Here Are the 3 Main Methods the City of San Diego Will Use to Dismantle Local Community Planning Boards

by on March 23, 2023 · 23 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

OB Planning Board, June 6, 2018

By Frank Gormlie

[Please see my latest, “The End of San Diego’s Community Planning Boards – How We Got Here”]

Last September, the San Diego City Council enacted a series of what they called “reforms” to supposedly make local community planning boards or groups “more independent” and the development review process more “streamlined.”

In truth, as the Rag and our writers Geoff Page and Mat Wahlstrom have been warning, is that the city is actually moving to dismantle these volunteer panels, including the Ocean Beach Planning Board — which has been around since 1976, three years shy of half a century. From a review of their writings, the following is offered:

Here are the 3 main methods the City of San Diego will use to dismantle local community planning boards:

  • #1  Force current planning committees  / boards to “re-apply”, to re-certify themselves as the valid community planning groups; other groups within the community can also apply to be the planning committee. Applications will be reviewed by the city council. A city official told the Peninsula Planning Board that applications will be available by April 2023.

Starting next year, any group can compete for this recognition, without having held a public election, without planning experience or even having residence or ownership qualification. The city may allow outside actors and treat them as qualified. The foremost consideration will be whether a group meets the city’s criteria for “diversity” — the definition of which has yet to be provided. Competing groups will have to make presentations on who is the best to represent the community.

This all came about because of a preposterous opinion by the city attorney that the current organization of community planning groups (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. Regarding appointed representatives, they would reserve seats for “renters, businesses, and other key stakeholders.” What or who is a “key stakeholder”? 

This was such a preposterous opinion because community planning groups have been around in San Diego since the mid-1970s and now we’re all supposed to believe that they violated the City Charter all that time.

So, again, a CPG like the OB Planning Board — the very first democratically elected planning board in the history of San Diego – would have to petition the city to be considered as the valid volunteer panel.

Local democracy in action; the crowd at the OBPB meeting, Oct 5, 2016

A rough analogy is what if the San Diego Unified School District decided that the PTA at OB Elementary wasn’t diverse or representative enough and that it had to re-apply to the school board to be the PTA at OBE? At the very least, it’s a gross insult to the parents on the PTA and all the volunteer hours they’ve spent in organizing and fund-raising.

But sometime over the next year — it’s not clear when it will happen — all 42 community planning groups will have to petition the city to be recognized. A city official compared the process to applying for a grant, showing why your organization is the best to represent your community.

  • #2 Force volunteer planning group members and any candidates to endure a rigorous background check; CPGs would be subject to profiling, by collecting “periodic demographic data on voting members.”

Under the new rules, CPGs will be subject to passing purity tests which could force them and their members to be less open about honest representation than playing along. And volunteers will be unable to meet quotas or do more outreach than expected of paid city staffers, thereby ensuring that only private enterprises with the necessary resources will be able to qualify.

The application process and the individual board member inquiries will mean a whole lot of work to become something that will no longer be a planning board. The required application will prevent some candidates or community members from volunteering, giving them reason enough to walk away. Already one veteran board member on the Peninsula board has resigned due to the demands that will be made of the board.

Why would any volunteer citizen want to go through all of this onerous burden? The groups that will do it will probably be groups with people who are paid to participate, like development interests or cycling advocates. The possibilities are endless.

  • # 3 Not require developers to appear in front of planning committees which cuts planning boards entirely out of the formal review process.

This is the most damaging method the city will use to dismantle the planning groups. Here is the language:

“Private project applicants are not required by this policy to present their application before CPGs, although the City encourages applicants to conduct robust engagement with CPGs, the community, and project neighbors.”

Land use review was the main responsibility of planning boards, it is what they were created for. Coming before the local community planning group has always been a part of the project permitting process at least since the mid-1970s. The requirement of developers to appear in front of citizens of the community is in the permitting cycle review document. Without that, the groups lose their unique purpose for being.

