City leaders regularly tout Balboa Park as the city’s crown jewel, one of the best parks in America.

And yet, by the city’s official standards, the residents who live closest to it don’t have nearly enough park space.

City policy calls for 2.8 acres of parks for every 1,000 residents in each community.

That’s the standard in suburban communities like Carmel Valley, underdeveloped areas like San Ysidro and older neighborhoods that are almost entirely built out, like Golden Hill and North Park.

But plenty of places where residents enjoy the outdoors — including canyons and other underdeveloped outdoor spaces — aren’t included in the city’s calculation.

Regional parks — Mission Bay Park, Mission Trails and Balboa Park — don’t count either.

That means the communities surrounding Balboa Park are technically underserved by parks.

Planning board members throw around a name for their predicament: “under-parked.”

As of 2010, based on the city’s calculation, Uptown needs another 99-plus acres of park space. North Park needs 128 acres. Golden Hill needs another 43 acres of its own.

“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.

That includes a failure to recognize the role of canyons in residents’ lives.

“They separated open space from parks, and at least for us in North Park, open space is seen as a passive form of recreation, so it felt really inorganic,” she said.

But the city’s general plan also outlines ways communities can comply with the requirement without meeting the official acreage count.

Those options include striking agreements for public use of private sites, cooperative uses of things like school facilities or demonstrating community use of regional resources, like Balboa Park.

“The reason the general plan created means for other types of compliance is to provide for alternatives, knowing that land is a commodity, and that we can’t create land or condemn it in large chunks,” said Stephen Haase, a senior vice president at developer Baldwin & Sons, and a member of the San Diego Planning Commission, which has a citywide role making land-use recommendations to the City Council.

“I think there’s acknowledgement that Balboa Park is a hugely beneficial amenity that’s easy for people downtown or uptown to use,” he said.

Granowitz wants the city to acknowledge that Morley Field and Bird Park, both of which are part of Balboa Park, function as community-serving parks for people in North Park.

(A city survey found a majority of residents in Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill visited some portion of Balboa Park at least once a week.)

If Balboa Park can count toward the community’s park requirement, it means improvements and renovations can be partially paid for with fees paid by developers for new projects in North Park.

Granowitz is OK with that, but she wants to make sure her community’s development fees aren’t being used for routine Balboa Park maintenance.

The city charges fees for new developments. They’re meant to offset the effect of the new project by paying for future infrastructure needs in the area. Granowitz said an unrealistic park requirement can therefore end up increasing the cost of development.

“Trying to fulfill the park standards artificially increases developer fees to pay for something that will never be attainable,” she said.

I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:

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Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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