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La Jolla panel’s ‘yay or nay’ policy work in progress

Conditional OKs a thing of the past

Only time will tell whether La Jolla Community Planning Association’s recently adopted policy of giving only a thumbs up or a thumbs down on proposed projects — instead of adding conditions of approval —will stand the test of time.

The group makes land-use recommendations to the city of San Diego on proposed developments in La Jolla.

Several months ago at the behest of member Jim Fitzgerald, the group voted to discontinue allowing approvals if certain conditions are met. The action was taken for a variety of reasons, not the least being that it often led to burdensomely complicated recommendations.

“What we agreed on was a policy to do one of two things: approve a project without conditions, or if it was rejected, provide the reasons for rejecting it,” Fitzgerald said. “So far, I think it’s worked out very well.”

Fitzgerald defended the policy, saying it’s doing what it was intended for — streamlining the process and removing its ambiguities.

“The applicant is informed the project meets all the requirements, or if it doesn’t, they are provided with as much guidance as possible on those things the group based its decision on that need to be changed to allow the project to move forward,” he said.

But not everyone on the planning board is as certain as Fitzgerald that the new policy is working out or achieving its desired goal of making the project approval process less cumbersome.

“It’s good in theory, but in the real world, it’s fraught with peril for both the community at large and the people trying to negotiate the system,”

LJCPA Secretary Darcy Ashley argued. “It has created an untenable situation. There’s no predictability. It adds additional layers of time. ... All of us trustees end up hearing it (project) over and over.”

Ashley added that the “no conditions” clause was enacted to “try and cure frustration about follow-through at the city.” But disallowing conditional approval has hamstrung the group allowing “no latitude” in their rendering a decision, she said.

La Jolla architect Jim Alcorn, representing the developer of an existing office building at 484 Prospect St. who wants to turn it into a residential care facility for the memory impaired, recently appeared before the planning board and got an unconditional no to his project and was asked to return again next month.

Noting that the project has been through a revolving door of subcommittees and meeting with project neighbors already, Alcorn isn’t a fan of the group’s new approval process.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It just heaps gobs of time and dollars — because time is dollars — for them (developers). It would be smarter in the long run to have a positive vote with conditions.”

In the case of his project, for which he requested a conditional use permit, Alcorn noted “the whole nature of it is conditions.”

Association Trustee David Little doesn’t believe the “no conditions” clause removes all the flaws in the process.

“The purpose of the recent changes was designed to result in a project being approved or rejected on its face value,” he said. “At the last CPA meeting, the reasons for rejection were made part of the motion. This should not be done because the applicant will interpret this as if he/she makes certain changes the motion would be one of approval. Community approval with the changes may or may not be the case.”

Little added that determining whether the new rule has been effective “would require following up to determine if the rejected project was built as proposed or with the changes/reasons applied.”

Board President Joe LaCava said the clause is “still new enough that it’s hard to get our arms around it.” He said, though, that the new policy “sends a clear message” to the city about a project being denied and the advisory group’s reasons for that denial.

“It might motivate both the city and the applicant to work a little harder to resolve the issues,” he said.

Fitzgerald noted that the new rule is being applied on a trial basis.

“Our agreement was we would give it several months to see if it presented any unique difficulties, and then we would re-examine the change later this year to determine whether we should continue it or revert back to the old policy.”