By Doug Porter
Measure J seemed like another non-controversial proposal at first.
It extended the lifetime of an earlier ballot measure dedicating a portion of revenues from leases on properties at Mission Bay Park and shuffled the formula for allocating funds to include other regional parks.
The idea was for these revenues to pay for bonds to be used in capital improvement projects for Mission Bay Park and regional parks, including Balboa Park.
Needless to say, Balboa Park groups existing amidst crumbling buildings and other infrastructure shortcomings were thrilled.
Two Prongs and a Grand Restoration
The breathless press releases coming from Mayor Faulconer’s office hailed this move as part of a “two-pronged approach for a grand restoration of the City’s major parks.”
Mayor Faulconer was joined for the announcement by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, City Councilmembers Mark Kersey and Lorie Zapf, Councilmember-elect Chris Ward, former Mayor and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, and members from the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, Balboa Park Conservancy, Friends of Balboa Park, and Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park Committees.
The other prong, by the way, was the revival of the Plaza de Panama/parking garage plan. According to the Mayor’s office:
The project would be financed through a combination of parking revenues, City funds earmarked for capital projects and private philanthropy. No Mission Bay lease revenue would be used for this project.
As it turns out, the early estimates on the cost of the Plaza de Panama project show an 88% increase since it was first proposed six years ago. Undeterred by this news, the City Council voted 8-1 in September to spend up to $1 million to finalize design details and generate new cost estimates. A report to the council is expected next month.
What It Is
Here’s what the City says will happen with Measure J:
The proposed initiative makes several changes to preserve and prioritize capital investment in Mission Bay Park and regional parks, including:
- Extending the funding stream for an additional 30 years to 2069, making hundreds of millions of future dollars available for Mission Bay Park and regional parks.
- Amending Charter Section 55.2 to implement cash management best practices to improve efficiencies and expedite the completion of high-priority infrastructure projects for Mission Bay Park, such as bicycle trails, lighting, public restrooms and playgrounds.
- Increasing the share that Balboa Park and regional parks receive in lease revenue from 25% to 35%. This would bring in about $3.5 million annually for improvements in regional parks, such as Balboa Park, Sunset Cliffs and Mission Trails. The funds can be leveraged for projects, such as maintaining Balboa Park’s historic buildings.
Measure J builds upon and modifies 2008’s Proposition C, requiring the City to divide excess Mission Bay lease revenue (anything above $20 million) for capital investment in Mission Bay Park (75%) and regional parks (25%) through 2039.
Mission Bay Park is the largest salt water aquatic recreation park of its kind in the world. About one-half of the park was once State tidelands, transferred to the city of San Diego with a mandate for the management of the coastal interface zones, dredging, preservation of species, tidal zones, etc… with a maximum of 25% “urban /commercial development.
Kevin Faulconer began his involvement in this issue by working as chair of the Mission Bay Park Committee and emerged as the public face of a crusade to keep the city government from dipping into what was supposed to be funding for repairs and preservation of the area’s ecosystem.
From a guest commentary published in San Diego Community News Group papers, here’s then-Councilman Faulconer:
Proposition C — saving Mission Bay Park — is about the preservation of one of the most well-known and cherished landmarks in San Diego, and it’s about continuing needed reform in San Diego; it’s about truth in budgeting; it’s about ending the procrastination of fixing this park to maintain its safety and preserve its wildlife, and it’s about being open with the taxpayers.
Some of the people who worked with Councilman Faulconer to pass Prop C have serious doubts about what is in store should Measure J pass. A big part of that doubt stems from a perceived lack of openness on Faulconer’s part.
The announcement and city council approval of this proposal seemingly came about in record time. The language contained in the Charter amendment wasn’t presented to the Mission Bay Park Improvement Fund Oversight Committee until July 8th, more than a week after it was announced as the greatest idea ever for saving San Diego’s parks.
