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Member Coffee Recap: Balancing Fear with the Need for Housing

Land use, a better way to engage with public officials and some love for Mario were all on the agenda at this month’s Member Coffee.

Each month, VOSD editors, reporters and staff travel to different locations in San Diego County to discuss the issues. Hosted by CEO Scott Lewis, our Member Coffee events provide an environment for our readers to share their thoughts and ideas about San Diego, and give us feedback on our coverage. On Thursday, we hosted September’s Member Coffee at the Leichtag Foundation Ranch in Encinitas. This is a recap of that conversation. To learn more about Voice of San Diego member benefits, please click here.

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Land use is a topic Voice of San Diego cares a lot about. That’s a good thing, because the North County crowd who met us for coffee Thursday cares a lot about the land use, too.

Housing is of particular concern to Encinitas councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who joined us this month to discuss how her city is struggling to comply with a state law that says all cities need to plan for how they’ll provide sufficient low-income housing. A proposition passed in 2013 requires all Encinitas land-use decisions to be approved by voters. Shaffer said the council is working hard to meet the state requirements by putting a housing plan in front of voters by November 2016. But it’s a tricky, she said, because people in her community bristle at the mere mention of new development.

Several people agreed that there’s a lot of fear and a hard-nosed “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) mentality tied to the unknowns of new projects, particularly higher-density and low-income housing, which often get a bad rap. No one wants new development to impede on their quality of life. But Shaffer said people should think about the quality of life for the folks who can’t find an affordable place to live.

As the population continues to grow, we will continue to need more housing. Change is inevitable. Shaffer and others said education and community involvement is key to getting the the kind of change that adds rather than detracts from a community.

Also in the realm of land use, we touched briefly on concerns over a proposed sand-mining project in East County, a topic VOSD’s Ry Rivard covered last month, and a few folks said they enjoyed Maya Srikrishnan’s profile of Solana Beach’s new planning director. (Srikrishnan is new to VOSD and has been focusing on land-use issues outside the city of San Diego).

Scott Lewis also tipped people off to VOSD’s latest land-use investigation into how a plot of public land in Imperial Valley was handed over to a powerful family after they used an environmental law to sue over a major solar project, but then settled and allowed the developers to move forward without any changes to make the project more environmentally friendly.

 A Better Way to Engage

Most people’s introduction to civic engagement includes attending a public meeting where community members are invited up to a microphone and given three minutes to rant about whatever subject they want.

One member brought up a new civic-engagement group called San Diego Deliberation Network. She said the group, which meets monthly, includes professors from each of the major universities and community colleges. Their goal is to get community members to hold fact-based discussions where they can get to the heart of the problems and come up with real-world solutions by ultimately engaging elected officials.

In other words, goodbye three-minute rant-a-thons and hello to a much better, more effective way to engage with public officials.

Moving on Up

About three-fourths of the folks at Member Coffee raised their hands when Scott asked who’s already getting our new North County Report.

Scott then asked members what they think about the current state of the media coverage in North County – what’s changed since the North County Times left and what needs to be done?

People mentioned the Seaside Courier and other community newspapers, but said there’s still a hole that needs to be filled in terms of serious, investigative coverage of North County.

One member said he wanted more point-counterpoint opinion pieces along with unbiased reporting so he could get a better feel for both sides of a story.

Love for Mario

At the very start of the meeting, a gentlemen thanked us for Mario Koran’s ongoing coverage of the ordeal surrounding San Diego Unified board president Marne Foster. Here’s what he had to say:

“I love Mario, so my only question is what is it going to take for Marne Foster to resign?”

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