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Will San Diego voters turn over 60 acres to the Alex Spanos and the Chargers?

What is Mission Valley's future?

Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated." - Image by Bill Robinson
Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated."

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.

"Mark Steele, who's drafting the plan for the Chargers said they were going to have a green area. You know what it was? It was fake lawn that they could use as parking when they have games there."

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.

Then I became a member probably around '95, something like that, '95, '96. I sat in on those meetings and I kept listening and I kept asking, "The traffic is so bad -- why encourage or recommend construction of another 3000 or 4000 units?" And the answer I always got was, "The city council says it's okay, it's acceptable. The traffic levels aren't going to be adversely affected."

Of course, we know that's not true. For every thousand units, it adversely impacts congestion. And then they say, "It's already accepted on the books, and it's private property."

Now, Valerie Stallings was our councilmember at that time, and that was Valerie Stallings's stock answer: that it's private property, it's already been approved by the city council. So then Valerie resigned and there was another election and someone passed around that Donna Frye was running. And then she agreed to run. She has no ties to the corporate world.

This Mission Valley Unified Planning Group was formed by certain individuals who went to the city council and said they wanted to be an advocate for Mission Valley, and the city council approved it and I guess they set up their rules and regulations.

They were all business interests. So it became very embarrassing, and finally the city said in the early '90s, "You have to get some residents on there, some people who live in Mission Valley." And so that's when I started going to these meetings, and it took several months before I was voted on as a member.

It's very difficult to get people to come to meetings in Mission Valley. The problem that most people have is, when you work 40 hours a week, after you fill up the car with gas and buy groceries and cook and clean and do the laundry and everything, you really don't have much time for yourself. So after working eight hours a day, you don't want to go to a meeting. If you're lucky enough to have a day off during the week, you might be able to go to some of these evening meetings.

The unified planning group meets on Wednesday at noon in Mission Valley. Most people work Monday through Friday, basically somewhere between 8:00 and 5:30. If they're lucky they can combine their breaks and half-hour lunch for an hour, but the meetings last one and a half hours, sometimes two hours.

Q. Where is the meeting conducted?

In the library in Mission Valley. And the people who attend are employees of corporations. Now, ostensibly they volunteer to go to these meetings. But they all seem to go to lunch after the meeting.

Q. Can we name some of the corporations?

Courtesy Chevrolet. Delawie, Wilkes, Rodrigues, Barker. They're architects. Sudberry Properties. Vantile, LLC. Alta Company, LLC. PM Realty Group. Commonwealth Land Title Company. Atlas Hotels, that's a big one. That's a real big one.

FSDRIP stands for First San Diego River Improvement Project. There was a big controversy, I guess, in the late '70s, early '80s, about dealing with the river. The developers said, "This land is so valuable, we don't want it underwater." And people who wanted to appreciate it and acknowledge its inherent value said, "We want to ensure some sustainability." Somewhat of a compromise was FSDRIP, which has a buffer, a vegetated buffer. Now that's supposed to be a habitat for various ambulatory and airborne beings.

The project is basically between 163 and 805. Now, west of 163 the river sort of gets really reduced. The city council allowed Fashion Valley to build that [new] parking lot in the riverbed. And I remember asking them at a meeting, why are they destroying the riverbed? And their answer was, "When it floods, it won't hurt anybody because we won't let anyone park there."

We have a lot of homeless people that sort of take up residence along the river. Now these people are disenfranchised in many ways. The planning group talks about how we have to root the homeless out of the vegetation. They want to cut down the vegetation along the river because of the homeless. They're using the homeless as an excuse to strip the land of vegetation.

Often members of the unified planning group want to further disenfranchise what remains of our open space, citing the homeless as the reason. It is shameful that the disenfranchised are an excuse to further disenfranchise what remains of our open space.

The obsession with development, evidenced by the density of condos/apartments/businesses and wretched road congestion, is insatiable. In biological terms, such a concentration of interests, such a small pool, is incestuous.

Q. What are some of the big projects currently pending that are a threat to the environment of Mission Valley and why?

A. There are three. One is the Quarry Falls development, north of Friars Road. It's bounded by Friars Road, Mission Center Road, and 805. The northern boundary is the southern boundary of Serra Mesa.

