City Prepares to Unleash Bill Fulton

City Prepares to Unleash Bill Fulton

Photo by Megan Burks

Planning Director Bill Fulton

The special election to replace Bob Filner is in its final stretch – but the City Council on Monday might quietly usher in a much bigger shakeup to city government as a whole.

The item facing the Council would re-establish planning as a standalone department, completing what’s been a foregone conclusion since Filner hired big deal-urban planner Bill Fulton this summer while also remaking the city’s overall bureaucratic structure.

The planning department was consolidated into development services in early 2011, in a cost-cutting move by former Mayor Jerry Sanders that saved about $1 million annually.

In a broad sense, the city’s planning department is in charge of drawing up long-range blueprints for where and in what way the city is supposed to grow: weighing how each community is supposed to look and feel, and determining what public investments they lack. Development services handles the day-to-day transactions between developers and the city, approving permits and reviewing plans to make sure they’re consistent with those long-term visions.

Basically: Planning makes the plans, and development services implements them. Since 2011, the plan-makers have been working under the plan-implementers. The Council can change that Monday.

But the Council’s actions wouldn’t just re-establish planning as its own thing.

The biggest part of the reorganization might be the reintroduction of three deputy chief operating officers, each in charge of a different group of city functions — infrastructure and public works, neighborhood services and internal operations. Reworking the city’s current framework to fit within those three groups would mean reorganizing much of the city government. The item facing the Council would also authorize bringing in a consultant to identify more ways to bolster efficiency within the city.

In justifying the need for changes, Scott Chadwick, the city’s assistant chief operating officer who will become the COO on Oct. 30 after Walt Ekard, current COO, leaves the job, offered a stunning admission of the city’s problems, which he said was a result of the reduction of senior management positions made in the 2009 budget-cutting moves.

“The end result was a reactive organization lacking proper oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars were being appropriately and effectively managed,” he wrote, in a memo detailing the organizational changes the Council’s face with.

The new organizational structure would cost $992,135 more than what’s in the 2014 fiscal budget, and would be paid for through various one-time revenue sources. The costs will need to be accounted for in the normal budgeting process in the next fiscal year, and the city’s independent budget analyst (IBA) said in its report it’s reasonable to assume the needed money will be there. Most of the changes would go into effect basically right away, beginning in November of this year.

Here’s how the city’s current organization chart looks right now.

OldOrg

The big change coming to that structure is the three new deputy COO positions, each overseeing a different group of government functions.

Here’s how that looks:

NewOrg

All kinds of things the city does are getting moved around in this transition.

Let’s focus specifically on the rebirth of a standalone planning department

Here’s how those functions are currently organized:

OldDev

There’s development services — the department that approves new projects — and it oversees both planning and code compliance, which makes sure properties are clean, safe and in accordance with the city’s municipal code.

Here’s how those functions will look after the change:

NewDev

One of the new deputy COOs will oversee “neighborhood services.” That’ll include stuff like Park and Recreation, libraries, arts and culture and the gang commission, as well as the newly separated planning and development services departments.

In addition to no longer being part of development services, the planning department — now called Planning, Neighborhoods and Economic Development and run by Fulton (and a new assistant planning director) — will also be in charge of the city’s economic development department, and the civic and urban initiatives department, a creation dreamed up by Filner to solve city problems.

The economic development function will also be in charge of overseeing Civic San Diego, the city’s revamped redevelopment agency, as it tries to finish up redevelopment projects that were approved before the state ended the program.

The new planning department will have a total operating budget of $24.3 million and include more than 118 full-time employees. That’s the size of the current functions, plus two new positions, one for Fulton, and one for an assistant director for the department.

In addition to long-range planning and economic development, it’ll also function as “the policy wheelhouse for all environmental policy in the city,” according to a memo detailing the reorganization. That means it’ll handle issues related to the California Environmental Quality Act, historic resources management and species conservation.

The IBA report on the reorganization also put forward a few suggestions to make it less expensive, in case the Council balks at the full price tag when combined with unbudgeted costs like the upcoming special mayoral election.

