By Tommy Hough
As Pacific Beach and Clairemont residents know, a new trolley stop and transit center is under construction at the base of Balboa Ave. adjacent to the newly-renovated Morena Blvd. interchange.
The station is expected to go on-line in 2021, and is being completed under the Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan (BASASP). City acronyms aside, the new Balboa Ave. station will be a critical stop along the San Diego Trolley's new Midcoast Corridor extension north to UCSD. If foresight and good civic management are applied, the new stop could also lead to new opportunities for preservation.
As any local commuter worth their salt knows, the area where Balboa Ave. intersects with Mission Bay Dr. and becomes Garnet Ave. is one of the most notorious traffic gridlock sites in the city. Coupled with the traffic ramp to southbound I-5 just west of Santa Fe St. (the road that goes to the Karl Strauss Brewery), and the backup along northbound and southbound Mission Bay Drive, this intersection and all its peculiarities is rush hour misery incarnate.
In addition, the area around the Balboa Ave. transit station will soon be home to upwards of 4,729 residential units, including multi-family and single-family dwelling units within the residentially-designated areas, with much of the construction earmarked for the area between Mission Bay Dr. and Rose Creek.
This building boom is, in part, a push by the city to build workforce housing along urban transit corridors, with residents ideally utilizing newly-available transit options from the Balboa Ave. station to go to and from jobs Downtown, and to access job centers to the north at UCSD and Sorrento Valley.
But how will these thousands of eager new residents access the Balboa Ave. trolley stop and transit station? According to the city and SANDAG, the solution is an expanded Rose Creek Bikeway, utilizing a rebuilt Santa Fe St. and a new overpass above Balboa Ave. to safely deliver pedestrians and bicyclists to the new transit stop. The fate of Rose Creek itself, unfortunately, has not been taken into account, even though it winds through the affected area.
Much of the planned housing will be built along Rose Creek, which has become blighted along portions of its length, as well as a hotbed for crime. Some of the businesses with property facing the creek have installed barbed wire in order to prevent break-ins. Not exactly a welcoming sight for new residents, or a responsible way to treat a valuable natural resource, even one as maligned as Rose Creek.
Official management for Rose Creek west of I-5 falls to the city's Storm Water Division, and while there's no doubt the agency will effectively fulfill their mission there, they may not necessarily manage the area in the same manner as, say, Parks and Recreation. If the habitually-littered Rose Creek area west of I-5, already under considerable stress from maximum urbanization, were made into a park the city could begin a renewal process to fully clean up trash and litter, restore native plants, and ensure the Rose Creek Bikeway traverses an area for transit and recreation that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but well-lighted and safe. That's a plan worth advocating for.
In addition, the affected portion of Rose Creek drains into northeast Mission Bay, and has been identified as a Multi-Habitat Planning Area (MHPA) that contains critical coastal wetlands, including salt marsh and fresh water riparian habitats. The area is also used as a winter retreat for birds from northern Canada and Alaska, and a number of wading birds make their home in Rose Creek year round.
Despite this, the only active "management" in Rose Creek is done with the help of community volunteers and organizations like Friends of Rose Creek, which regularly collects and disposes of litter. Park designation would go a long way toward ensuring consistent, on-site management for recreation, clean water and environmental needs.
As with the ongoing ReWild Mission Bay proposal to restore native wetland habitat to northeast Mission Bay, the potential also exists to remake and redefine Rose Creek as a city park capable of accommodating new residents who will no doubt be curious about their waterway neighbor, and provide management to ensure resources are protected and litter regularly collected and disposed of.
A revitalized Rose Creek will also become an asset, rather than a detriment, to adjoining businesses. After all, who wouldn't want to do business along protected parkland? An investment in the future of Rose Creek may be just what the city needs to mitigate, in part, for the expected explosion of new residents in a highly-concentrated area.
Since the building frenzy on the horizon will put even greater environmental pressure on Rose Creek and Mission Bay, let us encourage San Diego City Council to exercise their power at their meeting on Thursday, Aug. 1, to make Rose Creek into a park, and ensure that an additional layer of management and conservation protection for the creek becomes a reality.
This is an opportunity for San Diego City Council to create a new city park in a park-poor area, and do so at no cost to the city – quite the bargain.
At the upcoming San Diego City Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 1, we must ask the city to:
And we need you to attend the San Diego City Council meeting on Thursday the 1st to share your thoughts about why you would like to see Rose Creek become city parkland. If you don't want to speak, attend anyway and cede your time to one of our coalition speakers.
