Measure J breaks the promise made to the voters in 2008 that the raid on Mission Bay Park revenues would finally end and the long-awaited public projects would finally begin. Adding insult to injury, Measure J also changes the definition of Mission Bay Park, which could allow for more commercial development within the park.
To better understand how Measure J came about, and why this matters, it helps to review a little history. When Mission Bay Park was developed, commercial leaseholds were allowed in the park to help ensure that the public improvements would have a funding source, be self-sustaining and not become a burden to the taxpayers.
But for decades, the lease revenues generated in Mission Bay Park were diverted for other city uses, despite repeated assurances from elected officials.
In 2008, a measure to help correct some of that, Proposition C, was placed on the ballot. At that time, it was estimated that only 8 percent of Mission Bay lease revenue was being spent for public improvements.
Prop. C required that for the next 30 years, 75 percent of lease revenues over $20 million would be used for Mission Bay Park priority projects, and the other 25 percent would be used for other regional parks. This was a difficult compromise because well over 60 percent of the total lease revenues were still being diverted. The voters supported the measure, and it seemed that finally the public improvements would begin.
But less than 10 years later, and with no Mission Bay Park projects completed, the city has reversed course and plans to raid the very funds it promised the voters it would protect. Measure J still keeps the first $20 million in Mission Bay Park lease revenues for general fund purposes, but also diverts another 10 percent of lease revenue from Mission Bay Park for other regional park projects.
Sharing is fine and I love all the other parks, but it makes no sense to take more Mission Bay Park revenue before any priority projects, such as restoration of navigable waters, wetland expansion and water-quality improvements, restoration of shoreline and expansions of endangered or threatened species preserves and upland habitats have been completed or funded. Worse, the city still does not know how much money the priority projects will cost, but we know from experience that the longer it takes, the more it will cost. Measure J also adds lesser priority projects to the list, such as bathrooms, and allows for those projects to be completed first.
In addition to the continued raid on Mission Bay Park revenue, Measure J changes the definition of Mission Bay Park without ever explaining what that could mean to the public. There is no explanation or analysis about the impact of this change in the ballot materials.
For some background, in 1987, the voters approved a ballot measure limiting to 25 percent the amount of commercial development allowed in Mission Bay Park. That number was based on the total park acreage at that time, and is also the basis for the current Mission Bay Park Master Plan. So for every acre of park that is added, another 25 percent of commercial development could be allowed in Mission Bay Park.
That raises a lot of red flags, especially when one considers it could mean even more hotels on our public parkland. For example, the Voice of San Diego reported last November that “SeaWorld has inked a partnership deal with Evans Hotel Group, the high-powered owner of The Lodge at Torrey Pines and two Mission Bay hotels, to either build or purchase a hotel.”
And because Measure J was placed on the ballot in record time, the public’s ability to analyze the proposed changes were greatly limited. The committee that is appointed to be the oversight board for Mission Bay Park learned about the measure the same day the mayor held a press conference announcing it.
Taking more money from Mission Bay Park before completing even one of the promised projects is a bad idea. Despite claims to the contrary, Measure J does not help Mission Bay Park; it merely continues the long-standing tradition of our city and elected officials constantly finding reasons to spend park-generated revenues elsewhere.
Donna Frye is a former member of the San Diego City Council. Frye’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.