For the past few months, it’s been pretty difficult to ignore the debate about the Chargers and their future in San Diego. But that’s distracted us from a key opportunity to create a worthwhile public asset right next door to the current Chargers stadium.

Commentary - in-story logoMost people have an opinion about whether the Chargers will stay or go, and if the new stadium will be located in Mission Valley or Carson.

Meanwhile, lots of planning and analysis is taking place about the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site, and it seems to be more about new development than keeping the team. Otherwise, why would anyone select Mission Valley for a new stadium, given the Chargers’ lack of enthusiasm for the location? It’s like asking someone what they don’t want for dinner and then serving them a big ol’ heaping plate of it.

But considering how San Diego does things, it comes as no shock that fast-tracking a big development project is at least part of the end goal.

For example, within a short time of the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group naming Mission Valley as the chosen site, one of its members assembled a team to create a “new mixed-use, transit-oriented village” at the site and look at the “overall development of Mission Valley.”

On April 1, Councilman Scott Sherman shared a proposal to develop the 166-acre site with 6,000 new residential units, 3 million square feet of office space, some retail and hotel space and a whopping 20 acres of public park land.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Gary London, a real estate consultant who worked on Sherman’s proposal, said the new development “can be accomplished with or without a Chargers stadium.”

That development carries a big opportunity staring us right in the face – the potential to create a real San Diego River Park. I’m not talking about the measly 20-acre kind of park that is currently being proposed. I’m talking about using the majority of the 166 acres and combining that with the same kind of thinking and passion that helped create Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park.

Instead of creating one more boring development project typical of Mission Valley, we could recognize the potential that now exists and do something really great for the public by creating a massive river park that everyone could enjoy.

A San Diego River Park has been contemplated for years, and is already supported in existing planning documents, including the San Diego River Park Master Plan. Key points include the site’s “critical location for meeting community-based park and recreation needs in Mission Valley, no acquisition costs required and critical location for creating continuity in San Diego River Park and San Diego River Park pathway.” It could include ball fields, soccer fields, an active sports complex and a natural children’s play area.

The options for the park are limitless and constrained only by our will to make it happen. For once, how about working on a plan that provides more of what we don’t have, and less of what we do have? Rather than doing the usual and unremarkable, we could do something that inspires us – something we could look back on and be proud of for generations to come.

Donna Frye is a former member of San Diego City Council, whose district included Mission Valley, and was one of the original board members of the San Diego River Park Conservancy. Frye’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Growth and Housing, Opinion

    Written by Opinion

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    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscriber

    The political reality is that the City Politicians will listen to the developers more than to the Public. The City cannot manage Balboa Park's infrastructure issues created by prior Politicians. I see no way that the Public will benefit as the Politicians scramble for ways to sell this property "down the River."

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    The practicality of placing a river park in Mission Valley is...iffy. There are already jogging trails through dense cover down there. Oh, and also about 1500 homeless people living down there until the biennial cleanups, when citizens and PD shift tons of junk out of the valley.

    There have been rapes and assaults on these jogging trails. Heck, a few years back, one of my fishing buddies found a human head under a bucket.

    So this may sound like a great idea, until you throw in this perennial homeless problem. Until they can be permanently evicted, a park is a dangerous notion that only sounds good on paper.

    Back in the 60s, I rode horses down there at Kenmore Stables. There was open space; paddocks and fields until the city decided to let everything grow over and then came the bums, along with increased crime; particularly down off the west side of Morena near Mission Valley. Walking or biking distance for valley dwellers. 

    globespinner subscriber

    Another plus for making all 166 acres a park:  Flood Control

    Condos, Chargers, movie theaters and long waits at intersections all come to mind when discussing Mission Valley.  The first thing I think of are those historical photos of the valley flooded bank to bank.  One major and a few minor watersheds drain and converge right there.  It is insane to have it paved.  A park would provide critical absorption, and perhaps retention if graded strategically, of flood waters protecting BILLIONS of dollars of public and private property downstream.  

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @globespinner  --What year was the valley flooded from bank to bank?  Was it before El Capitan and San Vicente dams were constructed?

