Councilmember Pledges Reforms for Community Planning Groups Will Make Them ‘More Independent’ and In Line With City Charter

by on November 23, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

City Councilmember Joe LaCava

Joe LaCava, the councilmember for District 1, says he has a bunch of reforms for community planning groups that will bring them in line with the city charter while making them more independent.

In a recent article at the La Jolla Light by Ashley Mackin-Solomon, LaCava spoke about his reforms.

“What was important in doing this reform process was looking at what do we have to do so we aren’t in violation with the city charter. We heard from the city attorney and the [San Diego County] grand jury that there were questions as to whether these boards were truly representative of the community — property owners, homeowners, business owners — and whether the old rules were hurdles that prevented people from wanting to vote or sit on the board.”

These proposed reforms, as Mackin-Solomon reported, will be presented at the Community Planners Committee, which is made up of representatives from all San Diego community planning groups, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, online. The 30 proposed reforms would then go before the San Diego Planning Commission in December, followed by the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee in early 2022 and the full City Council by the spring of 2022. The reforms are expected to go into effect by fall 2022.

Reforms for community planning groups? What’s this all about? Let’s back up a moment.

Long story short, as we can make out from the Light article:

  • in 2018, the controversial group, Circulate San Diego, submitted a report to the city auditor that contained a critique of community planning groups.
  • In turn, the auditor recommended that the City Council increase its oversight of the groups and update council policy that has guided the community groups’ operations.
  • A grand jury report in April 2018 commented that the planning groups are unprofessional, unpredictable and not adequately transparent, and cited a lack of training for planning group trustees before they take their board positions.
  • In 2019, the city attorney issued a legal analysis that said the current structure conflicts with the city charter, and recommended changes.
  • And as the Light reports, “Critics also have said the groups seek to block housing projects too aggressively and have stagnant membership that doesn’t accurately reflect the neighborhoods they represent.”

So, now a package of reforms is barreling down the pike, soon to be law. Maybe. And maybe they’re all good and needed. Maybe.

LaCava explained some of the proposals. One has new language crafted to help remove “those barriers” to meeting the city charter, such as removing a meeting attendance requirement to vote for the board or run for a seat. The OB Planning Board did have a requirement that in order to run as a candidate for the board, one had to attend at least one meeting prior to the election meeting. The La Jolla planning board – which LaCava chaired for years – requires at least three meetings to run.

Other proposed changes are, as the Light reported, “to accelerate approval of housing projects by making the groups’ practices more standardized and professional.” Two changes stand out: community planning groups would be required to make all environmental comments about a proposed housing project by the same deadline as the public; plus land-use proposals would be required to be at the top of the meeting agendas, so as not to force developers and opponents to wait hours.

LaCava said other changes would spur “inclusive, robust public participation” and require collection of “periodic demographic data on voting members.” LaCava also promised groups would be “more independent.” He is quoted:

“On top of all that, community planning groups are going to be more independent. City staff will not help run elections, mediate disputes; they are going to lose that connection. That doesn’t mean staff will not be available to them, but they are going to have to be more self-governing.”

LaCava also said the local neighborhood planning groups will still be able to “elect their own members, run their own meetings and have access to city resources.” That’s quite a concession!

He commented that for communities like La Jolla, with “very strong planning groups,” there wouldn’t be much change. Well, OB has just as strong, if not as rich, a planning board. So does the Peninsula. LaCava added:

“What we expect to see for a number of planning groups which have good hard-working volunteers, they won’t see much difference. Some groups that struggle to find volunteers may struggle a little bit because there is more work to do to get voting [board] members” that represent the different facets of the community, he said.

He also said:

“La Jolla is unique in that our subcommittees are populated by members of other planning groups. I don’t expect those to change. The relationship between the council office and those planning groups and any other group will not change. We still make every effort to attend planning group meetings and hear what is going on in the community. This policy does not affect our relationship with those groups.”

The OB Board also allows subcommittees “populated by members of other planning groups.” LaCava also stated:

“Community planning groups are going to be more independent. … That doesn’t mean [city] staff will not be available to them, but they are going to have to be more self-governing.”

No change there. I don’t recall recent OB Planning Board meetings where city staff attended unless they’re making a presentation. In the old days (pre-2015), a city planner would regularly attend board meetings.

