Environment Report: Size Doesn’t Always Matter Under New Parks Plan - Voice of San Diego

Science/Environment

Environment Report: Size Doesn’t Always Matter Under New Parks Plan

A new study offers a new plan for how the city funds parks, the coronavirus is complicating Plastic-Free July and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.

Grant Hill Park / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

So last week I wrote about why your local park might suck.

It mostly depends on how much money developers are willing to fork over, which differs across San Diego. In newer, better-off neighborhoods, developers are required to pay a lot more than they are in older neighborhoods to help fund things like parks, libraries and fire stations.

This is known as the development impact fee and it got a little wild over the years as places like Del Mar Mesa in Carmel Valley, for instance, charged developers about $29,000 per home for parks projects while South University City charged just $609.

One city official acknowledged that the fee is one root of systemic inequity in land use planning. To solve it, the city now wants to harness and tame those fees so everybody is paying the same amount based on the type of housing they build. Going forward, that money would be poured into a single pot instead of 50 or so individual neighborhood pots, some of which haven’t been full enough for years to fix much of anything.

The city would then take responsibility for divvying out that money in a fairer way, it said. But how is still pretty weedy.

At the time the story published, the city couldn’t tell me how much the new flat fee would be or other nitty gritty details. Officials were waiting on a study that laid out the legal justification for charging developers in a new way.

That study is here. It shows the legally justifiable amount it could charge developers is a flat fee of $6,596. But the consultants suggest a new theory.

Under the proposed plan, developers would pay more for parks to build spacious apartments or single-family houses than they would to build tighter, denser housing. It shakes out that developers would pay less, in some cases, to build in nicer neighborhoods. But poorer neighborhoods would get more money for amenities than they’re getting now, even if developers chose to build a stack of studios.

In effect, Del Mar Mesa developers would actually pay less to build a 2,500 square foot home, at maximum about $22,426. But they’d have to pay the same amount to build one in Golden Hill.

For apartments, developers would pay at maximum $10,976 per 500 square foot apartment and $17,150 per luxurious 1,251 square foot apartment. Again, in Del Mar Mesa developers would pay less than the $21,649 per unit now to support parks. But in Golden Hill, developers are paying $11,550 per unit.

The old plan pushed nicer amenities to the outskirts of the rapidly growing city while San Diego’s inner neighborhood parks deteriorated. The city wants to fix that too, by making the parks that already exist, better.

The city came up with a point system. Each park should have at least 12 points for every 1,000 people it serves.

A developer would pay for the amount of points their project generates.

A play area earns one point per 750 square feet of play area built. A mini (less than one acre) park earns one point. A major park spanning over 20 acres earns six points. A full basketball court is worth one point. A community garden is worth one point per 10 plots.

Remember that big, centralized pot of money the city wants to fill with developer fees? It’s still unclear exactly how that money would make its way to a park project. It’s up to the City Council to make policy changes that allow money to flow easily from city coffers to communities of concern.

The City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee will take a look at the master plan and the new fee structure during its Wednesday meeting.

It’s Plastic-Free July But It’s Also COVID

July is plastic-free month (for whatever reason) and multiple media outlets are trying to spread the word that it should be safe to bring your reusable bags into the grocery store again. Though many stores are still operating on the opposite assumption.

That’s probably because Gov. Gavin Newsom halted the state’s plastic bag ban on April 22 at a time when the science behind COVID-19 spread was even more uncertain than now. But the ban on the ban lifted June 22.

Residential trash generation spiked nearly 20 percent during the stay-at-home order, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Single-use plastics contribute to about half of plastic waste, causing wildlife deaths and giant trash gyres in the ocean.

During the early stage of the COVID-19 scare, the Plastics Industry Association sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claiming reusable bags can carry viruses and bacteria like coronavirus.

But a June paper from the American Chemical Society Public Health Emergency Coalition called foul on the studies cited by the plastics industry. None of the studies actually investigated the survival of coronaviruses, for instance.

Environmental groups are sounding the bell of salvation, begging consumers to come back to Jesus on reusables.

Quick housekeeping note:  Plastic bags can be recycled but not at home. You should be dropping them off at receptacles found in grocery stores. (Also, please don’t dispose of your recyclables in plastic garbage bags. The bags gum-up recycling center equipment. Just toss it in loose.)

In Other News

  • An explosion erupted on a naval ship in San Diego harbor Sunday, injuring 21 and sending billowing smoke across the bay. Residents living in newly established environmental justice zones nearby were told to leave the area or reduce their exposure to the unknown chemicals and toxins the smoke may contain, according to a Sunday email alert from the San Diego Air Pollution Control District. I mentioned a while back these neighborhoods will soon be able to measure black carbon, metals and other life-threatening pollutants using a new suite of air-quality monitors.
  • You can pay these Southern California-based dudes to safely relocate a beehive in your roof, yard or deck to a new hive home. And they host a pretty addicting TikTok about their process. (If you judge TikTok or are worried about China or whatever, here’s their website.)
  • About 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy by 2022, more than the previous five years combined, according to a New York Times analysis. But it’s likely many of those companies haven’t set aside enough money to ensure gas wells don’t leak methane into the atmosphere, which pound for pound warms the planet 80 times as much as carbon dioxide. Meanwhile executives are getting huge cash payouts. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Sempra Energy, the natural gas company that owns San Diego Gas and Electric, is struggling to tamp down its own debt and faced a downgrade from credit rating agencies. (Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president of state governmental affairs and external affairs, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)
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