We'll meet at Civic Center Plaza outside San Diego City Hall at 202 C St. beginning at 12 noon on Thursday, Aug. 1, to go over talking points and speak with media before heading upstairs for the council meeting. The afternoon council session will get underway at 1 p.m.
Special thanks to Karin Zirk of Friends of Rose Creek for her help with this piece, and thanks to the many organizations supporting Rose Creek park designation, including the Clairemont Town Council, Environmental Center of San Diego, Friends of Rose Canyon, Friends of Rose Creek, Pacific Beach Planning Group, Pacific Beach Town Council, San Diego Audubon Society, San Diego Canyonlands, San Diego Earthworks and the Sierra Club San Diego chapter.
Rose Creek photo and map courtesy of Karin Zirk / Friends of Rose Creek
By Tommy Hough
A proposal to build a freeway-style off-ramp from the iconic Cabrillo Bridge at San Diego's Balboa Park is raising more than a few eyebrows among preservationists and park advocates. Even the National Park Service (NPS) has voiced its concern in a letter to Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, noting that the proposed development threatens Balboa Park's status as a National Historic Site.
On this special edition of Living Better In San Diego, produced in conjunction with Treehuggers International, Bruce Coons of the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) joins Tommy to talk about threats to the integrity of Balboa Park as a special place which values history, open space, park design, and respect for the public trust from the proposed redesign and overhaul.
With 1,200 acres of parkland in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the U.S., Balboa Park preserves canyons, mesas and trails through desert gardens, exotic plants and even a grove of Redwoods from Northern California. The park is also home to an amazing array of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, built for the 1915 Pan-American Exposition and praised by no less than conservation-minded Theodore Roosevelt, who complimented the park for "buildings of rare, phenomenal taste and beauty" during a post-presidential visit.
After nearly 100 years, Balboa Park remains one of San Diego's great open space meeting places and exercise locales, where residents jog, bicycle, walk their dogs, and explore a network of urban trails. The Plaza de Panama is the symbolic center of San Diego's Balboa Park, and the midway point between the Cabrillo Bridge to the west, and the Bea Everson Fountain along Park Blvd. to the east.
In an effort to restore some of the park's natural grandeur and space, recent conservation plans have proposed closing the Plaza de Panama's limited parking areas in front of the San Diego Museum of Art, and instead only allowing traffic into the park via the Cabrillo Bridge during certain times of the day or for special events. Auto traffic would still be allowed into the park and to access parking areas via Park Blvd. entrances on Balboa Park's east side.
However, a radical re-design proposal seeks to exploit the desire to close the west end of El Prado to auto traffic for something else completely.
Using an automobile-free Plaza de Panama as a rationale, the so-called Jacobs Plan, named for Qulacomm chief and plan promoter Irwin Jacobs, proposes building a freeway-style "off ramp" from the iconic Cabrillo Bridge over the 163 freeway. The off ramp would wrap around the Museum of Man's chapel and Alcazar Gardens, necessitating a new, wider bridge over Palm Canyon, on the way to a multi-story (!) parking garage behind the world-renowned Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Why would anyone seek to build a multi-story parking garage and funnel more traffic into Babloa Park? Especially when the rationale for closing the Plaza de Panama to traffic is to free the western end of El Prado from regular auto traffic and restore the Plaza de Panama to its pre-automobile state?
It is counterintuitive, and a shallow attempt at piggybacking an unnecessary and destructive construction project onto a conservation plan which requires no grand additions to existing park structures or any new construction.
Founded in 1969, the Save Our Heritage Organisation, or SOHO, has been protecting some of San Diego's special places for decades. If you're familiar with the Marston House near Balboa Park, or the Whaley House or Adobe Chapel Museum in Old Town, you're likely familiar with the Save Our Heritage Organisation. SOHO makes it their mission to preserve, promote and support preservation of the architectural, cultural and historical links and landmarks which contribute to San Diego's identity and character.
A lifelong San Diegan and preservationist, Bruce Coons is the long-time executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation, and has been a guest on Tommy's programs before. Bruce appeared on Living Better In San Diego in 2008 to talk about the State Normal School Training Building on Park Blvd. in University Heights, and appeared on Treehuggers International in 2009 to discuss the ongoing threats to Rancho Guejito in northern San Diego.
The proposed developments to Balboa Park not only brings Bruce back to Living Better In San Diego, but also offers Bruce and Tommy a chance to talk about SOHO's recent acquisition and plans for the Warner-Carrillo Ranch House near Lake Henshaw and Santa Ysabel General Store, as well as the current state of the Villa Montezuma in Sherman Heights.
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Balboa Park botanical gardens building photo by Bernard Gagnon.
Villa Montezuma photo courtesy of Save Our Heritage Organisation.
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.