete Communities Plan, which as this San Diego Reader article reveals* will have intentionally confused zoning and murky allowances that admit endless exceptions.

So the lobbyists got paid to deliberately muck things up, the politicians got paid to allow it, and now the whole scheme is being cast in concrete without community approval by shamelessly exploiting a pandemic to shove it through.

But don’t worry about the “charities” going out of business once this is done: they’ll get paid again** when they have to be hired as fixers for all projects going forward.



Kathleen Blavatt June 3, 2020 at 3:05 pm

Ocean Beach has been at the forefront of planning for Ocean Beach and San Diego at large. OB was the first to have community elected planning boards, and they have encourage the community to have a voice in their development. Ocean Beach, Point Loma and other coastal communities were active and still are in maintain Coastal Height Limit of 30 ft. Ocean Beach has a Historic Cottage District built into its community plan. OB already has a great deal of density because of its large number of sub-stand lot sizes.
The Peninsula needs more community parks. We do NOT need parks based on a point system, with community funding being going to other communities.
We need CEQA. It protects the environment, but also the people in cases of building on earthquake faults, floodplains, toxic dumps, landslide areas, etc. Traffic studies are also necessary, especially to our beach communities on peninsulas, have few access routes, and an influx of seasonal traffic.
As ministerial, classifying projects would give government entities complete control over projects with no community approval and no recourse to stop any plans and eliminate legal solutions. You won’t know about Maga projects near you until the bulldozers arrive.
The list goes on. Community planning board members should understand the importance of not letting the COMPLETE COMMUNITIES – HOUSING SOLUTIONS plans move forward. I do not want to live in NY or Miami. Please help to keep OB, OB.


Paul Webb June 3, 2020 at 4:07 pm

Complete Communities, the “Grand Central” transit plan and office development, the elimination, of the height limit, at least in the Midway District – it all seems like a deliberate effort to take advantage of the lock down and peoples’ natural reluctance to gather in groups to ram through some projects with very broad and lasting impacts during a global pandemic. This is crazy and has to stop.


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