It is used as a quarry for excavation. It's been excavated for decades. The owner now wants to develop it into residential units, businesses. It's zoned for 30 units per acre. It's a 230-acre site. As we know, Friars Road is very, very congested. The intersections are the worst possible ratings. The amount of exhaust is extremely hazardous. And the proposal at this time is for 4800 condos plus support businesses.

[The developer of Quarry Falls, Tom Sudberry, is a member of the Mission Valley Unified Planning Group, as is Ronald W. Grant, who is associated with Alta Company LLC, the company that owns the Quarry Falls site.]

Q. And the second project?

It's at the west end of Mission Valley. The golf course [just west of Fashion Valley] is approximately 220 acres. Believe it or not, the city says it's okay to develop that with thousands of condos and hundreds of businesses and that such development will not adversely impact the traffic on Friars and Interstate 8 and 5 and 805.

Now one thing that's happened at the west end, people there are up in arms. On the eastern border of the golf course you have the Mission Greens condos, and on the west, the Courtyards and Presidio Place. The residents there are very alarmed at the prospect of having thousands of condos built on that golf course next to them.

The ironic thing is that John Wilhoit, who represents the planning department at the unified planning group meetings, has said the rationale for adding more condos and residences to Mission Valley is that if people live here already, then they don't have to drive here, so the traffic will decrease. If that were true, Friars Road would be empty. So that rationale does not really stand up.

Q. What's the third project?

The Chargers are proposing a bigger stadium, 6000 condos, and support businesses -- restaurants, department stores, grocery stores, cleaners, jewelry stores, everything.

That is in a floodplain. Now they want to put more tons of concrete in there and residential units. It's irrational.

In surveys of residents in Serra Mesa and in Mission Valley, respectively, 61 percent and 73 percent of the people are opposed to the Chargers proposal. Over 87 percent of the people in both communities chose one of three [options] that acknowledge the terrain: the river park, the regional park, and the open space.

Q. Is there any form of development on that site that you think people would support, or should it just be a park?

Not in response to the survey we did of residents in Mission Valley. People were given a choice of housing and retail, housing only, and a cultural center. And over 87 percent of people chose a park.

Q. Which option do you favor?

I would like to see it a regional park, because it is a floodplain. As you go farther north towards Friars, there could be a 30-, maybe 50-acre park for people, with lawn, trees, and shrubs.

Even though the community plan calls for a park in Mission Valley, since that community plan in '85 was approved by the city council, the unified planning group has authorized and recommended to the city council, and successive city councils have approved, the development of residential units and businesses only. Not one park.

Q. Do you see any need to build another stadium for the Chargers 'cause they're threatening to leave and a fair number of people seem worried about that?

I don't think there's a fair number of people that are worried about it. We live in a community where far more people participate than watch. We have far more participants than spectators. Every day people walk, jog, run, bicycle, swim. They don't want to sit and watch someone for four hours.

Q. You and others don't feel a need to try to accommodate them in some way, in terms of finding them another location?

We wanted to relocate it.

Q. Relocate it off the present site?

Yeah. The first suggestion? Los Angeles. The second suggestion was downtown near the ballpark.

But also, please remember in our survey we did ask, "What do you think about updating the community plan of Mission Valley to reduce density and impose height restrictions?" And 86 percent favor that.

Q. The Mission Valley plan that was adopted by the city council in '85, has that been at all successful in constructively guiding the development of Mission Valley?

The plan is fairly loose. You have developers submit their applications to the city, and the application is reviewed by the various departments in the city and by the unified planning group. And then the unified planning group recommends to the city council that these applications be approved. You have applicants who are corporate. And the members on the unified planning group are employees of corporations. They recuse themselves on their own applications, yet there's a real brotherhood here. There's a real camaraderie here; they're very cozy with one another and support each other's proposals for development.

They wanted to talk about City of Villages. They want to locate a lot of units near the stops for the trolley. But the thing is that most people work north and south of here, so they take 15 and 805 and 163, especially, and sometimes 5. Only 5 percent of the population works downtown, and there are no employers of large numbers of people as you go east. People are not riding the trolley.

