Heidi Vonblum knows firsthand how important housing that fits a family’s need can be – and the necessity of nearby public parks.
The city of San Diego’s newly hired planning director and her three young children live in a 1,000-square-foot home – without a backyard – in urban San Diego.
And it is in their part of town, Vonblum said, that she is able to “walk the walk,” literally and figuratively.
“We live in transit-priority, multifamily housing,” said Vonblum, the city’s deputy planning director for the past two years and its interim planning director since January. “We don’t have private open space and only a 3-by-3-foot deck. But we live near urban canyons and we are fortunate to be close to Balboa Park. We can walk and bike all over our neighborhood.”
Vonblum was hired by the city earlier this month as the point person responsible for the long-term growth of San Diego, including housing, parks and mobility, keying in on equity and identifying areas that need improvement.
The San Francisco native and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate moved to San Diego in 2005 to attend the University of San Diego law school. Before taking a job working in the City Attorney’s office, Vonblum held several jobs in the private sector, including working as an environmental consultant.
She was employed by the City of San Diego for more than 12 years, starting as a deputy attorney in the City Attorney’s office in 2009 before transitioning in 2018 to the planning department. There, she has been able to drive change and move from the status quo.
“I was excited to join the planning department as a team member after working with them and other departments for quite some time,” Vonblum said.
“The planning department is able to bring forth very large initiatives that are transformative,” Vonblum added. “The attorney’s office doesn’t drive policy… and what I want to do is bring our city forward together, making progress toward achieving better neighborhoods, and moving forward on climate conservation, housing, public parks, infrastructure and equity.”
Making room for more parks and open space is a major focus in the planning department, and has been activated in the “Parks For All of Us” initiative that was brought forward last year, with the city updating its master park plan and impact fees.
“We are delivering much-needed parks and public open spaces in urban environments with the really intentional goal of equitable initiatives, focusing on areas where our greatest needs are,” Vonblum said.
Partnering with Business Community
Vonblum said she is focused on working with the business sector as well, saying that San Diego cannot accommodate new growth if the city doesn’t partner with the whole of its community, including businesses.
“We have to make sure our regulations and incentives will work for them,” Vonblum said. “We see lots of different stakeholders and we have a role to balance all those interests. We want to make sure our policy and program regulations work for the business industry. We’ll continue to work with community stakeholders and neighborhoods to make sure there is progress and that when we put forth policies, that they are equitable.”
Vonblum and her team in the Planning Department were instrumental in developing the “Homes for All of Us” initiative that pulls together multiple statewide and city reforms aimed at making it easier to create new homes for all income levels throughout San Diego.
Mayor Todd Gloria signed into law the first piece of the Homes for All of Us initiative in March.
“Heidi is a visionary leader who has developed innovative planning initiatives to meet the challenges facing San Diego both today and decades from now,” Gloria said. “Her hard work and diligence have earned the trust and confidence of both city leadership and her team in the planning department, and I’m excited to continue working with her to meet our climate, housing and equity goals to improve the lives of all San Diegans.”
Another city program, Build Better SD, was furthered under Vonblum’s leadership in the planning department. That program is intended to create a new citywide fund for better and more equitable delivery of infrastructure improvements across San Diego.
“Providing homes and safe and enjoyable neighborhoods are so critical for our city’s growing population,” Vonblum said. “I am excited to continue to work with the mayor and the entire planning department team to bring more homes to people in all communities, and to ensure that the infrastructure needed to support and improve the lives of all San Diegans is delivered efficiently and equitably.”