One of Mayor Bob Filner’s first priorities when he took office, he said, was to separate the city’s planning department and the development services department, which had been operating with a single director since a shakeup orchestrated under Filner’s predecessor.

Bringing city planning onto its own footing would help neighborhoods pursue big-picture, quality-of-life issues as they grow. Development services, then, could revert to essentially just approving various permits.

Given Filner’s desire to overhaul the arrangement, maybe the biggest surprise from Thursday’s announcement that Development Services Director Kelly Broughton was stepping down is that didn’t happen sooner.

Broughton told the mayor earlier this week about his plans to take a similar position in Chula Vista. He went public with the move on Thursday.

Broughton’s departure also gave Filner an opportunity to discuss his ideas for reshaping the city’s developing and permitting functions.

The new planning department, Filner said Thursday, will take a broader, more ambitious view of the neighborhood-level decisions city planners already make. He threw out “the department of sustainable neighborhoods” as a possible new name. It would focus on problems facing small businesses, economic development, historic preservation, design guidelines, walkability and bikeability.

His administration is in the final stages of vetting the new arrangement. Broughton is staying on for another month, then Filner will appoint an interim director while he searches for a long-term solution.

He said the development department currently does a bad job focusing on the uniqueness of projects that come to the table. Filner cited a recent proposal to build small public outdoor space in North Park.

“In North Park they want to take out a lane for parking, and remove that lane (to add) pedestrian things — café seating, parklets — and yet the first thing development services does is a traffic study, and the first criteria is level of traffic. Well, (the people proposing the park) want to slow up traffic. They want pedestrians, they want the small businesses to have more people accessing them. So the traffic flow is not central to them. And yet that’s how we’re oriented.”

Shortening the community plan update process, currently more than a three-year endeavor, would also be a priority for the new department, Filner said.

“Most of the plans that need to be updated have a few very key pressure points within those neighborhoods, where the development or the place with infill is taking place,” he said. “Ninety percent of the plan there’s not going to be any change. So if we just concentrate on those pressure points, we would get them done faster and cheaper.”

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 is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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