In its report, the IBA says it strongly agrees with the need to reintroduce deputy COOs to strengthen city leadership. The IBA even suggests adding another support position for the deputy in charge of public works, to help with asset management, “a key component of our infrastructure program,” its report reads.

The IBA also says it supports a standalone planning department  because “planning and permitting functions differ, and the larger permitting function has, to some extent, overshadowed the planning function.”

One result of that overshadowing, according to the IBA, is that community plans and public-facilities financing plans have fallen significantly out of date.

“Updating Community Plans and (PFFPs) is important since, among other things, they identify needed public infrastructure and community priorities,” the report reads.

It also says the new planning department is the right place to focus on economic development and sustainability.

The separation will “refocus the city’s commitment to the public goals of visionary, long-range land-use planning (plan ‘making’) from the goals of land development (plan ‘implementation’) which are often in conflict,” the report reads.

The IBA doesn’t have as many nice things to say about the civic and urban initiatives program, which is now being called the “Civic Innovation Lab.”

“We agree that implementing creative, innovative initiatives in San Diego communities could be a valuable addition to the city’s services. However, given financial constraints and competing priorities,” it recommends cutting its staffing from four full-time employees to just two — even though the group is already scaling back from its initially budgeted six positions.

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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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9 comments
La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage

Hopefully with new leadership the City of San Diego and Port of San Diego will confirm or deny active faulting in public State Tidelands subject to liquefaction from the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal north to Lindbergh Field. Hopefully one day the regional planners will set a new bulkhead elevation line liked they failed to do for the Convention Center and North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) area. http://dockets.sandiego.gov/sirepub/pubmtgframe.aspx?meetid=2145&doctype=Agenda Tomorrow morning at Closed Session the City Council will discuss "CS-3 Indian Harbor Insurance Company v. City of San Diego. U.S.D.C. S.D. N.Y. Case No. 12CV5787 (JGK) DCA Assigned: C. Leone. This case arises from an action brought by the City of San Diego’s Insurer, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, in the Southern District of New York. Indian Harbor sought a declaration of no coverage for three lawsuits filed against the City. The City Attorney’s Office will update the City Council on the status of the litigation and seek direction." http://business.cch.com/ild/IndianHarborvSanDiego.pdf This case involved the City's Insurance Company refusal to pay for the public sewer construction defect cases that create sulfur smells in the new condominiums along Pacific Highway. Our Insurance Company refuses to pay the several claims based upon San Diego's irresponsible handling and unreasonable delays of the pollution claims in a timely manner.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage subscribermember

Hopefully with new leadership the City of San Diego and Port of San Diego will confirm or deny active faulting in public State Tidelands subject to liquefaction from the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal north to Lindbergh Field. Hopefully one day the regional planners will set a new bulkhead elevation line liked they failed to do for the Convention Center and North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) area. http://dockets.sandiego.gov/sirepub/pubmtgframe.aspx?meetid=2145&doctype=Agenda Tomorrow morning at Closed Session the City Council will discuss "CS-3 Indian Harbor Insurance Company v. City of San Diego. U.S.D.C. S.D. N.Y. Case No. 12CV5787 (JGK) DCA Assigned: C. Leone. This case arises from an action brought by the City of San Diego’s Insurer, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, in the Southern District of New York. Indian Harbor sought a declaration of no coverage for three lawsuits filed against the City. The City Attorney’s Office will update the City Council on the status of the litigation and seek direction." http://business.cch.com/ild/IndianHarborvSanDiego.pdf This case involved the City's Insurance Company refusal to pay for the public sewer construction defect cases that create sulfur smells in the new condominiums along Pacific Highway. Our Insurance Company refuses to pay the several claims based upon San Diego's irresponsible handling and unreasonable delays of the pollution claims in a timely manner.

KatFerrier
KatFerrier

Andy, thanks for shedding light on this. Very important. And as of right now the Council unanimously approved. Would like to see 'Planning' explicitly convey Land Use and Mobility Planning to help make this connection. They are in there and need to call them out. Agree with other comments that setting goals and working to achieve these goals is an enormous missing piece to the puzzle.

