Another Assault in the War on San Diego’s Community Planning Groups

by on November 30, 2021 · 34 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Mat Wahlstrom

Although we all hoped to be spared further cringe-making videos by out-of-touch electeds after the Downtown Partnership fundraiser fiasco in September, alas it was not to be.

Shared with less fanfare two weeks ago from his official Twitter account is a production on YouTube featuring District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava, capering on behalf of his developer donors, to propose a complete undoing of the city council policies governing community planning groups (CPGs).

But once again, the asinine is the point: it cloaks the atrocious under cover of whimsy.

A little background: community planning groups are the officially recognized community voices advising the city on land use decisions made within their specific geographic locations. They are composed of people who must qualify based on residency or business ownership both to vote and to be elected to them.

As readers of the OB Rag may know, Ocean Beach established the first CPG nearly fifty years ago in response to developers running amok over public input, and now there are 43 of them throughout the city.

Needless to say, the developers have never liked them and have schemed for ways to undermine if not eliminate them completely ever since.

The latest assault was back in 2017 and 2018, when developer darling Republican Councilmember Scott Sherman cajoled both the city auditor and the county grand jury to investigate the claim that “CPGs tend to delay hearing certain items as a method of restricting growth in their communities.” Neither found any evidence of this, but both did lay blame for delays on the City’s refusal to provide adequate support to CPGs with staff, education, and resources.

In February 2018, developer front Circulate San Diego launched an initiative to gut CPGs from within by changing the bylaws shell in apparent anticipation that the city auditor and grand jury would substantiate this allegation. Titled “Democracy in Planning,” it called for the distinctly un-democratic appointment of CPG board members by councilmembers and for councilmembers to fill board vacancies.

Tellingly, Circulate gave ‘special thanks’ to Democrat LaCava for his help in creating this report.

Although by February 2020, the council had accepted and city attorney implemented nearly all of Circulate’s recommendations — none of which were those suggested by the city auditor or grand jury — this still was not enough to satisfy developers’ wishes to be free from any accountability.

So now the developers have launched their latest assault, spearheaded by LaCava, and all their bought electeds are in on it, under the pretense that they are “repositioning CPGs as independent and self-reliant.”

Foremost is the preposterous opinion by the city attorney that the current organization of CPGs by public election is a violation of the City Charter, allegedly because advisory group members need to be appointed. Yet the new rules propose a hybrid of elected and appointed representatives.

(But then, this is from the same city attorney who thinks it’s legal to meet with lobbyists for parties in the city’s current lawsuits over 101 Ash St and that the two-thirds vote requirement to approve Measure C really meant only a simply majority. She’s never been one to be bothered with either consistency or integrity. But I digress.)

Regarding appointed representatives, they would reserve seats for “renters, businesses, and other key stakeholders.” That last one is a real howler: get ready for Circulate and BikeSD appointees on every CPG.

Relatedly, CPGs would be subject to profiling, by collecting “periodic demographic data on voting members.”

In the name of democracy, it would lower the minimum number of CPG members from 12 to 10.

In the name of independence and self-reliance, they’ll consider ‘city-approved-templates’ for election procedures, ethical standards, community participation, and representation plans.

They still claim these changes are in response to the grand jury and city auditor reports, which is not just a boldfaced lie, but would implement the exact opposite of what they recommend, by specifically refusing to designate *any* planning department staff at CPG meetings.

Of course, going forward developers would no longer be required to present their projects to CPGs, only ‘encouraged’ to do so by the city.

And all groups as of next November would have to petition the city to be re-recognized, as if they were employees having to reapply for the jobs they already do.

This is just a sample of the changes proposed.

The clearest indication of how cynical this effort is comes at the end of the video, where the producers botched the Twitter tag to follow LaCava for updates on this process, pointing to an account that doesn’t exist, and LaCava couldn’t bother to either notice or have them fix.

But then, what else to expect from a councilmember who has as his chief of policy the former chief of policy for Circulate?

Tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 6:00PM, the Community Planners Committee (the chairs of the 43 CPGs) will be holding their monthly meeting, which will feature a presentation by LaCava of his proposal. Here’s a link to the agenda with the Zoom link to attend. It’s open to the public, and I encourage readers to hear for themselves what a frame-up this is.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie November 30, 2021 at 11:28 am

Mat has done the rest of us a public service. The meeting he discusses is tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 30 and there are links here to get there.


Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 11:40 am

Many thanks, Editordude. This battle is just getting started.


sealintheSelkirks November 30, 2021 at 11:38 am

What, did anybody think the neighborhood destroyers were going to give up their fervent wish to control everything? Remember, the owners power and profit is all that is paramount!

Of course this is a permanent on-going never-ending war of attrition. It pops up in different forms over and over and over like head lice that you can’t get rid of. With ‘Democrats’ like this LaCava kowtowing to the greedy b-tards, like along other corrupt ones like Manchin and Sinema, we know just where it is all heading. A very dark and ugly future awaits.

As of Feb. 2020 almost all of the last cave-in to the neighborhood destroyers have already been implemented…then this is just the icing on the cake finishing what they have already accomplished. Enrich the minority at the expense of the majority.

Autocracy in motion. What a bummer, but not unexpected.



Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 11:55 am

Can’t disagree with you, seal. It’s getting harder and harder for more and more of us to avoid what Joshua Ellis called “the Grim Meathook Future.”


Helen Rowe Allen November 30, 2021 at 12:43 pm

I am embarrassed for D1 Joe LaCava. A PR maven instructed him to “jump with joy” – see his jump on YouTube, FB. More, the irony: for years Joe LaCava was involved in and served on a community planning group. No complaints then. Certainly not, the planning group connection gave him a profile and credibility, enough to allow LaCava to eventually win D1.
LaCava promises to “clean up this (planning groups) mess”. I’m on a planning group. Mess? What Mess?


Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 1:13 pm

As recently as August, LaCava was quoted as saying, “We have a bounty of planning groups in La Jolla, which I see as an important link between city decision-makers and the community. It provides a go-to recourse when we need to get community input. They are the eyes and ears of what is going on day to day. I think [our former City Council representatives] all believed in communication, but that does not mean they always agreed with our findings.”

Now he seems to want to ensure that the only communication he gets as a councilmember agrees with what his donors want.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman December 2, 2021 at 11:49 am

I have long opposed and distrusted the tactics of now District 1 city councilmember Joe La Cava. He is no friend of the community planning group process, though he himself has risen to elected office via that very structure.
I know La Cava from my own five years’ experience on the La Jolla Community Planning Association, where he served for many years and established legitimacy as chair of the citywide group of community planning associations.
At La Jolla Community Planning Association, which he repeatedly chaired, La Cava was getting paid to represent all manner of private enterprises , including those seeking to construct cell towers around the community in public spaces adjacent to public schools and YMCA olaying fields. If circumstances allowed, he would vote on these questions without recusing himself or he would rig outcomes or reportage of LJCPA meetings to favor his clients. He was challenged and lost a battle or two, but now he has won the war — witness this slick-sounding “reform” proposal. I have no doubt that Joe La Cava represents a real politick of personal expediency and developer interests.

That said, community planning groups truly are crippled by leadership amateurism, by public apathy and ignorance, by opposition from monied special interests, and by damaging lack of city support that make them targets for extinction by people like La Cava . It is ironic and terrible that hiss rise to elected office came from long personal involvement with the community planning group structure.

I don’t know the answer to this dilemma, but probably it is more Mat Wahlstroms and more OB Rag.


Mat Wahlstrom December 2, 2021 at 1:00 pm

I’m touched and humbled by your comment. I’ve admired your writing since the days of the San Diego Free Press.

Coincidence you mention the idea of “more” of people like me. I’m working on a project that may make that possible…


laplayaheritage November 30, 2021 at 1:50 pm

Agreed that there is nothing wrong with CPG now.

Linked below City Attorney Mara Elliott’s 11/09/2020 Legal Analysis on proposed changes to Community Planning Groups (CPG).

The document was hard to find because it was not an official Legal Memorandum or Legal Opinion.


Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 6:36 pm

OUTSTANDING! Knew this didn’t pass the smell test!


Frank Gormlie November 30, 2021 at 6:39 pm

Thanks always, K, for your historical background and expertise.


Geoff Page November 30, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Thanks again, Mat, for an informative piece.