They had Mark Steele, who's from Steele and Associates, who's drafting the plan for the Chargers, come to our meeting and talk about what they wanted to do. There's a bigger stadium and 6000 condos. And he actually said they were going to have a green area. You know what it was? It was fake lawn that they could use as parking when they have games there.

I think the whole thing -- and Councilmember Frye is saying this also -- the whole thing ought to be open space. It ought to be a regional park, and there could be about 30 or 40 acres, or 50 acres for people on the north side, along Friars Road, where it's higher. But where it's a floodplain, and where it's always especially damp, even at the end of August, there ought to be an area where it can be flooded when it rains. It ought to be a marshland.

I mentioned it to John Wilhoit. On our survey, 86 percent of the people want to amend the community plan to decrease density.

My belief is that the residents are not getting heard by the city. The city is turning a deaf ear. The residents don't like the congestion now that we have and do not want any further development.

Q. Is there some sense that the development interests there have the ear of the planning department and are steering this in some way?

Oh, absolutely! There's a very cozy arrangement that they have with each other.

Q. Does the membership of the planning group need to be restructured?

I think we need to have greater representation of people who live in Mission Valley and who are not employees of corporations.

Q. And how would that be? How would you restructure it?

I would like to see more involvement by people who live here. I know it's difficult if you work full time. Yet, we do have people who are very interested. We are getting people very interested. These surveys asked for community input so that your leaders can represent you. We got tremendous response on this, and I'm trying to present this to the unified planning group.

Actually the chair invited me to go out to lunch with her and told me that it's really better if I don't say anything at these meetings because everybody knows what I'm going to say and it wastes too much time.

Q. Who was that?

Linda Kaufman. And then she also said, "Why do you care?" And I said, "Because I live here!"

Q. And who does Linda Kaufman work for?

Fenton.

[H.G. Fenton is a real estate acquisition and development company, according to its website. Its holdings in Mission Valley include Club River Run and Portofino apartments and River Front condominium rentals, as well as a one-million-square-foot business park. Future projects include a 215-acre development adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium.]

Q. So did you feel that she was trying to muzzle you?

Well, I really felt in some ways -- you say muzzle -- or intimidate, or whatever. But it wasn't a very comfortable feeling.

Q. Do other members of that planning group feel the way you do, or are you the only one who speaks out?

Well, privately some people have expressed a lot of support, and they've also said, "I can't say anything. I can't do anything." What's interesting is that some of these people on the planning group would come to me privately and say, "I really admire what you're doing. [But] I can't support you. This is my job."

Q. So you're the only one who's sort of a thorn in their side?

Well, I like to think I am presenting a viewpoint of most of the people, not only in Mission Valley but in our neighboring communities.

Q. How many resident spots are there on the unified planning group?

Six.

Q. Out of how many?

Twenty-four. The bylaws require that six members be residents, six be business owners, six be property taxpayers, and six be property owners.

Q. I see. But then some of those residents also work for development interests?

Absolutely. One is an architect. Someone can be defined by two, three, or all four categories.

Q. So basically the panel is controlled by these development interests.

That's right.

It's visible in the development in Mission Valley. And remember, this is a floodplain. Look what's happened in New Orleans. And that's something that needs to be considered. And it's not.

There's a subcommittee of the unified planning group that's charged with updating the community plan [to include Quarry Falls], and I'm a member of that. But also there you have the developer and you have the owner. And you have the employees of Fenton. You have the secretary of the developer all voting to update the community plan.

Q. We've talked about the unified planning group. There's also a group called the Mission Valley Community Council?

We meet in the evening so that people who work during the day can come to the meetings. We've been around probably since about the early '90s, maybe '90 to '93, something like that. And we're involved with the community in terms of communicating to our councilmember -- the city council -- our thoughts on traffic, on housing, on culture, on open space.

We're not so corporate-oriented. I think the city needs to listen to us and reflect -- we want them to resonate with us. We want to see our thoughts incorporated into their plan.

