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La Jolla planning group considers not seeking city of San Diego recognition in light of reforms

The La Jolla Community Planning Association discusses San Diego's community planning group reforms.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association discusses San Diego’s community planning group reforms during its Oct. 6 meeting online.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Two former Community Planning Association trustees argue that disadvantages of the new policy ‘far outweigh the advantages of city recognition.’

The La Jolla Community Planning Association is considering not seeking city recognition under San Diego’s new rules for community planning groups.

LJCPA currently is recognized by the City Council to make recommendations to the council, Planning Commission, city staff and other government agencies on land-use matters. The findings of community planning groups are taken as part of the development review process.

The City Council in September approved sweeping changes for the city’s 42 neighborhood planning groups in an effort to diversify their membership and make them better organized. But critics call the changes a developer-driven effort to squelch public opposition to dense housing projects.

The changes, which the council approved 6-1, will eliminate the ability of the community groups to appeal development approvals for free, critics say. Developers will be “encouraged” to meet with the groups, but not strongly recommended to do so.

Supporters say the changes will boost demographic diversity by requiring more aggressive term limits and encouraging the groups, which are now made up primarily of White homeowners, to recruit more renters and people of color.

Former LJCPA trustees Kathleen Neil and Jim Fitzgerald, who have been following the reforms and were early critics of them, analyzed the new policy for CPGs and presented their recommendation that LJCPA not seek city recognition.

“The new policy formally severs all official ties between the city and the now fully independent planning groups,” Neil said at the association’s Oct. 6 meeting. “At the same time, the new policy offers the prospect of city recognition to effectively reassert an unprecedented level of city control over these groups, including membership, operation and policies mandating collection of participating community member demographic data.”

“The city is trying to have it both ways: that these are completely independent groups but present a series of detailed and unprecedented requirements to gain city recognition,” Fitzgerald said. “Once a CPG meets the requirements for recognition, the city control extends into [requiring] annual reports. Contrary to the city’s intent, the added workload and loss of control will discourage volunteers to participate, and we know how hard it is to get volunteers now.”

Rather than apply for city recognition, Fitzgerald and Neil recommended that LJCPA “continue to function as an independent community organization offering land-use advice to applicants and the city,” Fitzgerald said. “We think the disadvantages, loss of control and added workload far outweigh the advantages of city recognition.”

The city suggests that applicants for new development present to applicable community groups in the project area.

Neil argued that “good developers will want community input” and that she thinks applicants still will opt for LJCPA review, whether it is recognized or not.

In support of the recommendation, LJCPA trustee Suzanne Weissman said: “I don’t see any upsides for LJCPA to jumping through the many hoops the city is requiring for recognition and to maintain recognition. Past experience suggests the city places no value on our input by overruling or ignoring our comments.”

Trustee Greg Jackson countered that “the assertion that lots of developers go around us is not [accurate]. Some do, but most of them come before us. The case that the city ignores what we say is also not true. The city agrees with the vast majority of what we decide. I worry that horror stories and worst-case analysis is driving this possibly precipitous decision.”

Trustee Mike Costello expressed concern about the “legal implications” of losing the directors and officers insurance the group holds with city recognition. He questioned how much it would cost to have independent insurance akin to other groups such as La Jolla Parks & Beaches, which makes recommendations to the city but is not a recognized community planning group.

Jackson said he would have “no interest” in serving on a board without appropriate insurance.

Trustee Ray Weiss criticized the city policy regarding demographics.

“We don’t vote by gender, age, race or anything; we all should get to vote,” he said. “This is a participatory organization that doesn’t exclude anyone, yet the city wants to hold us to statistics. … It should be voluntary participation. People that own land care more about what happens than people who don’t, and that is something you can’t get around due to the nature of what we deal with. I think it’s a mistake for the city to impose arbitrary representativeness that is not relevant to the decisions we make.”

Acting LJCPA President Bob Steck noted that the board has until the end of 2023 to submit the documents needed for recognition and said it would be inappropriate for the board to vote now. Rather, he said, it should continue the conversation at future meetings before deciding.

After the meeting, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla and who shepherded the CPG reforms, told the La Jolla Light: “I value the working relationships my office and city departments maintain with all recognized groups in La Jolla, including the LJCPA. CPG policy reforms maintain the integrity and input from the city’s planning groups in the city’s decision-making while operating within the legal confines of the city charter.

“With the recent adoption by City Council, the city’s Planning Department will now take the lead on communications and implementation with all CPGs. Ensuring adequate assistance is provided to CPGs over the next 14 months as they transition under the updated policy is a top priority of mine, and my office stands ready to support and assist as needed. We expect the Planning Department to reach out to each CPG in the next two months.” ◆