Ocean Beach, during the annual community street fair. The Coastal Commission has weighed in on a community plan update. Photo credit: blog.sandiego.org
Ocean Beach, during the annual community street fair. The Coastal Commission has weighed in on a community plan update. Photo credit: blog.sandiego.org

The San Diego City Council postponed action for at least a month on an updated Ocean Beach community plan – already a dozen years in the making – after the California Coastal Commission recommended 43 changes.

The revised plan, which covers zoning, design and community character issues specifically for Ocean Beach, is one of many for San Diego neighborhoods that have been bogged down over the years and are just heading toward adoption.

One recent update, by Barrio Logan, was set aside following an organized campaign by waterfront businesses that led voters to strike it down in June.

The City Council and community leaders, with the support of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, were prepared to approve the update at Monday’s City Council meeting.

However, the Coastal Commission informed city officials late Friday of 43 recommended modifications. Once the City Council approves the plan, the commission is one of two outside agencies that will have to give their own okays.

The city’s Planning Department will study the recommendations, many of which are substantial, and confer with the Coastal Commission before the item returns to the City Council.

A further delay is also possible because if the Coastal Commission changes are substantial enough, they may have to go before the city’s Planning Commission too, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

“The Coastal Commission, unfortunately, threw us a nasty curve ball,” said Councilman Ed Harris, who represents the area.

The agency’s recommendations include:

  • preparing for rising sea levels by properly locating new developments and avoiding new construction along the bluffs
  • creating an incentive program to relocate existing structures at risk from bluff erosion or failures
  • encouraging mixed-use developments with commercial space on the ground level and residential units on upper floors
  • requiring new developments to have setbacks and buffers when adjacent to coastal habitats, open space or park lands
  • ensuring new developments have adequate off-street parking, and
  • preserving public access throughout the community

Giovanni Ingolia of the OB Town Council said the community plan update has wide support among neighborhood groups.

“The Coastal Commission comments – I don’t see any problems with any of them at all that are in there,” Ingolia told council members.

Several other Ocean Beach civic leaders said they supported both the update and the Coastal  Commission suggestions.

A controversial element of the plan that was expected to dominate the council’s deliberations wasn’t even discussed because of the postponement.

The Planning Commission and City Attorney’s Office have questioned an element that would limit the number of variances to the plan’s floor area ratio, which sets the square-footage of construction projects according to the size of the lot. Exceptions to the ratio have been routinely granted over the years to allow larger structures, primarily single-family homes.

The provision in question reads: “Maintain the community’s small-scale character and avoid exceptions to established floor-area ratios to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

The Planning Commission proposed alternate language that some community activists fear will weaken the intention to reduce the number of variances.

Last week, the City Attorney’s Office said in an opinion that a prohibition of variances is best left for the municipal code. The council could choose to amend the municipal code to maintain the aesthetics of a particular area, but it would be permissible only if the standards of equal protection were met, according to a memo.

If the update is approved by the City Council, it would not only have to go through the coastal commission before it takes effect, but also the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

– City News Service contributed to this report.

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