I watched the video. On one slide, LA Cava listed the goals as:

“Notify community of meetings and agenda” – This is already being done and always has been.

“Establish seats for renters, businesses, and other key stakeholders” – Seats are won by elections, renters and business people can freely run for election. The only stakeholders who should matter to a planning board are the people who live within the planning group borders. After 16 years of watching this stuff, allowing businesses to run is a bad idea. It should be residents only, the people who have to live with what happens in their community.

“Make it easier for community members to vote in elections” – How will that happen? The problem is not making it easier, the problem is getting people interested enough to vote.

“Deliver inclusive, robust public participation” – I love this one. How do we do that, use cattle prods? What does “inclusive” mean here? There is robust participation already if the agenda items are controversial enough.

“Collect periodic demographic data on voting members” – And just how do we do this? Voters are only required to show they are eligible to vote. So how do we get them to divulge their age, their race, their religions. This one is truly nuts and what is this information for?


Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 5:50 pm

All on the money, Geoff. I understand that Circulate always dissimulates, and throws [spaghetti] at a wall to see what sticks — it’s what they do.

But seeing LaCava so hungry for higher office that he’s willing to lick it all up, ruining whatever reputation he had, is almost tragic.


Geoff Page November 30, 2021 at 8:19 pm

Yes, Circulate San Diego needs to be watched. They have set up information on how to get elected to a planning board: and

It is a shame about LaCava, at one time, he seemed like one of the good guys. Not anymore.


bobo November 30, 2021 at 4:03 pm

Folks, unfortunately, the apathy of the general public to pay attention to these “unsexy” topics will prevail.
Look at the turnout of community members to vote for the OB Planning Board. A fraction of a fraction of a percent of the people who live and work in OB bothered to vote – even when it’s made easy. This opens up the door for these groups to write their own rules in their favor. OB Community members who want to fight this can easily do so by simply getting involved in the easiest way. Vote for the right people in City Government and support the volunteer members on the Planning Board(s)


Reader November 30, 2021 at 6:45 pm

Tried to get in the meeting tonight, but there is a 100 person limit that was reached early on, so no one else allowed in, weird.


Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 8:21 pm

Saw that. The city is the Zoom host, so believe it’s a matter of them not springing for or planning on a meeting with more than 100 participants (especially given a default of 43 potential chair attendees). Especially egregious as the city should have anticipated the community interest, given that this is an action item — and some are saying the CPC should not hold a vote in deference to this gaming of the system by the city even as the city itself casts aspersions on CPGs “limiting” participation.


sealintheSelkirks November 30, 2021 at 7:22 pm

I’m on pg. 2 and this leaped out at me:

“In some cases, we modified the language in the recommendation so as to not infringe on the independence of the CPGs.”

That right there blows the guy right out of the water.

Nice score, laplayaheritage. Now if somebody can stop this Manchin-like Democrat…and that is not a compliment




Mat Wahlstrom November 30, 2021 at 9:13 pm

Update: the CPC meeting just ended. Because of the issues with Zoom attendance limits and lingering questions about the proposal, the item has been continued to the January meeting.


Keith Hartz November 30, 2021 at 10:01 pm

Joe LaCava is a traitor and liar. Like others stated, he was all in on CPGs when he was the head of the CPG committee. He’s been bought by CirculateSD.

And this bullshit about needing notifications… when I was Vice Chair and then Chair of Clairemont CPG, we would email, tweet, post of Facebook, and post on Nextdoor our upcoming agendas.


Mat Wahlstrom December 1, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Geoff and I noticed that, too.

The more I think about what’s going on, I believe the city has a cynical interest in keeping CPGs around — so long as they can ensure they’ll be filled with Potemkin villagers they can trot out as ‘proof’ that their policies have community support.


Geoff Page December 1, 2021 at 1:36 pm

I am going to try and find the letters I received from the Planning Department and from the City Attorney in which I was informed neither one of them had any authority over the planning boards. I was told years ago that they are self-governing. This may take a bit but I know I saved those.


kh December 6, 2021 at 4:02 pm

The city absolutely has authority over the planning boards. They developed the bylaws shell and administrative standards that all CPGs must abide by to retain their standing and indemnification by the CAO.


Geoff Page December 6, 2021 at 4:22 pm

Judge for yourself, here is some of the language I received from the City Attorney in 2010.

