By Jay Powell
Ed Note: SDFP asked the mayoral candidates to express their position on alternative transportation and mobility. Jay Powell originally provided this comment to the candidate responses. The emphasis on livable neighbors has a decades long history of community efforts–and periods of institutional resistance.
Livable Neighborhoods was a program piloted in City Heights in the early 90′s by then City Manager Jack McGrory. It was in response to a community improvement partnership of community members and the City to bring City staff out of City Hall and into the communities. It was complemented with Neighborhood Policing that had assigned teams cruising patrol cars and bikes and meeting in storefronts to proactively address issues block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood.
I remember attending a transportation and smart growth forum last year and talking with Bob Filner before the forum. Standing next to me was Mike Stepner, Dean of the New School of Architecture and one of the key members of the Mid City Livable Neighborhoods Team. We suggested that was a program that worked and truly walked the “neighborhoods first” talk, but was disassembled by subsequent City Managers. One of the key members to that team was Mary Wright, who had the difficult task of running City Planning after it had been reduced to a division inside the Development Services department (DSD).
Ultimately she was replaced by the Sanders apparatchik as they continued to promote more exemptions from community plans and the city General Plan. We lost an extraordinarily experienced and committed planner. Sander’s DSD set the stage for the Centerpoint and the second Sunroad fiascos and the North Park Jack in the Box faux “renovation”. They recommended building the Quail Brush powerplant on designated open space directly next to the Mission Trails Regional Park. They recommended supporting interpretations of the General Plan that would completely circumvent the 1985 Managed Growth Initiative that requires voter approval of urban development on open space in areas that had been designated as an urban reserve.
Those are just a few of the highlights. They had their marching orders and a direct line to the 11th floor to do whatever it takes to promote development at any cost. And some of this continued and came home to roost within the first six months of the Filner administration. Filner appointed Bill Fulton to head up a new department to reassert planning, neighborhoods and community economic development. It remains to be seen how this will work out.
Who is elected Mayor will make a big difference in whether we return to the development at any cost approach or an approach that follows the General Plan and takes us back to a future of livable neighborhoods where City staff work proactively with the communities to set priorities and carry out projects that truly benefit the public interests and common good.
Jay Powell, a sometime commentator to San Diego Free Press is retired from 20 years work with the City Heights Community Development Corporation. He previously served with environmental organizations locally and in the Bay Area. He currently is promoting cooperations to achieve local clean energy and managed growth policies and projects.