Ann Gardner | Via Latina
Del Mar’s new Planning Director brings tennis shoes to work. She walks the downtown area mapped out for revitalization by the Form Based Code (FBC) Committee, goes back to the office to review their recommendations and then goes back out again. She sometimes takes staff with her and occasionally meets residents and business owners who recognize her and introduce themselves.
Learning about a community by walking it is a natural for Kathleen Garcia. She is on the Walk San Diego Advisory Board, an organization that works to enhance the livability of communities by improving the pedestrian environment. One of that organization’s mantra’s is “… traffic congestion is largely due to poor planning and few alternatives to driving, forcing everyone to use cars for most trips.” A similar theme is echoed by Mayor Don Mosier who frequently reminds us of our obligations to create more a pedestrian oriented, compact, sustainable community.
The idea of using a Form Based Code to accomplish these goals in our commercial district was brought to town two years ago when the City hired Brian Mooney as an Interim Planning Director. A Committee was formed to review the numerous (21 by one count) existing community plans and to present recommendations using FBC as a possible implementation tool. Earlier suggestions to engage in a public review process were put on hold until June 14 when the Committee presented their results to the Council and staff was directed to bring back a work plan for getting public input on the Committee’s recommendations.
Eight months later, we are finally moving in that direction. Garcia hopes to bring a public outreach work plan to City Council later this month and begin conversations in the community this spring. She is going through the FBC materials as well as all of the earlier community plans, interviewing Committee members, listening to the June 14 public hearing and asking: What is the best way to involve the community and what materials will we use? She comes across as ‘pitch-perfect’ for the job in part because she admires Del Mar’s 1976 Community Plan (“Its all right there, a pedestrian oriented community with services for both residents and visitors.”) but also because she describes her role as listening to the community and answering questions.
Asked if she had an opinion on the FBC Committee discussions about the role of the Design Review Board, Garcia responded that her understanding was that the Committee did not reach consensus on the issue and the question “needed to be vetted” by the community as a part of the public review process. In addition to her former work with a planning and design firm that focused on public sector projects, Garcia served on two Design Review Boards: the University of California Riverside Design Review Board and the City of San Diego’s Old Town Design Review Board, and for eight years served as Vice Chair of the San Diego Planning Commission.
Her philosophy for the public outreach assignment is let’s “move forward, build on what we cherish.” Community leadership seems to support this philosophy. New council members Lee Haydu and Terry Sinnott agree that current zoning regulations need to change if we want to “encourage a healthy and vital downtown that can benefit all of us” and that “it is time to pick up and move on.” Both feel it is important to get input from residents on what they want to happen downtown and input from downtown property and business owners on how to encourage improvements in the commercial area consistent with the Community Plan. “It was always the FBC Committee’s intent to get public input and their work has enough good ideas and thoughts to get us started on the process,” Sinnott commented.