Q. Does there seem to be more interest in these issues as of late?

I think so. Some people are really volunteering. I've been calling people based on this survey, and we've got people copying the survey and giving it to their friends. I think we're getting some interest here of people who have time to volunteer. Mostly people who're retired or have their own businesses, which is good. They can make their own hours.

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Remembering Louis Procaccino

“He always had food in his pockets”
Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated." - Image by Bill Robinson
Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated."

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.

"Mark Steele, who's drafting the plan for the Chargers said they were going to have a green area. You know what it was? It was fake lawn that they could use as parking when they have games there."

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.

Then I became a member probably around '95, something like that, '95, '96. I sat in on those meetings and I kept listening and I kept asking, "The traffic is so bad -- why encourage or recommend construction of another 3000 or 4000 units?" And the answer I always got was, "The city council says it's okay, it's acceptable. The traffic levels aren't going to be adversely affected."

Of course, we know that's not true. For every thousand units, it adversely impacts congestion. And then they say, "It's already accepted on the books, and it's private property."

Now, Valerie Stallings was our councilmember at that time, and that was Valerie Stallings's stock answer: that it's private property, it's already been approved by the city council. So then Valerie resigned and there was another election and someone passed around that Donna Frye was running. And then she agreed to run. She has no ties to the corporate world.

This Mission Valley Unified Planning Group was formed by certain individuals who went to the city council and said they wanted to be an advocate for Mission Valley, and the city council approved it and I guess they set up their rules and regulations.

They were all business interests. So it became very embarrassing, and finally the city said in the early '90s, "You have to get some residents on there, some people who live in Mission Valley." And so that's when I started going to these meetings, and it took several months before I was voted on as a member.

It's very difficult to get people to come to meetings in Mission Valley. The problem that most people have is, when you work 40 hours a week, after you fill up the car with gas and buy groceries and cook and clean and do the laundry and everything, you really don't have much time for yourself. So after working eight hours a day, you don't want to go to a meeting. If you're lucky enough to have a day off during the week, you might be able to go to some of these evening meetings.

The unified planning group meets on Wednesday at noon in Mission Valley. Most people work Monday through Friday, basically somewhere between 8:00 and 5:30. If they're lucky they can combine their breaks and half-hour lunch for an hour, but the meetings last one and a half hours, sometimes two hours.

Q. Where is the meeting conducted?

In the library in Mission Valley. And the people who attend are employees of corporations. Now, ostensibly they volunteer to go to these meetings. But they all seem to go to lunch after the meeting.

Q. Can we name some of the corporations?

Courtesy Chevrolet. Delawie, Wilkes, Rodrigues, Barker. They're architects. Sudberry Properties. Vantile, LLC. Alta Company, LLC. PM Realty Group. Commonwealth Land Title Company. Atlas Hotels, that's a big one. That's a real big one.

FSDRIP stands for First San Diego River Improvement Project. There was a big controversy, I guess, in the late '70s, early '80s, about dealing with the river. The developers said, "This land is so valuable, we don't want it underwater." And people who wanted to appreciate it and acknowledge its inherent value said, "We want to ensure some sustainability." Somewhat of a compromise was FSDRIP, which has a buffer, a vegetated buffer. Now that's supposed to be a habitat for various ambulatory and airborne beings.

The project is basically between 163 and 805. Now, west of 163 the river sort of gets really reduced. The city council allowed Fashion Valley to build that [new] parking lot in the riverbed. And I remember asking them at a meeting, why are they destroying the riverbed? And their answer was, "When it floods, it won't hurt anybody because we won't let anyone park there."

We have a lot of homeless people that sort of take up residence along the river. Now these people are disenfranchised in many ways. The planning group talks about how we have to root the homeless out of the vegetation. They want to cut down the vegetation along the river because of the homeless. They're using the homeless as an excuse to strip the land of vegetation.

Often members of the unified planning group want to further disenfranchise what remains of our open space, citing the homeless as the reason. It is shameful that the disenfranchised are an excuse to further disenfranchise what remains of our open space.

The obsession with development, evidenced by the density of condos/apartments/businesses and wretched road congestion, is insatiable. In biological terms, such a concentration of interests, such a small pool, is incestuous.

