Fact Check: San Diego’s Park Shortage

Fact Check: San Diego’s Park Shortage

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, seen from its Skyfari aerial tram

Image: Barely TrueStatement: “We don’t have enough parks, about 85 percent of our communities in the city don’t,” Councilman David Alvarez said at an Oct. 9 mayoral forum.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Investments in neighborhood needs are central to Councilman David Alvarez’s mayoral campaign – and that includes park space.

In his mayoral blueprint released Wednesday, Alvarez proposed using infrastructure bond funding to add more than 60 acres of parks over the next three years.

Alvarez has repeatedly claimed that spending is crucial because 85 percent of the city’s neighborhoods are considered park-deficient, including at an Oct. 9 debate hosted by business and labor leaders. He made similar statements in a recent U-T San Diego op-ed and in his recently released mayoral roadmap.

We decided to fact check Alvarez’s statement because the percentage he cited seemed steep, particularly for a city that prides itself on large parks, including Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park and Mission Trails Regional Park.

To start, we asked where Alvarez got the 85 percent figure. It turns out he relied on a 2009 neighborhood-by-neighborhood survey that broke down the city’s park acreage per 1,000 residents in the city’s 52 community planning areas. (The latter are regions where the city has worked with or plans to work with residents to develop specific blueprints for future growth.)

The review came a year after the city updated its general plan, which sets out a broad vision for future development in the city.

It’s based on a city policy that suggests there should be 2.8 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents.

Using that metric, 44 of the city’s 52 planning areas could be considered park-deficient and yes, that gets us to the 85 percent figure that Alvarez has repeatedly mentioned.

The survey dubbed City Heights, Skyline/Paradise Hills and greater North Park as the city’s three most park-deficient communities. Park and Recreation staffers found each was more than 120 acres short of adequate park space.

But the situation is less straightforward than it appears, which helps explain why communities like North Park – it has “Park” in its name! – are technically park-deficient.

San Diego’s best-known parks, including Balboa Park and Mission Trails, aren’t considered in those statistics. Canyons and other outdoor areas that remain undeveloped also aren’t included.

The city’s review only included smaller parks, which tend to include recreation centers, sports fields and play areas used by nearby residents. These spaces have a variety of names – everything from community parks to so-called pocket parks.

As a result, some of the city’s most dense neighborhoods – North Park, Uptown and Golden Hill – are considered among its most park-deficient despite their close proximity to Balboa Park.

City park designer Howard Greenstein acknowledged the city’s standard skews its results.

“Almost every community, particularly all the urbanized communities in this city, are underserved by park land based on that formula,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with the city’s approach, as Andrew Keatts reported in May:

“The problem with the park standards is that they’re impossible to ever get done in this kind of tightly built environment,” said Vicki Granowitz, chair of the North Park Planning Committee.

Part of updating a community plan includes putting together a priority list for future park projects. Granowitz said her planning group told the city it wasn’t ready to have that conversation until it straightened out the unrealistic park standard.

Granowitz was particularly concerned by the city’s failure to incorporate canyons into its population-based park assessment.

The city’s general plan does allow for some additional options to meet the city’s standards.

For example, a community may seek joint-use agreements with schools so their park space could be factored into the park acreage formula or demonstrate residents’ frequent use of spaces within regional parks like Balboa Park.

But the bottom line is that the city’s population-based park standards fail to incorporate some of the city’s most popular and spacious outdoor spaces. Residents of the especially dense North Park and Golden Hill neighborhoods may live just steps away from Balboa Park but their communities are still considered park-deficient based on the city’s standards.

Meanwhile, some of the city’s more suburban communities, including Miramar Ranch North and Via de la Valle, have more space for parks and are considered far less park-deficient.

In light of that context, let’s take another look at Alvarez’s statement. He claimed 85 percent of communities in the city are park-deficient.

My path to a ruling on this comment wasn’t straightforward.

Alvarez’s statement is based on a standard that’s relevant when communities update their blueprints for future growth. Community plans include a list of projects to be funded by fees paid on new developments. Those lists include park projects based on the narrow definition we’ve laid out here, otherwise known as the community’s population-based park assessment.

We dub a statement barely true when it contains an element of truth but is missing critical context that may significantly alter the impression the statement leaves.

