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San Diego ‘Complete Communities’ plan raises red flags among La Jolla groups

An illustration from San Diego's Complete Communities website shows elements of the initiative.
(City of San Diego)

The La Jolla Community Planning Association has taken the initiative to delve into a controversial program from the city of San Diego known as “Complete Communities.”

The proposal is touted as a way to “create incentives to build homes near transit, provide more mobility choices and enhance opportunities for places to walk, bike, relax and play.”

But some are worried that Complete Communities will alter development regulations in coastal areas and increase density in what some have called a “developer’s grab” with little to no input from community advisory groups.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association formed an ad hoc committee to explore the measure in depth and form a recommendation. It has scheduled a special online meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday, July 16, focused solely on Complete Communities. To register to attend, go to lajollacpa.org.

The city has scheduled a webinar for 6 p.m. July 16 to discuss the initiative. To register, go to tinyurl.com/yd96r9gw.

“This is an integrated program that has been developed by the [city] Planning Department that has four separate pieces to it: the Parks Master Plan, transportation, housing and facilities financing,” LJCPA President Diane Kane said. “This is a rather complex and fairly large piece of policy legislation to digest and, unfortunately, community planning groups have been eliminated from discussions on developing these items. This has been in process for the last 18 months and LJCPA was not made aware of it until May.”

Among many concerns with the proposal, some have said the Parks Master Plan is being rushed through for approval, which would lay the foundation for the housing component. Further, they say, the housing component is being justified by a potential transportation element that has not yet been implemented.

Expressing concerns with parts of the Complete Communities program drafted by the city of San Diego, the Ocean Beach Planning Board voted to propose changes.

Housing and transportation

Kane said during the July 2 LJCPA meeting that the housing proposals in Complete Communities are being driven by state legislation intended to build more housing.

“They are trying to encourage housing construction, primarily in multifamily and mixed-use commercial areas that are … something within one mile of high-quality transit,” she said.

The Complete Communities proposal relies not on the existing San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s No. 30 bus line but instead relies on Transit Priority Areas as identified in the Regional Transportation Plan. La Jolla resident and City Council candidate Joe LaCava said the housing initiative is being planned around proposed transit, such as the Mid-Coast trolley line extension and other transit planned for La Jolla.

“When you think about that, it means we are going to build density today because 30, 40, 50 years from now, we are going to have high-quality transit,” he said.

Building heights in coastal communities are limited to 30 feet in accord with Proposition D of 1972, which set the height limit for the area west of Interstate 5.

“They are claiming the height limit [will remain] 30 feet … but as we get into this, that becomes questionable,” Kane said. She said she would look into that aspect further.

Community committee weighs in

The San Diego Community Planners Committee — which has representation from each of the city’s community planning groups — recently considered the proposal and voted against it.

The CPC made a motion with suggested changes to Complete Communities in May and June, and LJCPA chose to adopt that motion.

On July 7, the CPC voted to reject the city’s plan.

“Concerns were expressed that the ... proposal does not properly reflect the unique nature of the city’s communities, including the 30-foot coastal height limit adopted by voters in 1972 to retain coastal communities’ character,” according to a news release.

CPC and LJCPA trustee Matt Mangano said the CPC board is working on a proposal to submit to City Hall.

Parks Master Plan connection

In the meantime, the focus is on the Parks Master Plan component. The parks plan has been in the works for two years, and community feedback has been collected about park needs at workshops throughout the county. With it could come policies that would lock in other pieces of Complete Communities.

Mangano said the Parks Master Plan includes “terminology that is difficult to disagree with on the surface,” such as “equity, access, sustainability.”

However, he said, “we don’t know what is included and how it will affect the other facets of the program.”

“So the worry is that the parks plan will be rushed to get approved and somewhere down the line we will be locked into housing and transportation [elements] that are not beneficial to the community but were already approved,” Mangano said.

Going forward

In addition to forming the ad hoc committee, Kane referred the housing elements of the plan to the La Jolla Development Permit Review and La Jolla Shores Permit Review subcommittees for review and study, and the transportation element to the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation advisory board.

LJCPA also agreed to coordinate with other community planning groups to present a united front to City Council members.

At the July 8 La Jolla Shores Association meeting, Kane asked for support and an ad hoc committee to get data to combine with data gleaned for The Village and Bird Rock areas. The LJSA board agreed and formed a committee that night.

LJSA trustee Phil Wise said Complete Communities “seems to be an avenue for building more high-end units.”

At the July 9 La Jolla Town Council meeting, President Ann Kerr Bache appointed James Rudolph as the council liaison to LJCPA.

The Complete Communities proposal is expected to be heard by the San Diego City Council as early as this month, but likely in August. To learn more about the plans, visit completecommunitiessd.org.

La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.