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City Rolls Out Red Carpet to Developers Bringing Fresh Project Ideas

While builders often complain about how hard it is to get anything done in certain areas of the county, National City is rolling out the welcome mat.

“We are encouraging growth in National City, while a lot of cities are discouraging growth,” said National City Mayor Ron Morrison.

It’s not that building there is a breeze, said San Diego developer Ray Kafaji.

“In National City, they would like to have developers come in to improve the city, and take it one step ahead,” he observed. “It’s not necessarily easier, but it is less complicated.”

Tony Pauker, regional president of Seal Beach-based the Olson Co., a development firm which completed three residential projects in National City, expresses similar sentiments.

“National City has been very helpful and cooperative,” he said. “They understand that growth is important to them, and are embracing good quality change. They have worked hard and diligently to enhance their community.”

Ben Price, first vice president of San Diego-based Regents Bank, also agreed.

“National City still has entry-level pricing, and a good location, which makes it a really feasible investment for a lot of developers,” he said. “And National City seems to be more pro-development and forward-thinking than some other communities.”

Brad Raulston, executive director of the city’s Community Development Commission, figures that it’s just good business, understanding that, with builders, time is money.

“Anytime you see new construction, hopefully, there is confidence for other developers coming in and doing future projects,” he said. “At the end of the day, developers are all focused on the numbers, but they are affected by the time. We do have a reputation as being easy to work with. I come from the private sector, and I was a developer. It’s something you always consider.”

Raulston’s background includes an eight-year stint working for prominent San Diego developer Doug Manchester, achieving the rank of chief operating officer when he left in 2000.

Now toiling in “the belly of the beast,” as he phrases it, Raulston wants to see the city progress, but stresses that a downtown plan is only a blueprint , not a guarantee of action.

“It’s not an overnight thing,” he said. “You have to be flexible, and be more responsive to the market. That is something our downtown plan does a pretty good job of, being flexible in land uses.”

Community plans can become their own worst enemies, said Raulston.

“They are, in a sense, almost defeating themselves,” he said. “They take so long to create, they can become obsolete, you can’t implement them. I would like to see cities responsive to smart growth, and prepared for market changes.”

But any change can stir opposition, said Raulston.

“Defenders of the status quo are everywhere, and it’s not good for anyone,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like change. But it’s not that we want to have an overnight build-out of the plan. It’s important to spend the time and money to make it happen.”

Raulston said that he wants to avoid over-managing the building process. While the public sector is well-intentioned, trying to stave off worse-case scenarios, Raulston said that, “We are trying to do too much with plans. It’s important to get out of the way and let the private sector fulfill its role.”

Raulston credits his city as having “the political will to do its part.”

“With some other cities, you have the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) factor that sets in,” he said. “You also have the ‘Not in My Term of Office’ factor.”

This happens, he said, when politicians might support change, but not during their term of office, when they might draw the ire of their constituents.

“How do you solve regional problems and local issues?” asked Raulston. “With balance , by using good planning and studying environmental impacts. Harbor View (Condominiums) is the first new building that will do that. My job, as a public official, is to enable the private sector. We have a good plan. Now the private sector must come in and make it work.”

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