San Diego 'I met Scott Peters at the opening of our YMCA when he was running for city council for District One in 2000," says Fred Mangarelli. "I introduced myself, but he didn't say, 'Hello,' and he didn't say, 'Nice to meet you.' He said, 'Is there any other place you can build that skate park?' " As chair of the Peñasquitos Recreation Council at the time, Mangarelli was leading an effort to put a skateboard facility at Hilltop Community Park. Today he is fighting to prevent that same facility from being built near a Stater Bros. Market in the Plaza Rancho Peñasquitos Shopping Center instead. City Councilmember Scott Peters supports the new plan.
In addition to Mangarelli, over 500 local residents have signed a petition opposing the Stater Bros. site and requesting that Hilltop Park be reconsidered as the location for the Peñasquitos skate facility. The main problem with the Stater Bros. site, opponents are saying, is that its stone's-throw distance from Highway 56 means that air pollution will pose a serious health problem for children who will use the planned skate park.
The opponents also complain that the site's address on the busy Carmel Mountain Road poses a danger to young skateboarders who will have to cross the street there. They argue that the costs of building a skate park at the Stater Bros. site will be close to twice as high as for Hilltop, which already has most of the required infrastructure. And, they say, Peters has yet to secure the money.
Cliff Williams in Councilman Peters's office, however, says, "Funding is in process." A half-million dollars has already been appropriated for the project, he says, and at least that much more will come from a California state-park bond.
On June 26, Dr. Edward Avol, an associate professor of research at the University of Southern California's Keck Medical School, attended a meeting of the Peñasquitos Recreation Council. He is an expert student on the effect air pollution has on lung development and function. In August 2002, CBS Radio's Osgood File reported on a study in which Avol participated and which concluded that bad air pollution is as damaging to children's lungs as smoking cigarettes.
Recreation councilmember Andy Berg asked Avol at the June meeting in Peñasquitos whether the similarity between the effects of air pollution and cigarette smoke on lungs meant that the community's other parks located near major roadways should be shut down. He also asked him whether air pollution's effects on children's lungs is as dangerous as secondhand smoke that might be present in their homes. Avol's answer of "no" to both questions satisfied Berg in his support of the Stater Bros. location for the skate park. Scott Peters, also in attendance at the meeting, said that he would be willing to take his kids there. And Berg said later by phone, "You can't protect children from everything."
But Fred Mangarelli finds this argument specious. The most telling of Professor Avol's remarks that evening, he says, was that an enlightened approach would be to find a place for the park away from a freeway. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the San Diego chapter of the American Lung Association support that view. They both assert a strong association between respiratory disease and close proximity to automobile traffic. The recreation council listened to concerned citizens cite these opinions as well as to the statements by Avol.
But earlier in June, the City of San Diego's Land Development Review Division had written a "mitigated negative declaration" for the skate park on Carmel Mountain Road that showed it had no environmental issues that could not be mitigated. So at the conclusion of its June 26 meeting, the recreation council voted 24 to 1 to recommend the project to the City for approval and implementation.
Mangarelli, whose wife Lois currently chairs the recreation council, cast the lone dissenting vote. He also wrote a critique of the negative declaration to land development review. He claims that it goes much too far to save the Carmel Mountain Road skate-park project. First, however, the report "absolutely validated my concerns about air quality and noise," he says. "But then they take the unadjusted results, which are out of bounds, and they throw in some factors in mathematics and bring it down to a level that's safe. I'm discouraged. As naïve as I am, I thought that the environmental process would take an independent outside look and say whether this is safe or not. But what they do is, when they find that things are a little bit above the bounds, they make an adjustment here and an adjustment there."
