March 18, 2005

Commentary

The GPU delayed. What’s next?

By Earl Jentz

News that the approval of the General Plan Update for Chula Vista has been delayed by the city is bittersweet. Despite Mayor Padilla’s claim that the city needs more time to process public opinion (as the sole reason for the delay) the fact remains that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the General Plan Update was inadequate and fatally flawed.

In the Mayor’s defense it is true that the city has volumes of public input to consider. However, long-time Chula Vista residents that are active with civic issues know that the city repeatedly patronizes community input and has often ignored community concerns. Many of us believe that the city is pre-disposed with development decisions long before the public has the opportunity to provide input on them.

Months of volunteer work, time, and resources by community groups, business owners, and residents has at least given City Hall reason to blink. The city’s pending critical land-use decision on the General Plan Update will impact all of us. Political courage in the community abounds as demonstrated by the city’s own Resource Conservation Commission (RCC). The RCC voted unanimously that the city’s Draft EIR for the General Plan Update could not be considered until 33 separate items /concerns were addressed. The RCC has also endorsed the Community Character Alternative within the EIR that calls for mid-rise, not high-rise residential projects as put forth by the city’s general plan.

The Community Character Alternative is a reasonable, measured approach to redevelopment as opposed to the city’s vision of an “Urban Mecca” littered with high-density, high-rise towers and the added traffic, noise, and congestion that they would create. The Community Character Alternative was also embraced by Crossroads II, the Roosevelt Street Coalition, and other community groups as a best approach to redeveloping the city’s west-side while preserving Chula Vista’s heritage and keeping the residential-urban look and feel of our downtown. These and other groups have been active community watchdogs with the City’s General Plan Update in an effort to ensure the quality of life and community character that is Chula Vista. These Chula Vista organizations believe that redevelopment and the revitalization of West Chula Vista is vital to our city as a whole. They also know that we as citizens must be active in shaping our growth, or we will surely suffer it.

At a recent city council meeting an independent report on the City’s General Plan Update was presented to the council by a qualified expert on land-use decisions and urban planning. This report says the City’s EIR for the General Plan Update was non-compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); particularly citing inadequate mandatory elements as required by state law. This independent report specifies insufficient items such as the absence of a current “Population and Housing” section. It cites: “the re-designation of land-use categories, particularly within the Urban Core Area, has the potential to displace substantial numbers of existing homes and displace residents, and represents a potentially significant impact that must be addressed in the project’s EIR…the city’s EIR fails to provide a Population and Housing analyses that addresses CEQA guidelines.”

Critical analyses by the city was lacking in other areas as well. “The noise and air quality impact analyses are inadequate to support the city’s conclusions in their EIR.” Of particular concern in the city’s EIR was the transportation section. The level of service accommodating increased transportation was reduced in the General Plan Update. In the city’s original General Plan, H Street was slated for a six-lane facility. The General Plan Update proposes that six-lane expansion be reduced to four lanes despite the increase in density brought on by the development of high-rises such as the proposed Espanada Towers near the corner of 4th and H Streets. The city’s transportation section in their EIR is unconvincing due to the fact that there is no identification of funds or a timeline for the implementation of this transportation corridor.

Any and all of this leaves many asking, what can be done? For the record, city staff—at the expense of the taxpayers—prepared the current General Plan Update that so many have found legitimate concerns with. Given the numerous significant inadequacies with the General Plan Update, and the costly delay that these inadequacies have caused, are city staff the best people to prepare the city’s blueprint for our future? Perhaps the powers at City Hall should do what most growing California cities do, hire professional independent land-use urban planning experts to establish a public-input oriented process that creates a General Update Plan that all of us can have confidence in and support. It’s our city, and our future. The expense will be well worth it.

Earl Jentz is a property owner in Chula Vista and one of the leading opponents to the Espanada Towers.

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