This ruling applies because Alvarez’s claim would lead a normal person to believe that most of the city’s neighborhoods are park-deficient, even though some of the neighborhoods most lacking by city standards are just steps away from park space.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Andrew Keatts contributed to this post.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

  • 456 Posts
  • 11
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

38 comments
Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The answer is simple, 2.8 acres per 1000 is 122 sq ft per resident. Just pass a law requiring all housing built have 122 sq ft of "park", either in the form of a yard or balcony, included in the structure. Once we have compliance with "on-site" parks we can develop existing parks with "park compliant" housing. A reasonable maintenance fee could be collected per parcel so that a city park enforcement officer could make monthly checks to see hat your park stays up to code.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The answer is simple, 2.8 acres per 1000 is 122 sq ft per resident. Just pass a law requiring all housing built have 122 sq ft of "park", either in the form of a yard or balcony, included in the structure. Once we have compliance with "on-site" parks we can develop existing parks with "park compliant" housing. A reasonable maintenance fee could be collected per parcel so that a city park enforcement officer could make monthly checks to see hat your park stays up to code.

Serge Dedina
Serge Dedina

Seriously-only in San Diego do we do hair-splitting on how we don't need more park space. Let's get a reality check--the lowest income neighborhoods in San Diego County suffer from a lack of healthy open space. And for those of us who are working to restore open space in the Otay and Tijuana River Valleys--believe me--we have a long way to go to make San Diego a world-class city in which children from every neighborhood can walk, skip and or ride their bikes to play in a safe, secure and healthy park. Serge Dedina Executive Director WILDCOAST/COSTASALVAJE

Serge Dedina
Serge Dedina subscriber

Seriously-only in San Diego do we do hair-splitting on how we don't need more park space. Let's get a reality check--the lowest income neighborhoods in San Diego County suffer from a lack of healthy open space. And for those of us who are working to restore open space in the Otay and Tijuana River Valleys--believe me--we have a long way to go to make San Diego a world-class city in which children from every neighborhood can walk, skip and or ride their bikes to play in a safe, secure and healthy park. Serge Dedina Executive Director WILDCOAST/COSTASALVAJE

Glenn Younger
Glenn Younger

The park standard says that the larger parks and open spaces can not be considered. Really? This park metric seems to be a way to force the city to create, pay for and maintain "personal" parks for those in the urban area. In other words we want a big yard and the city to maintain it. When the open spaces and large parks are considered San Diego might be one of the most park rich cities in the country. Negitive park findings are good for two groups: 1. those running for office 2. those looking for funding from others.

Glenn Younger
Glenn Younger subscribermember

The park standard says that the larger parks and open spaces can not be considered. Really? This park metric seems to be a way to force the city to create, pay for and maintain "personal" parks for those in the urban area. In other words we want a big yard and the city to maintain it. When the open spaces and large parks are considered San Diego might be one of the most park rich cities in the country. Negitive park findings are good for two groups: 1. those running for office 2. those looking for funding from others.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Alvarez’ claim may be “barely true”, based on his reliance on a nutty “survey”, source unknown as far as I can see, but he should know better than to make this a major part of his campaign. If you look at the survey in detail, you see a few things that are really interesting. My community of Mission Beach, e.g., is shown as deficient by 15.06 acres, or 100%, i.e., it has no park space whatsoever. Apparently not only doesn’t Mission Bay Park, which directly abuts the community on the east, count, but our beach isn’t counted as park land either, although you can see Park and Rec vehicles grooming it and removing kelp almost daily. Needless to say, the residents and the public in general use both these “non-parks” quite a bit. On the other hand, Barrio Logan, where candidate Alvarez grew up in such wretched circumstances according to his biography, is shown as one of the few communities with a SURPLUS of park land in the survey. This claim by Alvarez should warn voters about his candidacy. His homework might be a bit sloppy, to say the least, as he looks for issues to gain public attention. And when he vows to create 50 additional acres of park space by the end of his first term, if you think the survey has credibility you might consider the size of the deficit, almost 1800 acres, so it would take him about 35 terms to remove it at that rate. I think a valid comparison of park space might involve larger cities and looking at parks, including major ones like Central Park, Golden Gate Park and of course Balboa and Mission Bay Parks and public beaches maintained by the city as either a percentage of city acreage or on a per capita basis. I’ll wager that San Diego would come out very well in either kind of analysis. Don’t forget that parks are costly to maintain and most generate zero revenue to offset these costs, so even though parks appeal to people, they are hardly a free lunch. It’s no a stretch to say that increasing park space comes at the cost of additional cops and firefighters.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Alvarez’ claim may be “barely true”, based on his reliance on a nutty “survey”, source unknown as far as I can see, but he should know better than to make this a major part of his campaign. If you look at the survey in detail, you see a few things that are really interesting. My community of Mission Beach, e.g., is shown as deficient by 15.06 acres, or 100%, i.e., it has no park space whatsoever. Apparently not only doesn’t Mission Bay Park, which directly abuts the community on the east, count, but our beach isn’t counted as park land either, although you can see Park and Rec vehicles grooming it and removing kelp almost daily. Needless to say, the residents and the public in general use both these “non-parks” quite a bit. On the other hand, Barrio Logan, where candidate Alvarez grew up in such wretched circumstances according to his biography, is shown as one of the few communities with a SURPLUS of park land in the survey. This claim by Alvarez should warn voters about his candidacy. His homework might be a bit sloppy, to say the least, as he looks for issues to gain public attention. And when he vows to create 50 additional acres of park space by the end of his first term, if you think the survey has credibility you might consider the size of the deficit, almost 1800 acres, so it would take him about 35 terms to remove it at that rate. I think a valid comparison of park space might involve larger cities and looking at parks, including major ones like Central Park, Golden Gate Park and of course Balboa and Mission Bay Parks and public beaches maintained by the city as either a percentage of city acreage or on a per capita basis. I’ll wager that San Diego would come out very well in either kind of analysis. Don’t forget that parks are costly to maintain and most generate zero revenue to offset these costs, so even though parks appeal to people, they are hardly a free lunch. It’s no a stretch to say that increasing park space comes at the cost of additional cops and firefighters.

