By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Completed Alvarado Creek study puts pressure on property owners
Redevelopment around the Grantville trolley station has been a longtime goal of the city of San Diego, the Navajo communities and a handful of nearby property owners. But there has always been one major roadblock to realizing that goal — persistent flooding along Alvarado Creek between Waring and Mission Gorge roads, even during small storms.
A recently completed study conducted by the city could be the first step in addressing the flooding.
The roots of the Grantville Trolley Station Alvarado Creek Revitalization Study began in 2015 when the Navajo Community Plan was amended to reflect a future with more intense development in the Grantville area, said senior planner Lisa Lind, who directed the study for the city. That amendment paved the way for a San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) grant for the study, to create guidelines on how to move toward construction of a fix to Alvarado Creek that would spur the kind of redevelopment around the trolley station the city would like to see.
“There’s a hope that the combination of the central location and the trolley station could be really amazing for San Diego — this is envisioned as a mixed-use, vibrant, village-type area,” Lind said. “What we’ve found out is, that it is going to be hard for any of these properties to develop with mixed-use, or housing, or anything they can develop without addressing the extent of the flood plain or flooding conditions.”
The completed plan is not a policy document or permanent guideline for any future construction on the creek, Lind said. Right now, it is just a collection of concepts and recommendations to deal with the flooding. Some of those concepts include widening the creek in areas; adding more floodable green space between the creek and development areas; adding paths and small parks along the creek; and in some areas, adding concrete reinforcement to direct the water.
The city’s study of Alvarado Creek is “a jumping off point,” and it is as far as the city can go with the plan to fix the flooding problem on its own, Lind said, adding “the true decisions need to come from the people who have the most stake in this area and own the land.”
To move the project forward, the stakeholders must agree to conduct a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) report. Rather than having individual property owners pay for a CEQA report that covers their own section of the creek, Lind suggested they have one report for the entire project and search for grant funding to have it completed.
There is just one problem — not every landowner is on board and the study will likely only be usable for the next couple of years before it is outdated and a new one would need to be done.
“Now is the time to decide,” said David Smith, vice president of El Dorado Properties and a vocal supporter of the project. “If any of us think there is any value to our land, this has to go forward. If it doesn’t, we might as well sit back and continue to do nothing, and we’ve just wasted a year of [the city’s] time and a half-a-million dollars of the state’s money.”
Smith said the holdouts have several concerns about the project — including the fact that some or all will have some of their land cut into for the creek widening and extended green space and how that might affect property values.
Also, the properties are worth more as they sit today than if they were sold to a developer right now. It’s only large-scale developments covering several acres where landowners start to see the dollars add up for redevelopment to make sense and be profitable. And that, Smith said, will require property owners to partner up and offer larger parcels than just their individual ones alone.
Still, Smith is optimistic that the rest of the property owners will eventually agree to at least have the CEQA report done, as long as it is grant funded.
“We have letters out and dates set with some of the property owners to collectively get together internally to see if everybody is OK with this,” Smith said. Once a participation agreement is signed by all the parties, they will look for grants to fund the CEQA report.
“We think there a lot of components throughout this creek corridor that could make great grant applications,” Lind said.
Some possible sources of funding include agencies like SANDAG, which wants to encourage growth along trolley lines, and nonprofit groups like Urban Corps, which helps fund projects like this to help its mission of training young workers in environmental and construction work. Urban Corps recently completed a similar project along Chollas Creek and has previously worked on smaller projects in Alvarado Creek.
But none of the funding for the CEQA can be sought until there is a person or entity named as the project applicant — and that person or entity needs the consent of all the property owners.
“The private property owners need to take the next step,” Lind said. “I think when [they] know what that step is, … [they] could have a lot of support but ultimately [the city is] not going to come up and buy all this property.”
A community benefit
If everything goes the way Smith and the city want it to go, and the other property owners sign on to the plan, redevelopment in Grantville could mean big bucks for the Navajo communities.
“This area along the creek, it’s looking like it could be upwards of $500 million worth of development, if not more,” Smith said. “And when you look as far as net impact back into the community, that’s looking like $15 to $20 million of development impact fees and that goes directly into the Navajo development impact fee fund.”
Smith said he recently did his own study of how development impact fees from Grantville redevelopment projects could improve the Navajo area. Of the 35 years that the Navajo development impact fund has been around, the largest one-time single donation into that account was $3.5 million from the Hanover project on Twain Avenue. Development by the trolley station in Grantville alone would be eight times that amount, he said.
“Those that are against development, that’s all fine,” Smith said. “But those that are wanting parks and schools and better roads and more open space, the only way they’ll get it is by allowing this type of stuff to happen down here in Grantville — because it’s not going to happen in Del Cerro, it’s not going to happen in Allied Gardens, and it’s not going to happen in San Carlos.”
Smith also sees development around the trolley station as a catalyst to opening up Grantville as a whole.
“Once we fix the creek area and development projects start around the trolley station, then this area will start getting looked at closer and investors will want to develop throughout Grantville,” he said.
But that will still depend on whether the property owners along Alvarado Creek can come together and finally agree on fixing the flooding problem.
“My hope is that there is enough momentum with this group that [the plan] won’t sit on a shelf,” Lind said. “That this becomes that springboard for looking for funding, or creates a coalition of property owners that want to participate or see some parts of this vision happen.”
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.