Uptown Planners: Determined to prove they are out of touch with the needs of their own community

Uptown Planners is the community group that represents the neighborhoods of Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, Mission Hills and University Heights. They serve in an advisory capacity to the city of San Diego on all land use issues and development projects.

In the 1960s and 70s, the city of San Diego adopted policies to establish community planning groups. Their role was to:

provide citizens with an opportunity for involvement in advising the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other decision-makers on development projects, general or community plan amendments, rezonings and public facilities. The recommendations of the planning groups are integral components of the planning process, and are highly regarded by the City Council and by staff.

As we mentioned earlier this year with regard to why involvement at the community group level was important.

If you are interested in how land use decisions (including decisions involving when and where bicycle infrastructure gets implemented) are made in your individual community and you want to participate in the process of influencing these decisions, i.e. you care about where you are going, then you need to know the way to get there.

As an advocacy organization we understand the importance of civic engagement especially as it relates to the implementation of our own mission. On Tuesday, the Uptown Planners decided to disregard the needs of their own community.

On Tuesday, the Uptown Planners had two main items on their agenda of relevance to bicycling:
1. The SANDAG Uptown Early Action Project
2. The city’s first road diet to be implemented later this year on 4th and 5th Avenue from Laurel to Elm Street.

Standing room only meeting at last Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Anthony Bernal

The meeting room last Tuesday at the Joyce Beers Center was packed (it was standing room only) and most attendees were supporters for both of the above mentioned items on the agenda. Attendees were residents, business representatives and visitors who either regularly visit the Uptown neighborhood or travel through the neighborhoods that are under the purview of the Uptown Planners.

For over a year, SANDAG has been engaging the Uptown community to implement the Uptown Project – one of the projects that is part of SANDAG’s Early Action Plan. This is part of the regional planning agency’s effort to counter the legal challenges they are dealing with in implementing their very car-centric and highway happy 2050 Regional Transportation Plan. For nearly a year, SANDAG representatives have invited and engaged with all groups and constituents that would be affected by and benefit from the Uptown Project. To our knowledge, the Uptown Planners’ representatives didn’t engage in a meaningful way to affect or contribute toward the process.

Uptown Bike Corridor Meeting Attendees in July 2013. Photo: Flickr/OperaSmorg

One message that this process revealed was a deep hunger for a safer, saner and more inviting and humane street network to ride a bicycle on.

On Tuesday evening SANDAG’s Beth Robrahn presented the results of the community engagement and analysis done to date. Despite testimonies from the assembled participants that went on for over an hour with the majority supporting SANDAG’s project which included business representatives, Uptown residents and non-Uptown residents who regularly travel through and stop in Uptown, the Uptown Planners decided to vote on creating a subcommittee to study the project instead of being the representative group they’ve been charged with being. Rather than listening to the community and participating in the process that has been underway since late last year, Uptown Planners chose to ignore the process and their community’s needs.

Nationally, the trends show that 18-39 years olds are ditching driving and and instead opting to use other modes of travel such as bicycling, walking or taking transit. According to the Census Bureau, over 50% of Uptown’s residents are under 40 years of age.

This trend of wanting choices is reflected in San Diego where in the last six years, San Diegan’s hunger for options has been revealed in the extraordinary growth of low car households.

National trends, local realities or even the community voices were irrelevant to the Uptown Planners because they voted to not support or endorse the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor Project. Uptown Planners chose to ignore the community they were tasked with representing.

The second item was presented by city staff for the Uptown Planners’ informational purposes and the issue was not open for a vote by the board. The good news is that by the end of the year, 4th and 5th Avenue will be leaner and less terrifying to ride on. Buffered bike lanes (buffered with paint) will be implemented on 4th and 5th Avenue from Elm to Laurel Streets.

Statistics or facts brought up by this community member didn’t matter to the Uptown Planners.

When the Uptown Planners meeting minutes are posted, we will update this post and post the names of the individuals who voted to support studying the project instead of supporting it. We will also post our thoughts on the next steps that we need to take. But for now, if you live in the Uptown neighborhoods (Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, Mission Hills and University Heights.)- email your Council representative and interim mayor, Todd Gloria [toddgloria@sandiego.gov], to express your dissatisfaction with the Uptown Planners unwillingness to listen to their own community.