Erik Bruvold
Erik Bruvold

I get to the same place as Lisa - but in a different path. ANY politician or planner that uses that metric is doing a disservice to the public. It is meaningless, stupid, and only still exists for purely narrow minded political purposes - refusing to fess up to the simple reality that the urbanized communities will NEVER have the same level of community parks as the surburbanized ones. Lots of reasons for that - but trying to say they ever will is just so counterproductive.

Erik Bruvold
Erik Bruvold subscribermember

I get to the same place as Lisa - but in a different path. ANY politician or planner that uses that metric is doing a disservice to the public. It is meaningless, stupid, and only still exists for purely narrow minded political purposes - refusing to fess up to the simple reality that the urbanized communities will NEVER have the same level of community parks as the surburbanized ones. Lots of reasons for that - but trying to say they ever will is just so counterproductive.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Maybe you should do one on unbiased reporter shortage?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Maybe you should do one on unbiased reporter shortage?

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor

It sounds like you're fact checking the definition of the term, not whether the term was used accurately. Those are two distinct things, and conflating them seems counterproductive.

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor subscriber

It sounds like you're fact checking the definition of the term, not whether the term was used accurately. Those are two distinct things, and conflating them seems counterproductive.

Richard Palmer
Richard Palmer

When it is Alvarez it is "Barely True" but when you did the hit piece on Faulconer it was "False"- and now you are doing a 3 part series on Alvarez but where is the series on Faulconer. Having been a member since your beginning at VOSD I am very disappointed in your bias - you are as bad as the Tribune but opposite. Get fair or say bye to my membership.

Richard Palmer
Richard Palmer subscribermember

When it is Alvarez it is "Barely True" but when you did the hit piece on Faulconer it was "False"- and now you are doing a 3 part series on Alvarez but where is the series on Faulconer. Having been a member since your beginning at VOSD I am very disappointed in your bias - you are as bad as the Tribune but opposite. Get fair or say bye to my membership.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Do you work in the lawn mower industry?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Instead of park acreage per 1,000 residents, it ought to be average proximity to a public park. Using that metric, suburban communities will never have the same level of community parks as urbanized ones.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Instead of park acreage per 1,000 residents, it ought to be average proximity to a public park. Using that metric, suburban communities will never have the same level of community parks as urbanized ones.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga

A journalist is a liberal! Oh, I have the vapors. Get me my fainting couch! This will surprise you: I believe news organizations should do more to bring non-traditional (i.e., non-liberal) journalists into the business. It's a process that needs to start with recruitment in college, just as the industry does with minorities. But that won't happen until I'm in charge. And even when I am master of all I survey, a reporter (liberal or not) should do a good job of reporting. An editor (liberal or not) should do a good job of editing. All you've done is produce evidence that Libby is liberal, not that she fails to do her job (editing) well. Big whoop.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga

So Alvarez gets a "barely true" because of VOSD bias against the most progressive/liberal of the 3 major candidates? I thought you believed VOSD was biased TOWARD the progressive/liberal side. (Never mind VOSD's endlessly harsh coverage of Bob Filner.) You have, after all, gone after the managing editor, accusing her of being some sort of radical feminist leftie. (I don't know many radical feminist leftists who are married to military men like her, but heck, maybe she's an outlier).

