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La Jolla Community Planning Association’s diversity is called into question as proposed city reforms progress

La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees and others meet via Zoom on Feb. 3.
La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees and others meet via Zoom on Feb. 3.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The diversity of the La Jolla Community Planning Association was called into question during the board’s meeting last week, at a critical time when similar planning groups throughout San Diego are facing possible reform measures intended to promote inclusive representation.

LJCPA is recognized by the city to make recommendations to the City Council, Planning Commission, city staff and other governmental agencies on land-use matters.

Paul Jamason, a resident of San Diego’s Kensington-Talmadge area who identified himself as an advocate for affordable housing and safer streets, said at the Feb. 3 meeting that “there are issues with representation on these planning groups.”

He said the LJCPA board membership is misaligned with age and race demographics and favors homeowners when about half of San Diegans are renters.

“One of the things I kept hearing is that these planning groups do represent the diversity of their communities, and that is not true from what I can tell,” Jamason said. He questioned whether any demographic data was collected about the board’s current makeup.

LJCPA will have a board election next month in which nine people are running for six available seats. Election committee chairwoman Janie Emerson said the committee did extensive outreach but “you cannot force someone to be on the board if they don’t want to be.”

She noted that two renters are among those currently running for a seat and that renters are already on the board.

“No one is prevented from participating in this process; it’s an open process,” trustee Ray Weiss said. “Anyone that lives or works here can run.”

He said it is “flying close to the wind” to ask for demographic information. “The types of issues we deal with are of most interest to homeowners and less so for those who have a less-permanent connection to the community.”

The discussion came as City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, is working to implement community planning group reforms intended to make the groups more independent from the city and encourage inclusive participation.

Major changes would include revising council policies for community planning groups citywide. 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.

LJCPA board members have voiced strong opposition to the planned reforms. “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.

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

And some residents questioned whether people would want to join community planning boards if it is task-heavy, with “all the liability and all the cost.”

But some LJCPA trustees said last week that the board could consider a more diverse attitude even if a more diverse board is not possible.

Board member Brian Will said improving diversity is “a goal we should aspire to, but not something we should be graded on and condemned if we fall short. It’s a volunteer organization, so people still have to want to join. But I can do better … we all have to put our recruiting hats on for the [election] next year.”

Trustee Greg Jackson said, “I think we have to be more conscious of whether our unwitting biases cause us to pay attention to certain things in a positive way and pay less attention to things we should be paying more attention to.”

When a project comes along “with apartments at reasonable rates, we throw obstacle after obstacle at it and it can take five meetings, so we don’t see very many,” he said. “But a $17 million house with a golf course comes along and we approve it in two meetings. I don’t like that about us. We need to be caring about things differently, and that’s an obligation on all of us.”

Circulate San Diego, a regional organization that focuses on mobility options, including walking and biking, held a forum the next day on what the reforms could mean for community planning groups across the city.

“These planning groups are meant to represent the community,” said Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group member Dike Anyiwo. “Some communities are more historically commercial; that doesn’t mean there aren’t residents. I want to get a good representative balance of members on the board that reflects the makeup of any given communities. These groups tend to be non-representative and tend to skew toward older folks, homeowners, who are more established and have the time.”

“I think we have to be more conscious of whether our unwitting biases cause us to pay attention to certain things in a positive way and pay less attention to things we should be paying more attention to.”

— Greg Jackson, LJCPA trustee

North Park Planning Committee member Marissa Tucker-Borquez said North Park is 70 percent renters, with racial diversity and a median age of 35, yet the planning group majority consists of older homeowners.

But she noted that getting renters to join community planning groups is “tough, because renters are often the ones that have ... multiple jobs. You are really paying with your time to have your voice heard.”

She said removing the meeting attendance requirement to vote might help. “When people can vote, all of a sudden that barrier to power is lower,” she said. “How many people would vote in their local City Council elections if they had to go to three City Council meetings to vote?”

LJCPA requires attending one meeting in the previous 12 months to vote in a board election and three meetings to run for a seat.

Kane said a revised draft of the city’s proposed reforms is expected, but a date was uncertain. “It feels like we’re looking at a moving target, and it’s not clear how this is going to play out,” she said.

The changes were proposed after a report by Circulate San Diego was submitted to the city auditor in 2018, at which time the auditor recommended 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. ◆