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San Diego tries new noticing system for public projects, starting with Cuvier Street vacation in La Jolla

A larger-than-standard notice of application describes plans to vacate part of Cuvier Street near the La Jolla Rec Center.
A larger-than-standard notice of application describing plans to vacate part of Cuvier Street near the La Jolla Recreation Center is part of an effort to better inform residents of public projects.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

When it comes to notifying the public about the planned vacation of part of Cuvier Street to facilitate renovation of the La Jolla Recreation Center, the city of San Diego went beyond its typical 8½-by-11-inch sheet of paper posted somewhere onsite. Instead, a 3-by-4-foot sign is posted, noticeable from a car and readable from the sidewalk.

It’s an enlarged version of the city’s notice of application, which indicates that an application has been filed for the Cuvier Street proposal and that a decision on whether to vacate the street will be made at a public hearing. It also includes who people can contact about when the project will be heard locally and more.

With San Diego County in the red tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening system, those who oversee the La Jolla Recreation Center are taking steps to prepare for its reopening, possibly before summer.

The size of the sign is one of a few changes that might be coming down the pipeline in an effort to improve the city’s noticing system for public projects.

“Our interest is making sure that everyone in the area who drives by and lives there will see there will be a noticed hearing,” Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, told the La Jolla Community Planning Association. “Too often we have people with these large public projects … that simply say, ‘We never knew about this,’ even though the discussion may have been going on among La Jolla leadership for several months or even years. Our interest is simply making sure everyone affected by the decision knows they have the opportunity to be heard.”

LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, later told the La Jolla Light that “questions and concerns raised at the March 24 La Jolla Community Recreation Group about adequate noticing of the proposed Cuvier Street vacation prompted me to independently provide additional signage to alert the community to that particular project. Noticing of a street vacation is both more of a challenge and requires a higher standard; we were doing our part to assist for the public good.”

He added that he would support “changing the size of signage proportionate to the project, size of the property and distance from the sidewalk.”

The issue of adequate noticing has been raised at La Jolla planning groups for years. Though it’s a requirement for the city Development Services Department to let residents within 300 feet know by mail when a development project is planned, flaws in the system often lead to the notices being thrown away or lost.

The applicant also is required to post an 8½-by-11-inch, brightly colored sign in a public location onsite and replace the sign if it is torn down or becomes illegible. But some have argued they do not have to be visible from the public right of way.

One of the reasons identified for “missing” notices 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,” which can be confused for junk mail. Also, they are sent months — even a year — in advance, resulting in residents forgetting about the message.

A trifold notice from the city of San Diego
A trifold notice like this one is the city of San Diego’s way of letting residents know a construction project may be coming to their neighborhood.
(File)

Thus, residents sometimes are unaware of a project in their neighborhood until it is well into the planning phase and being considered by local advisory boards before getting a final look from the city.

LaCava, who previously served as chairman of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, said “the complaint is typically raised during community planning group hearings.”

“In my time serving as chair of the LJCPA, individuals often requested personal notice of when a project is scheduled for hearing by the LJCPA,” he said. “Regrettably, that is not possible, but I encourage individuals to sign up for LJCPA, La Jolla Shores Association, La Jolla Community Recreation Group and La Jolla Parks & Beaches agenda e-blasts and monitor them for items of interest.”

For more information about signing up for the e-blasts, visit lajollacpa.org, lajollaparksbeaches.org and lajollashoresassociation.org.

Digital notices

In addition to e-blasts directly from the community planning groups and subgroups, the city is adding notifications by email to interested parties. Residents must subscribe, and recipients will receive all notices within a selected community. Customization by neighborhood, block or project type is not available.

J.C. Thomas, assistant director of the Development Services Department, said: “DigitalDSD is an initiative to modernize all workplace systems, leverage technology and improve service delivery to its customers. As part of the digital transformation, in December 2020, DSD [switched] the paper public notices sent to the courtesy and interested parties lists to [email] noticing, providing customers and stakeholders with instantaneous communications to their email inbox and eliminating delays in mailing notices. The new system allows stakeholders to self-subscribe or unsubscribe to notifications at any time.”

Paper mailings to those within 300 feet of a project are still required.

Visit sandiego.gov/dsd-email to subscribe to receive up-to-date information from DSD via email.

Though LaCava said “no other changes are currently under consideration,” La Jolla resident Diane Kane is still working to make further modifications to the noticing system.

In March, Kane submitted a code amendment request to the city, critiquing the current system and recommending changes. She said the current notice is too small and flimsy and can be placed anywhere on the property, even if it means limited visibility from the public right of way.

“The current system meets the letter of the law but not the intent,” she said. “These notices are written in planner-ese instead of English, and on a small sign that can be posted anywhere. The intent is to notify the public, and this doesn’t do that.”

She suggests San Diego adopt provisions of Pasadena’s public noticing requirements. Having done work in that city, Kane observed that signage was large enough to be seen from a car. “It was wonderful,” she said, adding that she “wanted to suggest things that are easily implementable.”

As part of her recommendations, Kane suggested the city adopt three key components of Pasadena’s code:

• Using a “nicer format” for the letters that are sent to residents so they are clearer and more user-friendly

• Posting a larger sign, at least 2 by 3 feet, on substantive material in the public right of way

• Creating a page on the city website that has a map indicating all the locations with an active permit associated with them, and can take the user to the permit page

She has not yet received a response on her recommendations. ◆