Lisa Halverstadt
Lisa Halverstadt

I'm sorry you feel this way, Richard. Our fact check rulings are driven by the statements we're checking, not the individuals who make the claims. While Kevin Faulconer did receive a "false" rating in the September fact check you reference, we gave him two "true" ratings on some recent statements about turnover at the police department. I've included the link here for your benefit. And in terms of your concern about our three-part series on David Alvarez, I think it's worth noting that he's much newer to the political scene than Faulconer. We've written many stories about Faulconer over the years and thought it was worthwhile – and important – to better introduce Alvarez to our readers.Fact Check: Leaving San Diego PDhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/10/01/fact-check-leaving-san-diego-pd/Statement: "The Police Department lost an average of 10 officers a month last year. Many officers left due to retirement or better pay and benefits offered by other agencies," mayoral candidate and Councilman Kevin Faulconer wrote in his plan to rebu...

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

A journalist is a liberal! Oh, I have the vapors. Get me my fainting couch! This will surprise you: I believe news organizations should do more to bring non-traditional (i.e., non-liberal) journalists into the business. It's a process that needs to start with recruitment in college, just as the industry does with minorities. But that won't happen until I'm in charge. And even when I am master of all I survey, a reporter (liberal or not) should do a good job of reporting. An editor (liberal or not) should do a good job of editing. All you've done is produce evidence that Libby is liberal, not that she fails to do her job (editing) well. Big whoop.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

So Alvarez gets a "barely true" because of VOSD bias against the most progressive/liberal of the 3 major candidates? I thought you believed VOSD was biased TOWARD the progressive/liberal side. (Never mind VOSD's endlessly harsh coverage of Bob Filner.) You have, after all, gone after the managing editor, accusing her of being some sort of radical feminist leftie. (I don't know many radical feminist leftists who are married to military men like her, but heck, maybe she's an outlier).

Lisa Halverstadt
Lisa Halverstadt author

I'm sorry you feel this way, Richard. Our fact check rulings are driven by the statements we're checking, not the individuals who make the claims. While Kevin Faulconer did receive a "false" rating in the September fact check you reference, we gave him two "true" ratings on some recent statements about turnover at the police department. I've included the link here for your benefit. And in terms of your concern about our three-part series on David Alvarez, I think it's worth noting that he's much newer to the political scene than Faulconer. We've written many stories about Faulconer over the years and thought it was worthwhile – and important – to better introduce Alvarez to our readers.Fact Check: Leaving San Diego PDhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/10/01/fact-check-leaving-san-diego-pd/Statement: "The Police Department lost an average of 10 officers a month last year. Many officers left due to retirement or better pay and benefits offered by other agencies," mayoral candidate and Councilman Kevin Faulconer wrote in his plan to rebu...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

We could include beachfront as well, we have as near as I can figure with no effort, around 6" of beach per person here, we could add a couple square feet of salt water and sand to each park, exceed our per person beach allotment, and develop the now pointless beaches!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

We could include beachfront as well, we have as near as I can figure with no effort, around 6" of beach per person here, we could add a couple square feet of salt water and sand to each park, exceed our per person beach allotment, and develop the now pointless beaches!

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Randy, check out the Institute for Humane Studies, associated with George Mason University. They're on the problem you want solved, and I'm a proud contributor. Balance is good for everyone, and that's one reason I'm an enthusiastic supporter of VOSD.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

