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Does Panel Have Too Narrow a View of Downtown Planning?

When it comes to community advisory groups, the Centre City Planning Committee (CCPC) could outwrestle them all with its political muscle.

Appointed in 1987 by the San Diego City Council, the 25-member panel was charged with developing a 20-year master plan for downtown that would accommodate the desires of a broad range of interest groups.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 03, 1989 Dirk Sutro / Architecture By DIRK SUTRO
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 3, 1989 San Diego County Edition View Part 5 Page 7 Column 2 Metro Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction; Column
CORRECTION: In last week’s column on the Centre City Planning Committee, banker Bill Nelson was incorrectly identified as a board member of the Centre City Development Corp.

Led by Horton Plaza Shopping Center developer Ernest W. Hahn, the committee is stacked deep with the heavy hitters of downtown. So deep, in fact, that some of its own members admit the committee may sometimes have a focus too narrow for its own good.

“I do sometimes feel like a lone voice or minority,” said Susan Carter, a CCPC member also active in Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a group described by Carter as “dedicated to improving urban planning through education and citizen participation.”

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But CCPC, she said, “is planning a downtown, which is a central business, government and financial core. So it’s not surprising or inappropriate to have it weighted with those kinds of interests.”

“These people are a familiar with how the process works,” said Bill Nelson, a committee member who serves on the boards of Scripps Bank and the Centre City Development Corp. “It was recognized that you have to have people who can devote time to the process. You’re going to find that people who have something at stake or who are in control of their destinies can take time to do this. It means lots of meetings and homework.

“The plan that emerges is processed through organizations and people more widely representative and responsive: city planners, planning commissioners and the city council.”

And yet, Carter says, the committee might be doing things differently if it had a broader mix including, for example, more ethnic minorities, artists, architects and educators.

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“One thing I’ve noticed is we get hung up” on minute details, she said. “At some point, your mind steps back and says, ‘What are we doing here? Have we lost sight of what we’re doing?’ Perhaps this is due to the makeup of the committee.”

Charles Kaminski, one of two architects on the panel, thinks CCPC meetings, which are open to the public, could focus more on the tangibles of a great downtown and less on black-and-white data.

“We might be weighted on the analytical side, not the creative. Every time we look at something, we have to think, ‘If I’m a person on the street, what kind of experience do I want to have? Do I want to walk through a residential neighborhood of high-rise Meridian-type buildings or 3- and 4-story walk-ups that might make a more active street life?’ I don’t think we do that as often as we should.”

Not only does the committee’s makeup seem skewed toward business concerns, but several CCPC members have vested stakes in the financial future of downtown San Diego.

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Among them are Lee Stein, president of Seaport Village; Scott MacDonald, an executive with the Hahn Co., owners and operators of the Horton Plaza Shopping Center; Paul Peterson, a prominent land-use attorney known for representing large developments before the San Diego City Council; Al Ziegaus, a partner in Stoorza Ziegaus & Metzger, a large public relations and marketing firm that has represented a variety of major downtown developers; and Lou Wolfsheimer, a port commissioner and attorney specializing in land-use matters.

Some Have Vested Interests

And in January the CCPC appointed a six-member subcommittee to speed completion of a downtown plan draft made up of powerhouses like Wolfsheimer and Ziegaus, but not members like Carter, Glenn Allison from Episcopal Community Services, Betty Slater, who owns property in the proposed arts district east of downtown and Percy Myers, the committee’s lone black, who works in community relations at General Dynamics.

“I was bothered by it,” admitted Carter. “But perhaps it was necessary. It’s very difficult to do anything with a committee of 25 people. The steering committee came up with a report, and it’s now going through an exhaustive review.”

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“Certainly the subcommittee consists of several individuals who have a major stake financially downtown,” conceded Bill Sauls, an attorney and downtown resident who serves on the CCPC. “But I can also assure you that the subcommittee did not make decisions for the CCPC. Plans were thoroughly reviewed and well deliberated.”

The most recent draft of the plan for downtown was issued last month. Some of the important ideas included are: linking the bay to Balboa Park through ceremonial streets such as Broadway, preserving historic buildings, encouraging alternative modes of transportation and giving developers incentives to include such public features as museums and plazas in their projects.

Several disagreements over the plan are being hashed out at CCPC meetings, sometimes heatedly.

Detailed recommendations regarding the Navy’s property at the foot of Broadway are being generated by a CCPC subcommittee chaired by San Diego City Councilman Ron Roberts. Roberts wants the Navy to drop one of its proposed high-rises and expand a public plaza, and others feel the Navy’s plans for multiple office and hotel towers are too intense for the waterfront.

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In the area called Harborview, which includes the stretch of India Street north of downtown known for its Italian restaurants and bakeries, some committee members want new buildings of up to 90 feet, while others are lobbying for smaller-scale neighborhoods with more residential uses.

The whole issue of housing is still very much undecided. In Harborview, Cortez Hill and Centre City East, areas designated in the plan for housing, there is disagreement about the density and types that should occur.

As for the future of the arts downtown, the plan recommends mandatory public art budgets for all new projects and a residential arts district in Centre City East. Some artists, though, don’t think the committee is adequately addressing their needs.

“I look at the CCPC plan, and even though I still strive to preserve a real arts community downtown, I’m just not sure it’s not a futile battle,” said Gloria Poore, an artist and businesswoman who owns and rents out downtown spaces to artists. She’s spoken to the CCPC twice about what artists need downtown, but isn’t sure she’s been heard.

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She said more effort should be made to encourage combination studio/residence spaces, keeping costs down by leaving the interiors unfinished. Right now, Poore said, the city’s Building Inspection Department is too strict about requiring formal kitchens and bathrooms and heaters, and this drives up costs beyond what artists can afford.

“I’m not happy with the way they gather input from the community,” said architect Richard Bundy, president of the Central City Assn., an alliance of downtown businesses.

“They go about it in a fairly token way. Their workshops aren’t designed to get input, but to reinforce their decisions. I represented the CCA at a couple of CCPC meetings, and, when I got done, Hahn said, ‘Thank you, we appreciate your help,’ and I knew nothing would happen with it, it was mist in the wind.”

Bundy, who has conducted various architecture and planning workshops in the past, will help the CCA conduct workshops on the CCPC plan for a variety of downtown groups.

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An interim version of the plan is expected to be adopted by the City Council this fall, with a final version due next year.


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