Wayne Bamford knew more secrets about Linda Vista than anyone. It was the spring of 2007, and Bamford was helping me dig into the community’s ongoing squabbles. Two years later, in early May, I wanted to learn the latest on the fate of Skateworld, immediately north of the corner of Linda Vista Road and Comstock Street.
The roller-skating rink was facing a possible shutdown as part of local redevelopment plans. Bamford would be my first contact. I called the phone number I had for him. I emailed him. No response. A Google search eventually turned up a shocker: on April 30, 2009, Bamford, at 70 years old, had died unexpectedly at his daughter’s home. A memorial service would be held a few weeks later. “I found him when I got home from work,” his daughter later told me. “He was doing fine when I left in the morning. I really miss him.”
Linda Vista community activists miss him, too. Nick Hughes (not his real name) was one of Bamford’s closest friends. “Wayne could come up with information about every kind of issue. One time, we were together where a guy was entering a restricted-access area. [The guy] punched the keypad on one of those cypher locks. We were at a fair distance, but I noticed Wayne jotting down the numbers the guy had punched. I asked what the heck he was doing, and he said, ‘You never know when it might come in handy.’ He always seemed to be good at technical things, especially things related to law enforcement. We went up to the police academy off Miramar Road once, and Wayne was immediately familiar with a training simulator being used there.”
Mainly, however, Bamford seemed to have had a knack for convincing the right person to cough up the right information. Hughes kept duplicate copies of any interesting documents that turned up. “Wayne told me he had paperwork everywhere,” says Hughes, “and that if his house ever burned, a lot of important information might get lost.”
Bamford’s Linda Vista concerns ran from the seriously consequential to the trivial. “He never wanted leadership positions,” says JoAnn Carini, another longtime friend, “though he served on our planning committee and several other community organizations. Wayne liked to work in the shadows.” Carini tells me how Bamford obtained a badge for being a volunteer for the City of San Diego’s Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. “On weekends he would go to Morley Green, our neighborhood park on Linda Vista Road, where people were in the habit of setting up yard sales. It was making the community look like a ghetto. And Wayne would show up with his badge, like he was a City enforcement officer, and tell people they weren’t permitted to sell there. He’d say, ‘I’ll be back to check on you in half and hour.’ And the people would leave.”
But saving Skateworld was Bamford’s greatest preoccupation. He loved the skating rink, as many Linda Vistans still do. It attracted people of all ages and gave to neighborhood kids especially some great recreation and discipline. It offered them a place to connect with others. Parents could drop their children off and feel they’d remain safe and off the streets. There was structure. While in the facility, the kids had to follow strict rules; going in and out was forbidden, so the fun could not be mixed with drugs or alcohol. Skateworld also brought outsiders from all over San Diego County into Linda Vista, where they’d often spend money before going home. The rink served as a venue for birthday parties and school, college, and church outings. It staged benefits for worthwhile causes. And on and on.
Late in my 2007 conversations with Bamford, he finally hinted at what he considered to be the dark forces threatening Skateworld. He’d attended District 6 councilwoman Donna Frye’s Linda Vista appearances, most often at Bayside Community Center, kitty-corner from Skateworld, and ask her questions. Linda Vista contains a San Diego Redevelopment Agency project area, and Skateworld lies within it. Bamford told me he didn’t get much out of Frye. He said she always had a way of deflecting his queries.
But I couldn’t be sure about what he learned because Bamford kept sensitive information and suspicions close to the vest, perhaps waiting for the right moment to reveal them. For whatever reasons, his friends agreed, he confided different kinds of information to different people. I liked Bamford but found him to be a mystery. To understand him better, I pestered him about what his career had been before retiring. He wouldn’t say. So I guessed, more than half seriously, that he’d worked for the FBI. He made no response, though a wry smile appeared on his pleasant, round face. Then he went on to other topics. Recently, I learned that he’d retired from a career at General Atomics. Neither Carini nor Hughes knows anything further.
Bamford also gave me insight into his relentless yet circumspect modus operandi. He said that City officials seemed to think of Linda Vista as a doormat, a backwater full of know-nothings. I still have a few recordings of our conversations. “You can tell the Redevelopment Agency is planning something they know we won’t like,” he says on one, “and that something will split the community into bitter camps. Ultimately, the City will do whatever it pleases. And it is true; we are unsophisticated and simple people here, especially in comparison with the redevelopment honchos. By the time we figure things out, the game is already half over. What we need more than anything else is more participation by the whole community before decisions are made.”
