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What to do when the Coronado bridge is paid off

Killea vs. Mononnier vs. the Coronado mayor

The $44 million bond debt on the 14-year-old Coronado Bridge should be paid in full by late 1986. With the construction bonds retired, the 14 million drivers who annually cross the span should, in theory, be allowed to pocket the 7 million dollars in tolls they pay yearly. But don’t count on it. “This bridge is a moneymaking machine that politicians will find hard to let go,” says H.B. Thysell, the bridge’s manager.

Indeed, at least three politicians already have different ideas about what sort of toll should be charged motorists and how the money should be spent once the bonds are paid off. Assemblywoman Lucy Killea has developed the ambitious proposal of maintaining the current $1.20 toll – or even bumping it up a nickel – to underwrite transportation projects including the East County trolley extension and a new shuttle bus from San Diego to Coronado. Killea’s math shows there would be about $4.5 million yearly left for such projects after bridge maintenance is paid.

But Killea’s strategy was damaged last Thursday when fellow Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier introduced – without Killea’s approval – an assembly bill to reduce the bridge fare to fifty cents. The Mojonnier bill makes no mention of regional transit subsidies and calls only for a study on the possible resurrection of the old bay ferryboats.

Killea, who fancies local transportation matters to be her domain and who is vice chairwoman of the legislature’s transportation committee, was immediately on the phone to Mojonnier demanding to know why she wasn’t consulted before the Mojonnier bill was submitted. Mojonnier said she submitted her bill at the request of Coronado Mayor Pat Callahan, who covets a share of the toll money to subsidize the ferryboat project.

Now Callahan has angered Killea, who earlier promised him 20 percent of toll revenues, or about $1.1 million, for Coronado projects. Callahan, though, figured that wasn’t enough, arguing that his city needed $600,000 yearly to subsidize two ferryboats, another $700,000 spread over two years for the construction of stoplights on Third and Fourth streets, and more toll receipts to clean up the bridge approach area on the Coronado side.

Callahan may yet get a chance at more money for Coronado. Killea is confident she can kill Mojonnier’s bill and will introduce her own later this year. The Coronado mayor could apologize to Killea for his indiscretion in dealing with Mojonnier and perhaps recoup at least the 20 percent Killea had offered his city. But Callahan is aware of past instances in which Coronado has been shoved around by bigger bureaucracies. The City of San Diego, for instance, insists on including in its own population census Navy sailors living aboard their ships, a ploy that allows San Diego to qualify for more federal aid money at Coronado’s expense. Jitney buses licensed by the City of San Diego work Coronado streets, usurping passengers and revenue that would otherwise benefit Coronado buses. And the Unified Port District recently ignored Coronado’s request that the port not expand a tidelands shipyard operation.

Mayor Roger Hedgecock and his “controlled growth” allies demand a lot from developers who build on the mesas north of Mission Valley. There are city fees required to subsidize parks, roads, schools, and police protection; new communities are limited in density, landscaping is requested, donations of parkland suggested. And all housing projects are stringently reviewed by the city planning commission.

But in the older neighborhoods south of Interstate 8, such restrictions are sometimes waived. A current example is the 136-unit apartment building planned for the site of the old trolley line terminal on Adams Avenue near Park Boulevard. The apartments will be constructed with the financial aid of the city and its Housing Commission, which last week added the project to a list of 17 others that will qualify for an estimated $30 million in tax-free construction bonds. In return for that financing favor, the developer will rent 20 percent of the apartment units to low-income families, thus helping the city fulfill its low-income housing quotas and guaranteeing that millions in federal aid flows uninterrupted. Because of the tie-in with the Housing Commission, the Adams Avenue project will not be subject to the sort of city environmental reviews that are common north of Mission Valley. For example, it need not comply with the community plan; in fact neighbors near Adams Avenue only learned about the switch from the proposed condo development to the four-story apartments in a chance conversation with a staff member of their council office. None of the neighbors has even seen architectural drawings of the building.

Since 1980 the Normal Heights-Adams Avenue corridor has added 1081 new housing units, 40 more than spacious Penasquitos. Yet the Normal Heights area lacks a single park, and its elementary schools are overcrowded. Ironically, the Adams Avenue building site had been nominated as a possible neighborhood park, to be purchased by the city with open-space bond money, but it was too low on the priority list to be saved.

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