As if Grantville didn't have enough traffic problems, local developer Leon Parma wants to build 588 new condominiums, plus new restaurant and office space, on land he owns in the area. The property sits on the block bordered by Mission Gorge Road and Fairmount, Twain, and Vandever avenues. At its May 15 meeting, the San Diego City Council approved the project, called Centerpointe at Grantville, rezoning the block from industrial and commercial designations to mixed use.
Opposing the project in the council chambers was Brian Peterson, president of the Grantville Action Group (GAG). Peterson noted the eventual traffic problems but argued that Centerpointe's main damage will be a depletion of money from the City's general fund, which pays for basic services such as fire and police protection. True, Centerpointe will be more valuable than the light industrial and commercial businesses that are on the site now. And that will result in greater tax increments in the future. But those new dollars will not go into the general fund but to the Grantville Redevelopment Project Area. Meanwhile, the greater population density caused by Centerpointe in Grantville will demand more services from a City that has fewer resources to provide them.
Centerpointe and the Grantville Redevelopment Project are two different ventures, one private and one public. For clarification of the connection between them that Peterson worries about, I visit his Friars Road Pet Hospital. Across the table he uses to examine the animals, Peterson and I talk. The veterinarian remains standing on crutches, as he recently broke his hip in a bicycle accident. "I've got three pins in my leg holding it together right now," he says.
"One angle on this whole scheme," Peterson tells me, "is that even if the Redevelopment Agency does nothing to promote development in Grantville, the Redevelopment Agency will collect tax increments from every building that sells or is built in the project area. Personally, I would not be opposed to Centerpointe -- which looks now to be a done deal -- if it weren't for the redevelopment zone. After all, it does not violate property rights. And I don't live in [nearby] Allied Gardens, although residents there are very upset about the increased traffic Centerpointe will bring."
Peterson supports a lawsuit that the County of San Diego filed against the City last year to stop the Grantville Redevelopment Project. The County argues that it will lose as much as $200 million in taxes over the 45-year life of the project. "The County needs its money, too," says Peterson, "to pay for health and other services it provides San Diego residents." A superior court trial to hear the County's suit is set to begin in November.
The city council established the Grantville redevelopment zone in 2005 as the 17th and latest project of the Redevelopment Agency. Planning for Centerpointe had begun two years earlier. Peterson believes that District 7 Councilman Jim Madaffer originally opposed Centerpointe because its designers were not waiting for the Grantville redevelopment plans to materialize. That seems to be borne out by Madaffer's own words. During the May 5 city council meeting, Madaffer remarked that he had been encouraging businesses in the area to wait on their contemplated projects to see the Grantville master plan, which won't be finished until the fall. But recognizing Centerpointe's head start, the councilman now supports the development.
Peterson believes that Kaiser Permanente, Grantville's largest employer, also underwent a change of mind. "Kaiser Hospital on Zion Avenue is required to do a seismic retrofit, so a few years ago it had plans to consolidate the hospital with its Vandever building on the block where Centerpointe is now going to be built. Now Kaiser supports Centerpointe and the Grantville Redevelopment Project, hoping eventually to get help. In addition to roads and other infrastructure funding, redevelopment monies can be used to provide local businesses with construction loans and even outright grants.
"The biggest lesson to be drawn from Centerpointe," says Peterson, "is that Grantville is perfectly capable of redeveloping itself by private enterprise. It doesn't need a governmental agency to plan everything and make it happen. The Centerpointe initiative also shows that Grantville is not as blighted as Madaffer and the Redevelopment Agency say it is."
By California law, the presence of blight is required for the City to turn one of its communities into a redevelopment zone. But blight is notoriously subjective. "Grantville is not blighted," says Peterson. He is joined by many small-business owners in the area who fear the Redevelopment Agency's eminent domain powers and argue that big property owners, such as H.G. Fenton Company, forced the creation of the redevelopment zone to advance their own interests. "In the vision plan that Madaffer presented in January," Peterson tells me, "Fairmount Avenue will become the main thoroughfare through Grantville. That will benefit Fenton more than anybody else."
Fenton president Mike Neal presided over the Grantville Redevelopment Advisory Committee, a group of private citizens who originally presented the redevelopment to Navajo Community Planners Inc., the planning group that oversees Grantville. San Carlos resident John Pilch chaired Navajo Planners at the time the vote was taken in 2004. Today Matt Adams, vice president of the Building Industry Association of San Diego, is the Navajo chairman. In December, the online newspaper Voice of San Diego quoted Adams as saying, "Grantville's a place where you have to go; it's never really been a place you want to be."
Peterson questions the role of Navajo Community Planners in making decisions about Grantville. "Most of the Navajo group's members come from San Carlos and Del Cerro," he says, "and they have no feel for Grantville. Grantville needs its own planning area, though Allied Gardens should be part of it, because Grantville is its industrial and commercial area."
At the May 15 city council discussion of Centerpointe, Jim Madaffer seemed a bit defensive about the Grantville Redevelopment Project. The Centerpointe owner isn't having his property taken from him, Madaffer noted, in response to earlier worries about the Redevelopment Agency running roughshod over Grantville. Minutes later, Madaffer firmed up a promise by the owner to donate $1.2 million to help build an extension of Alvarado Canyon Road for traffic relief. He also sought commitments from the owner to contribute to an "intercommunity transit system" the councilman has plans for in Grantville. And would the developer also promise to support maintenance, landscaping, and lighting in the area? "We're looking to finance things like that, which go with a planned area. Of course, much of the money will come from tax increments."