On any given day, it's difficult to tell who works for the residents of Chula Vista and who works for private industry. A proposed residential development by CV 42 Investments, LLC, represented by Bill Ostrem, who is also the president of EastLake Development Company, lays bare the diseased underbelly of the problem. The development, approximately 550 homes in the lower Sweetwater Valley, has been christened Riverwalk, but a more appropriate name would be Freewaywalk, because the project's 61 acres of low-lying land are bounded by I-805 and SR54.
In late 2006, Ostrem filed an application with the City of Chula Vista to amend its general plan. Updated a year earlier after months of citizen input, the general plan currently calls for park and open space on the 61 acres. Just under 24 acres are now owned by a KOA campground, 14.9 acres are owned by the City of Chula Vista, and several smaller parcels are privately owned. This is the last significant piece of open space in Chula Vista's northwest section, and the area has long been acknowledged as park deprived. Ostrem's proposal would redesignate the majority of the land to medium- and medium-high-density residential housing, pushing the remaining park acreage out to a narrow strip along the boundaries of the freeways, where the air is bad and the noise deafening.
But the park's design was never intended to meet the residents' needs. It is laid out to enhance the visual gateway to Chula Vista. E-mails obtained through a Public Records Act request demonstrate how a developer shapes public policy and space. For example, on December 14, 2006, Ostrem tries to negotiate the park's acreage into as little as possible: "As we discussed the other day, I continue to go around and around with the staff on the size of the city park. My proposal is to develop a 15 acre park.... Staff is pushing for a 18.5 acre park which would result in no monies from acquisition fees and even require the City to purchase land from us."
Chula Vista's northwest neighborhood has resisted a number of projects, so Ostrem needed someone to do a hard sell. Enter Dan Hom, Chula Vista planning commissioner. Unlike a developer, Hom has often posed as someone who cares about Chula Vista. Appointed to the Planning Commission in 2002, he was defeated in 2004 in his bid for city council and failed in 2005 to get appointed to fill a city council vacancy. Hom is president of Focuscom Inc., a public relations company. In 2006, working for Porter Novelli, he registered as a lobbyist in San Diego to lobby for the toll road industry. This intersects with his previous experience as cochair of Citizens for 125. And the completion of SR125 intersects with Chula Vista's allowing Ostrem to build out EastLake. On April 14, 2006, Ostrem wrote to Mary Ladiana of the Community Development Department about Riverwalk: "I will begin our community outreach efforts. We have putting [sic] together a comprehensive list of groups and individuals we will be contacting." On April 25, Hom resigned from the Planning Commission and put on his new game face and casual threads and began going door to door for Ostrem and Riverwalk.
But even a skilled communications expert like Hom would find it hard to make this project palatable. The lower Sweetwater Valley is compromised by serious environmental problems. In 1994, when the City of Chula Vista put out the "Lower Sweetwater Valley Issue Paper," it conceded that a noise study from as far back as 1989, before the construction of SR54, found noise levels exceeded the City's acceptable standards. Scientific studies link cancer, asthma, emphysema, and cardiovascular diseases to living by a freeway; the residents of Riverwalk and the users of the public park would be inundated with toxins from two freeways. NAFTA has further aggravated traffic problems, increasing diesel soot, tire and brake abrasion particles, and other particulate matter in the air.
Leilani Hines, senior community development specialist, was made the City's project manager. E-mails among City staff are often as revealing in tone as in content. A June 12, 2006 e-mail from advance planning manager Ed Batchelder advises, "Keep watch over how and in what forums to avoid the perception of up-front 'agreements' as to addressing/mitigating issues prior to the process being fully engaged, and analysis being done." And a June 16 e-mail from acting director of community development Ann Hix reads: "After talking to Bill, I got the same impression...he is happy with you and Mary, just unhappy that we don't have the team formed and haven't moved forward with the EIR yet." Is it the City's job to keep Bill happy?
A primary concern about the development is access. From the beginning of the project, City planners pushed for more than one access. Planner Stan Donn writes: "The access issue needs to be addressed as well. Based on the Subdivision Manual, more than 200 units would require 3 points of access." This message is repeated by a number of people. But a single access is cheaper, quicker, and causes less public outcry. Hines, the project manager, in a December 29, 2006 e-mail, pushes back for Ostrem: "We have had some discussions from an Engineering-Traffic view point regarding access both internally and with Bill Ostrem. FYI...It is our understanding that Bill has already had some preliminary discussions with Chief Perry and is making his way towards discussions with Chief Emerson. Bill has suggested that he believes he will get buy in from both Fire and Police regarding one access point." At this time, in December 2006, there are no definitive street layout plans. What would the chiefs be buying into?
Hines crosses the line again for Ostrem's project in trying to obtain additional property for the entrance to Riverwalk. On December 22, 2006, she e-mails the Chula Vista police team member and asks, "Is it possible to see about any police activity for a property located at XXX N Second Avenue? We are looking at this property for inclusion in the Riverwalk project. Someone on our field visit made a comment about activity at this house. I know we have code enforcement issues but as to criminal/police???" While the Redevelopment Agency is supposed to provide assistance to developers, should it be on the lookout for properties to seize or condemn?