Mayor Hires Smart Growth Expert As Planning Director

Ask the city's new planning director what a perfect neighborhood looks like, and he'll have you thinking Little Italy or North Park -- as opposed to sprawling suburbs like Tierrasanta or Poway.

Urban Planner Bill Fulton is a national expert on "smart growth," a planning strategy that focuses on walkable communities, where residents can live, work, play and get groceries all in the same short distance. He currently serves as the vice president for policy at Smart Growth in America in Washington D.C.

Fulton is the mayor's latest hire to head what the administration has dubbed the "Planning and Neighborhood Restoration Department." Last year, Filner said that he was going to name it the "Office of Prosperity, Livability and Urban Sustainability."

Days after taking office, Mayor Bob Filner led NBC 7 San Diego on a tour of City Hall's empty fourth floor; the Planning Department, gutted by budget cuts and then merged with Development Services.

He saw the empty room and desks as indicative of an overall problem across the city: a lack of focus on neighborhood revitalization.

Enter Fulton, 57, who says he shares the mayors vision for embracing some of the city's more neglected neighborhoods like Barrio Logan and San Ysidro. 

"San Diego has done a great job of reinvigorating a lot of the older neighborhoods in the downtown area. The trolley has been an enormous influence on that," Fulton said. "I think the issue is how to move that prosperity and sustainability out to all the neighborhoods in the city, particularly to the south and to the east." 

Fulton served as mayor of Ventura and, before that, was a city councilman there between 2003 and 2011.

As Voice of San Diego reporter Andrew Keatts pointed out, Fulton took an unusual stance for a local official on the issue of redevelopment by supporting Gov. Jerry Brown's move to end it.

"Every city used redevelopment to do everything, even when it wasn't appropriate. So, I think a more targeted and focused effort to use redevelopment around transit stations and in older neighborhoods is a very appropriate thing," Fulton told NBC 7 today.

He added he supports a bill to bring redevelopment back as a more limited tool.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Fulton's annual base salary will be $175,000.

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