For instance, according to Mangarelli, adjacent to a freeway the cancer risk caused by ultrafine particulate matter (primarily from diesel engines) is 37.3 times the "threshold of significance," or allowable value. "So," he says, "in order to allow a skate park to be in such an awful site, [the report writers] said, 'Let's consider that a typical skateboarder will only skateboard for five years, and he may go to the park three times a week for two-hour sessions. So if we take six hours a week over five years and divide it by 70 years, because that's what the risk was for, then the number comes out only 10 percent of what the threshold of significance is.' But given the raw facts," adds Mangarelli, "would any parent want to subject their own children to 37.3 times the threshold? The report wants to amortize it over 70 years. Maybe if they were near the threshold of significance, or barely over it, that would be all right. But 37 times?
"Children's lungs are still developing," says Mangarelli. "They tend to breathe more through their mouths than their noses, so that they filter less particulate matter out. And when they are recreating, they breathe heavily. So what they inhale could be even higher than 37 times the threshold. What the City's doing if it puts the park next to a freeway is playing Russian roulette with the kids."
Also, the report uses different vehicle mixes when analyzing chronic health hazards, air quality, and noise. Mangarelli insists that it should use only one, the "standard vehicle mix," which includes 5 percent diesel vehicles. "In the health hazard study -- that's asthma and other noncancerous hazards to children's lungs -- they took a mix of gasoline vehicles only," he says. "So they barely got under the health hazard [limit]. If they had used the standard mix for that one too, they probably would have failed it.
"Same thing with traffic noise. They wrote in a preliminary study that if it exceeded 65 decibels, it would be over the noise limit. It came in at 72 decibels. So they said, 'We'll change the category from a park and playground to outdoor spectator sport,' another category the City has that is something like an event at Qualcomm. Then they bumped up the allowable decibels to 75 and said it passes."
The ways in which the two sides see the issue of traffic noise near the Stater Bros. site may provide a clue to the ultimate nature of the dispute. Mangarelli sees it as something that will undermine the quality of recreation that kids will be able to experience at the skate park. Andy Berg states that the freeway noise is an advantage, because it will drown out the noise the skate park's users make. And that is why, he says, that the location on Carmel Mountain Road is better than Hilltop Park, where a slightly higher elevation than that of the surrounding homes would allow noise from the skate park to reach its neighbors and disturb them.
When asked why Hilltop Park was abandoned as the site for the skate park, T.J. Zane, president of the Peñasquitos Town Council, said, "My gut assumption is that NIMBYism killed it." Fred Mangarelli agrees. He talks about a change in the composition of the recreation council that started to take place in 1999. Becoming an at-large voting member of the council requires only that local residents write a letter after attending three of its meetings. From 1999 forward, greater and greater numbers of Peñasquitos residents living close to Hilltop Park, especially on Oviedo Street, began seeking to become councilmembers. Stuck into a map of the area today, Mangarelli points to pins representing members' addresses, which show a clustering around the Oviedo Street neighborhood below Hilltop. The Council's current membership is 41, and 22 of them live on Oviedo.
Before Scott Peters began running for election to the San Diego City Council, the City had been pushing for a larger sports complex at Hilltop Park than Mangarelli and other supporters of the skate park originally sought. Bladium Sports Clubs from the San Francisco Bay Area was going to build and operate it. But local residents got Bladium to withdraw and stopped the plan with a petition drive that collected over 1600 signatures.
The key wording in the opening paragraph of that petition read as follows: "I do not want a $2 million commercial adult sports complex built at Hilltop Community Park.... What I do want is a neighborhood-sized noncommercial facility for our children that is more appropriate for the area and the park."
Mangarelli says that the petition was significant as much for what it requested as what it rejected. The City set aside approximately $650,000 for a smaller facility at Hilltop, and plans began for a skate park there. "Even the Oviedo Street residents understood that it had to be there," he says. "We asked the City to hire a consultant to do a general development plan. And then Scott Peters took office and killed it. About a year later he came up with the Stater Bros. site. So those residents had gotten to him. I don't know if he's paying back a political debt for their support in the election or, after hearing one side of the argument, he only became convinced the skate park shouldn't be at Hilltop."