LimeBike greases San Diego palms

Community planning groups hit snag

LimeBike scooters
  • LimeBike scooters
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DC undocked

San Diego, widely known for its hands-off policing of e-scooters, is equally notorious among medics and insurance companies for rising shattered bone and head injury rates among the daring who partake in the high-speed sidewalk sport.

E-scooters make Mayor Faulconer smile.

E-scooters make Mayor Faulconer smile.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, whose charity fund One San Diego recently received a $12,299 contribution from Neutron Holdings, the San Mateo-based parent of LimeBike, has been particularly slow among big-city mayors to address the controversy, unforthcoming with inside information and content to wait for the city council to further address the problem in the new year.

Interim City Auditor Kyle Elser has found that community planning groups’ record keeping is a total shit show.

Interim City Auditor Kyle Elser has found that community planning groups’ record keeping is a total shit show.

Meanwhile, other urban areas have been getting aggressive, opening their public records to scooter skeptics, and launching studies to determine just how bad the problem really is. Washington, D.C. is already out with audit results providing a decidedly mixed picture of the latest transportation fad. “Our demonstration period sought to answer a number of questions,” writes D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser in her introduction to the December 18 report. “Could people be trusted to use these new devices safely? How would the competition for customers impact Capital Bikeshare and other established modes of transportation? Would dockless companies increase mobility options for low-income residents and the unbanked?” The findings of the year-long assessment, which lasted from September 2017 through August of 2018 and included rancorous public input, were not reassuring. Though the District “required information on all safety incidents and crashes,” there was chronic trouble with “getting complete data from all companies.” Added the report, “Data compliance issues made it difficult to gauge the performance of the program at times and have highlighted that full and complete data is crucial.”

Bad e-fleet maintenance was revealed to be a problem. “Only 68 percent of bikes had appropriately inflated tires” which would “force users to exert more energy during trips,” the study noted. Seven of the 181 vehicles audited “were found to have deficient brakes.” Eight percent were missing rear light/reflectors, “a key safety feature.”

Planning in the dark

San Diego community planning groups, which frequently become bitter battlefields between real estate developers and homeowners opposed to boosting rental density, have been hit with an audit charging they regularly violate state and city transparency laws, among a bevy of other legal and policy transgressions. “We could not verify that members had not exceeded their term limits due to incomplete rosters and ambiguous guidance on retaining election results,” says the December 13 report by interim city auditor Kyle Elser. “We were also unable to determine whether renters, which we found make up approximately half of the community populations we reviewed, were represented.”

As a result, “there is a risk that renters may not be adequately represented” on the panels. “These issues are exacerbated by the lack of adequate oversight, guidance, and training on the part of the City.”

Regarding details of who is currently on the planning group boards, auditors say information was hard to find. “The City had 40 of 42 rosters. We found that 30 of the 40 rosters did not include the minimum information (start year of service, term end, eligibility category): 24 were missing the start date of service, 15 did not show seat or eligibility category, and 10 did not show the term expiration.” None of the groups “could provide enough past rosters for us to verify that current members had not exceeded their term limits,” per the report. “Furthermore, no groups provided evidence of a two-thirds vote for members elected past their term limits, and no groups provided election results to verify that vacancies existed.” Worse yet, auditors say, “we found that many meeting minutes did not consistently record the votes taken on each action item with the group members who voted for, against, or abstained on the item.”

Part of the problem is lack of public money, per the report. “Unlike other cities we looked at, the City of San Diego’s Community Planning Groups are operated by volunteers with a minimal amount of City funding or guidance.” Los Angeles, auditors found, “provides each group $37,000 per year and has a department dedicated to group oversight and management budgeted at $2.8 million per year.”

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Comments

What council member Scott Sherman directed the outgoing auditor to look for was resistance to development. He proposed consolidating neighborhood groups down to six so that, for example, people from Bankers Hill would make decisions about liquor stores in Encanto - and vice versa. That's fewer neighborhood planning groups than city council districts. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2...

So if all they found was that volunteers who donate time aren't great at keeping complex, pristine records, and they had to develop that into a narrative, well, duh. They'd find the same things in most volunteer groups and some city departments.

Under departed auditor Edward Luna, auditing staff seemed to be signaling they weren't seeing the irrational resistance to development that Sherman wanted them to find. There's a recorded meeting where someone from the auditor's office tells Community Planners their groups could stop trying to gather the mountain of records the office had requested - and now they're being criticized for not producing records!

Disclosure: I go to no less than 75 different planning group meetings a year as a reporter and am now on a planning group in my neighborhood. Our notes are thorough and beautifully written (not by me.)

Sherman's previous attack on the community planning groups got shot down last April, when the county grand jury found no evidence to back up his allegation that "CPGs tend to delay hearing certain items as a method of limiting growth in their communities." But rather than follow through on the one recommendation they did make that was in his control and could speed up approvals—to have city staff present at all CPG meetings—he keeps flinging crap to see what sticks.

If Sherman was serious about actually making things more transparent and efficient, he would try to get the council to approve planning staff are available to answer questions (as they used to before Kev-boy) and money for administration as the city auditor suggests. But he won't do either, because the motive for attacking elected CPGs are the same as for his attacks against public comment and removing dark money: a hostility to democratic process itself.

It's a good thing a politician who is so obviously compromised and biased is getting termed out, so he can be a developer shill off the taxpayer's dime. And a shame that's not what this story is about.

The audit of San Diego's neglected volunteer community planning associations will be useful only if the City will act now to shore them up with regular educational trainings and benign oversight and assistance. At present, community planning associations are toothless volunteer organizations of disparate elected members -- many of whom are realtors, architects, developers and lawyers with conflicts of interest. The City offers its community planning associations essentially no support.

Community planning members who are well-meaning do-gooders are often at a disadvantage compared to the pros. All attend one required cursory meeting to learn requirements for the job. They are never tutored on city building codes or what their own community plan may require, if one exists. Few pros or novices understand the rules of parliamentary procedure needed to run orderly and fair monthly meetings. Few realize the importance of producing and maintaining adequate meeting minutes or keeping track of meeting attendance -- which itself is required for membership, election eligibility and voting.

(The City Planning Commission, to which community associations must appeal in disputes, is appointed, but it is similarly heavy with professionals with vested interests in community development decisions.)

Here's one example of the state of things: La Jolla Community Planning Association needs to fill more than half its seats in the spring election, due to resignations and term limits. In addition, the group's long-time chairperson, Cindy Greatrex, has finally stepped down after years of legal delays before finally pleading guilty to charges of embezzling $68,000 from another volunteer community organization. (CPAs have no funds to steal.) Meanwhile, there isn't a tear-down and re-build at thrice its original size that doesn't get approved by the CPA. Just recently a three-story windowless concrete fortress was unveiled from its shroud on the ocean side of Torrey Pines Road. It obstructs public views of the coastline.

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