Q. What are some of the big projects currently pending that are a threat to the environment of Mission Valley and why?

A. There are three. One is the Quarry Falls development, north of Friars Road. It's bounded by Friars Road, Mission Center Road, and 805. The northern boundary is the southern boundary of Serra Mesa.

It is used as a quarry for excavation. It's been excavated for decades. The owner now wants to develop it into residential units, businesses. It's zoned for 30 units per acre. It's a 230-acre site. As we know, Friars Road is very, very congested. The intersections are the worst possible ratings. The amount of exhaust is extremely hazardous. And the proposal at this time is for 4800 condos plus support businesses.

[The developer of Quarry Falls, Tom Sudberry, is a member of the Mission Valley Unified Planning Group, as is Ronald W. Grant, who is associated with Alta Company LLC, the company that owns the Quarry Falls site.]

Q. And the second project?

It's at the west end of Mission Valley. The golf course [just west of Fashion Valley] is approximately 220 acres. Believe it or not, the city says it's okay to develop that with thousands of condos and hundreds of businesses and that such development will not adversely impact the traffic on Friars and Interstate 8 and 5 and 805.

Now one thing that's happened at the west end, people there are up in arms. On the eastern border of the golf course you have the Mission Greens condos, and on the west, the Courtyards and Presidio Place. The residents there are very alarmed at the prospect of having thousands of condos built on that golf course next to them.

The ironic thing is that John Wilhoit, who represents the planning department at the unified planning group meetings, has said the rationale for adding more condos and residences to Mission Valley is that if people live here already, then they don't have to drive here, so the traffic will decrease. If that were true, Friars Road would be empty. So that rationale does not really stand up.

Q. What's the third project?

The Chargers are proposing a bigger stadium, 6000 condos, and support businesses -- restaurants, department stores, grocery stores, cleaners, jewelry stores, everything.

That is in a floodplain. Now they want to put more tons of concrete in there and residential units. It's irrational.

In surveys of residents in Serra Mesa and in Mission Valley, respectively, 61 percent and 73 percent of the people are opposed to the Chargers proposal. Over 87 percent of the people in both communities chose one of three [options] that acknowledge the terrain: the river park, the regional park, and the open space.

Q. Is there any form of development on that site that you think people would support, or should it just be a park?

Not in response to the survey we did of residents in Mission Valley. People were given a choice of housing and retail, housing only, and a cultural center. And over 87 percent of people chose a park.

Q. Which option do you favor?

I would like to see it a regional park, because it is a floodplain. As you go farther north towards Friars, there could be a 30-, maybe 50-acre park for people, with lawn, trees, and shrubs.

Even though the community plan calls for a park in Mission Valley, since that community plan in '85 was approved by the city council, the unified planning group has authorized and recommended to the city council, and successive city councils have approved, the development of residential units and businesses only. Not one park.

Q. Do you see any need to build another stadium for the Chargers 'cause they're threatening to leave and a fair number of people seem worried about that?

I don't think there's a fair number of people that are worried about it. We live in a community where far more people participate than watch. We have far more participants than spectators. Every day people walk, jog, run, bicycle, swim. They don't want to sit and watch someone for four hours.

Q. You and others don't feel a need to try to accommodate them in some way, in terms of finding them another location?

We wanted to relocate it.

Q. Relocate it off the present site?

Yeah. The first suggestion? Los Angeles. The second suggestion was downtown near the ballpark.

But also, please remember in our survey we did ask, "What do you think about updating the community plan of Mission Valley to reduce density and impose height restrictions?" And 86 percent favor that.

Q. The Mission Valley plan that was adopted by the city council in '85, has that been at all successful in constructively guiding the development of Mission Valley?

The plan is fairly loose. You have developers submit their applications to the city, and the application is reviewed by the various departments in the city and by the unified planning group. And then the unified planning group recommends to the city council that these applications be approved. You have applicants who are corporate. And the members on the unified planning group are employees of corporations. They recuse themselves on their own applications, yet there's a real brotherhood here. There's a real camaraderie here; they're very cozy with one another and support each other's proposals for development.

