A group of opponents to San Diego's Measure J — a down-ballot proposition that seeks to potentially reconfigure and redistribute monies generated from Mission Bay Park — gathered on Tuesday afternoon (November 1), calling out mayor Kevin Faulconer for seeking drastic changes to a plan he championed while a city councilmember.
Atop the list of complaints is a lack of transparency.
"It never came through the community before going straight to city council and onto the ballot, and there are a lot of things we object to," explained Denise Friedman of the Pacific Beach Town Council.
Former city councilmember Ed Harris, who temporarily occupied Faulconer's seat when the latter ascended to the mayor's office, agreed.
"Measure J was rushed through without proper citizen review. The process did not include any input from community planning groups — not even the Mission Bay Park Oversight Committee," Harris noted in a release from Surfrider San Diego, one of several groups joining Harris and Friedman at a Mission Bay Park Committee meeting in opposition to the plan.
Aside from being miffed Faulconer's office didn't include stakeholders in the proposal, opponents of the plan cited what they saw as crucial faults.
"One of the primary things is that the mayor put in a clause that would allow the city council to add additional adjacent land to Mission Bay Park," Friedman continued. "That sounds very benign, but there's currently a cap of 25 percent of the amount of land that can be used for commercial purposes. Anything that could be added to the park would include swamplands, the San Diego riverbed — that means that new commercialization would come on the land that we now enjoy as a community.
"What it really means is commercialization of De Anza and Fiesta Island."
Friedman says that 24 percent of the land on Mission Bay is currently used for commercial purposes, and with new parkland likely unsuitable for such development there's a fear that the focus would return to areas currently slated for restoration to non-entrepreneurial ventures.
Then there's the matter of where the funds go that are generated by allowing these private uses of public land.
Under 2008's Proposition C, championed by Faulconer and former councilmember Donna Frye, the first $20 million in revenue is directed toward the city's general fund, with 75 percent of the excess being directed toward projects outlined in the master plan for Mission Bay, which calls for actions such as bay dredging, rehabilitation of the former mobile-home park at De Anza Cove, and improvements to Fiesta Island.
The remaining 25 percent would be spent at Balboa Park or other city parks, with speculation by Measure J detractors that these monies could be spent on the controversial Cabrillo Bridge bypass and paid parking structure project there.
If Measure J passes, the allocation split would send 35 percent of Mission Bay's revenue above the $20 million cap to other parks, leaving just 65 percent to complete projects that have long been delayed.
"The whole idea of allowing of commercial development in Mission Bay was that the funds from the leases would go to Mission Bay. It didn't happen, they kept flying out the door," lamented Friedman. "Since our master plan was enacted in 1994, we have failed to complete a single major project, because the money keeps going elsewhere."
Detractors of the measure also point to what they say is hypocrisy from the mayor's office, pointing to statements made when he was backing the proposal to increase funding for the park.
Faulconer told the Union-Tribune in September 2008 that "Money generated by Mission Bay Park should stay in Mission Bay Park. Over 50 years ago, voters overwhelmingly supported leasing 25 percent of Mission Bay for commercial uses, with the intent that lease revenues would pay for the park, not be siphoned off for other things. It makes good economic sense to invest adequately in restoring and maintaining Mission Bay, not only to protect wildlife and preserve a precious natural resource, but also to strengthen a valuable revenue source. Upkeep and improvement of the park have been neglected for decades. If the city continues on this course, we risk the goose that lays the golden eggs."
Faulconer's office, meanwhile, has argued that by extending the term of the fund distribution by an additional eight years, Mission Bay would see more total dollars under the lower distribution than if the current Measure C directive were allowed to sunset in 2039. He has also stated that diversion of monies from "core" projects (disallowed under C) is necessary to improve facilities such as playgrounds and sidewalks before major undertakings like bay dredging are complete.