LOL Randy, I never said Libby was or wasn't a good editor, but I'm not surprised that you have sunk to the level of straw man arguments. I have said Libby is far left, which most definitely is, unless she pulled a reverse Fletcher since her last commentary, and I have said that if VOSD wants to seem like an unbiased news source as opposed to just another OB Rag or SD Reader or even UT pushing opinion as news, hiring Libby sent the wrong message to your readers. But maybe you do see VOSD's place as being a left slanted publication? Instead of biting off a huge task like doing a good job of reporting without bias, why not start small and try to start doing a good job with fact check first. Baby steps, Randy, baby steps.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Randy, if you are talking about Libby, I read everything she published that I could find from Politico, Slant, etc... and she is very much a left wing feminist ranter. Definitely not someone you hire to speak from the center. This is typical of her work, silly attacks on anyone she sees as right wing or not feminist enough: http://trueslant.com/saralibby/2010/04/08/palin-and-bachmann-the-anti-history-girls/ There were better examples but I can't be bothered to waste time finding them to prove the obvious, anyone who wants do can waste a half hour of their life reading her blog trail and see where her core beliefs fall. Feel free to link to the articles she wrote that made VOSD say "We gotta get this girl" or whatever if you wish to be her cheerleader. As far as a "barely true" it's still a true, for what? For Alverez regurgitating numbers the city publishes. It's a pointless fact check, the numbers didn't even come from Alverez. Really, with all of Alverez's campaign statements you fact check one you can call true that isn't really even his, it's some arbitrary city analysis? Fact check isn't relevant. It's silly.Bachmann praises Palin, forgets Geraldine Ferrarohttp://trueslant.com/saralibby/2010/04/08/palin-and-bachmann-the-anti-history-girls/(Via Feministing contributor and True/Slant intern extraordinaire Chloe Angyal) Sarah Palin has proven untold times over that she doesn't have a very decent grasp on the present (coining the nonexistent "death panels," stumbling incoherently through ...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Sorry, but anyone who has read fact check over time sees the unmistakable bias in what is selected and how the bar is lowered and raised depending on the subjects political leanings.

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon

Just to jump in here. The reason why our Alvarez series is three parts is that the issues we’re looking at broke neatly into thirds, and we thought it’d be easier for people to digest three 1,000 word stories than one 3,000 word one. The pieces do stand alone, but I encourage people to read all three before drawing conclusions about the series.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Randy, check out the Institute for Humane Studies, associated with George Mason University. They're on the problem you want solved, and I'm a proud contributor. Balance is good for everyone, and that's one reason I'm an enthusiastic supporter of VOSD.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

LOL Randy, I never said Libby was or wasn't a good editor, but I'm not surprised that you have sunk to the level of straw man arguments. I have said Libby is far left, which most definitely is, unless she pulled a reverse Fletcher since her last commentary, and I have said that if VOSD wants to seem like an unbiased news source as opposed to just another OB Rag or SD Reader or even UT pushing opinion as news, hiring Libby sent the wrong message to your readers. But maybe you do see VOSD's place as being a left slanted publication? Instead of biting off a huge task like doing a good job of reporting without bias, why not start small and try to start doing a good job with fact check first. Baby steps, Randy, baby steps.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Randy, if you are talking about Libby, I read everything she published that I could find from Politico, Slant, etc... and she is very much a left wing feminist ranter. Definitely not someone you hire to speak from the center. This is typical of her work, silly attacks on anyone she sees as right wing or not feminist enough: http://trueslant.com/saralibby/2010/04/08/palin-and-bachmann-the-anti-history-girls/ There were better examples but I can't be bothered to waste time finding them to prove the obvious, anyone who wants do can waste a half hour of their life reading her blog trail and see where her core beliefs fall. Feel free to link to the articles she wrote that made VOSD say "We gotta get this girl" or whatever if you wish to be her cheerleader. As far as a "barely true" it's still a true, for what? For Alverez regurgitating numbers the city publishes. It's a pointless fact check, the numbers didn't even come from Alverez. Really, with all of Alverez's campaign statements you fact check one you can call true that isn't really even his, it's some arbitrary city analysis? Fact check isn't relevant. It's silly.Bachmann praises Palin, forgets Geraldine Ferrarohttp://trueslant.com/saralibby/2010/04/08/palin-and-bachmann-the-anti-history-girls/(Via Feministing contributor and True/Slant intern extraordinaire Chloe Angyal) Sarah Palin has proven untold times over that she doesn't have a very decent grasp on the present (coining the nonexistent "death panels," stumbling incoherently through ...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Sorry, but anyone who has read fact check over time sees the unmistakable bias in what is selected and how the bar is lowered and raised depending on the subjects political leanings.

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon memberadministrator

Just to jump in here. The reason why our Alvarez series is three parts is that the issues we’re looking at broke neatly into thirds, and we thought it’d be easier for people to digest three 1,000 word stories than one 3,000 word one. The pieces do stand alone, but I encourage people to read all three before drawing conclusions about the series.