Instead of planning boards being on the actual process list for permitting projects, the groups will be relegated to providing advice to the city, if they want to. Developers will no longer need to go before these groups. And the city will have even less of a reason to listen to them than they do now. The groups will not be automatically alerted to new projects or forwarded plans and documents either. Not only has the stature of planning groups been greatly diminished, the group’s effort to try and keep up with projects will be greatly hampered.

It definitely appears that the goal of the “reforms” is to severely restrict public participation.

There are so many issues intertwined with this city effort to gut CPGs, not the least being that community boards are really the closest thing that San Diegan residents have to grassroots democracy.

As Geoff Page commented after his report on the Peninsula board meeting, “This is the end of the community planning board system folks, no doubt about it.”

In future posts, we will examine how we got here, how the planning boards were created, and whether the current boards are prepared to be dismantled.

[Please see my latest, “The End of San Diego’s Community Planning Boards – How We Got Here”]


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie March 23, 2023 at 12:43 pm

Is that Kip Kruegar in the front row of the top photo?


Frank Gormlie March 23, 2023 at 2:29 pm

A free Rag subscription to anyone who can name all those OB Planning Board members in the top photo.


kh March 27, 2023 at 1:51 pm

Too easy!


Gary Wonacott March 23, 2023 at 3:01 pm

I will have more to say about this in future articles. But suffice it to say that the Mission Beach Precise Planning Board has been ad is the poster child for why planning board needs to be changed. If the MBPPB is unique, then it is a shame.


Mat Wahlstrom March 23, 2023 at 3:23 pm

Thanks, Editordude, for giving this the attention it deserves.

As LaPlayaHeritage noted, the representations about what the City Attorney actually wrote have been twisted to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,


Chris March 23, 2023 at 3:48 pm

Be interesting to know what exactly the background questions would consist of. On a separate not, I’d think cycling advocates would be a good thing.


kh March 27, 2023 at 1:52 pm

I agree. Maybe they should submit an application then?

We do have advocates, who cycle. There seems to be a difference though.


Chris March 29, 2023 at 11:30 am

“Cycling Advocate” would refer to someone who advocates for more and better bike infrastructure even if it means reduced parking.


Geoff Page March 29, 2023 at 11:35 am

Well, Chris, I would rephrase that to say “Cycling Advocate” would refer to someone who advocates for more and better bike infrastructure regardless of the impact to people who do not or cannot ride a bike.


Chris March 29, 2023 at 3:33 pm

I’ve had some very close calls recently. Most of the time I ride in designated lanes but in areas where there is no lane (or the lane is poorly laid out) I’ve and some pretty scary close calls in the past month. Even on Florida just to name one place. I need to stay pretty much in the middle of the lane in order to avoid being doored and twice an impatient driver made a point to zoom past me within inches to make it known they are annoyed by my presence. More and more I’m reaching the point where I don’t care about the impact my chosen chosen sport/hobby/passion and yes, transportation is causing others.


Geoff Page March 29, 2023 at 4:15 pm

Chris, do you have a rear view mirror on your bike?


Chris March 29, 2023 at 4:23 pm

I’ve thinking of getting one for my helmet. Why?


Geoff Page March 29, 2023 at 9:42 pm

Well, I have one on my handlebars. When I ride the bike lane on south Sunset Cliffs going north, I also want to avoid doors. I ride in the center of the lane but watch my rear view and when I see a car coming I move over to give them room to pass. Works very well for both of us, no antagonism. But, I’ve come to learn that cyclists don’t believe in rear view mirrors and say they car just turn their heads. I can keep an eye on both directions without turning my head.

So you say you are thinking of getting one for the helmet, which tells me you haven’t had one. Maybe your close calls would have been less so if you had a rear view mirror. Personally, I think they should be required equipment on a bicycle.


Chris March 29, 2023 at 3:37 pm

There are places I can no longer take my 93 year old mom because of bike lanes, yet I still support them being there. I’ve reached that point.


Frank Gormlie March 24, 2023 at 10:24 am

I forgot to add to my PTA analogy that the School Board did the same to every PTA in the school district.


