At press time, it was unclear whether the document, known officially as the Ocean Beach Community Plan and Local Coastal Program, would have to be formally ratified by the San Diego City Council, which passed the plan in a slightly different form in July of 2014. But the Coastal Commission's action made it clear that, for all intents and purposes, the one-square-mile that makes up the community of OB has a new set of policies designed to guide growth for the next 20 years.
A community plan is intended to be a blueprint for the future and contains specific proposals for land uses and public improvements. The Coastal Commission’s action capped a 14-year saga to replace the 1975 Ocean Beach Precise Plan, the oldest planning document in the city.
Ordinarily, community plans – there are more than 50 of them in the city – don’t require approval from the Coastal Commission, which met this month at the Chula Vista City Council Chambers. Because Ocean Beach is located in the coastal zone, the Commission reviewed the plan to ensure compliance with state coastal protection laws.
When the City Council approved the plan last year, many observers assumed Coastal Commission approval was a foregone conclusion. Behind the scenes, however, Coastal staff had numerous concerns, and negotiations with city staff reached a feverish pitch as this month’s meeting approached.
These negotiations were productive – the number of differences had been whittled down from 30 to a handful, said Brian Schoenfisch, principal planner with the city of San Diego. But as the meeting began, the two sides were at an impasse. Coastal staff said the plan still lacked sufficient teeth in three areas: ensuring affordable overnight lodging, protection of environmentally sensitive habitat areas, and shoreline protection.
It became the task of the Commission to choose between the wording offered by the two staffs, who generally were in agreement of the policy goals but in some cases disagreed about such arcane things as the appropriate place in the document to include the language.
Plan proponents – who met before the meeting at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center sporting blue T-shirts with the message “Keep the OBcean Attitude” and traveled together on a bus rented by the Ocean Beach Town Council (OBTC) – were clearly growing weary of the exercise, and one after another called on the Commission to approve the plan once and for all with the city's language.
“It’s time,” said Mindy Pellissier, former chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB) who has chaired a committee to oversee development of the plan since the process began in 2002.
“No document is ever perfect. Delaying this further only hurts,” Pellissier said.
Local businessman and OBPB member Craig Klein agreed. “Harm results when we have to adjudicate development project decisions based on an outdated, 40-year-old document. Additional delay will simply allow for the perpetuation of additional mischief,” he said.
Support for the plan also arrived from District 2 San Diego City Councilor Lori Zapf and state Assemblywoman and Speaker Toni Atkins, who sent surrogates.
The document that finally emerged, after an extended discussion Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey would characterize as “tiresome … horsetrading,” reflected a blend of the proposals presented by the two sides but tilted in favor of the city's language.
“Sometimes, at a community plan level, I think we’re trying to get way too far into the weeds ...” said Commissioner Greg Cox, who is also a San Diego County supervisor.
“The city’s changes are reasonable and will still allow a fair evaluation of any proposal that comes along,” Cox said.
Commission staff offered noteworthy commentary but recommended no changes to the plan's most controversial element: a city process that allows variances to Ocean Beach's unusually strict land development code.
Throughout much of Ocean Beach, property owners must limit the square footage of a residential structure to 70 percent of lot size, or floor area ratio, a restriction known as the .7 FAR rule. Furthermore, 25 percent of the structure must be devoted to enclosed parking.
For years, the OBPB has railed against these variances, which have allowed four property owners in the 5100 block of West Point Loma to replace one-story, 1950s-era concrete duplexes with stylish, three-story homes.
The plan says the variances “should be avoided to the greatest extent possible under the law.” Proponents of the plank, who say the stern language is necessary to preserve neighborhood character, consider inclusion of the language one of the hallmarks of the plan.
But Coastal Commission analyst Brittney Laver said the Commission office had received several letters in opposition to the language, and further pointed out the Commission has favored residences built through the variance process.
“The Commission has seen several of these cases on appeal and found no substantial issue ...,” Laver said.
She continued: “However, as there is potential for public view impacts as development proceeds seaward, the Commission and the city will continue to review such developments on a case-by-case basis ...”
Kinsey tipped his cap to the blue T-shirted plan advocates, many of whom represented one or more of the eight local groups – OBPB, OBTC, Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, Ocean Beach Historical Society, Friends of the OB Library, Ocean Beach Community Foundation, Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation and Ocean Beach Women's Club – that had gone on record in support of the plan.
“You’ve done a remarkable job – you’ve impressed us all today,” Kinsey said.