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Community planning boards ignored by City Council

The San Diego City Council made a mockery of the city’s planning process when it approved the controversial One Paseo project this week over the objections of four community planning boards.

Elected by their communities, these volunteer citizen boards have served the City Council and Planning Commission in an advisory capacity since 1966.

Shrugging off their recommendations, the City Council bowed to developer Kilroy Properties and approved the massive One Paseo Project in Carmel Valley. Council members rejected an alternative plan offered by the Carmel Valley Board, accepting a flawed EIR, and in the process, redefined the meaning of “transit-oriented” projects.

In a surreal hour of nighttime deliberation after a grueling day of public testimony,

Council members David Alvarez and Todd Gloria, pursuing their own Machiavellian agendas, turned the term “transit-oriented development” into a laugh line.

Under this new definition, shuttle busses are transit; synchronized lights are the traffic fix de rigueur for 23,000 added car trips a day; and slick presentations, mailers and citywide petition-gathering constitutes community engagement.

Only Council President Sherri Lightner and Council President Pro-Temp Marti Emerald grasped the inappropriateness of the project for the area and the dysfunctional planning process that led to this utterly avoidable confrontation at City Hall.

The council hearing on One Paseo played to a sold-out crowd, the overflow filling Golden Hall.

But it was clear during their deliberations that council members were merely going through the motions of listening to the articulate positions of all four planning boards, city of Del Mar and Solana Beach officials, school board members, a current and former county supervisor and a respectful Carmel Valley crowd, many of them first-timers at City Hall.

The audience was not amused.

The project approved by the City Council will stuff a project the size of the 73-acre University Town Center into 23 acres, dwarfing the current community civic center and neighboring homes with nine- and six-story buildings.

There is no fixed rail or bus route anywhere near the site, only entrances and egresses for cars. The increase in traffic will necessitate widening Del Mar Heights Road to nine lanes, and adding a lane to a street inside a quiet neighborhood to handle, you guessed it, more cars.

The description of this project as a transit-oriented and bike-friendly development would be comic if it was not so devastating to the neighbors.

The exercise was demoralizing for the Carmel Valley Planning Board and the activist group What Price Main Street, which had done yeoman’s work over many years trying to work with Kilroy to produce a mixed-use project in proportion with the neighborhood. That effort fell on deaf ears.

The Del Mar Mesa, Torrey Hills and Torrey Pines Planning Boards, whose communities will also be affected, were completely shut out of the planning process.

Kilroy claims that it responded to community input by reducing the project’s size, which is like Godzilla downing diet drinks on its way to Tokyo.

Had there been a serious planning process that engaged all the stakeholders, the confrontation at City Hall would have been avoided. City planning boards have a distinguished record of working with developers and property owners, producing better projects and a smoother approval process.

The One Paseo decision has led quite a few who volunteer voluminous amounts of time serving on planning boards to seriously wonder why they even bother. I suppose it is because what the city says on its website seems sincere:

“The recommendations of the planning groups are integral components of the planning process, and are highly regarded by the City Council and by staff.”

Add that to the list of unfunny jokes delivered by the San Diego City Council last Monday night to the Carmel Valley, Del Mar Mesa, Torrey Hills, Torrey Pines and 39 other city planning boards.

Ross is a writer, member of the Del Mar Mesa Planning Board and former member of the Carmel Valley Planning Board.

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