Jeff Clemetson | Editor
The City of San Diego is taking its first steps in updating its parks master plan — a process it hasn’t undertaken since 1956, and according to city officials is long overdue.
“There’s more people in the city now. Our city is denser. We have very different trends in recreation,” said Shannon Scoggins, project manager for Parks Master Plan update. “People recreate differently than they did 60 years ago. Shuffle board was popular in 1956 and its not popular now. We have all kinds of new sports coming online like pickleball and cricket and quite a lot of other recreation that’s not necessarily field based — skateboarding, that kind of thing. So, we’re looking to update how we plan for parks, recreation facilities and programs.”
Updating the parks plan will come in four phases and take three years, said Scoggins. The first phase is a learning phase where the city looks at its existing parks while simultaneously gathering public input through a series of workshops and online tools. The first workshop was held June 6 at the Linda Vista Recreation Center, which focused on in City Council District 7. Residents from inside and outside the district were invited to give input on what they like and don’t like about the parks they have, suggest where new parks could be built, and share what their personal park priorities are.
“So, pick your top three. Do you want off-leash dog parks? Do you want more soccer fields? Do you want more swimming pools? That sort of thing,” Scoggins said. “We really need to understand priorities because the reality is that we don’t have funding to make all improvements so we do need to provide some kind of strategic plan at the end of the day that provides what it most important moving forward.”
Kirstin Skadberg, an environmental planner and Mission Hills resident, attended the workshop because she cares about the future of parks in the city and how they are funded.
“I do use the parks quite a lot. I think they’re important in San Diego and I think we’re really lucky to have the ones that we do have,” she said, adding that she often frequents Mission Trails Park, even though Balboa Park is much closer to her home. She counts herself as fortunate for being able to use all the parks in San Diego.
“One of my concerns is making sure that we get parks in places where we don’t have that many right now — like for people who don’t have a car and can’t just drive wherever they want in San Diego County like I can, that they have parks close to their homes, that their kids can use too,” she continued.
Increasing parks equity is one of the major goals and reasons for updating the parks master plan, said San Diego Planning Department Director Mike Hansen.
“The accessibility of parks across the city is not equal at the moment and we are trying to make sure that people in different communities and the urban communities have accessibility just as much as the newly master planned communities,” he said.
Parks needs are much higher in older, infill urban areas than in recently built planned communities. Other areas of concern are neighborhoods like Mission Valley that are changing from retail and commercial areas to more mixed-use with new residences.
“We are absolutely looking at Mission Valley and what sort of park needs are appropriate there in the future, that’s a key component of that plan, definitely,” Hansen said, adding that the plan for paths and parks along the San Diego River is a main priority.
For District 7 City Councilmember Scott Sherman, updating the outdated master plan is a chance for the city to reprioritize how parks are funded.
“We haven’t had the master plan updated in over 60 years. Needless to say, it’s a little out of date,” he said. “How we spend the money, what we do with the money, how we calculate what parks are required and how to do those things are incredibly inefficient at this point.”
One area of improving efficiency, Sherman said, is the process the city uses to calculate the number of acres a neighborhood needs and how fees collected from developers pay for parks.
“When developments are done, [the developers] have to pay a fee for parks in the community. But so many of these communities are built out so there’s no room or land to make a park and that money sits there and doesn’t do anybody any good,” he said, adding that the only thing the money is being spent on is administrative fees.
“We’re looking at different ways of calculating parks, needs for parks and how the money is spent,” he continued. “Instead of letting it sit there and wait for an opportunity to build a new park in a pretty built out area, why don’t we take that money and put it into the existing parks? Spend it quicker more efficiently and upgrade our parks to be the best they can be in the City of San Diego.”
The parks master plan update will also reexamine how the city determines what will count as a park. The plan will decide whether existing regional parks should count as adequate park space so that new developments near them can have reduced development impact fees for new parks and hopefully bring down the cost of building housing.
“Balboa Park is not considered a park for our parks needs master plan — totally excluded,” Sherman said. “So, you can build something on Sixth Avenue, right across the street from Balboa Park, the jewel of San Diego, and you have to pay park fees to build a park somewhere else, even though the park is right across the street. We all know Mission Trails, 11,000 some-odd acres of park, it also isn’t counted as a park.”
The workshop in Linda Vista was the first of many held throughout the month of June as part of the plan update’s phase one to gather public input. For those who couldn’t attend one, there is an online workshop at cityofsandiegoparksplan.com.
After the public input is completed, the next phase will be to analyze the data collected and start putting together a new plan. Phase three will be about developing a long-range park plan and will also include public input workshops. The final phase will be implementing the plan that “will shape the future of the city’s parks and recreation facilities and programs for 20 to 30 years,” Scoggins said.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.