In the name of "streamlining," community involvement is being pushed to the sidelines.

by Craig Adams

treamlining is coming to your town - or one very near you. "America's Finest City" has a new official priority - a new vision. A vision that extends even beyond the city manager's "Sports Palaces for the Twenty First Century."

San Diego has committed itself to becoming "Streamlined." The city's top priority has become moving construction proposals out-the-door of city hall, as quickly as possible. After all, "time is money," especially in the development game.

According to the theory of "business friendliness," corporations will be beating a track to San Diego to develop factories, if only we can assure them one-stop, fast-food type permitting for their tilt-up building shells.

So, what about community involvement in land use decisions? Oh! Citizen involvement's being "streamlined" as well. But at what price?

Development decisions, once made, involve a lot of money over a long time period and affect our underlying quality of life. Some see "haste making waste" or worse in the whole streamlining scheme.

The steamrolled city

How will it work? The Streamlined City will operate without a planning director, without a planning department, and maybe even without planning at all ­ at least in the traditionally sense. If you believe the sales pitch, San Diego will achieve greatness by "simplifying the development process," by freeing the "community-serving energies" of the development market.

But the Streamlined City has a large and growing backlog of unfunded infrastructure needs, especially in our older neighborhoods. As the backlog builds, the city is reducing development fees and backing away from its commitment that "development should pay for itself." We are returning to a situation where the rest of us will pay for new development ­ even those of us whose own public facilities are lacking or falling apart.

Replacing community input with "the code"

The real plan for the Streamlined City, which is designed to supersede the General Plan and community plans, is the Zoning Code Update.

What's that, you ask? Never heard of it? The proponents prefer it that way. Besides, it's only an innocent, even noble, "streamlining."

The "Final Draft" of the 750-page, five-pound rewrite of the City of San Diego's development regulations, called the Zoning Code Update, will determine what gets developed and redeveloped, and where. It will determine the future character of our communities and, to a great extent, San Diego's overall quality of life. Maybe more than any other single document, the zoning code update will be the recipe for our future.

Community involvement takes time - which makes it costly for developers, not to mention uncertain (the community might even have some ideas about what it wants to become!). So, the thrust of the Zoning Code Update is to shift the decisions that have involved the community to the staff of the Development Services Department ("development services," get it?) applying the Zoning Code and working with the applicant developers.

Buried "attacks" in the update

What's in the Zoning Code Update's weighty package? The approach and presentation invites you not to ask. Aside from sheer eye strain, no real comparison is provided between what we now have and what the "streamlining" proposes. A 159-page, so-called Change Summary provides only limited help. With work, some of the particulars become clear, and of concern to our environment and our communities:

· Decision making is shifted away from the community and from points of community influence. Proposals to build automobile service stations, high on the list of what people hope not to be stuck with as neighbors, are shifted from the community-oriented planning commission to the desk of a staff person ­ with limited notice to the public and a very short time to appeal to the obscure Zoning Board of Appeals. Shell Oil must be pleased with the proposal. After all, what would we do without "streamlining" for more superstations?

The Zoning Code Update may seem dauntingly technical and even boring. However, it is the primary instrument to fulfill the City Council's mandate for greater "business friendliness." Certainly, the accumulation of land development regulations deserves clarification, simplification and updating both for the applicants and citizens involved in the review of development proposals. But does this particular package come at the expense of "neighborhood friendliness?" The draft is loaded with red flags.

These will be the rules of neighborhood building and environmental protection in the City of San Diego, probably for several decades. We owe it to the future to ensure they will protect our communities and our environment.

To learn more about the Zoning Code Update and to get involved in the upcoming city council consideration, contact Craig Adams, Sierra Club San Diego chapter coordinator at 299-1741.