Who knew?

Nov. 15, 2007

To the Ladies and Gentlemen of the San Diego City Planning Commission:

As members of the Kensington community and more specifically as residents involved in the effort, we feel it is important to address the Commission on the issue of public notification that has occurred for this project. We feel it is important to establish some understanding among the various parties as to how it is possible for this many residents to have been unaware of the project until late October of 2007. 

 I. First, we would like to raise the following concerns about the noticing required of the applicant:Within 300 feet of the proposed site, there are a higher number of businesses and rentals than throughout the rest of Kensington. Since the Notices of Application had to go to property owners/tenants, it is fair to say that a significant number of those notified were not representative of the residents who are just now learning about the project and speaking out about it. Business owners, retail tenants, renters, and non-resident property owners would most likely not have the same concerns for the Kensington community as resident home owners. They also would most likely not have engaged in any kind of networking in the neighborhood to help spread the word about the project.We would also ask if there is a fair distinction to be made here between the law requiring that property owners within 300 feet be notified and the spirit of this law which requires that affected neighbors be notified? Based on the spirit of this law, there is no question that residents beyond 300 feet of the site are affected by this development and should have been notified.

 II. Second, we would like to raise the following concerns about the Ken-Tal Planning Group (KTPG) and their duty to provide information and encourage participation from the community. We refer to the city document titled COUNCIL POLICY which defines Standard Operating Procedures and Responsibilities of Recognized Community Planning Groups (CP-600-24).

 It is important to note that the PURPOSE of the COUNCIL POLICY document is to identify responsibilities and to establish minimum operating procedures governing the conduct of planning groups  (1). As such, the duties we focus on below are what planning groups should do, at a minimum.

 (Article VI. Section 2.a.i) Regular Meeting Agenda Posting: The KTPG does sufficiently post their agendas at 2 websites and at the Library. However, we feel the project in its current form was not on the Agenda in a manner that would have allowed the Kensington Community to participate. In September and October of 2006 the project appears on the Agenda, but at that point it only entailed the gas station site. In January of 2007, it appears as 2 separate items, Project #105244 for the gas station site at 4142 Adams Ave., and Project #115334 for 4166 Adams Ave. It was not until July of 2007 that the project in its current form, encompassing 4142, 4166, 4178 Adams Ave. and 4708 Edgeware, appeared on the Agenda. And, it was at this meeting that the group approved the height deviation. Then, it was not until October of 2007 that it again appeared on the agenda, and yet it was at this meeting that the group approved the project. There seems to have been no time at which the project appeared on the Agenda for general discussion by the community. To put this in some perspective, we wonder how it is possible that the agenda item to discuss the Ken-Tal Chairman's cell phone appeared 5 times on the agenda between Jan 2007 and May 2007, and this project, in its current form, only appeared twice: once when the vote was taken on the height deviation and once when Ken-Tal voted to approve the project.

(VI.2.a.vii) Development Project Review: The document states that It shall be the duty of a planning group, when reviewing development projects, to allow participation of affected property owners, residents and business and not-for-profit establishments within proximity to the proposed development.  First, we would like to make the point that the duty to allow participation  carries with it the duty to inform the community sufficiently so that there can be participation. Second, the duty of the KTPG to determine who is affected by this development would extend well beyond the applicant's legal responsibility to only notify those within 300 feet of the project. As our community planning group, their responsibility extends to the entire community, especially considering the scale of this project and its potential impact on the main street through which we all must drive to reach our residences. Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, there are actual reports by residents that they were not allowed to participate when in fact they did attend the meetings. Individual cases are not cited here, but it is perhaps something to be investigated further.

(VI.3): The document states that planning groups have the duty to periodically seek community-wide understanding of, and participation in, the planning and implementation process as specified in Article II, Section 1  of the same document. Article II, Section 1 refers to the planning group's involvement in land use matters  and their responsibilities to the City Council, Planning Commission, City staff, and other governmental agencies. We feel the KTPG has not made any effort to seek community-wide understanding of, and participation in their work to date on the Kensington Terrace project. The result of this is a vast number of residents who knew nothing about the project until word began spreading among residents in late October of 2007 after they had already approved the project.

(VI.5): The document specifically allows for planning groups to develop a policy for financial contributions from the citizens of the community for the purposes of furthering the efforts of the planning group to promote understanding and participation in the planning process. In a community like Kensington it would have been fairly easy to fund periodic newsletters or flyer campaigns for issues affecting the whole community. We feel the KTPG failed to use the resources of the community to assist them in their responsibilities to us, and instead acted independently and without community-wide understanding or participation.

(VIII) Planning Group Policies and Procedures: This section of the document provides that each planning group shall include policies and procedures that address five topics. The first topic provided is for Community Participation  and it suggests that policies include, but not be limited to, community outreach [and] assurances of seeking diverse representation on the planning group. Perhaps the KTPG has policies and procedures in place for community outreach, but we have no evidence of any specific action taken by the KTPG to reach out to the entire community concerning the Kensington Terrace development. Furthermore, that the planning group voted unanimously to approve this development, and that there is now a large number from the community voicing their opposition to it, seems to indicate that they did not adequately assure diversity of representation within the planning group.

(IX) Rights and Liabilities of Recognized Community Planning Groups
: Planning groups found to not be operating in compliance with this Council Policy document can be considered to be in non-compliance with the Brown Act. The document states that planning groups are encouraged to proactively cure violations themselves . . . . to prevent legal actions that would void planning group actions . . . . [and possibly] forfeit its status as a recognized advisory body and lose its right to indemnification and defense by the city. While it is not our intention at this point to report alleged violations by the KTPG to the City for investigation by the Mayor's office, we would welcome a response by the KTPG on their public outreach efforts concerning the Kensington Terrace project. We would also request that the Planning Commission void this planning group's vote of approval on the Kensington Terrace Project and allow time for the project to go back to the Planning Group with direction that they pro-actively seek community-wide understanding and participation.
III. In conclusion, as several of the Commissioners acknowledged at the November 8, 2007 Planning Commission Hearing, the 300 feet notice area did not achieve the law's goal of providing actual notice to those residents possibly affected by the project.  This, combined with the lack of notice from KTPG, resulted in a failure of actual notice to the community.  Once the community learned of the project, they very quickly became galvanized.  Indeed, the speed with which residents reacted is a strong indicator of the level and intensity of concern.  

Actual notice has now been achieved.  But now we are told that despite legitimate concerns, our input is not welcome because, according to rules that did not work as intended, we are too late by just a little.  Because of this application of the inadequate rules, our community must live for decades to come with a development that may be very bad for the community, merely to save 60 days on a project that takes several years to complete.

We again request a 60 day continuance to enable the community to narrow and clarify our concerns and to have a meaningful workshop with the developer to address those concerns.  Our hope is that by the time of the continued hearing, there will be agreement on the project, and no or little opposition.



Editor's note:

And before you can say, "You should have gone to the meetings", let us point out that the chair of the Kensington-Talmadge Project Design Subcomittee, Roger Utt, was absent for three of the eleven monthly meetings of the KTPC in 2007, including the fateful meeting in October when the board voted "unanimously", 9-0, to approve this project.  The board has fifteen members, six of whom were missing that evening, including Roger Utt.  He should have gone to the meeting.