Plagued by chronic vacancies in recent years, there’s suddenly not a spot to be had on the 14-member board. Openings that at one time had gone begging are no more. A seat on the board is now a hot ticket.
Incumbent board members had to scoot over and scrunch together to make room when newbies Dan Dennison and Mike Nieto took their seats Sept. 3 on the south end of the Activity Room of the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, where the board meets monthly.
It was the first time in years anyone in the room could remember a meeting in which the board had tackled its agenda at full strength.
“We’re a full board again,” said chairman Pete Ruscitti.
To be sure, things get jam-packed at board events on occasion, with topics like medical marijuana, liquor licenses and, most recently, the completion of the Ocean Beach Community Plan, drawing crowds noteworthy in their feistiness and sheer numbers.
But for some reason, it’s been a different story at the tables where board members sit. Unfilled vacancies have sometimes delayed or nearly canceled meetings, with audience members waiting for enough members to arrive and achieve a quorum.
The vacancies have been more puzzling in light of this beach community’s history.
Ocean Beach, often considered a firebrand community with a record of citizen input, is the very place in San Diego where the concept of community planning began in the 1970s. Today, there are more than 40 communities that have boards made up of neighborhood-elected, nonpaid volunteers that make recommendations on land use and quality-of-life issues to the San Diego City Council and other local agencies.
Recent Ocean Beach elections have failed to draw a full slate of candidates to fill out the ballot, and successful office seekers have gained seats with a mere handful of votes.
The current burst of enthusiasm to serve on the board — not only are all positions filled, but future candidates are already known to be waiting in the wings — could signal a new era of sorts, brought about by the momentum of the recent passage of the Ocean Beach Community Plan. The document, which purports to guide growth in Ocean Beach over the next 20 years, had been shepherded by the OBPB for the last 12 years before its passage July 29 by the San Diego City Council.
That’s a big reason new board member Dennison said he decided to step forward. He said he was pleased to see the community come together when the San Diego Planning Commission attempted to add developer-friendly language to the community plan, a controversy that gained citywide attention.
“Quite frankly, as the whole thing unfolded, it motivated me to offer assistance in that area,” said Dennison, a renter in District 1 who hopes to buy a house here.
Dennison pointed to his background in land development, real estate and construction experience in large, master-planned communities as some of his qualifications.
Asked by board member Seth Connolly how he views “balancing the tension between property rights and community character,” Dennison said he was committed to the comprehensive planning process.
“I don’t see individual property rights being impinged upon as long as the rules that have been in place are followed,” he said. “The character of this community is really special. And it’s important that it stays that way.”
Nieto described himself as a botanist with a specialty in wetlands. He previously earned a living as a native landscaper, and said he knows the difference between local native and exotic species.
He enjoyed getting to know his District 5 neighbors while canvassing for the 35 signatures required for applying for a vacancy.
“You do not get a signature easily in Ocean Beach,” Nieto said. “People are smart. They are feisty and they are proud to be from OB. And I feel the exact same way.”
He said he also heard many a fond comment expressed about Bill Bushe, the former board member Nieto replaces, who stepped down for health reasons.
“I have big shoes to fill,” Nieto said.
IN OTHER ACTION
• A long-vacant lot at the southeast corner of Voltaire and Abbott streets could be the site of three two-story, one-bedroom residential units. The board voted 11-3 in support of the project called Three On Abbott at the 5,000-square-foot location. The units would feature a ground-level home office and bedroom upstairs. Proponents said the project would provide a pleasing transition between higher-density structures to the west and the abundance of one-story houses going east on Voltaire Street. But some board members said they suspected renters would treat the buildings as two-bedroom units, which would have required seven off-street parking spaces instead of the proposed five. The resolution strongly recommended allowing a curb cut on Voltaire Street to allow access to two additional parking spaces. Architect and developer Pedro Tavares said he originally submitted the proposal to include the curb cut and seven spaces but cut back after an initial denial by city staff. More information is available at threeonabbott.com and at facebook.-com/threeonabbott.
• It’s “looking solid” that the new Ocean Beach Community Plan will face its final hurdle for approval next month by the California Coastal Commission, said Chet Barfield, aide to San Diego District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris. The two entities are hammering out “non-serious” differences, Barfield said, in language in the document, which is designed to guide growth in Ocean Beach for the next 20 years. The commission, which changes its meeting location each month, will take on its next agenda from Oct. 8-10 at the Civic Center building in Newport Beach.