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Don’t Block Civic San Diego’s Process and Progress

Instead of trying to take what Civic San Diego does right and replicate it to benefit other urban neighborhoods, Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 504 will upend Civic San Diego’s whole permitting process, adding unnecessary layers of bureaucracy while creating uncertainty.

For years, Civic San Diego has been held up as the model of government efficiency when it comes to approving development projects.

In fact, as Andrew Keatts found, Civic San Diego issued permits more than twice as fast as the city of San Diego’s Development Services Department.

This efficiency is critical because delay can kill development projects. Developers and investors are making big bets when they build projects. They need to be sure the process works well and quickly. But it’s not just developers who benefit from a more streamlined and efficient process. More approved projects translates into more construction jobs created, more tax dollars generated and more investment in our local economy.

So the fact that Civic San Diego is able to move projects along at a steady clip should be considered a good thing, right?

Apparently not.

Instead of trying to take what Civic San Diego does right and replicate it to benefit other urban neighborhoods, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has proposed AB 504, a bill called Local Government Accountability for Planning, Zoning and Permitting.

While AB 504 promises “accountability,” it actually upends Civic San Diego’s whole permitting process, adding unnecessary layers of bureaucracy while creating uncertainty that could scare off developers and inhibit investment. In short, AB 504 is not just a solution in search of a problem – it’s a problem, and a big one for anyone who cares about revitalizing our older neighborhoods.

With the death of redevelopment, Civic San Diego has worked hard to establish programs and funding sources to reinvest not only in downtown, but also in City Heights and Encanto.

Civic San Diego’s efforts have reaped huge dividends, as it has been able to secure some $58 million in new markets tax credits, which have helped fund such important community projects as the new YMCA in City Heights.

But AB 504 seeks to undo those efforts by making it more difficult to have projects move forward by requiring the City Council to weigh in on every project.

Gonzalez’s claim is that, under the current system, residents have little say or recourse if they don’t agree with the direction Civic San Diego is taking on a project.

But that argument belies the very reason why Civic San Diego has been so successful downtown. Civic San Diego has been able to streamline the process, not because it has sidestepped the community, but rather because it worked closely with the community to develop its community plan. Because of this input and collaboration, there are very clear rules about what projects should be approved and how – including the requirement that every project go before the Downtown Community Planning Council.

AB 504 removes that certainty and replaces it with politics, flying in the face of what the downtown community has identified as priorities for its neighborhoods.

It also undercuts the work Civic San Diego is currently doing to help community planning groups in Encanto and City Heights identify their priorities so they, too, can update their community plans and benefit from a streamlined and sensible permitting process.

Civic San Diego is, of course, not only accountable to those communities through its planning process. The group is also under the oversight of the city’s Economic Development Department and Civic San Diego’s board of directors serve at the pleasure of the mayor and City Council.

It is clear that AB 504 has nothing to do with accountability. Rather it is just another example of government letting some ill-conceived notion of process get in the way of real progress.

Kris Michell is president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, and Jerry Sanders is president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Michell and Sanders’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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