Early Planning Efforts
Between 1992 and 1994, SANDAG, working with an Energy Commission grant, produced the San Diego Regional Energy Plan. In the fall of 1995, the California Energy commission initiated a study to employ the Regional Energy Plan at the local level of government where land use authority could be used to implement many of the action items. The Energy Commission, SANDAG, and the City of San Diego, with support from the California Department of Energy, used what they called the Place3s method (PLAnning for Energy, Economic and Environment Sustainability) to construct a resource-efficient development plan for a 500-acre area surrounding the Euclid Avenue Trolley Station in southeastern San Diego, at that time an area of severe blight.
In March 1998, the project team, headed by SANDAG, prepared a full report on the Community Preferred Plan that would require less energy per capita than prevailing plans if implemented. The implementation plan called out two major recommendations:
- The continued partnership between the citizens, local government staff, SANDAG, the Energy Commission, and other state and federal agencies to enhance, market, and support the redevelopment of the area, concentrating at the hub.
- The Jacobs Family Foundation helping to identify potential strategies to implement the first phase of the plan – to eliminate a major brownfield at the site of the Langley factory integrated with the community's desire for a major grocery store and amphitheater.
The results of the recommendations:
- First recommendation: the partnership with the governmental agencies to implement the plan ran out when the planning funds ended.
- Second recommendation: not able to secure a developer to take on such a high-risk project independently, and with no CDC capacity in the neighborhood, the Jacobs Family Foundation built the capacity (a community-based development company called Diamond Management, Inc.) to support the community in implementing the first phase. In a community process, residents named the project Market Creek Plaza.
The EMAT Plan
Concerned that differences in their weak political and social-economic status were causing the dumping of unwanted land use in their community (a produce distribution center), residents rallied in 2001 to form the Euclid-Market Action Team (EMAT). With funding from the Jacobs Family Foundation and support from the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI), EMAT hired urban planners to assist in planning new strategies for neighborhood development and identifying redevelopment opportunities to expand the choices of existing residents and their children. Unlike traditional community planning, this process sought to address concerns about gentrification and focus on equitable development (development from which residents benefit) as part of the process, so that residents could afford to remain in their community when it was improved.
Residents were trained during the process to conduct outreach, facilitate Planning Circles, and participate in charettes. They grappled with issues related to the scarcity of jobs, lack of private investment, severe shortage of affordable housing, and inadequate infrastructure including poor street and pedestrian safety, insufficient facilities for youth, problems with litter, and issues of public safety, such as street crime, gang activity, and the location of too many liquor stores.
In the plan a "village center" was envisioned as an active social hub where people come to participate in cultural events, use the services offered, shop, eat, and work. Residents called for the intersection of Market and Euclid to be the location of the "village center", and put forth land uses, streetscape suggestions, transportation recommendations, plans to create a "riverwalk" atmosphere along Chollas Creek as a unifying element. The Plan included an urgent call for apartments and condominium housing to be a part of the central hub. Following the development of the village center, neighborhood centers were proposed for four other intersections: Market and 47th, Euclid and Imperial, Euclid and Logan, and Euclid and Division. A market analysis supported the resident plan, although indicated that equitable development goals would be unlikely to be reached through traditional private developers.
The report was completed in July 2002. Implementation called for the EMAT Composite Plan to be approved by the Planning Commission and SEDC, with proper amendments made to the Southeast San Diego Community Plan. Political will and political power were sited as critical to achieving its equitable development goals.
To put "teeth" in the EMAT plan, residents were beginning to look toward the "City of Villages" program, the concept behind the City of San Diego's Strategic Framework, a proposed amendment to the City's 1979 General Plan.
With the implementation of this strategy, the City of San Diego would transform into a mosaic of villages, each with its own village center. The village center would function as "the heart of the community, where housing, jobs, schools, public services and civic uses are integrated."
To assist the community in working toward the implementation of this plan, JCNI began to acquire blighted, unused, or under-used land contiguous to the hub, that was targeted by residents, to hold it in trust for community planning of its "village center". With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and working lines of credit provided by Pacific Western Bank and U.S. Bank, it was able to acquire 45 acres on the Euclid-Market corridor.
The City of Villages Plan
In December 2002, the City released its "Pilot Village" program description and application process. Criteria for winning the competitive bid were defined, and incentives were outlined. Incentives included priority on infrastructure dollars, City support for seeking funding for fee subsidies, the establishment of a cross-disciplinary team dedicated to resolve issues and process approvals to assure implementation, a smart growth revolving loan fund for mixed-use projects, a loan guarantee fund, rebates on a portion of property taxes, and priority on Community Development Block Grants, the undergrounding of utilities, and support for affordable housing.
The Coalition of Neighborhood Councils (CNC), with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) and Diamond Management, Inc. (DMI) as its development partner, applied, and in February 2004 won the competitive bid for priority as a City of Villages "pilot village".
In 2004, no zone existed to give right to build a mixed-use project in southeastern San Diego. Planning stalled with the public entities involved in trying to create the zone. No team, no fee subsidies, no loan guarantees, no rebates were provided. In November 2008, JCNI asked the Mayor to intervene. In March 2009, community residents packed the City Council chamber at City Hall, and the Fifth Amendment to the Community Plan, which provided the zones needed for smart growth, was finally approved.