Planning groups may face new policies encouraging renters, young people, minorities

San Diego is considering fundamental changes to the city’s 42 neighborhood planning teams that would change the way the teams operate and how they make a critical contribution to the City Council before the key vote.

Proponents say the changes will make groups more transparent, better organized and less likely to oppose the dense developments the city is seeking to help resolve its housing crisis.

The changes are also aimed at boosting demographic diversity by demanding more aggressive term limits and encouraging groups, mostly white homeowners, to hire more minorities and more tenants.

Critics say the changes would put a strain on volunteer groups and create quota-like membership targets.

They also say that some groups, especially in low-income areas, could be overwhelmed and forced out of existence.

Some suggest the changes are being pushed by the development community to streamline the approval process for new housing and other projects, limiting opportunities for neighborhood opposition.

The proposed changes, which are expected to be put to a vote in the City Council later this year, have sparked complaints from the city auditor and the county jury that the design teams are unprofessional, unpredictable and insufficiently transparent.

The groups have also been criticized for trying to block housing projects very aggressively and for having stagnant members who do not accurately reflect the neighborhoods they represent.

Council member Joe LaCava, who is leading the effort, said he believes the changes will keep design teams strong and important, while also making them more representative, independent and accountable.

“It is a fundamental change in many ways,” LaCava told the council’s Land Use and Housing Committee last week.

Joe LaCava, a member of the San Diego City Council, speaks at the rally

(Rob Nikolewski / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Wally Wulfeck, head of an umbrella group representing all 42 of the city’s community design teams, said he believed the proposal was too extreme and that any problems with the teams could be resolved with more modest changes.

“The proposals actively deter long-term residents who are interested in their communities, but provide no incentive to volunteers who are supposedly under-represented to get engaged,” he said.

Wulfeck said many of the changes would be counterproductive.

“There are a lot of demands that are burdensome and in some cases really disgusting, but nothing precautionary to help anyone,” he said. “The biggest problem is that it is essentially severing ties between the city and the CPGs that have existed since 1966.”

Regarding the weights, Wulfeck cites new requirements under which teams publish their own meeting agendas, handle their own record keeping, and take on other tasks that city officials have been taking on for decades.

The groups will also no longer have the power to appeal against the decisions of the Planning Committee to the City Council without paying the heavy appeal fee required by everyone else.

LaCava and city prosecutor Mara Elliott say greater independence is needed for the teams from the city map.

MP Vivian Moreno said she was concerned that low-income areas, which are often ethnically diverse, could be flooded if they had community leaders who were less familiar with the new tasks and technical requirements.

He also noted that his district, South Bay District 8, is dominated by employees with families who will be more reluctant to join a neighborhood planning team if the time commitment is too great.

Heidi Vonblum, the city’s interim planning director, said her staff would be happy to assist team leaders with planning. But Deputy City Attorney Corrine Neuffer said such help could be a problem.

“The more the city is involved in their activities, the less likely they are to be considered independent and at some point there will be a turning point,” Neuffer said.

Three other key parts of the proposal aim to make significant changes to who participates in the groups.

Terms of service will be tightened, including the requirement that members who have reached the maximum — usually eight or nine years — are not eligible to serve for two years.

Requirements for serving on a group board and for voting in board elections would be eased to eliminate rules that say a person must have previously attended a group meeting.

Groups will also need to review their statutes to designate positions for tenants, nonprofits, and other organizations, and create recruitment plans to help fill those positions. The defined positions would be a goal and not a requirement.

Some members of the programming team described the changes as very extreme, but others said they were needed to make the teams more diverse and more reflective of the communities they represent.

Leana Cortez, a UC-San Diego student who attends design team meetings at University City, said the current rules are discouraging tenants, minorities and young people.

“This is not a lack of interest, it is about exclusionary structures,” he said.

But Mario Ingrasci, head of the Eastern Region Community Planning Team, said it was difficult to find tenants and young people willing to attend meetings.

“We would like to have new people and we would like to have tenants – we just do not know how to get them,” said Ingrassi. “We tried, but we did not find a way.”

Proponents of dense housing praised LaCava’s proposal.

Ryan Klabner, vice president of the Housing Committee, said planning teams need reform because they typically represent a small minority of the population with outdated ideas and priorities.

“One of the biggest challenges facing a fair distribution of affordable housing is opposition from community design teams,” Clumpner said. “They often delay, reduce or completely kill housing, especially in the northern districts.”

Matt Adams, vice president of the Construction Industry Association, agreed.

“We need to bring fresh eyes and new perspectives to the design team process,” he said. “Planning teams usually do not reflect the diversity of the communities they represent.”

Wulfeck, head of the umbrella organization of the design team of the Community Planning Committee, said that reducing citizen participation and inclusion in city government was not the right way to streamline approvals.

“My personal view is that most of them are being pressured by the Planning Department and the industries and organizations that benefit from mass housing development in order to quickly remove any community opposition,” he said.

LaCava plans to present the proposal to the Land and Housing Committee for a vote in the coming months. It would then go to the plenary of the council for final approval.

The planning teams will have until 2023 to start complying with the new requirements and policies.

Planning groups may face new policies encouraging renters, young people, minorities Source link Planning groups may face new policies encouraging renters, young people, minorities

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