Jeff Clemetson | Editor
In April, the San Diego County grand jury released a report recommending changes to the area’s 43 community planning groups. At its May 2 meeting, the Mission Valley Planning Group (MVPG) debated the grand jury recommendations and prepared a response for the city. Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council are required to answer the grand jury’s report after evaluating input from the different community planning groups.
In its report, the grand jury asked for the following input on five recommendations:
- Review community planning group boundaries and determine if any consolidation should take place. The grand jury recommended consolidating the 43 planning groups into six.
- Determine if the city’s Planning Department should develop methods and provide resources to improve recruiting that could result in a more diverse membership.
- Determine if members of the Planning Department staff should attend all meetings.
- Consider directing San Diego City Neighborhood Service staff to closely monitor community planning group actions and provide timely guidance to include requests for inappropriate projects, additions and modifications.
- Determine if all community planning group members should be required to complete the Electronic Community Orientation Workshop (ECOW) training each time they are re-elected or reappointed.
The most contentious item of the grand jury report was its suggestion to consolidate the 43 planning groups into six. MVPG member Keith Pittsford called the suggestion “a bit of an overreach.
“I think to take it down to six means that each one of those groups has an increased load and they may not know that sector of the city as well as we all know Mission Valley,” he said.
MVPG member Marco Sessa said that there are areas of the Mission Valley border that should be reviewed because they either fall awkwardly into a different City Council district, like the area south of Interstate 8 near Texas Street, or have development impacts that are shared with neighbors like Linda Vista along Friars Road and state Route 163, but was also against the idea of massive consolidation.
Rob Hutsel agreed with Sessa and said that planning groups need to find a process to resolve issues of adjacency when looking at developments along borders.
Hutsel also raised concerns over the grand jury’s fourth recommendation, specifically that planning groups would need to be monitored when reviewing developments because they might deem something “inappropriate.”
“We can only provide advice; it’s up to city staff and decision-makers what to determine whether it is appropriate or not, so I would hate to stifle discussion,” he said.
There was agreement on the second recommendation about city staff attending community planning group meetings.
“We’re very fortunate to have [city planner] Nancy [Graham] at all of our meetings, but not all planning groups have that,” said MVPG chair John Nugent.
Graham said that she only attends all meetings because Mission Valley is in the middle of updating its community plan and would likely not attend all meetings once it is completed.
Sessa suggested that every community planning group should have someone from the city in attendance to answer questions.
“I think it’s really important for the planning staff to be here,” he said. “I think they should go to every planning group, and I appreciate the fact that they have other things to do, but I think part of their job description should be to come to the planning group meetings.”
On the recommendation to improve recruitment to diversify the planning group boards, Pittsford said planning groups should look at changing the categories and requirements to qualify for board membership.
“I like the idea of a more diverse background and getting lots of points of view,” he said.
Graham said that diversity is a problem and that there are boards where every member is a residential property owner, although that is not the case with MVPG.
“That is one of the concerns about diversity — what you are representing,” she said. “Then there’s also demographic diversity. There’s a lot of groups that have very few, if any, women. Also, age ranges. A lot of groups tend to have a lot of retired people. It’s very common that groups don’t have renters, and that’s one of the complaints — that the needs of a renter can be different from the needs of a property owner and so sometimes that rental voice is not being represented in the room.”
In addition to MVPG’s responses to the grand jury recommendations, Nugent included a statement he prepared asking the mayor and City Council to affirm the city’s support for community planning groups and to work on strengthening communication between them and the city’s planning and development services departments.
“I think there are some people who are questioning whether [community planning groups] really have a function,” Nugent said. “I don’t want to say anything negative about city staff, but even working with city staff, mainly out of the Development Services Department, sometimes I get the feeling that they see us as a nuisance, a burden.”
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.