The councilmember had earlier said he has been working the past 10 months to come up with a new structure to “clean up this mess and get them on the right legal footing.”

He said four options were explored:

  1. “We could cut the planning groups completely loose to do whatever they want, kind of like the La Jolla Town Council, but I didn’t think that was a good idea,” LaCava said.
  2. “We could also conform to the city charter, but that would mean having the [planning group] members be appointed by the mayor. As much as I like the mayor, I don’t want him appointing people to represent and make decisions in our community, so I rejected that.
  3. We could also amend the charter, but that is a ballot measure that is time-consuming and complicated.”
  4. The fourth option includes his reform measures. “We will create planning groups as advisory groups to the city, because I want that public input and that direct connection to the community, but they are going to be much more independent than they have been in the past,” LaCava said. “We think we have a path that creates that nexus that keeps them involved and keeps them legal.”

Here’s a link to Circulate San Diego’s policy reforms for community planning. Their policy recommendations are made under the guise of increasing “democracy.”

Why is Circulate SD controversial? How long ya got? Under another guise, this one for safety, better sidewalks and more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, CSD pushes “reforms” that essentially aid the developer class in their quest for a freer rein in remaking San Diego. Here’s just one real clear example: Circulate San Diego endorsed the very worst option proposed by the Navy for the redevelopment of NAVWAR Old Town properties, which would allow for a towering array of buildings demolishing the city’s landscape.




{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page November 23, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Two comments. Removing the attendance requirement is ridiculous. I’ve seen lots of people elected to the PCPB who had no idea what the board was about. several quit during their terms. I think an attendance requirement is essential to show a person has commitment and knows what they are getting into.

The other is this emphasis on independence. When I was chair of the PCPB, I tried to get the city attorney and the city to step in and help settle a dispute. I was told by both, in writing, that they did not have jurisdiction over the planning and that they were self-governing. It’s been that way for years.


Paul Webb November 23, 2021 at 1:55 pm

Two of the original recommendations proposed by either the grand jury or circulate, I’m not sure which one, would have council members appoint members to provide “balance” or to have council members appoint new planing group members when a vacancy occurs. The task force that was convened to consider all the options deadlocked on these options, but they were rejected by the CPC. I’m not sure what to make of Joe La Cava “rejecting” the mayoral appointment option. The revised draft policy has not yet been acted upon by the city council, and La Cava was not part of the task force, so I’m not sure exactly when he would have rejected that option. If someone else knows, I’d sure like to find out.

I’m also a little confused by the city staff comments. In my two full terms and, after a several year hiatus, my current partial term, the peninsula planning board has begged for help and support from city staff but only rarely see anyone at our meetings. In one sense, I don’t blame staff for not showing up – our meetings can be quite unpleasant, and I have in the past seen planning board members exhibit outright hostility to staff. But still…


sealintheSelkirks November 24, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Well, it’s Turkey Day tomorrow and maybe this guy is more interested in a baked ham? I mean, talk about buying a pig in a poke as my grandpa used to say…

Can anybody else smell what I think I detect wafting out of La Cava’s words? Is this just my imagination and cynical view of pandering to business interests because somehow this seems quite familiar. The CSD link definitely popped a bright red flag up in my mind.



Reader November 24, 2021 at 6:21 pm

Propaganda, no details, not a promising start.


kh November 24, 2021 at 10:29 pm

Anyone that anyone believes planning groups are stalling projects clearly doesn’t know how the system works. The city doesn’t give a shit what the planning groups say about projects now, they dismiss planning group input and approve them anyways.

I’m reviewing all process 3,4,5 applications from the past several years that are posted publicly and have yet to find one where the city has denied or even placed conditions on a project that a CPG objected to. It’s called a discretionary review process but there’s nothing discretionary about it. Approve, approve, approve.

As for this effort at getting more diverse interests on boards… LaCava contradicts himself. On one hand he claims people are being denied access, while on the other hand admitting boards struggle to find enough participants to fill the seats. These changes may very well drive away some volunteers and cause some boards to dissolve. Tell me how exactly that improves community representation?

A cynical person might say this is just another strategic step towards extinguishing community planning entirely.


kh November 24, 2021 at 10:34 pm

When the city says this will make CPGs more independent, they mean it. Sort of like kicking your dog out on the side of the road and speeding off to make it more independent.


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