Louise Torio doesn't expect to see the glare of stadium spotlights, hear the collective roar of thousands of baseball fans, or sit immobile in downtown traffic for almost three years. Yet she is already worried about not being able to park near -- let alone in front of -- her Victorian home.
Like some other residents of Sherman Heights, a historic downtown neighborhood eight blocks east of the Padres' proposed and preferred ballpark site, Torio parks on the street because she does not have a driveway.
Competition for parking is one adverse result of building a baseball stadium so close to the Gaslamp Quarter, the San Diego Convention Center, Horton Plaza, and downtown's offices and residential neighborhoods, according to the city's environmental impact report (EIR) on the construction project.
If a game were sold out, an estimated 13,143 cars carrying 36,800 people would pour into downtown San Diego. The report assumes another 9200 spectators would walk or use public transportation. The Padres' plan to create only 2383 new parking spaces and, under its agreement with the city, is requiring the city to provide 5000 spaces and turn over the parking revenue from baseball events. Creation of new parking is an item not subject to an expense cap under the agreement, which allows the Padres to set rates charged for baseball events while giving the team, its patrons, and retail customers free parking. In a construction plan predating the city's deal with the Padres, the Centre City Development Corp. will create about 1700 new parking spaces downtown during the next few years. The agency assumes it may use as many as 700 parking spaces owned by San Diego County during ball games, but the convention center expansion is also relying on those slots. Although the report states 19,990 parking spaces would exist within a 20-minute walk of the stadium by the time it opens in April 2002, the bulk belong to privately owned garages and lots, some of which may be closed during weekends and evenings. Nearly half are near downtown trolley stations.
The scramble for parking emerges as a common concern whether people are for or against locating a sports complex downtown, whether they are business owners or homeowners, whether they are anti-establishment gadflies or government agencies. About 110 San Diego citizens, corporate executives, nonprofit officials, and bureaucrats commented on the report last month, creating a four-inch stack of paper that rivals the EIR in thickness. The 1058 pages of written responses delve into such issues as pollution, traffic, destruction of historic buildings, displacement of the homeless, noise, litter, lights, loss of downtown housing.
Some merchants within the Gaslamp Quarter predict a shortage of parking would keep their restaurants and stores empty during baseball games. Downtown residents, along with Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad Co. and the Gaslamp Quarter Association, have expressed concerns about pedestrian safety. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board has indicated it would need financial help to add buses and trolleys to meet ballpark demand and compensate for slower service resulting from traffic jams. Many individuals and organizations wonder: If the convention center, which has limited parking -- about 1950 spaces for itself and the Mariott Hotel -- and the proposed stadium were to conduct events simultaneously, would there be enough parking? Would cars be able to reach any available parking?
The three-volume report doesn't completely answer such questions but rather suggests that any problems will be resolved later. "An Event Transportation Management Plan shall be adopted and implemented. A Downtown Parking Management Plan shall be adopted and implemented. A Freeway Deficiency Plan shall be prepared," the report concludes without any cost estimates. Mayor Susan Golding and the city council are scheduled to approve the environmental impact report on September 10 in order to meet the Padres' aggressive construction timetable. If the final document fails to address public comments sufficiently, the city could be subject to yet another lawsuit. "Formulation of mitigation measures should not be deferred until some future time," Ann T. Fathy, a San Diego lawyer, wrote in her letter critical of the EIR's compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Like Fathy, many respondents describe the May 12 draft report as flawed or, to use CEQA jargon, "inadequate."
"I think the omissions in the report are so profound, the city will have to redraft it and recirculate it," said Bruce Henderson, a Pacific Beach lawyer who sued the city last year for seeking voters' approval of a downtown ballpark before drafting an environmental impact report. "This is another example of haste makes waste."
A comparison not mentioned in the report, Henderson said, noting an obvious physical change, is the proposed ballpark will accommodate 46,000 spectators vs. 60,000 for Qualcomm Stadium, where the Padres currently play. Building a new facility for fewer people would likely increase the cost of attending a baseball game, he said. The report notes that the price of downtown parking could increase because of shortages. "When you spend tax dollars, you should always look to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Here, you're using an extraordinary amount of public money to widen that gap," Henderson said, referring to the $275 million the city and CCDC plan to issue in bonds next year for the project.
Highlighting what it considers financial inaccuracies, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association estimates the city will spend about $18 million a year to pay debt it will incur for helping finance the ballpark's construction. The $18 million represents the net expense remaining after the city collects its share of baseball revenue. That contrasts the city's optimistic projection of deriving a $4 million annual surplus from the ballpark. The taxpayers' association echoes many other citizens who question the cost and source of funding for remedies that would decrease noise, lights, traffic, and other types of pollution.
In a major environmental change, the draft report supplements and updates but also contradicts a master EIR written in 1992 for the East Village. The original report called for residential housing to make up 75 percent to 80 percent of the 26-square-block neighborhood and made the preservation of historic buildings -- mostly turn-of-the-century warehouses -- a priority. Because a massive sports complex severely compromises those guidelines -- by demolishing local landmarks and monopolizing land intended for living space that could have accommodated nearly 6600 people -- the CCDC is busily rewriting city ordinances for a new ballpark district. If rules for parking, building size, and other land uses were not changed, the stadium would violate existing zoning laws.
"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."