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The city is hoping to get a three-for-one deal as the neighborhoods that make up its urban core update their land-use policies.

Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill are each in the process of rewriting their community plans, the documents that serve as a blueprint for future growth in each of the city’s 50-some designated areas.

And since the three communities are adjacent to one another, the city’s development services department has begun ushering them through the process together. Ideally, treating the three communities as a cluster will eliminate redundant spending on consultants or public meetings (updating each community plan costs between $1 million and $4 million).

But the elected community groups largely responsible for the updates are hesitant, fearing that it could hinder their autonomy.

“This effort was an attempt to cluster the plan update work program for three communities with overlapping issues and common boundaries,” Kelly Broughton, director of the city’s development services department, wrote in a December report to the city’s planning commission. “The end result will be the updating of the three separate community plans.”

Broughton’s presentation, meant to brief the planning commission on the progress of each community update, specified a few areas where the communities’ priorities overlap: public facilities and infrastructure, mobility options, preservation and sustainability.

“The city is walking a delicate balance that there are issues where, for information-gathering, it’s best to bundle them together, but they also want to recognize that each community is different,” said Joe Lacava, chairman of the Community Planners Committee, which coordinates dialogue and support among the city’s planning groups.

Vicki Granowitz, chairwoman of the North Park Planning Committee, said she isn’t convinced the city’s really attempted to update the plans as a cluster in the first place.

“When they did a workshop on historic preservation, it wasn’t a joint meeting, but a city staff in one room with different community groups taking turns going in and out,” she said. “I don’t know what it did, but it certainly didn’t help move any of our community plan updates.”

Granowitz, who also used to chair the Balboa Park Committee, said her group got tired of waiting on the city when it seemed the process had slowed to a halt. It began doing things backward, writing its own drafts of pieces needed in community plans and handing them to the city for expert review. Her group has completed early stage drafts of mobility and sustainability plans.

“It really might have worked, but there was so much chaos and change in the city, and issues with the economy and Mayor (Jerry) Sanders focusing on other things,” she said. “To make that work, you have to have staff that know what they’re doing, and support from the administration behind them. In theory it has merit.”

Beth Jaworski, chairwoman of the Uptown Planners, said she keeps in close communication with her counterparts in North Park.

“We have communication with the boards and chairs, but I don’t see as much in the way of communications between the city staff assigned to each of the planning groups.”

Leo Wilson chaired the Uptown Planners for seven and a half years before he was termed out. He’s considering returning to the board when he’s eligible again in a few months. He’s not persuaded the city can effectively give each community the autonomy it needs.

“The destiny of my community of Bankers Hill is very different than North Park. I’m not sure what the unifying characteristic would be.”

But the city’s approach shouldn’t create a sense that the communities will end up with homogenized plans, Lacava said.

“Clustering community groups applies more to technical analysis, rather than the community meetings,” he said.

At the onset of a community plan update, long before the city produces a new map outlining future land use distinctions or updates public facility needs, the planning group holds meetings with residents, businesses and others to establish priorities.

City planners conduct technical studies at the same time to inform the process.

Every community needs to conduct a traffic study. The information helps coordinate where to target commercial growth or residential density.

But traffic patterns don’t dramatically change the moment one passes from North Park to Hillcrest along University Avenue, or when North Park becomes Golden Hill on 30th Street.

So the city is looking to save money by having one contracted traffic engineer conduct a single analysis that would apply to all three areas.

And because the consolidated effort was largely done by experts behind closed doors, community groups wouldn’t necessarily be aware it was taking place.

It’s a safe bet that bundling those technical studies saves the city money, Lacava said, though he wasn’t certain whether that meant a few thousand dollars or hundred thousand.

The mayor’s office didn’t respond to interview requests.

Regardless, Broughton’s development services department will soon surrender its authority over the community plan process.

Mayor Bob Filner intends to re-establish the development and planning departments as separate entities.

The plan hasn’t taken shape yet. But whoever leads the reconfigured planning department must eventually decide whether clustering adjacent communities during the update process is worth the potential savings.

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

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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