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Skateworld is housed in a large rounded-roof building that looks like a World War II Quonset hut. As part of a shopping center built in the early 1940s, the structure was meant originally to serve as an entertainment facility for thousands of aircraft-manufacturing workers. Linda Vista was then a brand-new development built to house workers who came to San Diego to do their part in the war effort.
Today, Skateworld is owned by 60-year-old Gary Stang. Thirty-five years ago, Stang and his parents opened the business at its current location. By the early 1970s, the shopping center, including the eventual Skateworld building, had already become dilapidated. So in 1972, the City of San Diego took the center on as one of the first local redevelopment zones. Within a few years, the City sold most of the center to a developer who replaced a supermarket and a number of other businesses with new ones. But the old entertainment building, which by then had gone through a variety of uses, remained. The Stangs, who always wanted to own a skating rink, scouted the building. They began to picture it as the home of their future business.
“At the time, nobody wanted this building,” Stang tells me. We’re sitting in the Skateworld front office, which also serves as a trophy and memorabilia room. “It was boarded up and needed a lot of repairs. There were homeless people breaking in here. So I approached the City about doing something with it, and they let us have it on a month-to-month lease.”
The first thing the Stangs did was to make as many repairs as they could afford. They put in a maple-wood floor to serve as the skating surface. Several skaters I’ve spoken with at Skateworld tell me that the surface is far superior — and more forgiving to sprawling human bodies — to more modern ones, which leave imprints on flesh.
Stang’s parents mortgaged their home and got a Small Business Association loan, and Skateworld opened on October 6, 1975. “We put everything we had into this venture,” says Stang. “My mom and dad were professional roller-skaters. And by then, I had managed roller-skating rinks for other people. As a boy, I had done counter, floor-guard, DJ, and other duties. I had a lot of experience.”
Wayne Bamford had told me that Stang was once a great roller-skating competitor in speed and artistic events. Between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, Stang routinely won national skating championships. Later, he performed skating routines on television and in movies and once skated during a Michael Jackson concert.
I ask Stang how early he started skating. “When I was three, my grandmother found a pair of roller skates with metal wheels and a key,” he says. “She brought them home and clamped them onto my shoes. I went outside and rolled down a bumpy sidewalk and, apparently, really liked it. Later, my mom and dad became artistic skaters and turned pro. Through them I developed my skills. Skating’s been a lifelong passion.”
In 1982, the City wanted to make major changes to the Skateworld building. “But they had no takers,” says Stang. “So the City approached me. They said to put a proposal together, a proposal that would show improvements on the building. So we created a plan that added the commercial spaces that are on the building now.” Stang is referring to the spaces on Skateworld’s west, east, and north sides: the west side is currently occupied by a Pizza Hut and a check-cashing outlet and a beauty shop; on the east side there’s a video store and a financial services company; on the north side, a Vietnamese restaurant.
I ask if that’s what the City wanted. “They wanted it, yes,” Stang tells me, “and the community-planning group said they wanted to see more retail in the area. My family and I also decided it would be a benefit to us to put retail spaces onto the building.” Stang invested in building out the attached commercial spaces. In what would later become a bone of contention, the agency permitted the entire complex to be run as one business. The Stangs were given a 20-year lease. Besides running the skating rink, they now collected rents from the new tenants. The City requested a percentage of the composite business profits. That percentage rose slowly over the years, eventually reaching a high of 15 percent.
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In 1988, a new Linda Vista public library was built at Comstock and Ulrich Streets, immediately east of Skateworld, but the construction funds came out of the city’s regular libraries’ budget, not from redevelopment monies. By the mid-1990s, local community leaders were itching for a new redevelopment project. They wanted to build a “town center” and “gateway” to the community on a vacant lot at the corner of Comstock and Linda Vista Road. The property, adjacent to Skateworld on the south, had been for years the site of a gas station.
The new plan was driven by three individuals: District 6 councilwoman Valerie Stallings, District 5 councilwoman Barbara Warden, and Bob Williams, then president of Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center. The three leaders envisioned a two-story town center that would facilitate the work of nonprofit organizations in Linda Vista and be a home for the “incubation” of business startups. Besides offices, the building would contain a large conference center.