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @globespinner @David Crossley  --Which is my point.  Both dams were built after those valley floods, so I doubt there will be bank-to-bank flooding again in the valley.  Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

    globespinner subscriber

    @David Crossley @globespinner Reservoirs are not retention basins sitting empty to buffer a heavy rain.  They are intended to be full for water supply and sometimes recreation.  For flood control a full reservoir is worse than none at all.  All its absorption area is nullified so the downstream situation is more precarious.  On top of that there is always the slight chance of the dam breaking.  Of course it that happens the 166 acres of park buffer would not be enough anyway.  

    I am not a civil engineer and I don't play on on TV.  I just think common sense dictates that you don't pave over flood plains.  In this case where we have a chance to undo a past mistake it seems crazy not to - especially when the site could have so much recreational value.  

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @globespinner @David Crossley  --And yet they were designed to be both for flood control and storage.  They've done a damn (no pun intended) good job on both--including the El Nino years. 

    I would like to see something done with the river along the Q site--similar to what was done in areas farther west.  I think a park through there would be great, but the channel through there does need to be widened.

    Mike subscriber

    Why are all the buildings in Mission Valley so short? Is there a city ordinance on height?  The downtown buildings look so much nicer and can fit more people in less square feet.  Why can't we build taller buildings in MV?

    Tom Mullaney
    Tom Mullaney subscribermember

      Donna Frye once again is showing the visionary leadership that San Diego needs.  Using the stadium site for a riverfront park would create  huge benefits.   The Mission Valley residents would get the community park that they are lacking.  Nearby communities which have few parks would get access to parkland & sports fields.  All San Diegans would get a new regional park.

       There's plenty of evidence that San Diego is short of parks.  Some older communities, like Uptown, have only 10% of the minimum standard for park land.  Balboa Park is overcrowded at major events like December Nights.  The new Waterfront Park is already overused,  by some accounts, by people escaping their park-deficient communities. 

        A former planning commissioner stated: "If the San Diego region is going to accommodate another million people, we will need another Balboa Park."

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    I am sure some spectacular development for public use could happen if we could use the entire 166 acres. The real question is would we?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @SD yimby I agree, the "measly" 20-acre park as currently planned is a much better use of that land.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    In concept I find myself agreeing with Donna on this.

    May wonders never cease

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    What makes San Diego a wonderful place to live is access to outdoor recreation. 

    Anything that adds to that makes it a better place.   Anything that detracts from it makes worse.

    What’s refreshingly honest about this piece is how clearly it reflects what San Diegans want from their city and the people who run it.  

    What’s often so dishonest about what we see from our leaders is how quickly they will sell-out what San Diego is about in order to put in place, probably on behalf of their largest contributors, a “vision” for “place-making” that has nothing to do with what people like about living here, or what makes living here worth the cost.  Mr. Sherman’s grandstanding is a glaring example.

    I’ll take Ms. Frye’s word for it that the river is capable of providing the raw material for a park rivaling Mission Bay and Balboa. I’ll also agree its ok to create this park using public funds. 

    Conversely, it’s nothing short of blackmail to make the public think they need to buy a new football stadium, six thousand condos, their 12,000 associated cars, shopping centers, office buildings, game-day gridlock, parking structures and freeway ramps in order to get a riverfront park.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    In an ideal world, this river park would be done tomorrow.  Parks are wonderful and always get voter support until you start doing cost projections.  San Diego is fortunate to have as many parks as it presently does, including scores of neighborhood parks and two magnificent ones, Balboa and Mission Bay, not to mention the many miles of public beaches maintained by the city. I looked at the plan Donna posted in her article; its’ a very impressive, thorough presentation and it’s only two years old. However, the cost to develop it is unknown, but here is a summary of the economic justification for the mammoth expenditure of creating a park that goes from “near Julian” to the ocean:

    1.  An increase in the value of property near the river, which would generate increased property tax revenue and some new T.O.T.  I couldn’t find any specific cost estimate in creating the park, nor any revenue estimate as a result of it’s creation.

    2.  Funding sources will come through public and private sources as development occurs, including local, federal and state grants.

    There is a much more detailed analysis of maintenance costs, which the plan says could be over 3 million annually “at buildout”, i.e., when the entire project is complete.

    I love the plan. It’s scope is gigantic and the detail on most issues is phenomenal.  How much additional traffic would occur in Mission Valley and elsewhere is not covered unless I missed it, which I could have if I’d read each of the 202 pages in detail.  If a Chargers‘ departure is needed to trigger the start, so be it.  However, this plan faces the same obstacle as a new stadium, where does the money come from to get it off the ground?

