Urban development, environmental mitigation and quality of life in the time of climate change
By John Stump
It’s happened again, as predicted. The City of San Diego’s long troubled Wightman Street Park flooded on January 5 and was under three feet of water again! Neighboring houses were flooded again and may be ruined.
In the 1920s this area in what is now known as City Heights was an unincorporated area in the county of San Diego. It contained a small lake, dance hall and other rural amusements. The City of San Diego annexed the area and built a realigned University Avenue.
The bigger wider University Avenue was placed on a raised dike like road bed, with inadequate drainage to transfer the storm water from the north side of University Avenue to the south side and then, via Auburn Creek, to Chollas Creek and eventually to San Diego Bay.
The spring fed Auburn Creek formed Euclid Avenue and Home Avenue canyon drainage systems. The Auburn Creek flood plain and creek channel were filled in, diverted and generally mismanaged. During periods of excessive rain, like those anticipated by the current El Niño weather pattern and experienced yesterday, homes along Oakcrest and Ottilie Street, Wightman Street, Home Avenue and the Fox Canyon neighborhood are inundated.
Past flooding has required boat rescues, abandonment of homes and demolitions. There have been numerous suits and scandals concerning the flooding caused by City mismanagement and politically motivated developer schemes to continue to overdevelop this watershed. A vacant city lot was acquired as a result of litigation when Auburn Creek flooded out apartment units at this location.
In 2007 the San Diego Parks and Recreation commission and San Diego Grand Jury held numerous hearings and issued scathing reports concerning the illegal schemes to divert funds and build a road instead of a park.
The City of San Diego has attempted to build or has built four facilities along Auburn Creek in a box culvert along Home Avenue. This development includes the artificial narrowing of Auburn Creek for the recently completed Charles Lewis II park and San Diego Central Police Garage, all on the south side of Home Avenue in the Auburn Creek channel and flood plain. They have contributed to flooding, loss of property and possible health hazards from exposure to e-coli waste, other pathogens and buried toxic substances along Auburn Creek and in Fox Canyon.
The City attempted to move Fox Canyon park money to the Wightman Street site but has been opposed in this effort by local neighborhood environmental, health and safety activists represented by local environmental Attorney Cory Briggs. Mr. Briggs warned the Council that the Wightman Street site was contaminated and I warned the Council that filling the site will flood the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, January 5th, the predicted Wightman Street flooding occurred again. Water rose to nearly three feet and flooded homes. Further downstream, Auburn Creek flooded onto Home Avenue forcing the use of police barricades and patrolled closure of Home Avenue between Fairmount Boulevard and Euclid canyon drive. The flooding could be seen from Fairmount but the extent of the damage to the adjacent military housing apartments and the new Charles Lewis Park could not be ascertained because of the barricades and darkness.
This first big El Niño storm system is expected to continue this week and more flooding is sure to occur. The city has long been aware of these flooding hazards, paid fines and court costs but continues to mismanage this major urban waterway.
Mr. Stump’s post has been edited for style and clarity.
John Stump is a long term City Heights resident, his Azaela Park home is under the big tree at 3 LEAF. He has been an active environmentalist for more than 50 years and past Chairman of the San Diego Sierra Club. He is an attorney and has served the City of San Diego as Chairman of its Equal Opportunity Commission under several mayors. John was chairman of the City Heights Community Development Corporation board of directors during its advocacy for covering the 15 Freeway and the addition of City Heights schools and bike paths. He is a past California Bar Commissioner for legal services. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org