In a February 4, 1999 memo to the City manager, Warden highlighted her favorite goal. “This critical project would re-create the Heart of Linda Vista by redeveloping the former gasoline station…into a catalyst for private-sector development.” Warden went on to say that, for the previous three years, she had been setting aside the federal Community Development Block Grant funds under her control to help complete the project. She also promised to acquire a federal loan that, through deferred repayment, “would provide an equal financial commitment from Council Districts Five and Six, respectively.” She wrote further that the project “marks the first time the city has invested in the expansion of the Linda Vista Redevelopment Area since the early 1970s.”
In those days, Linda Vista’s city council representation was divided in two, split by Linda Vista Road’s passage through the community. District 5’s Warden represented the eastern half, while Valerie Stallings of District 6 represented the western half.
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Over the winter of 1999–2000, both of the elder Stangs died. I ask a current Skateworld employee who was around then how much the couple had been contributing to running the operation. “They were a great pair and were there every day,” he says, “even though they were silent partners in the business. Gary’s mother especially always had lots to say about how things were to be done.”
Gary Stang now had a little more than 2 years left on his 20-year lease, and promoters of the new town center seemed to be planning on coexistence with Skateworld. In 2000, the City finally purchased the lot where the old gas station had been, and town center organizers began looking west on Comstock at two properties that, if acquired, would allow the project to expand all the way to the library. One of the properties is occupied by a company called Buggy Wash, then owned by Frank Piersall.
By phone, I reach Piersall at home. He tells me that Bayside’s Bob Williams and a City official, whose name he no longer remembers, spoke to him about “some weird project with a clock tower on top of it.” To complete the project, they wanted to acquire the Buggy Wash property but did not offer him money. Instead, says Piersall, they wanted him to relocate his business to an empty lot in Linda Vista across from Kearny High School. “I told them no way,” he says.
And that seemed to end the plan to build the town center at the corner of Comstock Street and Linda Vista Road. But the plan’s collapse apparently suggested to Williams the possibility of expanding the project in a different direction — onto the Skateworld property. Linda Vista resident Doug Beckham tells me that Williams, who died in 2004, also promised that “Bayside will eventually occupy the Skateworld building.”
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In early 2001, Valerie Stallings was forced to resign her council seat after admitting she took gifts from San Diego Padres owner John Moores during a time she was voting on a new ballpark for the club. To replace Stallings, a special election was held that June, an election won by Donna Frye. After Frye went on to win reelection in 2002, a redistricting ordinance put all of Linda Vista into District 6, and Frye has been its representative ever since. She terms out this December.
When Skateworld’s lease expired later in 2002, Gary Stang proposed that the City extend it another 20 years, promising to make additional improvements to the property. He submitted plans drawn up by a local architectural firm. He also suggested using the old gas station parcel as a badly needed parking lot for Skateworld. But the City told him it wanted time to review other options with the community and granted Skateworld a 3-year lease only.
On September 10, 2004, Maureen Ostrye, of the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development, wrote to Donna Frye, outlining three options: first, develop the corner lot alone, where the gas station had been, with private retail outlets and a public meeting hall; second, grant a lease for an upgraded use of the Skateworld property, with an option to buy; and third, combine the two properties, adapting the Skateworld property for continued use and building commercial space on the corner lot.
Close to a year later, as the three-year Skateworld lease was approaching its end, councilwoman Frye lifted Stang’s hopes. At a May 11, 2005 meeting of the City Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee, she made the following motion: “With respect to the Skateworld property: enter into negotiations for a long-term lease with an option to purchase with the current lessee…” Frye added language to the motion requiring research into the historical nature of the building, improving its appearance, keeping the current retail tenants, and obtaining the Linda Vista planning committee’s opinion of the plan. The motion passed four votes to zero.
Gary Stang and members of the planning group, including Wayne Bamford, were in attendance. “At that meeting, Donna Frye said some very nice things about Skateworld,” Bamford later told me. “We were all excited about the business continuing in Linda Vista.” But Stang was soon disappointed. According to city council protocol, the Housing and Land Use Committee was supposed to pass its resolution on to the council for a final vote. But the committee did not follow through. Both Bamford and Stang have told me that they inquired numerous times to Frye’s office for insight into what happened but got no answers. To this date, Frye has never explained her mysterious change of mind. Stang would never again get a chance to negotiate for the long-term lease.
