Is This Thing On?

On Monday, April 26, San Diego's City Planning and Community Investment Department is sponsoring a "Community Plan Update Open Mic Meeting" in the Santa Fe Room of the Balboa Park Club from 6 to 9 p.m.

Collaborative Services Incorporated, a consultant firm located in San Diego, is organizing the open-mic night, which according to an email from Kristina Meek, a representative from Collaborative Services, offers organizations the opportunity to "share their knowledge and expertise" on the community plan updates in Uptown, North Park, and Greater Golden Hill communities.

While community organizations are encouraged to "share their knowledge" during the event, community leaders and neighborhood preservationists are calling the gig a "dog and pony show." They feel the City and their consultants are not interested in hearing ideas from the communities.

"The community plan updates for Uptown, North Park, and Golden Hill will define the new development for the next 20 to 25 years," writes Tom Mullaney, president of neighborhood preservation group, Friends of San Diego. "The question is, will these three communities be able to preserve the features that the residents cherish, or will their neighborhoods be bulldozed to make room for new high density development?"

Mullaney's assumptions appeared to be spot on when his request to present at the open-mic night event was denied by the event organizer.

Mullaney objected to San Diego Senior Planner Bernie Turgeon and chair of the Uptown Planners Leo Wilson, and he lodged additional complaints to City planners. A day later, William Anderson, San Diego's Director of City Planning and Development, responded with assurances that Mullaney and The Friends of San Diego will be allowed to present at the open-mic meeting.

Despite the City's capitulation, Mullaney and other community activists remain skeptical about the process.

"Many of us get the feeling that community input is being sought as a formality, while the City Planning Department and their hired consultants work on their design for our communities," writes Mullaney.

The Friends of San Diego will be the last to speak during the April 26 meeting. Here is a list of the presenters and the order in which they will take the mic:

  1. Urban Land Institute
  2. Council of Design Professionals
  3. American Institute of Architects
  4. San Diego Bicycle Coalition
  5. Active Living, SDSU
  6. Walk San Diego
  7. San Diego Canyonlands
  8. North Park Historical Society
  9. Sustainable Neighborhoods, USGBC/SD
  10. Uptown Partnership
  11. Hillcrest Business Association
  12. Community Gardens/1 in 10 Coalition
  13. South Park Business Group
  14. Friends of San Diego

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The Community Plan updates will be written by the city and their consultants. The communities have all formed Advisory Committees, who are currently being trained in the new General Plan. There will be a charrette in the summer, an all day affair, when community members may weigh in. The city will then produce and go forward with the CPU. The word charrette refers to a collaborative session in which community members redesign their community in one frantic day. Looks like we will hear from the bike riders and community gardeners next week.

Ditto on #2.

"Charrette" is also connected with carters and handcarts in French. A more amusing definition of charrette:

"de charrette langage" in French means "course language."


I keep hearing this word and wondering how or where it came from.

The etymology of 'charette' is from the French, for 'chariot', a vehicle that will transport something.

In San Diego, use of the charette-style meeting by City Planning and Community Investment and allied groups is such that the word deserves to have an etymology related to 'charade', as in 'a symbolic action' or 'an almost transparent pretense'.

CPCI/Planning Commission-sponsored charettes in San Diego's older communities are where the hopeful residents can be made to think they are participating in really, really wonderful things that will happen in their community. But what the City considers wonderful is increased tax base and development: the City's stated goal of the CPUs is Infill. Infill. Infill.

Note the top of the list of speakers: the Urban Land Institute. This group (http://www.ulisd.org/)is essentially the City Planning department, all dressed up as a warm and fuzzy "nonprofit": ULI's executive director, Mary McLellan Lydon, was recently appointed to the Planning Commission by her admiring friend, Jerry Sanders. The City's Bill Anderson and Janice Weinrick sit on the ULI advisory board, along with developers. The Redevelopment Agency (i.e., City of San Diego) is a sponsor of ULI, as are most of the developers and builders in San Diego. Lydon has a long resume touting her participation in creating the downtown PBID, in the Downtown San Diego Partnership, and in consulting for many developers and nonprofit groups in the formation of MADs and BIDs (she handles the PR).

Please attend the meeting and be prepared to probe beyond the warm and fuzzy stuff of the charade.

Consultants: Outsourcing is not cheap. The contract between the City and Collaborative Services http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/profiles/uptown/pdf/luhrmay20att8a.pdf for the Uptown/Greater NP/GGH Community Plan Update ("public outreach and facilitation") is for $725,740, of which subcontractors Warner Architecture & Design, and Translation Solutions, get $105,875 and $71,575, respectively, for graphic design and translation services. Can I get that handout in Arabic and Tagalog, please?