They wanted to talk about City of Villages. They want to locate a lot of units near the stops for the trolley. But the thing is that most people work north and south of here, so they take 15 and 805 and 163, especially, and sometimes 5. Only 5 percent of the population works downtown, and there are no employers of large numbers of people as you go east. People are not riding the trolley.

They had Mark Steele, who's from Steele and Associates, who's drafting the plan for the Chargers, come to our meeting and talk about what they wanted to do. There's a bigger stadium and 6000 condos. And he actually said they were going to have a green area. You know what it was? It was fake lawn that they could use as parking when they have games there.

I think the whole thing -- and Councilmember Frye is saying this also -- the whole thing ought to be open space. It ought to be a regional park, and there could be about 30 or 40 acres, or 50 acres for people on the north side, along Friars Road, where it's higher. But where it's a floodplain, and where it's always especially damp, even at the end of August, there ought to be an area where it can be flooded when it rains. It ought to be a marshland.

I mentioned it to John Wilhoit. On our survey, 86 percent of the people want to amend the community plan to decrease density.

My belief is that the residents are not getting heard by the city. The city is turning a deaf ear. The residents don't like the congestion now that we have and do not want any further development.

Q. Is there some sense that the development interests there have the ear of the planning department and are steering this in some way?

Oh, absolutely! There's a very cozy arrangement that they have with each other.

Q. Does the membership of the planning group need to be restructured?

I think we need to have greater representation of people who live in Mission Valley and who are not employees of corporations.

Q. And how would that be? How would you restructure it?

I would like to see more involvement by people who live here. I know it's difficult if you work full time. Yet, we do have people who are very interested. We are getting people very interested. These surveys asked for community input so that your leaders can represent you. We got tremendous response on this, and I'm trying to present this to the unified planning group.

Actually the chair invited me to go out to lunch with her and told me that it's really better if I don't say anything at these meetings because everybody knows what I'm going to say and it wastes too much time.

Q. Who was that?

Linda Kaufman. And then she also said, "Why do you care?" And I said, "Because I live here!"

Q. And who does Linda Kaufman work for?

Fenton.

[H.G. Fenton is a real estate acquisition and development company, according to its website. Its holdings in Mission Valley include Club River Run and Portofino apartments and River Front condominium rentals, as well as a one-million-square-foot business park. Future projects include a 215-acre development adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium.]

Q. So did you feel that she was trying to muzzle you?

Well, I really felt in some ways -- you say muzzle -- or intimidate, or whatever. But it wasn't a very comfortable feeling.

Q. Do other members of that planning group feel the way you do, or are you the only one who speaks out?

Well, privately some people have expressed a lot of support, and they've also said, "I can't say anything. I can't do anything." What's interesting is that some of these people on the planning group would come to me privately and say, "I really admire what you're doing. [But] I can't support you. This is my job."

Q. So you're the only one who's sort of a thorn in their side?

Well, I like to think I am presenting a viewpoint of most of the people, not only in Mission Valley but in our neighboring communities.

Q. How many resident spots are there on the unified planning group?

Six.

Q. Out of how many?

Twenty-four. The bylaws require that six members be residents, six be business owners, six be property taxpayers, and six be property owners.

Q. I see. But then some of those residents also work for development interests?

Absolutely. One is an architect. Someone can be defined by two, three, or all four categories.

Q. So basically the panel is controlled by these development interests.

That's right.

It's visible in the development in Mission Valley. And remember, this is a floodplain. Look what's happened in New Orleans. And that's something that needs to be considered. And it's not.

There's a subcommittee of the unified planning group that's charged with updating the community plan [to include Quarry Falls], and I'm a member of that. But also there you have the developer and you have the owner. And you have the employees of Fenton. You have the secretary of the developer all voting to update the community plan.

Q. We've talked about the unified planning group. There's also a group called the Mission Valley Community Council?

We meet in the evening so that people who work during the day can come to the meetings. We've been around probably since about the early '90s, maybe '90 to '93, something like that. And we're involved with the community in terms of communicating to our councilmember -- the city council -- our thoughts on traffic, on housing, on culture, on open space.

We're not so corporate-oriented. I think the city needs to listen to us and reflect -- we want them to resonate with us. We want to see our thoughts incorporated into their plan.