Instead, the Redevelopment Agency began to grant Stang a series of one-year and six-month leases as it considered a new approach. In 2006 and 2007, the agency put out requests for proposals to develop the former gas station property but leave Skateworld alone. “Not long after that,” Stang tells me, “Michael Weber and Ivar Leetma from the Bayside board of directors came over to Skateworld to look around and talk to me. I could see they were frustrated that the latest call for proposals still had a restriction in it that my building had to be used as a skating rink.”
Stang responded to both the 2006 and 2007 calls for proposals to develop the corner lot. At about this same time, he also offered to buy the Skateworld property from the City for $2,000,000. He had found several financial backers for the plan. But the City turned him down and eventually reported that it had received proposals from only one person, Gary Stang, and that the proposals did not meet expectations. “Whatever those might be,” added Bamford during our 2007 conversations.
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During a recent conversation, Stang tells me that for all but the last few years his negotiations with the City have always gone through the Real Estate Assets Department. “The conversations were always cordial,” he says. In January 2008, the City handed over control of the Skateworld property to the Redevelopment Agency. “And then the tone changed,” says Stang. “All their dealings with me became hostile.”
Not long afterward, the Redevelopment Agency introduced a new talking point: Skateworld was “not a viable business.” According to minutes of the July 2008 Linda Vista Planning Committee meeting, the City’s Maureen Ostrye came to the group’s July 2008 meeting to deliver the pronouncement. The minutes indicate that Stang, present at the meeting as a planning group member, vigorously objected, but not before resigning and taking a seat in the audience. Stang’s objection hasn’t prevented the charge from being repeated by his opponents ever since.
Five months later, on December 2, 2008, the most recent Skateworld lease was taken up by the city council. From the public speakers’ podium, Stang appealed to the council to allow him to continue his business in Linda Vista, maintaining that he had always done everything asked of him. The Redevelopment Agency, he said, never lifted a finger to maintain the property or the surrounding parking lot. When it came time for a motion to be made, councilwoman Frye said that she had tried to work something out for many years but that Stang had never done what was necessary to satisfy the Redevelopment Agency. As evidence, Frye held up a folder that she said held all the documentation of aborted agency attempts to work with Stang. She said any of the councilmembers could peruse the folder, though none did.
Frye went on to quote from an audit of Stang’s business, commissioned by the Redevelopment Agency. The audit, completed the previous month, looked at a five-year period in the recent history of Skateworld. During that period, according to the audit, Stang collected $937,815 in tenant rents and gave the Redevelopment Agency $135,640. In addition, he reported a $74,932 loss in his Skateworld-only business. It was not possible from the figures, Frye stated, to determine what amounts had been spent on maintenance because Stang did not keep receipts for such expenditures, in violation of his lease with the Redevelopment Agency.
By the end of the meeting, Gary Stang faced an ultimatum. He could keep his current lease until the end of June 2009 and then go forward on a new month-to-month lease, but only if he signed a lease termination agreement. If he did not sign, according to Frye’s motion, his lease would automatically terminate less than two months later, on January 31, 2009. Either way, Stang would lose the tenants attached to the Skateworld building. In the meantime, the Redevelopment Agency was going to prepare a new request for proposals for how to use both the property Skateworld occupied and the corner property next to it.
Recently, Stang complained to me about the audit Frye used in the council meeting. “It did not back our federal and state taxes, city business taxes, or any other normal business expenses,” he says. “And it doesn’t square with a recent agency report that Skateworld paid them $336,000 in 2008.”
After June 2008, Stang lost the tenants in the Skateworld building, but he maintains that his skating business is stronger than ever. It is a claim that would seem entirely reasonable to anyone who drops by Skateworld just about any night of the week. And the City, he says, long ago agreed to his collecting tenant rents as a way to help him manage the cyclical nature of the skating business, stronger in the winter than the summer.
To buttress her position, Frye’s office recently put out a Redevelopment Agency report documenting serious deterioration of the Skateworld building, which Stang’s lease requires him to keep up. In response, Stang had this to say: “If you’re a businessman and you go to the bank for a loan to fix up the building, they’re going to ask how long your lease is. Reroofing Skateworld was something I had long wanted to do, since I was the one who always had to fix the roof whenever it leaked. But that would have cost me more than $100,000. With all the short-term leases I’d been getting, there was no chance I was going to get a loan. For all the banks would know, I might have been gone in six months.”