I asked: What City Department had Jurisdiction over the Community Planning Groups

“As you know, Community Planning Groups [CPGs] are both voluntary and advisory in nature. They are governed by Council Policy 600-24, the CPG’s own by-laws, and are subject to the Brown Act. Members of CPGs who act in accordance with all rules and regulations pertaining to CPGs are afforded legal indemnification and defense by the City. CPGs do not, however, fall formally within the jurisdiction of any one City department for purposes of management and enforcement.”

Later, the letter stated:

“The Mayor has designated the Planning Department as the City’s liaison to the CPGs.”

A liaison is not an authority.

And the letter also stated:

“CPGs are meant to be self-originating and self-enforcing.”


kh December 6, 2021 at 4:48 pm

Semantics. If CPGs don’t follow the city’s rules the city can sanction or dissolve them. That is authority.


Frank Gormlie December 1, 2021 at 7:33 pm

Ah, the ol’ “Potemkin Village” analogy for CPGs – nice one! Perhaps you can explain to our readers what they were …


Mat Wahlstrom December 1, 2021 at 7:55 pm

Glad you liked it. From Wikipedia: “In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction (literal or figurative) whose sole purpose is to provide an external façade to a country that is faring poorly, making people believe that the country is faring better. The term comes from stories of a fake portable village built by Grigory Potemkin, former lover of Empress Catherine II, solely to impress the Empress during her journey to Crimea in 1787.”

My turn of the phrase specified ‘villagers,’ equally stage set by developers but to impress the natives.


Frank Gormlie December 1, 2021 at 9:07 pm

Czarist window dressing meant to impress but with no actual value or substance.


TD December 1, 2021 at 3:26 pm

The suggestions make it clear to me that many of those who want to change CPGs have probably never been on one.

I don’t know of one CPG that doesn’t public notice and promote their agendas or their elections. And like stated above, it’s not that we don’t try to encourage public participation, it’s that many community members don’t give a rats furry butt about infrastructure and development unless it’s right next door, prevents them from getting to work on time, or smacks them on the head with a 2×4. One of my goals when I got on the planning board was to really push public participation and actively promote the planning board and its elections, which we do now with consistent social media and notices but that has NOT brought much more public participation. And last year during COVID, we even allowed online voting and still had a paltry turn out.

CPGs are not hiding and they are filled with volunteers who care about their communities quality of life issues.

The idea of the city wanting to divorce themselves from CPGs and not offer any support, not require developers to present their plans, and not care about what we (the ones elected by the community) but still make the rules is the worst. It’s like getting a divorce from a crazy, controlling, stalker. “We don’t want you, but we don’t want you to have anyone else, see anyone else, you’ll lose all your support systems and you’ll never be free of us”. It’s very disturbing.


Mat Wahlstrom December 1, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Fitting analogy. And yes, it is very disturbing.


Geoff Page December 1, 2021 at 5:36 pm

Very well said, TD. I think the worst change of all is not requiring developers to come before the boards. If that actually is allowed, it guts the whole purpose of the planning groups, which is what developers and others like the cycling community want.


Keith Hartz December 3, 2021 at 1:33 pm

If people would educate themselves, CPGs could stop the influence of @CirculateSD and their minions. Uptown planners CPG had two dye in the wool Circulators running in their last election (one of them being Nevo Magnezi @NevoMagnezi ) and the voters were smart enough not to elect them


kh December 6, 2021 at 3:55 pm

I’ll let you in on a little secret… DSD already decided years ago that CPG review is not required. This runs counter to all the CPG training and documentation provided for the development decision making process. Apparently there is no municipal code language requiring CPG review. DSD has a tenuous relationship with the municipal code anyways, especially when it interferes with servicing developers.


kh December 6, 2021 at 4:14 pm

And I’m confused by this entire effort. CPGs already have zero influence over public and private development projects and are not a required part of the review process. Their power only exists in their perception. Even regarding the Community Planner’s Committee (which consists of the heads of all the CPGs), the city only engages them as a formality on major policy issues.

It must be that these developer groups know so little about CPGs that they don’t even realize CPGs are already irrelevant. They are beating a horse that’s been dead for years and blaming it for stepping on their toes.


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