    Looking at the issues facing San Diego, the creation of more affordable housing ranks high on everyone’s list.  I don’t see how the river plan does anything to deal with this.  In fact, if the planners are right the property values all along the river will rise, making THAT housing less affordable.  The city has attempted to create greater housing density in some areas and the “Nimbyism” is frightening.  

    We have to face the fact that, due to past council decisions on pay and benefits for employees in both city and county, and the infrastructure needs that are pressing, not only streets but bridges, storm drains, water lines and sewage treatment facilities, not to mention efforts to create or save more water, funds from many sources are very questionable.  Wherever you look, city, county, state and federal governments are straining to keep their heads above water.  I don’t see how this plan gets off the ground.

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    I agree conceptually with a major San Diego River Park.  And I agree with the principle that we ought to think about our major public spaces in more interesting ways that benefit the everyday San Diegans whose tax dollars fund these sorts of things.  It's even okay in some situations to do these things even if there is no demonstrable and obvious monetary Return on Investment.  Some things simply cannot be measured by ROI alone.  While it isn't clear to me whether this type of an investment is one of those things, there is a bigger issue about which proponents of this concept (and any other grand scale public expenditure of tax dollars) ought to consider: planning.  We have this great Department called Financial Management in the City.  Its job is surprisingly self explanatory by its title.  In the most current five year outlook there is a line-item for each of the next three fiscal years for a Long Range Park Master Plan. It is $350,000/year for three years to help us actually plan and think through these types of decisions, viewing all our parks as part of a system, and being strategic about what a city of our financial and geographic size can handle.

    I live in a section of North Park in which I have heard people talk about how the City's current standards make us dramatically underparked.  I also live in a section that is a 10-minute walk to three parks (including one joint use field).  If it's true that the standards have us park deficient in my part of the neighborhood, I wonder if there isn't something wrong with the standards.  Maybe that money could be better allocated to the River Park Ms. Frye writes about.  Or to Barrio Logan or some other part of North Park or Linda Vista.  Now that the infrastructure folks are starting to churn out asset condition data, maybe this is the time to support our City's efforts to get a handle on our overall park system.  Maybe we can start thinking about how we allocate resources for parks - and raise new resources to meet agreed upon needs - for a city that needs to retool itself for a 21st Century existence. One that may mean we have to do more with less (more than we currently have, but still, a need to be much more efficient even as we responsibly locate additional revenue).

    Here's the report, the budget item is on page 78.  I'm not sure what goes into that Master Plan, but if we could start saying that this is the thing we need first to make smart decisions, maybe we can shift to this larger conversation on our way to a San Diego that is first and foremost for the people who live here. 

    Silence Dogood
    Silence Dogood

    How much would such a thing cost? If there's one thing all this mission valley talk has convinced us its that we do not need more re-development in Mission Valley.  We should save the money for pot holes, water, police and firemen. We are a sleepy town and shouldn't add more density.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Silence Dogood Or maybe the reason we can't afford to fix the potholes is because we have too many roads for too few taxpayers.

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann @Silence Dogood Or maybe it's because these things are not priorities for the people we elect to run our city. What was the first thing Faulconer did when assuming office?

    Hunt up Fabiani for another round of Charger stadium talks. Not potholes. Not water, police, firemen. A luxury item that will cost taxpayers a billion dollars.

    Do you really think these people have our quality of life in mind? I'm feeling kinda sold out here.

    Tammy Tran
    Tammy Tran subscriber

    The River Park - Qualcomm Stadium Site

    Six thousand new residential units, three million square feet of office space, some retail and hotels (as proposed by Councilman Scott Sherman) - Downtown San Diego skyline

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    @Tammy Tran Where's the water gonna come from for all these new people?

    Why do our city officials refuse to address this inconvenient detail? Do YOU want to cut back more for those six thousand new residential units? 

    We already tore out our lawn and water with dish water. But I'm not doing it to save water for a bunch of new residents we can't afford to support.

    Cesar Rios
    Cesar Rios

    Donna, thank you for helping us find the 'river park thru those huge unimaginable trees' (condos).  This is our diamond in the rough ... an ecological jewel that can't threaten to move to LA!

    Maybe it's because we have so much beauty within our region that we can't seem to envision another water attraction/destination that doesn't have a beach.  In any less fortunate city, a river park would be the main focus of planning.  LA can only dream of having a real river!