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Less than a month after the fateful council meeting, which relied so heavily on Gary Stang’s lease violations, the City received a reprimand from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The charge was that the City had improperly loaned federal community development block grant money to the Redevelopment Agency. Since redevelopment produces new taxes in the following years, taxes that are supposed to be recirculated in the project areas, the charge amounted to an illegal “leveraging of property tax increments.” And it turns out that the Linda Vista project area hadn’t even been keeping the tax increments it had amassed from its earliest redevelopment. It has sent much of the money, plus some of the federal block grant money loaned it by the City, to other project areas, such as downtown San Diego, College Grove, and San Ysidro.
According to a memo on Donna Frye’s website, the total debt still owed to the City by the Redevelopment Agency is approximately $268.5 million. The Linda Vista project area owes $6,474,436 (principal comes to $1,945,141; interest is $4,529,295). Of Linda Vista’s debt, the total community development block grant money that is still owed is $3,020,304. Linda Vista, says the Frye memo, is one of five redevelopment project areas that “will not have the capacity to repay a portion of their outstanding debt to the city.” So, this summer, Frye and other city councilmembers have been trying to arrange for those debts to be forgiven. The amount proposed to be forgiven from the Linda Vista block grant total debt is $1,763,604. A note at the bottom of the Linda Vista page states, “There has been no determination made yet as to how to pay the remaining debt.”
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This spring, Skateworld’s Gary Stang got the news he feared. On May 24, the City’s Maureen Ostrye appeared at a meeting of the Linda Vista Planning Committee. She announced the agency’s choice from among three proposals submitted for development of the remaining City property on the shopping center site. The committee knew already that Gary Stang had submitted a proposal to spend $568,000 to refurbish the Skateworld building. The author of the second proposal was not identified.
Ostrye told the group that a company called the MRW Development Company, LLC, had submitted the winning proposal and would develop the property with an investment of $3.5 million. As one member of the planning committee said, “Ostrye did not ask what we thought of the choice. She simply announced that it was going to happen.” And who the heck, the committee members wanted to know, is MRW? “Ostrye would not tell us,” says Margarita Castro, a former board member who was in attendance that night. “She would not say a thing about the developer. Nobody had ever heard of the company. We had to go home and look it up on Google.” But, at least, that evening the rest of the plan surfaced. Jorge Riquelme, who is Bayside Community Center’s executive director and representative to the planning committee, stated that his nonprofit organization would be teaming with MRW to complete the project. Bayside planned to buy the property from the Redevelopment Agency for one dollar.
It turns out that MRW is a company that advertises itself as a real estate, redevelopment, and environmental “group.” Its chief executive officer is Michael R. Weber, a longtime member of Bayside’s board of directors, who also served several terms as the board’s president. Since the mid-1970s, Bayside has been located in an old church building on the southwest corner of Linda Vista Road and Comstock Street. From the building’s front steps one looks across the intersection at the Skateworld complex. “For a long time,” says Castro, “we had suspicions that Bayside was coveting the property Skateworld occupies.”
The following week, I attended an information meeting that Bayside held to spell out the details of its plan. Michael Weber, introduced to the crowd as the project developer, spoke only briefly. During the question-and-answer session, however, an audience member asked Weber when he and Bayside first started thinking about taking over the Skateworld site. The answer? When the Redevelopment Agency put out its “Request for Qualifications and Proposals.” The request had been published on July 29, 2009.
Events were now moving quickly. On June 15, the San Diego city council unanimously approved an “Exclusive Negotiating Agreement” between the Redevelopment Agency and MRW for development of the coveted property. The agreement gave the two parties six months to complete a contract. After that, the planning commission will make a recommendation on the feasibility of MRW’s plan, before the council hears it for a final up-or-down vote. “You watch,” Margarita Castro tells me, “Donna Frye will put a rush on this. She wants this done before her term ends this fall. She won’t want its fate to rest in the hands of her successor.”
At about this time, mid-June of this year, a collection of documents relating to the Linda Vista redevelopment began to circulate among local residents opposed to the MRW/Bayside project. A page from the year 2002 stands out, a letter on Bayside stationery addressed to Gary Jones of the City’s Real Estate Assets Department. Dated October 24, 2002, and stamped as received in Donna Frye’s office four days later, the letter was written by Grover Diemert, then Bayside’s executive director. “We are developing a proposal to lease the property commonly known as the Skateworld property,” wrote Diemert. “We have alerted Donna Frye of our interest. She is looking forward to receiving our proposal. We request that you do not renew the Stang/Skateworld lease until you have considered and reviewed our proposal…. If you have any questions please contact our master plan committee chair Michael Weber.”
