The city of San Diego has stopped updating community plans because it has said it cannot afford them.

A community plan is a blueprint for growth and development in a neighborhood. It declares what kind of uses different pieces of land can have — whether it be residential, commercial, industrial or open space. The city of San Diego, because of its size and the diversity of its communities, has 52 community plans.

The lack of a blueprint means that some San Diego communities have gone nearly three decades without updating their visions for how they should grow. Additionally, the outdated plans have added to development costs, because additional council hearings and special permits are often needed.

In 2010, the city attempted updating the community plans for it Mission Valley area but budget cuts meant that the planning department couldn’t go through with it.

But work on updating the plans of at least one community continues. Barrio Logan, which is a mixed industrial and neighborhood area of San Diego has being working on a new community plan for four years. The update there has sparked tensions between resident and business concerns.

This week, we asked the city’s declared mayoral candidates to talk about community planning and what they would do to expedite planning efforts.

We ask them to address the following question: “Many community plans around San Diego are sorely out of date, which costs developers more as they try to build housing projects and are forced to access special permits. How would you expedite planning efforts?”

Carl DeMaio, city councilman:

San Diego is blessed with some of the best neighborhoods a city can ask for. Unfortunately, we have allowed our neighborhoods to fall into disrepair because of poor funding and management of our infrastructure.

One way to address this failure is to update each neighborhood’s Community Plan to reflect modern planning concepts, public input, and proper funding and management of community infrastructure.

I am proposing the creation of a Neighborhood Investment Collaborative (NIC) to coordinate our planning and redevelopment activities across the city in a more efficient and effective manner. I will make updating these Community Plans a top priority and will streamline the existing process to get these necessary updates done within my first term in office.

The Neighborhood Investment Collaborative, coupled with the other detailed reforms outlined in my Pathway to Prosperity Plan, will help us cut the cost of permitting, support affordable housing, and enhance the quality of every neighborhood in San Diego.

Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney:

Up to date plans for the future of our communities are good for residents, good for businesses, and good for job creation. I would task the Development Services Director with identifying communities with the most outdated plans and highest number of proposed projects, then aggressively seek out state and federal grants to fund the bulk of those Community Plan Updates. The City has landed some grants in the past, but planning efforts in many communities have dragged on. We need to complete the plans in the pipeline now, prioritize the next communities to tackle, and set realistic timelines for getting updates completed. Rather than approaching every community as a blank slate, we need to identify what is working, zero in on areas where land uses need to change, and expeditiously execute plan updates focusing on planning in a manner that respects neighborhood character and spurs job creation. It is also clear that CEQA reform is necessary. In fact, this week the legislature and governor admitted that large projects can be caught up in frivolous litigation by putting two new laws on the books that expedite the process of CEQA lawsuits. Community Plan Updates and General Plan Updates should be afforded the same protections.

Bob Filner, congressman:

The congressman failed to respond, though one of his campaign workers emailed asking about deadlines for responding.

Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman:

One of the things that makes San Diego unique among cities is the distinctive nature of each of our communities. We should work to preserve that distinctiveness and allow the communities to shape how their neighborhoods will look in the future. We also need to be realistic about how we are going to handle growth in our communities. The best way to do that is through an inclusive, forward-looking process such as Community Plan updates. To do so requires the City to have an efficient planning department capable of serving the needs of both communities and developers so we can complete as many community plan updates as possible. When I am mayor, I will be out in the neighborhoods, listening to residents’ concerns and working to ensure development enhances – not detracts from – the character of each neighborhood.

David Cardon, real estate broker:

The City needs to help developers instead of hinder them. Expedience for planning efforts by streamlining the process, training City Employees on all aspects of projects and permits, and having an open minded outlook for future plans. The only feedback that I have received from people about this topic is a NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE when dealing with the City. The City should be in the business of moving people forward, not stopping or hindering progress.

Hud Collins, trial attorney:

Recently the City Council has expedited the permit process. The idea that we will continue any building housing projects, without proper environmental impacts is ridiculous. Any building project has to show sustainability – water, etc. currently, any developers that want an expedited permit process, can pay an expedited fee! We cannot continue to build without being smart and serving the current needs/requirements of the people.

Sunny O. Enyoghwerho, businessman:

There is no reason to execute a building plan and abandon it for months, or years. This is another maladministration of the city officials. This is another way where the city of San Diego is wasting the tax payer’s money. It appears they operate out of impulse. I cannot conceptualize why the city officials will develop a building plan and allow it to be inconsequential. They should not develop a plan when they are cognizant of the facts that they were not ready to start the construction. Any plan that is created, should be accompanied immediately with a building project as soon as the plan is drawn. We should make things easy for our developers instead of creating hindrances for their operation. We should try as much as possible to eliminate anything that will slow them down. It is imperative that we build low income housing in the city, and we need to pave way for the developers by removing all the obstacles so that they could carry out their work effectively. If I’m elected Mayor of San Diego, I will be proactive in my operation. There will be no building plan that will be neglected for months or years.

Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist:

With regards to developers/planning hurdles,,the city has to tear down the roadblocks of regulations and legislative zoning ordinances in order to catalyze prosperity in san diego..we need jobs and property taxes immediately!!!!

Toby Lewandoski, computer scientist:

I believe that we need to readdress the community involvement in the plans of new developments, which will put a strain on city resources and neighborhoods. As of right now, we are in great difficult times, personally and as a city, new development and city improvements helps create jobs that we need. Special permits are usually for a good reason and help fund the city.

Zoning boundaries and laws need to be looked at and redone to best fit the city and the neighborhoods for the future. We need to increase the speed of approving building permits that meet all requirements issued by the city and neighborhoods. The way I would increase the process of approving building permits would be to automate many of the functions leaving time and resource to get inspectors to the site for final approval. It would give city workers more time to help the people with problems instead of waiting on-hold forever when you call.

Tobiah Pettus, unemployed:

The red tape will be cut. Current building permits take 1 year to obtain. That fact is a building moratorium and death to growth.

A booming economy is the end product of rapid growth. Thus, it is imperative that San Diego grows, and grows rapidly. San Diego needs to recover the jobs that have been lost. Building permits must be issued in under 6 weeks to achieve such a rapid growth state. Ideally, we need to even strive for a 2 week approval time. Special permits need to be shredded. Fees need to be dramatically lowered. And yes, there is definitely money for construction. National name brand companies are building like crazy… just not in San Diego. Throw the gates wide open and they will come. They will build. San Diego will be made new. The nicer San Diego becomes, the more the tourists will come. The more the tourists come… the more national name brand companies will build. San Diego will be made new and it will boom economically. As far as planning is concerned, developers spend millions of dollars on a product to sell. Developers have a plan and we need to trust and support their plan.

Scott Wilson, businessman:

I don’t actually know anything about your question, if I was actually elected I would have to put together a team to look more into them.

Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with through the nonprofit IREX. He’s working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at and 619.550.5671.

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