By: Gary London
As Published in the San Diego Business Journal, December 31, 2012
Our new mayor is just now settling into his new office. So I offer up a few suggestions on issues in the planning, land-use and real estate arena that are in critical need of attention.
The key to all of the suggestions is the recognition that as our economy improves, land-use and growth will forge back to the policy forefront. For businesses and entrepreneurs to be comfortable to grow and operate in San Diego, they need an environment where they can expect cooperation in a reasonable time frame to build the structures that they will need. Moreover, they must have some assurance that there will be sufficient housing at decent rents and pricing to accommodate and attract the best employees.
Here is my partial list — mostly “meat and potato” things, not really lofty goals — that represent my top priority “to do” list for Mayor Filner’s administration:
The city planning/building departments need a top-down remodel to create more efficiency in the planning process. Even quality projects with popular support manage to get held up by the current system. This is not the fault of current management or personnel. It is just that most of the system is dumb because it is not purposeful.
Tear up and redo the city’s zoning codes. The problem is that we have piled on rules on top of rules to regulate a land-use pattern that is obsolete. In our new era of building up and not out, of mixed-use development and of reuse or repurposing of old buildings, the existing rules actually get in the way. We should simply have one set of rules strictly aimed at health and safety; and another set of general guidelines aimed at public policy. But we should work toward the end of zoning as we know it. Our current system has become so obsolescent as to be virtually unworkable by any of the constituencies, be they planning groups or developers.
While we have a general plan, we are far behind schedule in updating community plans. This means that most communities — and thus their representatives and citizen groups — have no contemporary guidelines or standards from which to judge. If we want good production at the community and grass-roots level, we have to offer up the right policy tools.
Encourage higher-density mixed-use solutions. This can be achieved through bonus and incentives involving reductions of parking requirements, or allowance of density or other gifts to achieve transient adjacent projects and other types of agreeable mixed-use.
Create a Master EIR (environmental impact report) and an infrastructure financing mechanism for redevelopment zones. The state eliminated redevelopment. But that doesn’t have any relation to the need for redevelopment. We must encourage redevelopment by cutting the long, laborious EIR process from projects that can’t afford it and will otherwise not be built. We need them to get built.
Approve a new City Hall. The current City Hall, at 202 C St., is probably the most unsafe working environment downtown. If our city wants to attract and maintain top-notch people, we have to improve the working environment.
Continue to push convention center expansion. It’s a no-brainer. It creates jobs.
There is a bigger list. Certainly others in the community have their own suggestions. We are at a community crossroads. What matters is that these issues are now more critical than ever: We are running out of land, which requires new forms of development; California has become a very challenging place to do business because of costs, taxes and our overall fiscal mess; the construction industry really must recover for the economy to achieve full recovery.
Our last mayor did a good job of stewarding the city onto the path to fiscal health. This mayor is gifted with the job of stewarding our city into a new era of responsible planning and economic growth.