Given the letter, why is there so much surprise in the Linda Vista community that, eight years later, Michael Weber wants to develop Bayside’s new home? In 2002, the letter’s author, Grover Diemert, was serving a concurrent term on the planning committee in addition to being Bayside’s executive director. Several of its members who date from that far back remember him as their secretary. Surely Diemert would have given the planning committee a copy of his letter to Real Estate Assets. When I put the question to Gary Stang and several other 2002 committee members, none of them remember the letter. Diemert, who is no longer a planning committee member, though he still serves on Bayside’s board of directors, did not return my request for an interview.
Nick Hughes was the source of many of these recently appearing documents. Hughes was also the friend who kept duplications for Wayne Bamford of the many documents and other evidence that Bamford dug up over the years. “Could Wayne have uncovered the Grover Diemert letter?” I ask Hughes. “It’s possible, even very likely,” he says. But although he remembers seeing the letter, Hughes is not sure of its provenance. My guess is that Bamford obtained it simply by putting in a California Public Records Act request for documents mentioning the Skateworld property. “Or he may have gotten it in any number of unsuspected ways,” I say. Hughes admits this as a possibility.
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Futsal, an indoor variation on soccer, may eventually become the dominant recreational activity in the high-vaulted building now occupied by Skateworld. At Bayside Community Center, two days after Spain defeated the Netherlands in the World Cup, Jorge Riquelme explains the game to me. Riquelme, Bayside’s current executive director, tells me that futsal (sal, the second syllable, comes from sala, Spanish for gym) is played on a basketball-size court with a ball slightly smaller than a soccer ball. The game largely follows soccer’s rules, but there are five players on each team, and the goals are smaller. In contrast to indoor soccer, deflection of the ball off the gym walls is not part of the game. When the ball leaves the court, it is out of bounds. “Due to the small size of the playing space, in comparison to outdoor soccer,” Riquelme says, “each player is constantly involved in the action.”
Does the coming of futsal mean that skating in the building is out? “Not at all,” says Riquelme. “A number of recreational activities may take place inside the facility. We plan to continue offering skating.” Would Gary Stang be allowed to run his skating business there? “Yes,” says Riquelme, “if the business can show that it’s viable. But anyone who wants to offer an activity in the building will have to share the available space with others wanting to do the same thing. The people who are interested in futsal already understand that.”
In addition to Stang’s business, Riquelme tells me that Bayside is open to including the small businesses that are now attached to Skateworld, “as long as they are viable.” I take that to mean that they must be able to pay their rent. Working with the businesses coincides with a larger Bayside plan, namely, to support and house a number of microenterprises at the new facility. “Linda Vista is a community that has many immigrants,” says Riquelme, “and immigrants are good entrepreneurs. They have to be.” Nonprofit organizations will be invited to work out of the new Bayside. “We may also offer a number of other activities, such as mini-conventions and film festivals,” says Riquelme.
Of course, for all this activity, Bayside will need more than the current Skateworld building. MRW’s architect has created a design that encompasses both the high-vaulted building and the corner lot next door. On both sides of the current Skateworld and extending south toward Comstock, two stories of new offices and classrooms are planned. The current south wall of Skateworld is slated to be removed, giving the inner vault an open-air character. From Comstock Street, through an open space between the new buildings, one will enter the complex, walking straight toward the open gymnasium. Walkways will connect the complex to the Linda Vista Library across a parking lot to the east.
The character of the overall architecture, according to Riquelme, is to be “1940s industrial.” That’s to commemorate the old shopping center’s original purpose, which was to serve the aircraft-manufacturing workers newly arrived in Linda Vista during World War II. The high-vaulted structure, says Riquelme, “will have all excess material that was added onto it over the years peeled off, restoring the building to its original condition. That building is all that’s left from the historic shopping center of 1943, and we want to preserve that history.”
What’s to become of the current Bayside building, an old church that the organization has inhabited since the mid-1970s? “That’s a good question,” says Riquelme. “We may keep both buildings to make sure we have enough space to do everything we want. Or we may sell this one. We wouldn’t want to use the money just to pay bills because it would soon be gone. Establishing an endowment would make the most sense. We’re trying to avoid an overdependence on public funds, and we hope we can attract some local philanthropists to invest in us.”
