By Ken Williams | Editor
Vicki Granowitz leaves a legacy in North Park, turns her sights to city planning
Vicki Granowitz is not shy about expressing her opinion, and her refreshingly candid comments at public meetings — which can be rather blunt and are rarely politically correct — often find their way into the local press.
She’s a quote waiting to happen.
As chair of the North Park Planning Committee (NPCC) from 2006-08 and from 2012-17, Granowitz has had a big impact on the resurgence of the North Park neighborhood. She and other volunteer board members spent years crafting the North Park Community Plan update that will guide development in the area for the next two decades.
The retired psychotherapist was honored for her work when she received the Planning Advocate Award at the American Planning Association’s San Diego Chapter awards ceremony in May.
René Agustín Vidales, who succeeded Granowitz as NPCC chair earlier this year, posted photos and comments on Facebook during the ceremony.
“Honored to see the advocate planning award go to Vicki Granowitz,” Vidales wrote. “Thanks, Vicki, for all the contributions to North Park and the planning profession.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Granowitz has a long history of volunteerism including serving as chair of the Balboa Park Committee and the Balboa Park Task Force on Funding, Management and Governance that led to the formation of the Balboa Park Conservancy. She has served on the city of San Diego Park and Recreation and the Consolidated Plan Advisory Boards, Community Planners Committee and the North Park Recreation Council.
Other past volunteer service includes the North Park Community Association, Burlingame Homeowners Association, Park and Recreation Open Space Canyons Advisory Committee, SDSU Library Facilities Strategic Planning Committee, the Sierra Club Canyons Campaign Steering Committee, Switzer Canyon Task Force, and the Citywide Canyon-Sewer Maintenance Task Force.
Granowitz earned a bachelor’s of science in criminal justice administration and a master’s in social work from San Diego State University.
Earlier this year, Granowitz was appointed to serve on the city’s Planning Commission.
Here are five questions with Granowitz.
- During your tenure as chair of the North Park Community Planning Committee, you stewarded the update of the North Park Community Plan. What makes you proud about the updated plan, and what frustrates you the most about the final version approved by the City Council on Oct. 25, 2016?
I’m proud that we got the city to approve 11 potential historic districts and to implement our top five priorities within three or four years with the others to follow within a reasonable time, instead of the original proposal that would have taken decades. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get adequate protections for the potential districts, but I hope that the city will be true to their word and get that done by next year
While I have always felt badly for the people who bought single-family homes in areas zoned multi-family, I’m proud of the NPPC board and the public who realized that the greater good is seeing increased density and affordable housing in the area that’s actually already transferring into a multi-family residential area. It may not seem like a consolation now but the land the existing single-family homes are sitting on will one day be very valuable. But I acknowledge it was heartbreaking to see the pain we were causing these homeowners but we had to choose the greater good over the needs of the individuals.
I’m proud that the North Park Planning Committee was willing to take some of the hostility that was directed at it and approve densities along transportation corridors and in areas that were already going multi-family. I’m disappointed that we didn’t actually get the densities that we wanted in some areas because the city would have had to redo the Environmental Impact Report. I’m proud of the urban design element that should bring well-sited appropriate development and help lessen impacts in those transition areas where the density is going along transportation corridors that back up onto residential neighborhoods. I’m proud that unlike most communities plan updates, we literally wrote whole sections of the plan ourselves.
And I’m especially proud that when the city gave us crap in our original draft that we said this is not good enough and the city admitted that it wasn’t. The city working with us then started to actually fix our plan so that it improved to something we could all be proud of. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty damn good plan.
- Now that the community plan had been enacted, what do you think North Park will look like in 20 years?
Most of North Park should see very little change. By that I mean most of North Park is RS 1-7, meaning it is zoned single-family residential and if all the historic districts are approved then all these areas will be protected to the extent possible.
Transportation corridors, especially El Cajon Boulevard, commercial districts and the area between Howard and Lincoln avenues, and Georgia Street and Interstate 805 will see significant change over the next 30 years as these areas are modernized, redeveloped and see infill projects. Some areas will retain their historic flavor while others will see a new community character emerge, hopefully one that is vibrant, multimodal with interesting architecture where people of all ages will want to live, work and play.
- How did North Park transform itself into the destination neighborhood after years of neglect?
The transformation started very slowly with people’s interest in living in older homes. Craftsman bungalows were hot in the 1990s and the 2000s, and people started moving in and fixing them up, and then they wanted places to go to in the community they lived. The transformation started with a coffee shop: Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge [northeast corner of University Avenue and Kansas Street, now Tamarindo Latin Kitchen & Bar] was the catalyst project for everything that came after. Around this time you also had residents and businesses coming together to fight to save our canyons, the Georgia Street Bridge, the North Park Theater [now the Observatory North Park], among many other things. New businesses came in and we didn’t settle for just anything; we wanted unique businesses.
When we were threatened with big-box development that wasn’t pedestrian-oriented, we didn’t just say no. We came together and told the developer we will consider your proposal but we want to maintain the pedestrian orientation of our commercial district and the parking needed to go in back. We wanted small storefront along the sides of the building instead of blank walls, and the developer said no. Over time, other businesses came in that were willing to give us pedestrian orientation.
Another important factor was that the North Park Business Improvement District brought in North Park Main Street, and its executive director knew how to hold onto the historicity of a commercial district. They didn’t settle for chain stores, and recruited retail and unique restaurants. Bars came with the resurgence, which also brought challenges we still struggle with.
Successful commercial districts have problems but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. It has been a long path with the assistance of scores of people, and the community continues to grow in all sorts of ways. I hope for a vibrancy that’s unique to El Cajon Boulevard will continue to emerge and am excited that Adams Avenue keeps its charm while it also sees changes.
- Congratulations on your appointment to the city’s Planning Commission. What is your goal as a planning commissioner?
As the only member with no formal training or education in land use but with 25 years of what has essentially been on-the-job training as a community organizer and activist, I plan to listen closely to all parties that come before us. My goal is to make wise and fair decisions based on the facts and to be brave when faced with controversial projects where I know I will upset people. I will try and weigh the effects to the public and try to figure out what decisions will lead to the greatest good, whatever that might be.
- What do you like about living in North Park?
I love living in my 1913 Craftsmen bungalow in a historic district that I hope will still exist to see the turn of the next century. My husband and I tried living in North County, but everything and everyone looked the same — as least that was true in 1988. People drove into their garages, you never saw them, and yes the sidewalks and streets were in great shape and the houses didn’t have a lot of differed maintenance but I had to drive over a mile to get to a store. It is true North Park has bad sidewalks and our streets aren’t so great either but it is a community with historic areas and emerging character areas, where the houses don’t all look the same, the residents are diverse and I know my neighbors. I can park my car and walk to everything I need. I can grow old here — oops, it appears that after 28 years I already have!
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.