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Aid for Neighborhoods

January 18, 1987

The Times was right to label last week's lead editorial "San Diego Twilight Zone" (Jan. 11) because the sun is setting on the period in this city's history when most residents feel optimistic about our urban future and confidently, if carelessly, leave everything up to "experts" at City Hall and "authorities" at the school district.

Though you choose not to see it, San Diego needs an institutional overlay zone to preserve the integrity of its older neighborhoods. We cannot build new at the expense of the old and expect to have a healthy city in the year 2000.

What's been happening? San Diego is growing at a great rate. Public transportation is poor and freeways are packed. Sewers break and prevent people from getting to the airport or swimming at the beaches. The city's General Plan, a blueprint for orderly growth, is amended and abridged regularly by the City Council to accommodate developers' requests. Developers build, take the money and run. Whole new neighborhoods cry for new school buildings and other essential services. Population shifts require school closings, expansions and new construction, but school district income for such spending is limited by law.

What to do? Besieged by myriad problems, the "experts" retreat to the narrowest interpretation of their mandate to serve the public interest. The City Council, always cautious and passive, pays lip service to the idea of growth management after the success of popular ballot initiative Proposition A last year. The school district closes public school sites and proposes to sell them off to the highest bidder for residential or commercial development in order to finance new schools in new neighborhoods.

Other institutions--some of them tax-exempt--look at their skyrocketing property values and wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to sell and move out, too--maybe downtown, where the action is, or to North County, where wealthy bedroom communities are proliferating.

Some people think this is a terrible way to run a city and have worked for many months on the institutional overlay zone proposal--a long-term planning device to allow a balance between gross market forces and the needs of people in neighborhoods to retain some important institutions that give their communities character and focus. The institution overlay zone is neither "Utopian," "sweeping" nor "clumsy," as you have called it. Rather, it is practical, selective and thoughtful--a way to keep San Diego interesting and livable for a long time to come.

The City Council should endorse this measure, supported by more than 30 community planning groups, and approve it on Feb. 3.

FRAN ZIMMERMAN

La Jolla

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