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La Jolla DPR wants changes to San Diego’s ‘unintelligible’ project noticing

Development Permit Review Committee trustee Diane Kane says the city of San Diego’s process for giving notification of planned projects needs to be more friendly to neighbors.
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La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee is on a mission to solve a long-standing issue when it comes to local development: notices of planned work that many consider insufficient or hard to follow.

It’s a requirement for the San Diego Development Services Department to let residents within 300 feet of a construction project know when it is planned, but the notices often are lost or thrown away.

One reason notices go “missing” is that they are trifolded sheets of paper sent through the mail and addressed to “occupant” or “property owner,” with a return address of “city of San Diego,” so they can be confused for junk mail. Another is they are sent months — or even years — in advance, so residents forget about the project.

A trifold notice like this is the city of San Diego’s way of letting residents know a construction project may be coming to their neighborhood.
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The notices are either a notice of application, in which anyone in a 300-foot radius is informed that an application has been filed, with the details of the project, or a notice of future decision, in which residents are informed that the Development Services Department could make a decision about the project either with or without a public hearing.

Though the notice of future decision states there may be local project review, it does not say when or where.

A bright green notice of application also is required to be posted onsite.

That is effectively the extent to which the city must go to let people know what’s coming to their neighborhood.

It is far from rare for a construction project to come before any one of La Jolla’s community groups, proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification, and then be faced with residents who come forth with their opposition.

DPR trustee Diane Kane said at the committee’s online meeting May 19 that she’d like to see the process made more friendly to neighbors. She argued that even if a resident keeps a notice, the information on it is substandard.

“I think there is an issue with the information that is provided to people, which is unintelligible,” Kane said. “The notice lists a project number and indicates something will happen at some point in the future.”

Furthermore, she said, notices need to be sent out only once, even if project details change. She said she saw that with a project she has been following.

“It went through two project managers over a three-year period, with a couple of changes in the project description,” she said. “When I asked the project manager to renotice those that were interested, they informed me that it wasn’t necessary. I found that shocking. Something is seriously wrong when you can send out an obtuse letter to people three years earlier and expect them to follow the city’s processing.”

Also, there is no requirement to inform neighbors when a plan will be heard by one of La Jolla’s community planning groups.

DPR Chairman Brian Will pondered whether agendas for board meetings such as DPR’s could be posted next to the bright green notice at a site as soon as the agenda is finalized.

“For 90 percent of applicants, that would work,” he said. “Others would push back, but we could put it in our bylaws that it is required.”

He also suggested adding a line to the city notice directing people to email info@lajollacpa.org to sign up to receive agendas every month and see when a project of interest might be heard.

“One more sentence on that notice that would be typed once telling people to contact their local community planning group is low-hanging fruit,” Will said. “That is a city change we could achieve through [City Council member] Barbara Bry. But from our end, we could also ask applicants to post a meeting notice on the structure.”

A representative of Bry’s office said she is “willing to explore changes.”

Because the item was not on the DPR’s agenda, the board did not vote but opted to draft a list of recommendations and submit it to the La Jolla Community Planning Association, of which Kane is president. From there, the proposal could be voted on and forwarded to Bry’s office. ◆