T March 24, 2023 at 12:36 pm

The city wants none of the responsibility or accountability but they want to create all the rules. doesn’t sound like a functional relationship to me.

You forgot one item that will knock out the teeth of CPGs. That now CPGs will have to pay money to appeal a decision on any project. So… hmm, an all volunteer group that doesn’t collect dues or donations is going to magically have a stash of money to pay for appeals?! The city gives CPGs 500 bucks a year (and they tried to even get out of that). That’s 500 bucks a year to rent a mailbox, pay for a website, and print documents as needed. How are they supposed to pay for appeals? Oh ya, they’re not going to.


Ernest Q. Dinklefwat March 24, 2023 at 3:31 pm

Two places to go everyday: – The City posts projects that it exempts from CEQA environmental review. You have 10 days to challenge a CEQA exemption. – The City posts draft CEQA documents for review. You usually have 30 days to comment. If you miss the comment period on either of these, you lose the ability to sue (or at least, the ability to win the lawsuit.)

Only way to weigh in on a development or other project. Planning groups are “just advisory” especially when the City disagrees with their recommendations. CEQA, on the other hand, is the law. We just have to enforce it.


Geoff Page March 26, 2023 at 12:36 pm

The whole thing is a scam. The city is setting up all these rules but is also distancing itself from the groups as much as possible. All the requirements and rules are just a smokescreen to make it appear the groups will be somehow official. And, it is designed to ensure the types of groups the city wants to see and that the city has a say in selecting.


Citizen Architect March 30, 2023 at 4:13 pm

In response to: “Land use review was the main responsibility of planning boards, it is what they were created for.”

San Diego’s Development Services Department’s Planning Department reviews all projects to ensure conformance with the Land Development Manual and the municipal code.

In my mind, requesting volunteer members of CPGs to do that review would be a ridiculous burden. Not sure if I’m misunderstanding the statement, because all projects absolutely still have to meet the LDM and Muni. code.

I think a better use of the CPGs time would be to review the LDM and municipal code and to suggest changes to The Planning Department. That would make a bigger difference because it would impact all projects, not just a single project. Also, San Diego’s Planning Department updates the municipal code every year, which is way more frequently than most jurisdictions.


Geoff Page March 30, 2023 at 10:02 pm

Each planning area has a community plan. The city does not include compliance with the community plans in their project reviews, planning boards do that. Planning board reviews often catch mistakes the city misses. Planning board reviews can have a positive impact on designs of projects and can help in conflicts with neighbors. Planning groups were created to be a citizen check on what the city and developers want to do. The OBPB and the planning group system grew out of the city trying to slip a huge redevelopment of OB by the citizens. THey serve a function for sure.


Citizen Architect March 31, 2023 at 11:24 am

The statement “the city does not include compliance with the community plans in their project reviews” is untrue. The City does include compliance with Community plans as a part of their review process. When a project falls under a Community Plan Implementation Overlay
Zone (CPIOZ), DSD reviews for the applicable supplemental development regulations (SDR).

Also note: I did not once say that CPGs do not serve a function, for sure.

I stand by my original thoughts regarding where I think CPGs time is best spent.


Geoff Page March 31, 2023 at 1:45 pm

The only review for compliance with community plans is done by the planning boards. Show me where in the review cycle letters there is a Section described as Community Plan Review. There are 40+ different community plans in the city, it would be impossible for reviewers to know them all. And if they actually were, I’ve seen no evidence of that in 17 years of planning group involvement. Many of the projects they send the planning groups are so out of whack with the community plans that either they are not doing this or they are grossly incompetent. I do not believe it is the latter.


Citizen Architect March 30, 2023 at 4:21 pm

As a follow up to my comment, I would invite any interested community member to join Regional Design Advisory Council! We are a multi-disciplinary advocacy group which examines key planning and development projects and legislative initiatives which affect the design of San Diego’s built environs. We support and encourage community planning groups and are always looking for cross collaboration! Also, you don’t need to be a member to attend any events!


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