When a Community Plan Isn’t Specific Enough

When a Community Plan Isn’t Specific Enough

Photo by Sam Hodgson

A view of Market Creek Plaza and the Coronado Bridge from 56th Street near Mchugh Street in southeastern San Diego.

 

San Diego’s system of city planning could be in for a significant change if a proposal to use targeted “specific plans” in economically disadvantaged communities wins City Council approval later this year.

The city’s overall, big-picture designs for the future of development are laid out in its general plan. Neighborhood-level decisions are made by the city’s 52 community planning groups, which work in tandem with city planners to create more specific community plans.

But now there’s a proposal to get even more finely tuned in certain places through the use of specific plans that would cover 300 or so acres in selected areas along transportation corridors in need of an economic jump start.

The idea comes from Civic San Diego, the organization formed by the consolidation of two nonprofit urban renewal groups that lost their funding when Gov. Jerry Brown shuttered statewide redevelopment.

With the help of the Urban Land Institute, a developer trade group, Civic San Diego is drafting a plan it hopes to submit to the mayor’s office and council offices by the end of May.

If the plan is received favorably in City Hall, the Development Services Department would begin drafting a staff report on the idea over the summer. Without major hold-ups, the plan could come before the council for a final vote by September.

If approved, the move could be finished in as little as 18 months after that.

What’s Good for Downtown …

The goal of specific plans is to dramatically expedite the approval process for developments — shrinking the timeline from as long as a few years to something closer to 90 days.

That expedited review process is often credited with aiding the redevelopment of downtown, which occurred within a specific plan drawn up by the now-defunct Centre City Development Corp.

Specific plans, in theory, provide developers with greater economic certainty, because a lot of the complicated work that goes into getting approval for a project is done up-front.

The process of writing the specific plan includes conducting an environmental review accounting for future projects, outlining design guidelines and defining density, among other things.

Once a specific plan was approved by the city, Civic San Diego would be authorized to sign off on any developments within the area covered by the plan. The approval process would likely only take a few months instead of the years it can take under the city’s standard process.

Backers of the idea say it’s time to replicate the process that worked so well downtown in other areas of the city that have been left behind.

When the council approved the creation of Civic San Diego last summer, Council members David Alvarez and Marti Emerald said it was time the rest of the city felt some of downtown’s prosperity. That sentiment has been echoed by some local developers.

“Subsequent projects that come through that process will be able to move through more expeditiously because it will meet specifications of the already-adopted specific plan,” said Reese Jarrett, a developer with Carter Reese & Associates who has advocated for implementing a specific plan in southeastern San Diego.

Backers of the concept also argue that specific plans increase an area’s ability to compete for regional, state and national grant money, especially for transit-oriented projects, like the $35 million of federal funding Civic San Diego won last week.

A Pilot Program in Southeastern San Diego

Civic San Diego’s initiative would begin with a pilot project along the Market Creek-Euclid Avenue-Imperial Avenue corridor.

The Southeastern Economic Development Corp., one of the nonprofits that morphed into Civic San Diego, used to oversee redevelopment in the area. The agency completed many different studies of the neighborhood that could be used as a foundation for a new specific plan.

Jeff Graham, president of Civic San Diego, said the area around Market Creek is a good place for a pilot program because of its proximity to one of the highest-traffic trolley stops in the city’s transit system, and because of its need for supporting infrastructure.

“Many people bike and walk there, but conditions aren’t safe because there are very wide streets, streets, narrow sidewalks and no bike lanes,” he said.

There are economic reasons for starting the specific plan program here too.

Market Creek is home to the Jacobs Foundation, a nonprofit enterprise dedicated to revitalizing the area, which owns roughly 60 acres of property in its vicinity, much of which is undeveloped.

Civic San Diego’s assets also include the Valencia Business Park and some affordable housing projects, stemming from its SEDC days.

“With CCDC, they had a streamlined permitting process for downtown,” said Cruz Gonzalez, the former board chair for SEDC who is involved in current discussions. “We’ve been pushing for this for quite some time, and my hope is we’ll get it sooner than later.”

Civic San Diego has already begun discussing the next locations it would like to pursue, assuming the pilot program proves successful.

Next in line would be along the forthcoming high frequency bus line servicing Mid-City along El Cajon Boulevard. The organization would try to partner with local Price Charities and the El Cajon Business Association, and the plan could also serve City Heights’ Centerline project.

Then the agency would like to put together a specific plan for the area surrounding the transport hub at the San Ysidro border crossing.

