By Jeeni Criscenzo
Who could possibly be against a park? A bit of open space to take a stroll; rest on a bench and breathe in the fresh air; enjoy the peace and quiet… Maybe that’s what most of us think of when we think of a park, but that’s not what developers see. Last night, at the third “workshop” for the East Village Green, we were treated to what one lady exclaimed as an iconic vision and what I thought was a perfect example of elitist tunnel vision.
The East Village Green would be a 4.1 acre wonderland between 13th St and 15th St. and F and G Street in East Village. It has been promised to the people of the neighborhood for almost 10 years–about the same time a poor family will have to wait to get Section 8 housing.
If you drive by the area where CivicSD is planning to build East Village Green, you will see homeless encampments along 13th and F St. According to one seasoned street resident, the folks on F St. have been there for quite some time and make every effort to keep things tidy. During the day you’ll see several carefully packed up groupings of belongings in shopping carts chained to the chain-link fence, covered with blue tarp.
The owners seemed to be elsewhere, except for one where the tarp was stretched out longer to form a tent. Walking by, I could see a man asleep beneath the enclosure. Adding credibility to the claim that these same folks have been there for a while, when I used Street View in Google, I saw this identical “tent” in the same spot.
Midday this past Sunday, I saw three situations where two or more police were “interfacing” with the homeless population in this area. Depending on your point of view, this is either a daily form of harassment that people without a place to live have to endure, or a welcomed police presence for residents who can afford the expensive new apartments built on the south side of G Street. Last night, after the Civic San Diego meeting, we drove around the area and flashing police lights were omnipresent.
On the southeast corner of this potential park is Smart & Final, a warehouse-type grocery store that serves 6,000 customers each week. The store manager, Armando Ramos, as well as the district manager, were unaware of the current push to build a park on their site, although the district manager knew the idea had been around for years. Asked if he would prefer affordable housing or a park in the area, Ramos didn’t hesitate to choose affordable housing because it would “stimulate business”. That’s almost the exact wording used last night to explain one of the benefits of a community park.
The land enclosed by 13th, F, 14th and G on the west section of this park is almost all cleared and owned by CivicSD/City of San Diego although there appears to be a $193,759,073 mortgage on the property (according to the RealList Report for 764 14th St.). I was assured this is just “numbers” used to move City property from one legal entity to another.
The center chunk of the site is bordered by 14th St on the west and Smart & Final on the right. The top two thirds is owned by SDG&E and is the site of the Urban Substation, which is still in operation. Even the drawing for Phase I of the park encompasses this section of land which is about one fifth of the total property. No one seems to know whether or not SDG&E would even be interested in closing this substation which currently serves a substantial population, and selling it to the city, or moving it underground and allowing the city to “parkland” above it, but in any case, I’m sure we are talking about a LOT of money.
Speaking of money – it’s the one topic that was NEVER spoken about at the workshop. When I asked about the budget during the Q&A I was simply assured that there is enough money for this project. What? I listened to 2 hours of gushing about all of the amazing amenities this park would have and no one is saying, “Whoa Nellie! Can we afford the most amazing dual leash-free dog park with a Bark Beer bar between the little dog and big dog park?”
This is striking to me because I’ve sat through City Council meetings where they moan and groan and wince to spend $500,000 to keep a day center open that keeps 300 homeless folks off the street every day. Ah, but when it comes to our puppies, spare no expense!
Do we need a four acre park with a water feature (in a drought?) groves, game area, children’s park, food kiosk, shade structures, community center and water sucking green grass, parking and eleven toilets (yes!) in this location? During Q&A at the workshop, Juan del Rio (my spouse) pointed out that San Diego’s crown jewel of a park, Balboa Park, is only a few blocks away.
CiviSD Senior Planner, Mark Caro, responded that it was in fact 3 miles away. “In fact” it is only 1.3 miles from the corner of 14th St and F St to the Air & Space Museum on the south end of Balboa Park. And two blocks south of this location is the newly opened 1.3-acre Fault-Line Park (who thought that was a great name?). Surely anyone wanting to use a park can easily use either of these locations and get there using the bike and pedestrian-friendly 14th Street Promenade being planned.
The plans include a 2-level underground garage to park 300 cars. Why? This is supposed to be a neighborhood park. If you live far enough to require getting in your car to get there, maybe you can drive 1.3 miles further and enjoy all of the amenities and more at Balboa Park!
The area where this park is planned is fraught with “challenges,” a term Caro used to allude to the transient population that not only currently uses this area to hunker down for the night, but absent more appropriate alternatives (such as housing?) will likely use this park as a camping ground, just as they do in Balboa Park. Or maybe they plan on hiring Donald Trump to build a border wall around the park to keep them out. There was no further mention of homeless people or the affordable housing emergency our City Council has declared for the 12th year in a row. I don’t recall any park space emergencies.
As I stated in the non-agenda comment period prior to the workshop, using the number of homeless students reported by San Diego Unified School District, I calculate that we have 2,400 homeless FAMILIES in our city. That’s not counting the 5,538 in the Point-in-Time Count of the homeless (PITC) last January who are not couch surfing which is what most homeless women with children do.
Alpha Square which is nearing completion will have 203 studios, which are not appropriate for families. The 956 units that will be available when the second Pinnacle on the Park tower is completed in 2018 is supposed to have 72 affordable units, but by then, our numbers of homeless will likely have increase far beyond that. New luxury apartments have been built facing this proposed park on G St. One bedroom units are going for $2,175 to $3,035. That’s light years away from affordability.
Maybe, when the stardust settles, city planners could consider putting affordable FAMILY housing on part of this property. Maybe the folks living in those fancy condos could settle for a ½ acre park and get in their expensive cars and drive to Balboa Park to enjoy the leash-free dog park or take a stroll through the new Fault Line Park. Time is running out to get our priorities in order. Once the city legislates this property as designated for park usage, according to our City Charter, it would take a two-thirds vote to use it for anything else and this luxurious gift to the East Village residents and developers will be permanent.