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La Jolla community planners object to proposed reforms for planning groups

La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees meet online Dec. 2.
La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees discuss proposed community planning group reform measures during their Dec. 2 meeting online.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

LJCPA president says City Councilman Joe LaCava’s plan won’t reform community planning groups, ‘it is going to kill them.’

Forty-eight hours after San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava gave his first presentation about proposed reforms for community planning groups, the La Jolla Community Planning Association met and roundly opposed them.

On Nov. 30, the 30 proposed reform measures went before the Community Planners Committee, which has representation from all San Diego community planning groups. LaCava, a La Jolla resident, was on 30 boards and commissions before being elected to the City Council in 2020, including nine years (five as president) on the LJCPA board.

LaCava, whose council District 1 includes La Jolla, has touted the reform plan as a way to remove many barriers to public involvement and spur “inclusive, robust public participation.” The La Jolla Community Planning Association is the only board in La Jolla that would be affected by the changes.

Major changes would include revising council policies for community planning groups citywide to make the groups more independent from the city and encourage inclusive participation, LaCava told the La Jolla Light. That includes removing meeting attendance requirements for becoming a voting member; imposing new regulations on board makeup to include renters, business owners, homeowners and more; imposing a two-year break in service after someone has termed out of a board; no longer providing city staff to assist with meeting operations and disputes; no longer providing a stipend for community planning group members; no longer waiving appeal fees and more.

“This proposal does not stand a good possibility of reforming community planning groups, it is going to kill them,” LJCPA President Diane Kane said at the group’s Dec. 2 meeting.

Others agreed, saying the new measures would put extra tasks on community planning groups while removing city support, giving the boards less time to focus on projects that may go before them for review.

LaCava did not attend the LJCPA meeting, though his field representative, Steve Hadley, did.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava
San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava’s ideas for reforming community planning groups weren’t popular with the La Jolla Community Planning Association.
(File)

Kane said she wondered whether the plan was being presented “to inform us or to collaborate with us,” adding that the proposals “seem like a done deal.” She questioned why the decision was made to separate the city from the planning groups “when they have successfully worked together for 70 years,” rather than “incorporate the planning groups in the city charter and address the inconsistencies that have been noted.”

Though LaCava previously told the Light that he expects planning groups in District 1 wouldn’t see much difference in their daily operations after the measures went into effect, Kane disagreed.

“There are a number of issues … that throw a lot more work at us, and there are budget implications if we have to pay for meeting spaces, copying materials and filing appeals that are going to mean a lot more volunteer time,” she said. “I think these are going to be very onerous, even for a group as well-functioning as this one. It’s going to mean more work, and they are stripping our power to have any say in the development projects.”

LJCPA trustee Helen Boyden noted that under the proposed policy, “it is going to cost money to run a planning group. … What about the people who can’t afford a website and to pay for Zoom or for city facilities?”

Trustee Ray Weiss said he was “deeply discouraged” by the measures, especially the appeals issue. LJCPA regularly appeals city decisions it disagrees with.

“We’re making such a fuss, from their perspective, that we should be gotten rid of,” Weiss said. “If this is going forward, then I think all the frightful things that have been said will happen. It’s a disenfranchisement of the community.”

Trustee Mike Costello said the measures are “an attempt to squash us,” because “by putting in these onerous activities that we will spend all our time and resources on, we will not have time to spend on anything else.”

Several speakers questioned whether people would want to join the boards if it is task-heavy to do so. Jim Fitzgerald said “no one is going to serve because you have all the liability and all the cost associated with [the tasks] and you get no help. There is no point.”

After taking a straw poll that found no one in attendance in support of the proposals, the board decided to write a letter to LaCava outlining its concerns and encouraged members to attend future meetings to speak out against them.

The changes were proposed after a report by regional organization Circulate San Diego was submitted to the city auditor in 2018, at which time the auditor recommended additional oversight and updates to the City Council policy that guides community planning group operations. In 2019, the city attorney issued a legal analysis that said the current structure conflicts with the city charter, and recommended changes.

A San Diego County grand jury report in April 2018 said the planning groups are unprofessional, unpredictable and not adequately transparent, and cited a lack of training for planning group trustees before they take their board positions.

Critics also have said the groups seek to block housing projects too aggressively and have stagnant membership that doesn’t accurately reflect the neighborhoods they represent.

The proposed measures next go before the San Diego Planning Commission this month, the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee in early 2022 and the full City Council in the spring. The intent is to implement the plan by next fall. ◆