The city of San Diego’s community planning system is intended to promote democratic participation in planning decisions. Unfortunately, San Diego denies equal representation to the military families in the Tierrsanta neighborhood.
Recently, both the County Grand Jury and think tank Circulate San Diego have pointed out that San Diego’s community planning process often excludes many voices. This exclusion runs counter to our common goals of fair and democratic representation. Military families living in Tierrasanta face a particularly stark example of this inequality, as they are explicitly denied voting representation on the Tierrasanta Community Council and Planning Group.
The Tierrasanta community is home to more than 30,000 residents, which include roughly 10,000 members of military families. Tierrasanta was established in 1971, and the current community plan was adopted in 1982. The heart of the community, the military, has been there since 1941. Camp Elliot was purchased by the military as a Marine training range in 1941 and was used until the end of WWII. In the 1970s, the western portion of Camp Elliot was developed as a residential neighborhood. Throughout this time, the military exhibited a strong presence in the community and still does.
The Tierrasanta community planning group is the official body tasked with advising the city of San Diego and other local governments about planning and transportation decisions within the area. Unfortunately, the bylaws of the Tierra community planning group explicitly disenfranchise military families who live in that community.
The Tierrasanta community planning group bylaws break the community into five areas. Areas One through Four elect 14 voting members, and area Five’s representation is appointed by the Village Mission Valley apartment complex. The southwestern corner of the community is made up of homes owned through a public-private partnership between the Navy and Lincoln Military Housing. This military housing area is known as Murphy Canyon and consists of 2,300 homes for military members and their families. The bylaws for the Tierrasanta community planning group provide these military families with only one non-voting representative.
The non-voting representative for Lincoln Military Housing is appointed, not democratically elected. This means that their representative can even be a non-resident, who may not even be an actual service member or a member of their household. The numbers are telling. While 10,000 residents of military housing have only one non-voting, appointed member to the community planning group, 20,000 other residents are represented by 14 full voting representatives. This does not pass the test of one person, one vote.
No other community planning group in San Diego County disregards its military members in the same way. Of the 33 off-base military housing neighborhoods, only the four located within the Tierrasanta community are set apart in the community planning group bylaws. The other community planning groups allocate seats by geographic location or census tract but make no mention of the military housing. Tierrasanta, on the other hand, not only mentions the military housing but separates it and takes away residents’ vote in the community.
Every resident deserves representation, and that includes the service members and families who make great sacrifices for the rest of us. Many residents of military housing have lived in our community for many years. San Diego has a proud legacy as a military town, and there are numerous opportunities for service members to make the area their home for their entire 20-plus year career. Even if service members do move away, many choose to return. Military families send their children to the local schools, provide to the local economy and add to the character of our community.
The Tierrasanta community planning group needs to amend its bylaws to give a voice to one-third of its population. The San Diego City Council should reform its community planning process to prevent this type of inequality. Military families and all residents in our community deserve fair and democratic access to community planning decisions.
Dustin Paredes and Eric Peoples are retired U.S. Navy veterans. Shawn VanDiver is also a U.S. Navy veteran and San Diego chapter director of the Truman National Security Project, which advocates for veterans in public policy.