"Cities commonly change land-use rules if an inconsistency arises with a new project, but I've never seen it happen to such an extent as with San Diego's ballpark," said Lizanne Reynolds, a San Francisco lawyer who often studies environmental impact reports on behalf of labor unions. In responding recently to the baseball EIR, she represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569. "You can infer from this report that the city is already committed to this one site. The tone of this EIR is, 'Many environmental impacts will be significant even after mitigation, but we're going ahead anyway.' "
John Lemmo and other staff members of the Environmental Health Coalition found the report lacked basic information about the amount and types of hazardous materials in East Village, which has a long history of industrial uses. The nonprofit organization's 13-page commentary blasts the report for failing to quantify the amount of air pollution that will result from decontaminating the soil, building the stadium, and attracting 13,000 more cars to East Village. The city's strategy of forcing property owners to pay for environmental assessments and cleanup hinders knowing the total cost and full extent of pollution. "We're talking about excavating thousands of tons of soil," Lemmo said, "but they haven't even done a simple soil test. I don't know how the city council can make an informed decision." Like the Environmental Health Coalition, the Port of San Diego also seeks detailed plans for preventing toxins and contaminants from flowing through the storm-drain system to the bay and tidelands. The port also asks the city to develop measures to protect the nearby convention center from parking pressures and traffic snarls. When the expanded convention center opens in September 2001, it may need as many as 4000 offsite parking spaces downtown, up from more than 2000 currently.
The ballpark would have at least eight significant environmental impacts on the East Village that cannot be mitigated, according to the report's chart comparing various sites. Those impacts regard land use, transportation including parking, noise, historic buildings, and other cultural resources, housing, air quality, and public services such as police and fire fighting. Another impact regards aesthetics: the stadium's walls and towers, ranging from 130 feet to 200 feet in height, would block views of the bay and would literally overshadow the Gaslamp Quarter and the East Village's low-rise buildings. Alternate sites, such as Chula Vista and Mission Valley, which is home to Qualcomm Stadium and 19,367 parking spaces, would result in less environmental damage, according to the EIR, but the Padres find them less lucrative for hotels, stores, restaurants, bars, and other "ancillary development."
One alternative, dubbed the ParkBayDiagonal, would shift the stadium two blocks east and create a pedestrian promenade linking Balboa Park to San Diego harbor. An architect and urban planner designed the site to blend with an inner-city landscape and avoid the demolition of historic buildings. Not surprisingly, members of the ParkBayDiagonal Collaborative have raised more than 70 challenges in their prolific response to the report. They ask for a financial analysis of all the sites, particularly in light of statements made by Padres officials that the ParkBayDiagonal would be more expensive. They also ask that the city's deal with the Padres, the memorandum of understanding signed last year, be made part of the report.
Along similar lines, the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee, which represents the Golden Hill and South Park neighborhoods near downtown, asked why the city did not prepare environmental impact reports for other sites.
Given that the report suggests at least 1183 cars will use neighborhood streets instead of congested freeways to reach the stadium, many of the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee's concerns were directed at traffic volume. Bonnie Poppe, a Golden Hill resident, foresees her neighborhood becoming a thoroughfare, parking lot, party scene, and trash bin for baseball fans seeking to avoid the crowd. "The other afternoon around 5:30, I was driving on 163, heading from Mission Valley to downtown. I was going against the commuter traffic, but the traffic on my side was backed up all the way to Interstate 8. Like a smart person, I got off 163 at Hillcrest. Baseball fans are going to do the same thing."
For all the concern about clogged roads, the report did not describe potential gridlock on Interstate 805 or Broadway, which is a major downtown artery. The EIR states that "increased carrying capacity" on 163, a state-designated scenic highway, and Interstate 5 might ease the journey of Padres fans. However, the cost or source of funding for widening freeways is not specified. The report also mentions the possibility of enlarging freeway entrance and exit ramps, a measure that alarms Torio because that could destroy homes in her neighborhood.
Because she represents the Sherman Heights Revitalization Team on historic preservation issues, Torio's critique of the report did not describe the personal parking hassles she'll face during ballgames. However, she thinks real estate speculators may attempt to buy homes in East Village as well as in Sherman Heights and replace them with parking lots.
Torio figures parking problems might never be resolved. Even if downtown could accommodate all the cars of its office workers, convention attendees, Gaslamp Quarter customers, and more than 13,000 vehicles full of baseball fans, she said, people would still seek free parking in residential neighborhoods. "When the lot at Qualcomm Stadium is only half full, people still park a mile or more away on Friars Road to avoid parking fees," she said. "If you can save $6 on parking, that's money you can spend on beer and hotdogs."