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.