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South Centre City Specific Plan wins APA excellence award

The city’s South Centre City Specific Plan recently won the San Diego Section American Planning Association’s (APA) Excellence Award in the “Advancing Diversity and Social Change” award category. 

This is the second award for the planning team. Last year, the South Centre City Specific Plan won an Excellence Award for public outreach.

The South Centre City neighborhood includes approximately 421 acres, extending south from the downtown area along Escondido Blvd. and Centre City Parkway. 

Mike Strong, Assistant Planning Director for the city, explained to The Times-Advocate what the award was for.

“I was not a rater on the APA jury so I will be unable to explain why or how the selection committee deliberated their award, but I can shed some light on the importance of the project to the City of Escondido,” said Strong.

“ ‘Social equity’ broadly means that all community groups are treated fairly and are given equal opportunity to participate in the planning process,” he said.  “It also means the fair, just and equitable distribution of public services.  The South Centre City Specific Plan addresses both.”  

According to Strong, “This project did a really good job at reaching underrepresented groups (in particular youth and minority groups) and making sure that they weren’t left behind in the planning effort.    This project promotes change in key focus areas of the city where there is a lack of investment.  The specific plan will be used as a tool to link future housing with smarter transportation investments and public resources so that future improvements can make positive changes for the residents and businesses.”

According to the awards nomination: “Envision South Centre City promotes diversity and improves the living conditions of the residents of the Specific Plan area through the application of ‘best’ planning practice.” 

The following are three examples of how the plan addresses the needs of the often overlooked diverse population in Escondido, and how the plan helps support this group.

1) The Plan recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship in the resident community and provides culturally appropriate economic development opportunities. It expands the rules for home-based businesses in certain neighborhoods to allow a limited customer base to provide opportunities for families to earn additional income without the burdensome expense of a business location away from the home. An ordinance was drafted and adopted at the same time as the Plan to enable immediate implementation of these new opportunities. The City has subsequently sent out notices to the residents in the area providing further information about how to apply to start such a business.

2)    The Plan addresses a serious deficit in area by transforming a lightly used frontage road into a new separated walking and biking facility, aiming to reduce localized environmental health disparities and promoting environmental justice. The Pine Street Pathway is envisioned to provide for active transportation where it is sorely needed, and creatively incorporates leftover City ROW to weave in new mini-parks that can feature a par course, functional public art, and places to congregate for social interaction. This also addresses a crime issue by increasing “eyes” on the street. 

3)  Through the public outreach activities, it was evident that the arts are important to this community. The Plan promotes the addition of “functional” and attractive public art in new developments and public spaces to engage citizens, build community and cultural pride, stimulate the local economy, and beautify the area. This ensures the fair, just, and equitable distribution of public amenities and resources.

The city began its efforts to improve the livability of the neighborhoods in 2013 with community outreach and addressing crime through the Escondido Police Department’s Neighborhood Transformation Project (NTP.)

This was followed up by efforts to involve “all voices within the community,” and to develop the Specific Plan for the area. City planners met with about 60 parents of school age children at a “parent university” event designed to inform and gather input from the participants about the plan for their neighborhood. This was a group of people who weren’t used to having their opinions asked and they were happy to give their input.

Another way of engaging the neighborhood was through a Leadership Academy that included about 45 high school students from the neighborhood. The project team provided an introduction and, using a “Planning Shark Tank” activity similar to the TV show, explained the expanded home-based business opportunities provided by the plan. They invited the young people to think about what kind of business they or their family might try in their own home that would fit this category and to talk to their parents about it. 

The planning team also worked with fifth graders on an art project to get them thinking about how they might like to plan their community. According to the team: “The students learned about public policy, how to get involved, and how to cultivate change.”

The plan is trying to encourage entrepreneurship in a population that has limited financial resources through expanding home-based businesses. 

One of  South Centre City neighborhood’s deficits is a lack of parks, or land that could be converted into parks. So the planning team worked with community members to develop the idea of the of Pine Street Pathway. This interconnected recreational network would link all the South Centre City districts via existing and proposed pedestrian, bicycle, and multi-use paths to local and regional parks, including Felicita Mini-Park, Grape Day Park, and Kit Carson Park, which residents in the area reported using. 

It is also designed to link to the Center for the Arts, the Escondido Transit Center, bus stops, and commercial centers and corridors within the area. 

The plan positions the city to apply for grant funding to make it a reality.

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