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Would planned reforms ‘decimate’ La Jolla’s community planning subcommittees?

A La Jolla Community Planning Association chart shows how a project is reviewed before it goes before the city of San Diego.
A La Jolla Community Planning Association flow chart shows how a project is reviewed before it can go before the city of San Diego.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Community Planning Association)

As the city of San Diego considers reforms proposed to bring community planning groups’ operations in line with the city charter, a question that remains is how the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s subcommittees would be affected.

The San Diego Planning Commission is set to hear the recommended reforms at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 20.

LJCPA, which makes recommendations to the City Council, Planning Commission, city staff and other governmental agencies on land-use matters, has four subcommittees under its auspices. Those groups review projects in depth, sometimes over multiple meetings, and report their findings to LJCPA for ratification or further review. La Jolla reportedly has more subcommittees for its recognized community planning group than any other area of the city.

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, is shepherding the possible reforms. He described La Jolla as unique because its subcommittees “are populated by members of other planning groups.” The subcommittees work similarly to LJCPA in meetings, board membership, operations and review process.

Despite the reforms planned for LJCPA operations, LaCava said he doesn’t expect the subcommittee operations to be affected.

The reforms

Major proposed 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 said. 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.

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 LJCPA.

Current LJCPA President Diane Kane, a critic of the reform measures, said they would “decimate the subcommittee structure” and take away some of the local planning group’s influence.

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

“We would be running a separate but parallel project review process with no real influence except when filing an expensive and most likely ineffective appeal,” Kane said. “So what’s the point of existing? Yes, developers will be ‘encouraged’ to talk to community groups, but if they don’t have to, will they? Do we set up a committee structure to conduct project review in anticipation that an applicant might want to talk to us? Will we have to carry indemnification and liability insurance to cover our actions, even though we have no real power? Will we have to rent meeting space for applicants who don’t show up? Who would take that job?

Subcommittees history

The community planning process citywide has its roots in La Jolla, and the evolution of subcommittees in La Jolla stemmed from necessity over the decades.

Planning groups, established for residents to provide input on development in their communities, were formalized in 1966 when the City Council approved Policy 600-5. The policy authorized the Planning Commission to form resident organizations called community planning groups to coordinate and cooperate with city staff on planning and development programs.

“Rather than rely on trustees to be knowledgeable of all the different regulations, it made sense to set up these committees, each one with the knowledge of its part of town so it could perform thorough review.”

— Phil Merten

The first La Jolla Community Plan was drafted and approved the following year. In the first few years, a group called La Jollans Inc. reviewed proposed development for conformance with the new plan. La Jollans Inc. lasted through a few revisions of the Community Plan before rebranding as LJCPA in 1992.

The La Jolla Shores Association also formed in the ‘60s to make recommendations on items pertaining to that area.

By 1972, the La Jolla Shores Precise Plan, found in the La Jollans Inc. Community Plan, was accepted via resolution by the city. In 1974, the city adopted the La Jolla Shores Design Manual and the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance as the blueprint for the manual.

But an issue arose when it came to reviewing projects in La Jolla Shores.

“There are differing ordinances within La Jolla,” said longtime La Jollan Phil Merten. “The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance is a separate section of the municipal code with other design guidelines. The same is true for La Jolla Shores PDO; it has regulations that differ from the municipal code. So rather than rely on trustees to be knowledgeable of all the different regulations, it made sense to set up these committees, each one with the knowledge of its part of town so it could perform thorough review.”

In 1994, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee was formed, with Merten as its first chairman.

“Prior to the formation of that committee, the LJCPA would review Shores projects and the LJSA had their own land-use committee that reviewed Shores projects. Quite often in City Council meetings, the LJCPA recommendation was different from the LJSA recommendation. That led to some confusion having two different groups with divergent opinions. So the city attorney asked the LJCPA if it couldn’t form a committee that incorporates the LJSA so the community could present one unified recommendation on a project.”

Soon after, another committee was formed to review development projects outside La Jolla Shores. It started as the Coastal Development Permit Review Committee but became the Development Permit Review Committee in 2009.

The La Jolla Light offers this current guide to the many local organizations that help guide community life, along with their “alphabet soup” abbreviations.

The volume of groups was deemed necessary because “there wasn’t enough time to review all the projects that were coming through,” Merten said.

Other review groups soon formed, including the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board.

Other local planning groups, such as the La Jolla Town Council, Bird Rock Community Council and La Jolla Parks & Beaches, operate independently of LJCPA. ◆