Walter Chambers
Walter Chambers

Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Sustainability are intrinsically linked. I'm sorry that The City has apparently failed to see that inherent connection once again. Planning needs to not only have the vision, but also set goals, metrics, and implementation plans -- otherwise it's all for naught.

Walter Chambers
Walter Chambers subscribermember

Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Sustainability are intrinsically linked. I'm sorry that The City has apparently failed to see that inherent connection once again. Planning needs to not only have the vision, but also set goals, metrics, and implementation plans -- otherwise it's all for naught.

William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Bill Fulton's esteemed place in the planning community is well-earned and well-deserved, but I would like to see the new Planning Department work with neighborhoods and developers to issue identifiable and measurable goals to increase the quality of life. If the goals aren't met, then time to try something else. (More Master EIRs would be a good start.) If we're going to so greatly expand the city bureaucracy, then let's make sure it has a clear mission and is responsive to that mission. I hope Bill Fulton is the person who can lead that charge...

William Hamilton
William Hamilton subscriber

Bill Fulton's esteemed place in the planning community is well-earned and well-deserved, but I would like to see the new Planning Department work with neighborhoods and developers to issue identifiable and measurable goals to increase the quality of life. If the goals aren't met, then time to try something else. (More Master EIRs would be a good start.) If we're going to so greatly expand the city bureaucracy, then let's make sure it has a clear mission and is responsive to that mission. I hope Bill Fulton is the person who can lead that charge...

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster

The backstory here is a bit sad and instructive. There was once a robust planning department in San Diego. There was once a visionary City Architect in Michael Stepner. If you wonder, for example, how it is that there are view corridors to San Diego Bay downtown amidst all the high-rises, the fact is that they didn’t magically appear. They were planned. I recall talking to Mike 20 years or so ago about how the downtown was going to be a lot of high rises and he wanted to make sure that views were maintained among them. May other urban planners were similarly thinking about the future and how it would impact the citizenry. This story says that the planning department was consolidated into development services in a cost-cutting move by former Mayor Jerry Sanders. Cost cutting was a cover story. The planning department was eliminated because sometimes it pushed back against developers. Developers didn’t like that and they had the power to influence change. So a department that existed to help plan the city in livable ways was dissolved by Mayoral fiat and the only city department left handling these issues was a department that has existed, literally, to service developers. It would be nice to imagine that developers, even really responsible developers, would work in concert with each other to create a wonderful city. But even if they tried, competing interests would intervene. Whose vision would they follow anyway? Regardless, many developers simply want to maximize the value of their investment regardless of whether it has negative impacts on the city. For the average citizen, a well-planned city has innumerable benefits on a daily basis. Those include less onerous traffic, view corridors, walking areas, open space, and the like. They come about primarily through thoughtful planning.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

The backstory here is a bit sad and instructive. There was once a robust planning department in San Diego. There was once a visionary City Architect in Michael Stepner. If you wonder, for example, how it is that there are view corridors to San Diego Bay downtown amidst all the high-rises, the fact is that they didn’t magically appear. They were planned. I recall talking to Mike 20 years or so ago about how the downtown was going to be a lot of high rises and he wanted to make sure that views were maintained among them. May other urban planners were similarly thinking about the future and how it would impact the citizenry. This story says that the planning department was consolidated into development services in a cost-cutting move by former Mayor Jerry Sanders. Cost cutting was a cover story. The planning department was eliminated because sometimes it pushed back against developers. Developers didn’t like that and they had the power to influence change. So a department that existed to help plan the city in livable ways was dissolved by Mayoral fiat and the only city department left handling these issues was a department that has existed, literally, to service developers. It would be nice to imagine that developers, even really responsible developers, would work in concert with each other to create a wonderful city. But even if they tried, competing interests would intervene. Whose vision would they follow anyway? Regardless, many developers simply want to maximize the value of their investment regardless of whether it has negative impacts on the city. For the average citizen, a well-planned city has innumerable benefits on a daily basis. Those include less onerous traffic, view corridors, walking areas, open space, and the like. They come about primarily through thoughtful planning.