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City Heights Grinds on Community Health in Urban Planning

The planning process is already cumbersome, but community health advocates are pushing for additional reviews that look at health in broader terms. That’s come in handy with the planning of a new skate park in City Heights.

Skateboarding, despite its reputation as an extreme sport, is apparently safer than football and basketball.

That’s according to a new report commissioned by the community group backing a new skate park in City Heights. The report also takes on concerns about skaters’ high rate of contact with law enforcement and how to bolster gender equity in such a male-centered sport.

Speak City Heights Drilling into the health benefits and implications of a potential development is a burgeoning trend in the planning world. The Mid-City CAN Youth Council began working with Human Impact Partners, a group pushing for such reviews for projects in low-income neighborhoods, on the health impact assessment last fall.

Their goal was to raise public support and money for the skate park, which has since received full funding through a state grant. But city and regional leaders say they’re increasingly widening the scope of their reviews beyond CEQA and its focus on air quality, geology and traffic patterns.

“There are more and more studies linking our built environment with public health,” said Colleen Clementson, a principal planner with SANDAG. She said the potential impact of a project on an area’s obesity rates – by encouraging or discouraging walking – are now as important to planning discussions as whether the development could add carcinogens to the air.

SANDAG has done two pilot health impact assessments this year: one looking at the 47th Street trolley station in Encanto and another looking at border improvements in San Ysidro. Clementson said SANDAG also trained two staffers to conduct health impact assessments and will include one in its San Diego Forward regional plan, which lays out how the region will grow and how its residents will get around through 2050.

Bill Fulton, the city of San Diego’s outgoing planning director (this is his last week), said his staff is working health impact assessments into the community planning process and the city’s pending Climate Action Plan. Fulton said these tools help document a broader range of data and the kinds of projects and infrastructure that move the needle on health indicators.

Clementson said the new assessments do add costs and time to an already long and cumbersome planning process. The trolley station report cost $80,000, the border report cost $110,000 and SANDAG has set aside $90,000 of its $659,000 environmental review budget to do a health assessment of its big regional plan.

But Clementson and advocates of the health reviews say they could prevent costly oversights in the planning process. The City Heights report, for example, recommends looking at the streets and sidewalks skaters will use to get to the park. While skateboarding may be safer than football, skaters can’t avoid the craggy sidewalks and busy streets that cause many of their injuries. That’s something that might have been lost on consultants or planners penning a traditional environmental review.

The California Endowment funded the skate park health impact assessment. The California Endowment also funds Speak City Heights, which operates as an independent news collaborative.

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