Q. Does there seem to be more interest in these issues as of late?

I think so. Some people are really volunteering. I've been calling people based on this survey, and we've got people copying the survey and giving it to their friends. I think we're getting some interest here of people who have time to volunteer. Mostly people who're retired or have their own businesses, which is good. They can make their own hours.

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3

I grew up in the San Diego with three dairy farms, pony rides, and highway 80 was two lanes in each direction. I watched as the dairies disappeared, shopping centers grew and every patch of land seemed to have some type of development on it. It was sad...I used to go up to Presidio Park or Hawley point and look down on the valley. I know you can't stop progress, but people should think. I have been away for awhile, but, Mission Valley has a river running through it...it floods. I do remember one year the movie theater flooding, and I remember people drowning when they tried to drive across Texas Street or the curve down by the San Diego Mission de Alcala. Mother Nature shows no mercy. There must be some open land somewhere, away from the Valley!

May 17, 2009

Stop calling it a "valley." It's not a valley, it's a RIVER. "Flood plain?" Ok, I'll buy that, but the Great Central Valley and the San Fernando Valley are examples of valleys, not gorges that are filled from side to side with sediment dropped there from the river, winding its way across the entire width of its own sediment as its flow varies and sediments are transported.

All the development down there is part of a scheme that included/includes sucking up taxpayer money for private profit in so many, many ways, not the least of which was get zoning changed from agricultural (the highest and best use) to commercial and industrial, etc., then cry "flood protection" and get the United States Army Corps of Engineers to "protect the public" by channelizing the river at taxpayer expense, thus converting very cheap agricultural land (which was lost to the public benefit) and wildlife habitat (which was lost to the public benefit) to highly profitable and valuable commercial and industrial land as well as high-density residential.

That is, the original rip-off artists (euphemistically termed "investors") got the taxpayer to make their land values skyrocket. If that ain't a money-laundering scheme on steroids, please tell me what to call it. And, the scheming goes on. The landowners are not assessed for the United States Army Corps of Engineers' work in maintaining and managing the "flood protection" that continues to be required for development to take place.

March 11, 2012

I was deeply involved in the formation and implementation of FSDRIP as a principle not a "suit". There are countless errors in this article. First of all the plan was not approved in 1985. The resolution of intention and notice to proceed was granted in the fall of 87. The project was conceived some 10 years earlier when Denny Martini formerly of the Bond Ranch (owners of 3/4 of Mission Valley in 1908) and Dean Wolf (former Chairman of Federated department stores) looked down the river from Mission Valley Center and said "If we could straighten out the San Diego River and contain the annual flood event; we could re-claim all of that wasted "floodway fringe land". In the article it is mislabeled (check next time before you write)

Every year the valley would flood from the water coming down the mountain causing disruption in traffic and businesses. The river had silt and garbage that accumulated annually. The rest of the year it was a dry wasteland. The sewer pipe that ran parallel to the river seeped waste into the river bed. It was an open sewer and garbage dump.

10 years and 10 million dollars in planning funds gave birth to the concept of the FSRIP. The city got involved with some bonds at the END. Nobody cared about the potential loss of all of those planning dollars when there was no guarantee of a plan being approved.

The "humpback" construction of the banks, realignment of the river, islands, hydro seeded banks, trolley easement, riprap banking and box culverts that allowed the wetlands to be formed and wild life to return to mission valley to create the beautiful open land of today; if it were not for the original visionaries who risked their capital it still be a garbage dump. The 36 million that was spent by private investors created THOUSANDS of jobs and 100's of MILLIONS of dollars in direct and indirect taxes.

Now you have some people who are living in the exact same spot that used to be a garbage dump and cesspool and they are complaining that there is no more open space.

They obviously don't know their history. Now all of you who want to complain, imagine building your home on that land, knowing that any year it could be washed down the valley along with the rest of the abandoned tires and trash.

Being involved back then gives me insight that today's "vocal minority" just don't have. Instead of complaining why don't you put up the money to buy it and then you can turn it back into what it was before the improvements! Is that silence I hear?

March 4, 2013

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