Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated."
  • Mission Valley, c. 1977. "The San Diego River has been drained, filled in, pushed aside, and excavated."
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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.

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cece5650 May 17, 2009 @ 1:10 p.m.

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!


Twister March 11, 2012 @ 9:59 p.m.

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.


RobertRodrigues March 4, 2013 @ 8:43 a.m.

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?


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