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Community Participation in the Development Process

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Participation in the land development process can happen in a number of different ways. The public can find out about a project through the public noticing process or by attending a local community planning group meeting when the project is scheduled to be heard. Input can be provided on the project directly to the Development Services Department, through your community planning group, by commenting on the environmental document associated with the project or by appearing to testify at a public hearing. Each of these is described below, as well as overview of the development process. Links are also included to provide you with more detailed information.

The Development Process and Opportunities for Input

Land development and construction are typically initiated by a wide variety of entities including but not limited to developers, contractors, governmental agencies, individual property owners, homeowners, large and small businesses, etc. Regardless of the entity pursuing the development of land, the process of land development is mandated by law (i.e. Municipal Code, Regional, State, and/or Federal laws) to proceed through a formal approval and/or permit process.

There are generally two types of permit review and approval processes authorized by the City's Municipal Code: Discretionary Permit Review (see Discretionary Review) and Ministerial Permit Review (see Ministerial Plan Review).

The discretionary permit process is a collaborative effort that involves review by a variety of governmental agencies, as well as review, input and participation by adjacent tenants and property owners, the general public, organized groups, City recognized community planning groups, and any other interested persons. The Development Services Department is the primary City department responsible for managing the discretionary land development process, including assuring that the community and general public are provided ample opportunity to be involved in the permit review and approval process.

The Development Services Department is also the primary City department responsible for managing the ministerial permit review process. Ministerial permit review is utilized for projects designed and built in conformance with the adopted community plan designation and underlying zone. Ministerial review requires review and approval only by City staff and other governmental agencies. These types of projects (i.e. building permits) typically are not subject to public review or participation prior to final approval.

There are a wide variety of opportunities for public participation within the discretionary permit process, including but not limited to the following:

  • Public Notice - Information Bulletin 512: (PDF)
    All discretionary projects are subject to the public noticing procedures of the Municipal Code. Those noticing procedures require that all tenants, property owners, and businesses within 300 feet of the project boundary, as well as the recognized community planning group and those who have expressed interest in receiving notices, receive at least 2 separate notices. One notice is mailed out at the time the project application is submitted, and one notice is mailed out at least 10 days prior to the public hearing for that project. These public notices include a description of the project, and include contact information for the local community planning group as well as the assigned City project manager.
  • Community Planning Groups:
    Community Planning Groups review and make recommendations to approve or deny projects in their areas to the City Council, Planning Commission, City departments and other governmental agencies.

    The City Council has adopted policies that establish and recognize community planning groups as formal mechanisms for community input in the decision making processes for projects. Community planning groups provide citizens an opportunity for involvement in advising the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other decision makers on development projects, general or community plan amendments, rezonings and public facilities. The recommendations of the planning groups are integral components of the planning process, and are highly regarded by the City Council and by staff. Go to the following link to learn more about community planning groups. Role of Community Planning Groups.
  • The California Environmental Quality Act: The Development Services Department is responsible for implementing CEQA on behalf of the City of San Diego. The basic purpose of CEQA is to: Inform governmental decision makers and the public about the potential significant environmental effects of proposed activities; Identify ways that environmental damage can be avoided or significantly reduced; Prevent significant, avoidable damage to the environment by requiring changes in projects by using of alternatives or mitigation measures when the governmental agency finds the changes to be feasible; Disclose to the public the reasons why a governmental agency approved the project in the manner the agency chose.

    The preparation and certification of these environmental documents includes public notice and public participation. Notice of availability of environmental documents for public review and comment is published in the officially designated City newspaper (San Diego Daily Transcript), posted on the City’s official web site, and sent to appropriate trustee and responsible agencies and to organizations and individuals who have previously requested such notice. Notice of availability is also sent to the officially recognized community plan­planning group representing the planning area involved, as well as to the local library.

    Once a draft environmental document has been prepared, the public review period ranges from 20 days for a draft Negative Declaration to potentially over 45 days for an Environmental Impact Report. The DSD Director may allow an additional review period not to exceed 14 calendar days, upon request of the affected officially recognized community planning group. At the end of the public review period, City staff responds to all written comments that address the adequacy or accuracy of the report and revises the report if necessary.

    Additionally, for projects of statewide, regional or area wide significance, the Development Services Department conducts at least one public scooping meeting. A notice is sent to any county or city that borders the project, any responsible agency, any public agency that has jurisdiction over the project by law, and any organization or individual who has filed a written request for the notice.

    For more information regarding CEQA, please see Information Bulletin 401 (PDF)
  • Public Hearings: Land development projects subject to discretionary review are required to be acted upon by a decision maker, and approved by that decision maker, before that project can obtain a building permit for construction activities (see Decision Process). Some discretionary projects require a decision by staff only, and some require a public hearing, but all discretionary projects require a series of public notices prior to that final decision. The decision maker’s role is to review the evidence provided by the customer, planning committee, the public, and staff and then make a decision on the project.

    Discretionary land development projects that do require a public hearing prior to approval would be heard either by the Hearing Officer (Process 3), Planning Commission (Process 4), or City Council (Process 5). Each of these public hearings require a public notice, and provide any member of the public or organized community group an opportunity to provide input and testimony on any aspect of the project.

How can you be involved and at what stage in the process? The answer is it depends on the type of project being reviewed.

Types of Projects and Opportunities for Input

There are two types of projects reviewed at Development Services:

  • Discretionary Projects
    These projects must go through Discretionary Review, because they require a special permit or approval that may be granted at the discretion of a decision maker.

    The community can provide input at three different points:
    The Development Project Manager (DPM) is the point of contact for Discretionary projects.
  • Ministerial Projects
    These projects require Ministerial Plan Review for conformance to development standards and codes. They do not require any special or discretionary permits. The projects, therefore, are not presented to the community. No notice of application is published and no public hearing is held. If the project conforms to the development standards and regulations, DSD issues the project a building permit or map approval.
  • Other Opportunities for Input

Project Submittal Requirements

City staff reviews projects submitted to make sure they comply with the City's Land Development Code, City policies, and state and federal regulations. See more information for requirements:

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