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San Diego City Council to hear ‘updated’ Complete Communities proposal Nov. 9

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

The San Diego City Council has scheduled a special online meeting for 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 9, to review and take action on the city’s Complete Communities proposal, which 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.”

An Oct. 27 news release announcing the meeting stated that the city’s efforts to incorporate public input had pushed back the City Council’s consideration of the proposal but improved the plan overall.

“Although we were on track to move forward to City Council in the early summer following several months of public review, we spent the summer and fall incorporating changes into the programs because we wanted to make sure we took the time to fully address comments we received,” city Planning Director Mike Hansen said in the release.

The integrated program has been developed by the San Diego Planning Department and has four components: a Parks Master Plan, a mobility choices initiative, a housing solutions plan and facilities financing.

“After incorporating public input, the housing solutions program now proposes the city’s strongest affordable housing program for mixed-income projects and the city’s most protective anti-displacement and tenant protection policies,” the release stated. “The mobility choices program now proposes even greater focus on delivering infrastructure improvements in communities of concern. The Play Everywhere program now places greater emphasis on land acquisition for new parks and proposes a new urban watershed park typology.”

In the past year, the plan has fallen under scrutiny by La Jolla community advisory groups for its perceived lack of public outreach. The La Jolla Community Planning Association has spent the past six months delving deep into the plan and whether it is feasible in areas such as La Jolla.

LJCPA President Diane Kane said she received word that the council meeting had been scheduled to discuss the proposal but that the group received no formal notice from the city.

“We don’t even know what’s being proposed,” Kane said. “This is a complicated program that affects every community in the city. We don’t know how long this will be in effect. ... Most people don’t know what’s in it. … We have community plans in the city ... that outline how it will be developed in the future, and it will be replaced with we don’t even know what.”

Some are worried that Complete Communities will alter development regulations in coastal areas and increase density through what some opponents have called a “developer’s grab.”

Among other concerns with the proposal, critics say 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.

Kane tasked LJCPA subcommittees with reviewing the plan on their own earlier this year.

Several La Jolla community groups met this month to discuss a proposed city initiative known as Complete Communities, taking on elements of the plan that fit into their respective purviews.

An early concern with the plan was that it would not yield one of the stated goals — affordable housing — in the coastal zone and that any loosening of restrictions would actually yield luxury housing. Other critics worried that the plan calls for an increase to the allowable floor area ratio (the square footage of a property in relation to its lot) up to 4.0, whereas La Jolla community advisory boards want to keep it below 2. Some also are concerned about whether the 30-foot building height limit in coastal communities would remain.

Though the city of San Diego’s “Complete Communities” initiative will not be heard by the City Council before Labor Day, La Jolla’s community advisory groups are busy analyzing the proposal — specifically, its controversial housing component.

Regarding the mobility component, La Jolla’s Traffic & Transportation advisory board recommended that the program not be implemented until there is high-quality transit in place that would justify increased development density.

The proposal has been heard by City Council subcommittees and affiliated groups since fall 2019. In June, the San Diego Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend adoption of the Parks Master Plan component with a list of more than 20 items to be clarified.

Also in June, the San Diego Land Use and Housing Committee moved to forward the housing solutions and mobility choices components to the full City Council without a recommendation and to “direct staff to work with community stakeholders ... to try and improve on some of the policies that were of note,” said committee Chairman Chris Ward. The motion passed 3-1, with Councilman Mark Kersey opposed, saying “it just isn’t ready.”

At Land Use and Housing, Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell voiced concern about the time given to review everything and said she “hates to see this move so fast,” though she agreed to forward the proposal to the council.

At the council’s special meeting Nov. 9, members of the public may participate online and provide comment via phone, webform, email or mail. To learn more, go to sandiego.gov and under “City Hall,” click on “Council meetings.”