For a breakdown on the percentage of CPU funding spent on consultants vs City staff, see page 6 (in response to a question on page 3): http://www.sandiego.gov/fm/pdf/090430referral.pdf

The Collaborative Services subcontractor, Warner Architecture & Design, redesigned downtown El Cajon in 2005: http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050804/news_1m4ecmix.html It didn't work out too well: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2009/dec/05/el-cajons-deserted-downtown/ http://www3.signonsandiego.com/news/2009/dec/12/el-cajons-downtown-lots-spent-few-results/

Hire someone to update your community, and they will. They will never tell you it's OK the way it is, or that it just needs tweaking.

I was there and here is what I remember:

  1. NP historical Society gave a brief talk on the history of NP.
  2. South Park gave a bicycle orientated talk as their BID wants to be come a bicycle destination...
  3. Uptown Partnership gave a good talk on street parking: a. I brought up residential parking districts. b. I suggested the concept that business should be planning for it's customers instead of depending upon the neighborhoods to absorb their customers parking. c. I also mentioned that good planning required that future Planning should include parking as the "dream" of public transportation is not going to fill the gap anytime soon. d. I also asked how many folks took public transportation to the meeting, none did, to make my point.
  4. The AIA gave a nice presentation and estimated that another million folks would make SD there home in the future so "where are they going to live?" a. I asked about "scale" impacts of new higher buildings alongside single family residents. b. I asked about future Density impact on "our" environment, sunshine, noise wind and quality of life. c. I asked him about the cost of underground parking ( which he preferred) vs on grade parking. d. Another person asked about having public input into the design of the way new buildings look.
  5. A gardening groups supported more locally grown foods and local gardening...

All the best, and feel free to add to the above notes. Don p.s. Every time I ask the City to record these meetings and post them on their website, they smile and say it's a good idea, perhaps if we all keep asking for meeting minutes or ideas listed by Staff on the chart boards they will start providing some better meeting updates for everyone that cannot attend but still wants to be part of the process... having 40+ meeting attendance is NOT representative of "OUR" Midtown area!

Here is a link to another "related' story about another well funded group (WalkSanDiego) that will also "speak" at a future open Mic:


Founder, thanks for the report. The city CPU websites should post minutes of the meeting. Posting the minutes should be a legal requirement, as is posting the agendas.

There was a change of venue, by the way, following the publication of Dorian's article. Collaborative Services sent out an email on April 23 announcing that they "added a second Open Mic Presentation night. Some of the presenters originally scheduled for April 26 have graciously offered to move to the second evening." ULI was pulled from the single-day #1 position to Day 2 next-to-last position, date yet to be determined.

A note: the South Park Business Group does NOT operate a BID. There is no BID in any part of Greater Golden Hill/South Park (although the Golden Hill Community Development Corporation collects a tax from ~4000 mostly residential property owners and spends all of the money, illegally, just like BIDs do).

A Business Improvement District is a legal entity in which the City of San Diego allows a private group to impose and collect a private, additional tax on all businesses in a geographical region. The businesses must pay the extra tax when they pay their business license tax annually. No business can opt out; the City Planning dept enforces the extra tax and gives all of it to the private group.

The South Park Business Group would love to rule over a BID, with its guaranteed tax revenue going directly to the group. As of now, the SPBG is only a loose collection of some small shop owners, bar owners, and a few owners of the newer, pricier restaurants, plus the local realtors and PR people. They meet monthly and voluntarily pool their money to promote their business interests. If they succeed in getting the City to proceed with a BID formation process along 30th, SPBG could collect money from other businesses that do not NEED promotion, such as grocers (e.g., Gala, Food Bowl, and Miller's), 7/11, liquor stores, etc.

A number of the SPBG regulars are actually located in North Park, from the north side of Juniper up to Kalmia. Cyndi Meeves, of NP News, is now attending the monthly meeting. It has been noted that SPBG CPU attendees are suggesting in the CPU meetings that the "border" of South Park should be extended up 30th to Kalmia. Then their North Park business friends could be part of a voting block to enforce a BID on the largely disinterested South Park businesses that do not need promotion to attract customers.

As it is, the SPBG already manages to get small (~$8500) annual "grants" from the taxpayer-funded BID Council to promote themselves. They want much more: an imposed, automatic tax, without having to do the work to apply for grants and without having to explain what they need the $$ for.

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