Board rejects report that planning boards cause delays in housing developments

The Carmel Valley Community Planning board is responding to a recent San Diego Housing Commission report that proposed disbanding community planning groups and replacing them with a citywide board as one solution to streamline the approval process to get more homes built in the city.

The report, titled “Addressing the Housing Affordability Crisis” was circulated by the housing commission on Sept. 9 and it includes solutions to meet a housing need in the city that could be up to twice as high as previously estimated.

The report states that over the past decade, population growth has averaged 1.2 percent per year – more than double the rate of housing growth at 0.5 percent per year. Housing affordability is also an issue for at least half of San Diegans— 50 percent of San Diegans can’t find market-rate rental housing they can afford, while 60 percent cannot afford home ownership.

To help the city meet its housing needs, the commission proposed rezoning to increase density, redeveloping underutilized parcels of land, infilling vacant lots and utilizing accessary dwelling units. The report estimates that about 40 percent of potential housing capacity exists within the neighborhoods of Mira Mesa, Mission Valley, City Heights, North Park and Uptown.

In the report, planning boards are cited as one of six challenges in the housing development cycle and “major deterrents to production.”

“They are saying that planning groups are an impediment to the developers and that because of the community input, there’s a timing issue that we create,” said CV Community Planning Board Co-Chair Barry Schultz at the board’s Oct. 26 meeting.

The report also states that “Community planning groups may not include the full spectrum of community views or technical professions that could assist in evaluating the impacts of development on the neighborhood.”

One solution to the planning board challenge was a community planning group audit or performance review to track average review time and approval rates. In that scenario the current community planning framework would remain but there would be process improvements such as clear time frames to drive “faster decision-making”.

The alternative that irked the board most was the proposal to replace planning groups with “a more centralized body that captures a diversity of neighborhood voices and technical professions in the development process.”

“San Diego could aspire to change its community input framework in favor of a single representative council or, alternatively, three to five commissions that are mapped along the basis of neighborhood and economic similarities” the report stated.

Schultz, who serves as the Carmel Valley representative on the city’s Community Planners Committee, said these proposals were discussed at their recent meeting.

“Not only was there no support there’s really some frustration that the way in which the community planning groups are portrayed is really unfair,” Schultz said.

From his perspective sitting on both the planning board and also from his time on the San Diego Planning Commission, planning groups have always been seen as advisory, providing the information and local input for the decision-makers on the commission and City Council.

“I don’t know where the report is going but I want us to make it known that community input is important,” Schultz said. “When you look at this report, it’s all about creating units. We just had a discussion about what the quality of life is in a community when you’re dealing with density. This report has no discussion about infrastructure to support that increased density, it’s all about making it easier for the developers to develop and not having a balance. I’m not suggesting that we don’t want development but we’ve got to think about the quality of life in our communities being equally important as providing economic incentives to developers.”

CV Planning Board Chair Frisco White said the Carmel Valley board has a reputation as a fair board and has very seldom denied a project. He said they are unique in their workability between the community, the board and developers, working to get the best possible project for the community, sometimes better than the original proposal.

“I’m shocked and offended that the San Diego Housing Commission would even think about disbanding the planning boards,” White said.

Board members like Shreya Sasaki said it felt “disengenous” to say that planning boards are the ones holding back developments, without a review of the overall city planning processes.

“There’s no comment on the role of the developer themselves,” echoed board member Steve Davison said, noting that in cases where they have had to revisit a project more than once, it’s because the developer has not come prepared.

The report did propose one solution to increase the city’s Development Services staffing to align with expedited permitting programs.

Board member Laura Copic voiced concern that a “centralized body” or council representative of several communities could really create a disconnect as it takes control away from the neighborhoods that would be most impacted by projects.

“When you look at some of these communities, some will be absorbing 10,000 to 15,000 units over the next 10 years and doing that with no community input seems insane,” said board member Ken Farinsky. “If you’re making that big of a change to the community you need to work with the community.”

The report does acknowledge that any community planning process reforms meant to stimulate development “must create adequate opportunities for community voices and concerns around development plans to be considered.”

At the Oct. 26, the board approved sending a strong response to the SD Housing Commission and the mayor to state that they disagree with the analysis of community planning boards’ role in the housing crisis.

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