“The function of government must be to favor no small group at the expense of its duty to protect the rights of personal freedom and of private property of all its citizens.”—Franklin Delano Roosevelt“It's possible to own too much. A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.”—Lee SegallDuring the San Diego City Council's lengthy debate last week prior to approving temporary building-height limits in the Uptown area, Councilmember Donna Frye posed a simple question.“How many members of that Technical Advisory Committee are, say, members of community planning groups? Any?”After a brief pause, a city planner said he thought he recognized one community member, but then added, “Most of those members are folks from technical fields like architects or project applicants themselves.”“Project applicants,” Frye repeated. The crowd in council chambers immediately stirred and briefly applauded.Spin Cycle will admit to an occasional long nap, some even intentional. After all, a rested mind is a clear mind, right? But heck if Spin Cycle knew anything about this Technical Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the council's influential Land Use & Housing Committee (LU&H).Turns out Spin Cycle wasn't alone.Since at least the mid-'90s, this Technical Advisory Committee—an opinionated group of some of San Diego's most persuasive members of the development community—has met regularly to advise and opine on a host of matters deemed important to their self-interests before the keen ear of the city's Development Services Department (DSD).But what seems to have changed is its mission. Originally established during the Dick Murphy era to help, according to a 2000 city manager's report, “improve the performance and customer service in the land and building development review process,” the TAC in recent years has expanded its mission to include “proactively” advising the mayor and LU&H “on improvements to the regulatory process through the review of policies and regulations that impact development.”Former City Manager Lamont Ewell, in a 2004 report, acknowledged that the broadened mission “reflects the expanded role of TAC to provide a forum for the development community to state their recommendations on proposed changes to city policies and regulations that impact the development process.”What no one can seem to answer is: Just who gave this subcommittee the authority to expand its mission?“From our initial, cursory research, we don't see anything to indicate where the Land Use & Housing Committee authorized the change in [TAC's] mission,” Deputy City Attorney Marianne Greene told Spin Cycle this week. The City Attorney's office, she said, is reviewing the subcommittee's past actions to determine if they comply with council policy and open-meeting laws.“They gave themselves authority to make recommendations to the Mayor's office, which was a crucial change from making recommendations back to LU&H,” Greene said. “Suddenly, they shifted from the legislative side to now broadening into the executive branch.”Why should the average San Diegan care? Well, to watch this subcommittee in action is comparable to watching the “Bizarro World” episode of Seinfeld.Spin Cycle attended the July TAC meeting, at which members—following a deli-sandwich lunch provided by DSD—discussed a proposed ordinance requiring that all new buildings constructed in San Diego have on-site so-called automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, devices used to assist heart-attack victims.The discussion didn't focus on the value of the devices as much as the potential liability that building owners might face if the device were used improperly or were to go haywire. The debate prompted City Councilmember Jim Madaffer, a champion of the device, to pop in unexpectedly to the meeting with his own personal AED, which he said he keeps in his car.But since the TAC meeting came just a day after the council's debate on Uptown's interim height ordinance, what was most revealing was an informal discussion of the subcommittee's role and, as one member put it, whether the TAC is facing an “identity crisis.”To understand that discussion, a little background: TAC membership is clearly top-heavy with developer interests. Groups represented are an alphabet soup of entrenched entities, from the powerful BIA (Building Industry Association of San Diego County), AIA (representing architects), the local Chamber of Commerce, BIOCOM (life science trade association), ASLA (landscape architects), NAIOP (industrial development trade group), EDC (Economic Development Corp.), permit consultants and general contractors. Sprinkled into the mix are accessibility experts, business-improvement-district reps, in-fill developers and small-business advisers.At last week's meeting, some members even acknowledged that the group could do a better job at engaging people from community planning groups. (Full disclosure: I am an elected member of Uptown Planners.) Some members suggested adding a planning-group member or two to its ranks. Whether anyone would take them up on that is subject to debate. One community planning board member told Spin Cycle privately that few would likely want to be the “token” public member on TAC, which appoints its own members.Ron May, a historic-preservation expert and retired county environmental specialist who has attended several TAC meetings, is blunt in his assessment of the committee.“Personally, I think this is illegal,” he told Spin Cycle. “I believe you can't have people who are listed as lobbyists with the city of San Diego having this kind of access to departmental directors. And I think it's probably illegal for people who have permits in front of the city—development projects being reviewed by DSD—to be privately sitting down there once a month, talking to the directors of the office, advising them on things that affect their financial world.”Kelly Broughton, head of DSD, defended the role of TAC and its expanded mission. “As far as TAC overstepping its bounds, I don't think it really has,” Broughton told Spin Cycle. “I think it realized part way through its life span that a lot of times when regulations get changed or council directs regulations get changed, that has as much impact on the efficiency of the Development Services Department… as anything else.”Broughton added, “I have not felt that they're solely looking out just for the development community. They are fairly well balanced in that some of them recognize that they have to work very collaboratively with the community and that they're not successful if they don't.”May isn't so sure. At the TAC meeting in May, for example, he noted that more DSD staffers attended than committee members. In June, he added, the TAC held two meetings after one member, representing the BIA, “demanded” that the TAC support a Planning Commission alternative to Uptown's temporary height-limit ordinance, which May contends would have permitted “200-foot buildings all over Uptown.” A special meeting was called, and the TAC unanimously backed the Planning Commission.May appeared before the City Council's Rules Committee the same day as the special TAC meeting to request a clarification of what a quorum consists of for TAC (its bylaws only refer to “a simple majority of the members present”) and whether TAC members should be required to file statements of economic interest.Madaffer, who chairs the Rules Committee and is vice chairman of LU&H, did not respond to questions from Spin Cycle about when May's questions would be answered. LU&H chairman Ben Hueso also did not respond to inquiries.Meanwhile, Frye says she'll keep on eye on the group. “We already had to require that they follow open-meeting laws, publish their agendas and post the address where they're meeting,” she said. “I didn't know they were supposed to be voting on projects and things like that.” Got a tip? Send it to email@example.com.