Community plan updates help neighborhoods articulate a vision for their future. But they’re also expensive, inefficient and complicated.

That was the central tension at the heart of a forum I moderated last night before the Allied Gardens Community Council, which falls under the Navajo Community Plan Area, an area that’s perhaps more ripe for development in the next 10 years than any other part of the city.

Allied Gardens Community Council President Anthony Wagner set up the panel to help make residents aware of the process they’d be wading into if they successfully launch an update for the Navajo community.

But the discussion wasn’t isolated to a single community and its specific development plans and conflicts. It touched on a range of issues affecting the future of development in San Diego.

Here are the four most compelling ideas to come out of the discussion.

The city should take the cost of community plan updates into its own hands.

From Stephen Haase, a member of the citywide planning commission: Have the city take advantage of its state-provided authority to adopt a fee that could be collected to pay for plan updates. Develop a process that allows the city to update five plans per year, which would facilitate all 52 plans being updated roughly every 10 years.

“That fee, that’s been established, could raise a certain portion, say half of that, and the rest would have to be a commitment from the City Council to contribute general fund dollars, because planning should be important,” Haase said.

Stop spending so much time worrying about zoning.

From Howard Blackson, principal with PlaceMakers LLC: Don’t spend so much time and energy on land use maps that specify the number of dwelling units allowed on a given acre of land. Those measurements result in never-ending disagreements over density between residents and developers. Instead, define what types of buildings you want based on what’s consistent with your existing community.

“San Diego is caught up in things like density … and that has nothing to do with your vision. That has nothing to do with your … community character. It is a measurement of a number of units in an acre. The character of the place is what matters,” Blackson said.

Ignore traffic measurements that create pedestrian unfriendly environments.

From Michael Stepner, former San Diego city architect: Faced with the prospect of new development, communities often try to visualize developments’ traffic impacts by counting the average number of trips on a given stretch of road per day. Stepner said those measurements are misleading.

“It’s given us roads that are too wide, roads that don’t let us cross the street as a pedestrian, roads that make traffic move faster, but not more efficiently through a given system,” he said. “We’ve got to stop using those as the measurement of whether we like something, or whether it meets our vision or not.”

Relying on developers to provide public amenities creates unequal communities.

From Georgette Gomez, associate director of the Environmental Health Coalition: Developer impact fees can’t come close to providing the public facilities and infrastructure needed in older communities that have built up sizable deficits.

“I’ve been working in a community (Barrio Logan) that for a very long while, nothing was happening in terms of development. It was a community that folks didn’t want to come to,” she said. A solution to citywide needs is the sort of infrastructure bond that’s been adopted in other cities, and discussed locally by Councilman Todd Gloria.

I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at 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

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