Imperial Beach held a fence-destroying ceremony last week in a vacant lot on the city’s shoreline street to announce a new temporary pocket park, but some community members are questioning whether the focus on the increasingly swanky beach area neglects the less-fancy inland parts of town.
The development of the property on Seacoast Drive is an unusual venture where the city government contacted the absentee owner to gain free access to the land in order to beautify the property until the owner does something else with it, officials said.
Across the street from the Marriott Pier South Resort and previously featuring dirt, gravel, and trash, the site "was picked because it's highly visible, right on Seacoast, right on the main drag, and kind of an eyesore, right across from a landmark hotel," said Steven Wright, executive director and cofounder of 4 Walls International, one of the organizations involved in developing the land.
But not everyone is satisfied. "I am disappointed that our elected officials continue to focus on only one area in Imperial Beach," said Valerie Saldana, a resident of the southeast part of Imperial Beach, via email.
"Yes, a big empty lot is an eyesore, but the owner chose to not utilize or enhance their property prior to the mayor stepping in," Saldana said. "My question is, who is financially footing the bill? Who will maintain the upkeep for this pocket park?... I think before the City of Imperial Beach invests any city funds or resources on a pocket park [located on private property] they should see if the needs of the residents in other areas of I.B. are being addressed."
Mayor Serge Dedina said grant money was being pursued to pay the groups involved — including 4 Walls International, IB Art Bureau, and ARTS-A Reason to Survive — instead of city funds.
"My vision for a park/playground in the southeast neighborhood of Imperial Beach would be a safe area where children can run and play outside," added Saldana, who says she has lived in Imperial Beach for 32 years. "A pocket park like the one being developed on Seacoast and Date would ideal…. During the election I spoke to our current mayor and expressed my concern on redevelopment in northeast and southeast area and he agreed that the city needs to support businesses and families in this area."
"We do need a closer park for the lil ones," said another Imperial Beach resident, Melissa Cervar Zurita, on a social media forum on the subject.
Dedina said that putting parks in that area is "something I'm committed to" but that other projects in that area have taken priority "out of concerns of basic safety," such as paving all the alleys, which the city has been doing, and creating better crosswalks on 13th Street, which is also underway.
"If you look at the money invested, 99 percent has been on east side and north side," he said, adding that the pocket-park cost is minimal to the city. "It's going to cost taxpayers something like $500. The community is going to do the rest."
“There is no cost to lease the property,” city manager Andy Hall clarified. “The owner is letting us use his property for something other than a vacant, fenced lot until he chooses to develop…. There are no new costs associated with the upkeep. We are simply using our existing resources more strategically,” he said.
“At the current time there are no grants assigned to the property. We plan to conduct citizen outreach to get some of the best ideas of how to use the property for public purposes and then seek funding to make those things happen…. In terms of dollars, very little has or will be spent.”
"The Seacoast spot was low-hanging fruit," Wright said in response to the question of priorities. "It was one of the easier ones to get to…. We're working to put things together to do this work out to the east," he said. "It's really important."
An empty lot at Iris Avenue and 10th Street was discussed as a possible park spot in social media circles.