Over the past 50 years, Mission Valley, once home to dairy farms and truck gardens, has grown into one of the most developed and congested parts of the city. The commercial direction of the valley began in 1961, when May Company built the Mission Valley Shopping Center in the floodplain of the San Diego River. A few years later, banker C. Arnholt Smith bulldozed his minor-league ballpark just west of U.S. Highway 395 (now SR 163) and teamed up with Ernie Hahn to build Fashion Valley in the floodplain. In 1974, Jim Copley's Union-Tribune opened its headquarters 300 yards from the river, destroying a large swath of wetlands.
As building accelerated, citizens occasionally tried to slow it, to preserve diminishing open space and protect wildlife habitat along the river. But city hall, influenced by the Mission Valley development lobby, channeled the river behind riprap levees to better enable construction. Today, the residents of thousands of new condominiums have increased the valley's congestion. A billion-dollar-plus federally funded trolley line has made only a dent in the traffic.
Next year, San Diegans will be given a vote on the valley's future. A ballot measure sponsored by Stockton developer Alex Spanos would turn over 60 acres to him, his family, and his Chargers football team. Billed by supporters such as the Union-Tribune as a way for the city to acquire a "free" football stadium, the plan would allow Spanos and as-yet-unnamed development partners to build several thousand condo units and a shopping mall on the site of Qualcomm Stadium and its parking lot.
The Union-Tribune has already begun its campaign on behalf of the development.
"San Diego, a charter member in the Dumbing Down of America Association (DDOAA), is not certain it wants to grow up," wrote sports columnist Nick Canepa this past September 17. "Why did the Padres want a new ballpark? Why do the Chargers want a new stadium, because Qualcomm is the Waldorf Astoria? Their argument always has been that the place is a dinosaur with three bad feet and the fourth on a banana peel." In June, he wrote: "Sixty acres of land, property on which the city annually loses millions, is what stands in the way of San Diego losing the Chargers and eventually San Diego State Division I football status and the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls.
"The project calls for a $450 million stadium, a park, 6,000 condo units, a hotel and business space. Some worry about Mission Valley already being too crowded (although City Hallians didn't seem concerned about it until this popped up). But, if this isn't done, what will happen to those 166 acres? They'll be developed, naturally. Qualcomm Stadium eventually is going to be blown to bits, if it doesn't collapse on its own, no matter what the myopics believe."
But as the Chargers initiative draws nearer, other voices have been raised. One of the loudest belongs to Lynn Mulholland, an airline employee who lives in a condo not far from the stadium. She is one of the few members of the city's official community planning group for Mission Valley who lives in the valley. She's also vice president of the Mission Valley Community Council. During a recent interview, she explained why she is a fierce critic of the Mission Valley vision set forth by the Union-Tribune and its developer allies.
Q. What's your background?
I've lived in San Diego since '75, and during that time, progressively, I've just wondered, "How can the city allow what little remains of the open space to be destroyed?" I think the real -- the most devastating thing I noticed in particular was, as you go on Friars Road east, past the stadium to Mission Gorge Road, you cross over the San Diego River. And as you go east, on the right-hand side there used to be a lot of tule there and marsh on the east side of the river, and you could see ducks going in and out. I used to drive down there every day, and one day there was soil all over there. The tule was totally destroyed. And I wondered, "How could they do that?"
The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated. It was once frequented by numerous fauna, and it's been pushed into a thin remnant of a river that we try to push under roads. The assault has been massive, and I think we really need to reconsider what we're doing, and we want the city council to wake up and listen to the people, because they're not.
Now, recently the trolley was extended to go out to State. And it went just south of the Mission Playmor condominium complex. That was a sanctuary for birds. It was magnificent. They bulldozed right through it. I called the project manager and said, "Aren't you even at least supposed to have a mitigation area?" And he said, "Oh yeah, we do it in Santee." "Santee? How do you know they're going to fly out there?" And he didn't say anything. I said, "Well, is it ready?" He said, "It'll be ready in three years." That was his answer: "It'll be ready in three years."
Since 1985, when they came up with the Mission Valley Community Plan, which calls for some open space, they have added over 10,000 residential units, hundreds of businesses, miles of roads, and not one square millimeter of park. Not one fire station. An emergency vehicle, whether it is a fire truck or an ambulance or law enforcement, cannot get down Friars Road because it's so congested. Now that's true also for Interstate 8. And you read all these things in the city about "We love the open spaces. We'll ensure sustainability." Nothing could be further from the truth in practice.
Around '92 I saw a notice about some community group -- the Mission Valley Community Council -- so I went to the meeting and I just kept going to these meetings. Then I heard that there was a Mission Valley Unified Planning Group that actually made recommendations to the city council, so I started going to those meetings.