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Proposals aim to sharply reduce communities’ input on major development projects

By Jeremy Los

Update Dec. 8, 2011 --After hearing a proposal yesterday to streamline the regulatory process for developers, Supervisors postponed a decision until Feb. 29, 2012.

Dec. 6, 2011- Local elected planning groups fear that their days are numbered, as the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will hear recommendations from the Red Tape Reduction Task Force on Wednesday.

Recommendations by the task force could greatly diminish community driven input on major developments in East County communities.

Brought forth by board Chairman Supervisor Bill Horn (Dist. 5) and commissioned by the Board of Supervisors back on April 13, 2011, the task force was instructed to evaluate the land development permitting process and identify any areas of improvement that would reduce both the time and costs associated with obtaining a permit.

"This is not about land use - it's about the process," said Horn back in March. "We want to streamline the process, make it economical, and get through the process faster."

However, not everyone is singing the praise of the task force. “This task force will eliminate or seriously diminish planning groups,” says Valle De Oro Planning Group Chairman Jack Phillips. “Every developer dreams of getting a project through with zero restrictions and resistance from local communities.”

While she hasn’t made a decision on the recommendations as of yet, Supervisor Dianne Jacob recognizes the importance of strong community planning groups.

“To me, planning groups are an integral part of the land use process and I take their recommendations seriously,” said Jacob. “Although the recommendations of planning groups are not binding on the County, I believe they are instructive and reflective of community sentiment… the planning group’s position is one of many factors I weigh in order to make a final determination on a project.”

According to the recommendations that will be presented on Wednesday, the task force will provide the board with two options:

Option one would be to modify the existing Planning Group structure by either removing community planning and sponsor groups from the County’s ‘umbrella’ and require applicants for projects to prepare a Public Participation Plan in order to inform the residents of the community of the proposed project. The public participation plan would include one publicly noticed community meeting to be held in the community.

Option two would leave community planning groups under the County’s ‘umbrella’ but with a handful of changes. The big change would see the amount of input and review put in by the groups greatly diminished while also forcing each meeting to have a senior level planner and County counsel present. The planning groups would also no longer receive free appeals to the Board of Supervisors.

“If this task force bears any fruit, you will see the county change dramatically, especially in the unincorporated areas,” says Phillips.” “Supervisor Horn wants nothing to do with strong elected community representatives in unincorporated areas.”

Planning groups are already feeling the pinch to some degree when it comes to the county gutting the amount of power they have. Though only advisory boards to the county, planning groups offer community insights to project development in local communities, insight that is sometimes overlooked.

“If we recommend something they want, they support it,” says Alpine Planning Group Member Louis Russo. “However, if we recommend something they don’t want they say that we are just an advisory board… they don’t have to follow the board.” Alpine has been the center of controversy recently over a variety of land use issues, most notably Sunrise Powerlink.

Phillips contends that for the most part the county does take into account what these planning groups have to say. “70% to 80% of the time we have a strong influence on what the county does,” said Phillips, who has been on the Valle De Oro board for 30 years.

That sentiment is shared by Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale who said, “In general, our comments are at least considered.”

Phillips points to the job done by Supervisor Jacob in dealing with the planning groups. “Supervisor Jacob has done an adequate job at listening to the community,” said Phillips. “She is always for input.”

Some are a bit tighter with their praise. “These boards were created because they didn’t want all these people to complain to the County,” concluded Russo. “We take the heat off of them.”

Editor's note: Ramona Patch has more on this, including formal opposition registered by two local planning groups:

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