Where do you suppose San Diego Mesa College, which lies in Clairemont on its southern edge, will build a huge garage to solve its student parking problems? Why, largely on Linda Vista canyon land, of course, at the southeastern corner of the campus. This is the story of one San Diego planning group trying to retain control of its territory.
The Linda Vista Community Planning Committee first heard about the parking structure at its July 26, 2004 meeting. According to the meeting's minutes, members listened to discussion of "road realignment," "handicap access, shuttles, [and] traffic." But it was not immediately evident that the garage would be built partly in Linda Vista.
"Environmental engineer" Dave Potter and several college officials presented the parking structure that night as part of the Mesa College Master Plan. In his presentation, Potter told Linda Vista something the community considered startling news. In 1999, the San Diego City Council had rejected any future possibility that Mesa College Drive, which currently dead-ends at the southeastern entrance to the campus, might be extended to Genesee Avenue. Both the Clairemont and Linda Vista planning groups had long wanted to keep open an option to extend the street to relieve area traffic. On Linda Vista Road, between its intersections with Genesee and Balboa Avenue, there is no other thoroughfare leading west.
Several days after the meeting, in a July 29, 2004 e-mail to Linda Vista planning committee chairman Ed Cramer, Potter wrote: "I was surprised by members asking that the [garage] project be designed to accommodate a future extension of Mesa College Drive. This issue was put to rest on January 19, 1999, when the City Council adopted a Resolution deleting the extension of Mesa College Drive from the Linda Vista Community Plan."
How did Linda Vista not know about a crucial provision being deleted from its community plan? Wayne Bamford, a member of the planning committee, says he's been told that representatives from Linda Vista were present at a discussion of the issue shortly before the city council deleted the road extension. "But nobody ever names who the representatives were," Bamford tells me, "and there is no record I can find of any of our people being there." Barbara Warden, Linda Vista's councilmember at the time, introduced the deletion measure during the 1999 city council meeting. "You practically have to read city council agenda items every week to make sure your neighborhood isn't going to be affected," exclaims Bamford.
At its September 2004 meeting, the Linda Vista planning committee began discussing ways to get the Mesa College Drive extension back into its community plan. "It's not that we wanted to start building a road over to Genesee right away, or ever to build one," says Bamford, "but to keep that as an option for Linda Vista in case residents get trapped by traffic problems, say, 50 years from now."
In the meantime, Mesa College was working hard on its parking-garage plans. On April 22, 2005, seeking community comment, the college sent a draft "mitigated negative declaration" for the Mesa College Master Plan to city officials and community leaders. The draft made the first official reference to eliminating the last block of Mesa College Drive. The San Diego Community College District would then buy that land plus a portion of the canyon to the west, totaling 2.58 acres, for the garage project site. And the draft stated, "Mesa College and the proposed areas of expansion are located in the Clairemont Mesa Community Plan."
On July 8, 2005, Helene Deisher of the San Diego Development Services Department e-mailed an engineering company working on the parking-garage plans with a telling instruction. "It has come to my attention," she wrote, "that [the garage] project is actually within two different community plan areas.... I am forwarding the last set of plans to the Linda Vista Community Planning Committee. Since they were inadvertently left out, I would recommend you follow up with the group chair to be placed on the agenda and receive a recommendation from them."
Mesa College's architects, Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker, responded immediately. On July 10 they sent to Linda Vista the latest version of the plans for the parking garage. Among the documents in the packet was a January 5, 2005 letter from Damon Shamu, Mesa's assistant chancellor for facilities management, to Lane MacKenzie of the San Diego Real Estate Assets Department. The letter requested that the city sell the college the vacated block of Mesa College Drive and canyon land to the west. But the packet contained no acknowledgement that much of the project would sit on Linda Vista territory.
At their monthly meeting in August 2005, the Linda Vista planners voted against the Mesa College Drive vacation. And in place of a city land sale to the college, they urged that Linda Vista canyon land that might be affected by the proposed parking structure be preserved as open space.
Wayne Bamford, of the Linda Vista planning committee, tells me that "after summer, and for a long time, we didn't hear anything more about the garage." The following spring, 2006, however, Mesa College put out a binder, with maps and diagrams, explaining in the greatest detail yet the parking-structure plan. It now appeared that Mesa College wanted to run a road into the canyon to reach the lowest level of the garage. The canyon-level entrance would complement a main driveway into the garage at street level.
Bamford found in the binder a mysterious one-page letter to the San Diego Community College District's Facilities Management Department. It appeared on letterhead of Park and Recreation's Community Parks Division I. But the letter had no signature. The wording in the letter that caught Bamford's attention was the following: "Community Parks Division I does not object to the Community College District's request for permission to perform the necessary grading at the Kearny Mesa Community Park in order to accommodate the proposed parking-structure construction at Mesa College." Apparently Mesa College had approached the city about grading a portion of the Kearny Mesa Community Park, which lies in Linda Vista on its boundary with the college and Clairemont. The grading would allow the lower-entrance road to descend the canyon wall to the west of a vacated Mesa College Drive.