County board likely to make planning group changes at March 28 meeting


By Kathy Day

Paul Marks makes no bones about what he thinks of a plan being considered by county supervisors that could alter the shape of local planning groups.

The head of the San Dieguito Planning Group — which spans 36,000 acres from Escondido to Del Mar — said in a recent interview that he was “pretty offended by the Board of Supervisors’ appointment of a group of developers and contractors to write a report on planning groups and the planning department.”

It was “predestined,” he added, that it would not be an unbiased document.

He was reacting to recommendations of the Red Tape Reduction Task Force that could remove the citizen advisory groups from the county’s umbrella, reduce their size from 15 to seven, limit the scope of their review, set term limits, and require a county staffer and county lawyer to be present at the meetings.

Other parts of the report focused on seven areas that aim to improve training, measurement and procedures in the Department of Planning and Land Use, as well as steps designed to speed up permit processing. At their meeting on Feb. 29, supervisors agreed to implement a number of those procedures, but deferred until March 28 actions on the planning groups.

Bill Horn, who represents District 5, said via e-mail last week one particular issue that will be addressed then is the Fair Political Practices Commission’s position that the county is responsible for any Brown Act violations committed at the planning group level. The Brown Act governs access to local public meetings, requiring that the public be made aware of when meetings are held and that they not be held in secret.

Horn noted that the task force considered removing the advisory groups from under the county’s banner “as a means of protecting the county against Brown Act violations.” He said there have been violations in the past but that he wants to focus on the future.

Horn also referred to an opinion piece he wrote for a newspaper, in which he said it was his “priority to streamline our business operations and eliminate red tape in the county planning department.”

Saying the group “was created to utilize the knowledge of experts in that field to achieve that goal, he called the reaction of planning group members an effort to “slow government process.”

His website says “The Task Force was made up of 7 land use professionals: land use attorneys, a former Planning Commissioner, an engineer, two former DPLU staff members, a planning group member, businessmen, and a developer. …”

Marks, a Del Dios resident who has served on the San Dieguito group for more than 20 years, said not one member agrees with the idea of removing them from the county umbrella. But he and others have said they agree there is a need for additional training about the Brown Act, ethics and county zoning regulations.

“Planning groups provide a tremendous service to the county and to property owners,” he added. “They are a forum for the citizenry that they can’t get anywhere else.”

In the huge San Dieguito planning area — unlike some of the smaller ones — there are many different communities and neighborhoods represented, so reducing the membership would reduce the knowledge that local representatives bring forward, Marks said.

He pointed to Rancho Santa Fe as the biggest population center in the planning area, “with lots of pockets with different views. . .. The Crosby has a different view of the world than the Bridges ... or Morgan Run.” Some of the neighborhoods like Sun Valley are not seen by anyone other than those who live there, he added.

Fewer members would also mean a heavier workload for members who already spend seven to 10 hours a month reporting on a project as well as attending meetings twice a month.

“Term limits are even worse,” Marks added. “They are a way of getting rid of people who know what they’re talking about.”

The task force recommendations have prompted similar reactions around the county as well as from Fifth District Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and those seeking to replace her.

She has made it clear at meetings that planning groups play a vital role in community planning and will vote to keep the groups intact. She has urged that new members undergo training and that periodic refresher courses be held.

John Weil, her chief of staff, said in an e-mail that the office has received “overwhelming support” to keep the groups as they are, but also to cut red tape wherever possible and create a more business-friendly environment.

Steve Danon, Brian Bilbray’s chief of staff who wants to replace Slater-Price, said he “unequivocally” supports the planning groups.

“It is imperative that they have a right and responsibility to testify” before the supervisors on the projects, he said, referring to the task force recommendation that would limit groups to comments on the General Plan, Community Plan and Public Participation Plans submitted by project applicants.

Candidate Dave Roberts, now Deputy Mayor for Solana Beach, said planning groups as they are now play a critical role in keeping the community involved at the local level.

“You can never have enough public participation,” he wrote recently. He also acknowledged the need to pay attention to following the law and urged supervisors to reject the plan to cut membership or institute term limits.

Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard, who also wants Slater-Price’s seat, said his experience with public participation in the city has shown that “people want to participate and contribute to do what they can for the community … I’ve found it to be a good thing for people to share views.”

But he added that “some committees outlive their usefulness and others overstep their bounds so every now and then it’s good to turn the dial and make sure they are still working the way they should be.”

To view the agenda for the March 28 meeting go to

  1. Agendas are posted 72 hours before the meeting.

To see a video of the Feb. 29 meeting, go to

To read Bill Horn’s statement on community planning groups go to