October is National Community Planning Month

“Planning ensures that we’re envisioning and permitting the best for the future generations of Ventura.”

City of Ventura Planner Maruja Clensay lost her own home during the Thomas Fire. The tragic experience allowed her to relate to other Thomas Fire victims going through the planning process. She has been a planner for more than 13 years and is celebrated during National Community Planning Month.

What do you do from your job as a planner?

Planners are regulators and facilitators. We take someone’s vision and fit it into a box of code and regulations to reach the desired result. We’re balancing everything from code requirements, potential environmental or social concerns, state law, environmental regulations, and possible public improvements for the benefit of the community. Planning involves the balancing and managing of these different regulatory hurdles to project fruition and reach the desired milestone – whether it’s a single family wanting a new house or an addition for their aging mother or father, or a commercial business owner wanting to expand a profitable business. With such heavy regulatory language, we’re tasked with communicating these requirements in a common sense, regular language to the general public. Planners often say our language is “plannerese” because no one else really understands it (and there are so many acronyms!). Essentially, planners are the bridge that link the “pie in the sky” idea with physical development or other improvements on the ground.

What do you like about your job?

While all development projects involve physical changes, every project is different. Every project offers new challenges and unique approaches within the required regulatory setting. I like that. I don’t get stagnant. Every day is different in that sense. Planners are helpers. My focus in graduate school was community organizing; I really like working with the community and enabling them to utilize existing regulations to work for them, not against them. My motto is “it’s not ‘No, because..’, it’s “YES, if…” There IS a path forward – and let’s find it together. With that, one of the best things I like about planning is Public Workshops – I love that level of engagement. Informal discussions are had, rough sketches are made, ideas are shared, concerns are vetted and addressed in a transparent process. The local community is the best resource in determining how to move forward with future evolutions of code and regulations; they are the city. As project managers, Planning collaborates with various City Departments and outside agencies; Public works, Parks, Ventura Water, Building and safety, County of Ventura, etc. It’s a team effort – citywide (and even County wide!). In the end, what we do is for the benefit of the city; and that’s a really cool thing.

How does Planning make a difference for our city

While it may seem arduous and can be difficult to get through, Planning ensures that we’re envisioning and permitting the best for the future generations of Ventura. Planning is the Gatekeeper – along with other City Departments, planning is tasked to look at everything; to make sure we have proper infrastructure in place; that we have sidewalks that meet accessibility requirements; that we engage with the public when they call us with concerns about a project coming online in their neighborhood. Planning helps realize the future as envisioned by the Community via our General Plan in a sound, regulated format. Many regulations that are in place are because of a prior vision, because of a prior idea, because someone at a public workshop said, “I want to do this. I think this should happen in our city.” As such, Planning facilitates projects through the regulatory environment as previously determined by past Councils, the state, and the public. Planning brings something that’s lasting in our community; and that feels good.

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