Treading on Toes

Civic San Diego’s ambitions for specific plans raise some complex questions that will need to be answered.

Right now, Civic San Diego primarily exists to wind down the city’s existing redevelopment commitments. When that job is done, so is Civic San Diego.

To keep the lights on, the agency needs to reinvent itself and becoming the shepherd for specific plans across the city does that.

But that new role could also bring Civic San Diego into conflict with community planning groups and the city’s development services staff.

And if any Civic San Diego employees end up displacing jobs previously held by city staff, the new setup could run afoul of the city’s requirements to negotiate with labor unions.

I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:

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Andrew Keatts

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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20 comments
Mary Lydon
Mary Lydon subscriber

Mary Lydon, Executive Director, ULI San Diego-Tijuana

Mary Lydon
Mary Lydon

Mary Lydon, Executive Director, ULI San Diego-Tijuana

Robert Leif
Robert Leif subscribermember

e City Council would have to decide what level of the Richter scale should result in an acceptable level of damage. Construction technology is a complex problem. Since wood is not a fire-proof substance and is destroyed by termites, it should not be used and the height limit has to be sufficient that economically viable building will be built by private entities.

rleif
rleif

e City Council would have to decide what level of the Richter scale should result in an acceptable level of damage. Construction technology is a complex problem. Since wood is not a fire-proof substance and is destroyed by termites, it should not be used and the height limit has to be sufficient that economically viable building will be built by private entities.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

This city is run by the city planners. And unlike politicians, there is no transparency there. They're owned by developers.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

This city is run by the city planners. And unlike politicians, there is no transparency there. They're owned by developers.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

Developers can streamline the review and approval of any project simply be designing that project to comply with the existing community plan. But that's now how the game is played. Most projects are brought forward with a request for variances and exemption from the current community plan, most often in the form of upzones on the developers property that are not allowed under the existing approved community plans.

Don Wood
Don Wood

Developers can streamline the review and approval of any project simply be designing that project to comply with the existing community plan. But that's now how the game is played. Most projects are brought forward with a request for variances and exemption from the current community plan, most often in the form of upzones on the developers property that are not allowed under the existing approved community plans.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

So talk all you want about community plans. In practice, it's a waste of time, effort and money. The city planners are going to do exactly what they want, no matter what's in your community plan.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

So talk all you want about community plans. In practice, it's a waste of time, effort and money. The city planners are going to do exactly what they want, no matter what's in your community plan.

Joshua Robinson
Joshua Robinson subscriber

Could we see some redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods that aren't just an extension of the downtown area? Sometimes it just feels like the developers ran out of room in the Gaslamp and would like to extend their reach under the guise of "community redevelopment." What about having some islands of redevelopment in other areas that grown and finally meet together?

hellrod
hellrod

Could we see some redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods that aren't just an extension of the downtown area? Sometimes it just feels like the developers ran out of room in the Gaslamp and would like to extend their reach under the guise of "community redevelopment." What about having some islands of redevelopment in other areas that grown and finally meet together?

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Great. Another government agency that was supposed to be temporary "reinventing" itself so that the money continues to flow into the pockets of a bunch of bureaucrats.

sdguy
sdguy

Great. Another government agency that was supposed to be temporary "reinventing" itself so that the money continues to flow into the pockets of a bunch of bureaucrats.

Barry Pollard
Barry Pollard subscriber

Let's try it, I agree with M.Emerald and Alvarez, it's time to expedite development in our communities. I also believe most developers would want the process of shovels in the ground to be streamlined. Marketcreek-Euclid could be a good start. Additionally a partnership with the Community College District and the Port District would be an interesting collaboration to develop a training facility in D4 to train folks for careers within the Port District. Good paying career jobs, anchor tenants for a potential educational-business park, and money, commerce within our community. Keep the ideas coming folks, and let's push forward with our community plans, and the critical EIR's!

barry pollard
barry pollard

Let's try it, I agree with M.Emerald and Alvarez, it's time to expedite development in our communities. I also believe most developers would want the process of shovels in the ground to be streamlined. Marketcreek-Euclid could be a good start. Additionally a partnership with the Community College District and the Port District would be an interesting collaboration to develop a training facility in D4 to train folks for careers within the Port District. Good paying career jobs, anchor tenants for a potential educational-business park, and money, commerce within our community. Keep the ideas coming folks, and let's push forward with our community plans, and the critical EIR's!