For its part, MRW hopes to attract investors to help pay for its $3.5 million commitment to build the new community center. But how will the investors make money? The company’s Ivar Leetma tells me that financing will be based on “patient capital,” which will be rewarded by retail outlets at the new Bayside site. How MRW and Bayside will divvy up the retail earnings is not yet clear.
Leetma suggests I call one of MRW’s team members, Barry Schultz, who will help me better understand the plan. But Schultz, a land-use attorney who served for eight years on the city’s planning commission, does not return my calls. I dig for a little information on the former commissioner. He recently managed a $90 million fund called the San Diego Capital Collaborative. Schultz is a proponent of the smart-growth movement, or what he calls “high-density urban-infill development.” In the past, his company promised to find developers “geographic targets” in low- to middle-income census tracts and redevelopment areas. He recommended that, for infill housing, it is important to “maximize existing buildings and infrastructure.” Barriers to smart growth include development regulations and community opposition. Some Linda Vistans think that Schultz’s assistance to MRW signals the development company’s interest in eventually building housing on Bayside’s current property.
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I ask Jorge Riquelme what he makes of resistance to the new Bayside project, especially from within the community-planning group. “Anything involving change is always scary,” he says. “But their adversarial stance is counterproductive. Linda Vista needs forward-thinking people. We need change badly. The community has a terrible track record for drawing in business investment. People think that because Linda Vista is north of Highway 8 it’s doing just fine. But we have deep pockets of poverty here and schools that are performing poorly.
“There was shock on the planning board that the proposal they supported was not the one chosen by the Redevelopment Agency. But they need to evaluate our project on the merits. And here is the real problem,” says Riquelme, pulling out a letter, dated October 27, 2009, from the planning group to the agency. The letter expresses support for Skateworld’s response to the latest request for proposals. “They had no business taking sides like this. They hadn’t even considered other proposals.”
The current redevelopment issue for Linda Vista, as Riquelme argues, is largely about embracing or rejecting change. At Bayside, one hears that most planning-committee members are sentimentalists in trying to hold onto Skateworld. Those members, however, see the issue as one of fairness and of whether or not to keep a private recreational enterprise that has already shown it works.
“At the June planning group meeting,” Margarita Castro tells me, “Jorge gave us that baloney about how wrong it was for us to take Gary’s side over other proposals. But what were we supposed to do? Bayside never told us what they were proposing, and the Redevelopment Agency wouldn’t say what was on the table. We were operating in the dark, so naturally we supported a business that for years has been making a wonderful contribution to our community.”
In search of an independent perspective, I call Michael Jenkins, a retired redevelopment attorney and former assistant director of San Diego’s Community and Economic Development Department. “That’s great,” Jenkins says, when I tell him that the Linda Vista redevelopment area had chosen a project and its developer. “It means the community has come together on something it wants.”
“Not entirely,” I tell him. For one thing, a lot of people complain that, at a time when the Redevelopment Agency owes the City millions of dollars, it is giving away the land the project needs for one dollar.
“That’s a public subsidy,” Jenkins replies, “a type the agency gives to improve blighted areas.”
I discovered Jenkins after reading an October 17, 2008 article he wrote called “A New Direction for San Diego Redevelopment.” The article makes a number of recommendations, but the following stuck out in reference to Linda Vista: “Adopt uniform policies for all redevelopment areas regarding…the public’s right to participate in selecting projects and developers.”
A number of San Diego’s redevelopment areas have “project area committees.” A project area committee is led by a Redevelopment Agency employee but is composed mainly of community members. In principle, a project area committee gives transparency to the agency’s work in the community. And the community members, chosen from a variety of constituents, are supposed to participate in establishing the area’s goals, hear reports on the area’s finances, and make recommendations on projects and developers before the agency names them. The Redevelopment Agency has never established a project area committee for Linda Vista, although community members have watched one operate in the North Bay Project Area, Linda Vista’s neighbor to the south.
Jorge Riquelme says the big problem was that the planning group took sides in favor of one proposal before seeing the others. Would that have happened if the community had had a project area committee? Would a plan with full community support have divided Linda Vistans so? With greater imagination, a project area committee might still help reconcile the competing sides. How does a combo sound?