Local community planning groups were not informed about the plans either. The Pacific Beach Town Council held a public forum on September 21st, and there were lots of unhappy citizens wanting to be heard.
Former Councilwoman Donna Frye and civic volunteer Bob Ottilie are the most visible leaders of those who have emerged to oppose Measure J. Their dissent is especially notable because eight years ago they worked with (now-Mayor) Faulconer on Proposition C.
From Voice of San Diego:
Ottilie’s not cool with this proposed change. The attorney recalled drafting 42 separate versions of 2008’s Proposition C with Faulconer before feeling assured future city leaders couldn’t raid Mission Bay Park funds without a public vote.
Now Faulconer’s seeking that public vote.
“We were afraid that some subsequent council or mayor in (future) years would come and try to steal our money. So what’s happening now? Some people are making the argument that the Council and mayor are trying to steal our money,” Ottilie said this week. “Who knew that one of the authors would be supporting taking the money?”
More Than Money
While nobody is particularly thrilled about the idea of losing another 10% of the funding that’s supposed to be (and critics say is not) used for Mission Bay Park, it’s the fine print slipped in following the Mayor’s June 30th announcement that has people really worried.
From an editorial in the Clairemont Times (boldface from original):
The second part of Measure J is probably not known to many people. That’s because the language was added after the mayor held his June 30 press conference announcing it. There has been almost no public discussion about it either. The proposed language would change the definition of Mission Bay Park by allowing the City Council to add contiguous park acreage. Adding more parkland sounds pretty good until you understand what the consequences could be.
If you recall, in 1987 the voters approved a ballot measure limiting to 25 percent the amount of commercial development allowed in Mission Bay Park. That number was based upon the total park acreage at that time. So for every acre of park that is added, another 25 percent of commercial development could be allowed on areas such as Fiesta Island, De Anza or Sea World.
That raises a lot of red flags, especially when one considers it could mean even more hotels on our public parkland. For example, the Voice of San Diego reported last November that “SeaWorld has inked a partnership deal with Evans Hotel Group, the high-powered owner of The Lodge at Torrey Pines and two Mission Bay hotels, to either build or purchase a hotel.”
Who Do You Trust?
Supporters of Measure J say changes to the rigid requirements of the current charter section will enable funds to be used more efficiently in making upgrades to Mission Bay Park.
Representatives from the City say the measure was meant to help, not hurt the park and deny the claim that it would open up more land for leasing and development.
From Voice of San Diego:
Katherine Johnston, Faulconer’s director of infrastructure and budget policy, said the city added the broader language defining the park so it could fund wetlands restoration in an area near the Campland on the Bay campground, not lease out more property.
So it comes down to this: Do you trust the City to do what it says with Measure J? Or is this just another backdoor deal?
Given San Diego’s history, people in the communities surrounding Mission Bay have good reason to be skeptical.
The editorial board of the San Diego Free Press recommends voting No on Measure J.
For more information on this and other ballot issues, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide.
For More Information
Ballot Language: CHARTER AMENDMENT REGARDING USE OF LEASE REVENUE FROM MISSION BAY PARK.
Shall Charter section 55.2 be amended to: increase, from 25% to 35%, the allocation of annual Mission Bay Park lease revenues exceeding $20 million, for capital improvements in San Diego Regional Parks; allow Council to add City-owned parkland to Mission Bay Park’s boundaries; combine and coordinate construction of Mission Bay Park improvements identified in this section; and extend operation of this section until 2069?
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Measures K & L. Let the majority rule.
Key Dates for the November 8, 2016 General Election –> pic.twitter.com/uEQEgPKHRk
— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) September 12, 2016
On This Day: 1648 – The “Shoemakers of Boston”—the first labor organization in what would later become the United States—was authorized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 1968 – Two black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee for giving a “black power” salute during a ceremony in Mexico City. 1990 – The City of Los Angeles declared “Rocky Horror Picture Show Day.”
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