Debate Over Future of Fiesta Island Continues: ‘Improvements Needed to Expand Access’

by on July 21, 2016 · 11 comments

in Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

Fiesta Island googmapEditor: This is a continuation of the debate over the future of Fiesta Island. It began with op-eds in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and we helped it along with our earlier post.  Here below, Judith Swink rebuts the rebuttals.

By Judith Swink

Improvements on Fiesta Island will happen eventually because they must.

The 1994 Mission Bay Park Master Plan carried forward that intention from the previous master plans. The proposed Fiesta Island improvements will make the island more useful and inviting to a much larger number of people than just those who want to use it as it is today. It is a key tenet of both the Mission Bay Park Master Plan and the California Coastal Act that coastal recreation areas be developed to enable use and access for everyone.

A Local Coastal Program amendment in 2002, in conjunction with approval of the Sea World Master Plan by the Coastal Commission requires the City to develop Fiesta Island as proposed in the 1994 Mission Bay Park Master Plan and LCP.

This requirement was incorporated into the Master Plan. The Commission also stated that Fiesta Island and South Shores improvements must be well under way before the Commission would be prepared to consider major Mission Bay lessee redevelopment.

There is funding available both from the Fiesta Island Sludge Mitigation Fund (see next paragraph) and the Mission Bay Improvement Fund under Charter Section 55.2.

In the 1990s, the Coastal Commission began fining the City for not removing the sewage sludge beds from Fiesta Island in a timely fashion and required establishment of a Fiesta Island Improvement Fund from a portion of the fine which accumulated to $5 million.

Some of that has been used to improve roads around Fiesta Island, over $300,000 (& rising, with the delays) has been spent for the Fiesta Island GDP and over $4,000,000 remains to help fund elements of the plan including replacing the existing chain-link fence around the off-leash area with more natural-appearing fencing.

The Master Plan and LCP also specify a swimming beach at the south end of the fenced area that off-leash dog owners use. The road and small parking area at the east edge of that sector will enable people to better access and enjoy that part of Fiesta Island.

Most of the rest of Fiesta Island other than the Youth Camp and habitat areas, also will remain off-leash use areas.

Proposed improvements are low-key and do not include buildings other than public restrooms.

Fiesta Island will never look like the green parkland of east Mission Bay. A small area in the north center is to be a tent-camping area. There will be a lot of natural open space including and off-leash dog use continued on most of the island and not limited to a fenced-in area of about 90 acres.

Landscaping will consist of removing non-native and invasive plants, and planting native vegetation. There also are habitat areas that would remain closed to use but other areas would open up for use.

Right now the large center of Fiesta Island is not available for public use unless you want to wade through beach trash and dead kelp.

Finally, on FIDO’s claim that the City guaranteed continued use for off-leash dog activities, a use that will continue on Fiesta Island within the proposed Fiesta Island GDP, every document since 1972 which has confirmed off-leash dog use includes a qualifying phrase:

“….pending future public hearings at the time funding is available for design and initial development of the Island”.

Clearly, this is not a guarantee but approval by Council and Coastal Commission will – for the first time – ensure that off-leash use is a permanent part of the Mission Bay Park Master Plan.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

tennyson July 21, 2016 at 5:25 pm

Judith Swink ???? Who is this women? Perhaps she should join the Port Commissioners, all of whom will go down in infamy with their current proposal to absolutely ruin San Diego Bay. Fiesta Island is wild and free and wonderful just as it is. Ms. Swink, your arguments for improvement do not ring with validity. Every single mile of San Diego does not, DOES NOT !!!!, SHOULD NOT !!!! be developed.
Greater access? The island is open and free now to anyone seeking to go, park anywhere you want to -excepting OTL weekends. Most cities would drool with delight to have a basically undeveloped island, open and free to the public, almost right in the middle of the urban jungle. But then, as I learning, San Diego is not most cities.


Byron Wear July 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Judith Swink is a long time Ocean Beach resident and dedicated Mission Bay civic activist. While we may not agree at times, Judith Swink has served on the Mission Bay Committee and worked very hard for public access to our beaches and bays. The key is that Fiesta Island remain in a “natural” state to the extent possible. Judith is simply advising the OB Rag readers that the California Coastal Commission has requirements that must be met. As the District 2 Councilmember for Mission Bay from 1995-2002, I was able to secure funding for the expansion of the Youth Aquatic Campground and the Robb Field Skateboard Park. Mayor Faulconer when he served on the City Council was able to secure passage of the voter approved charter amendment allowing for funding of many of the overdue improvements for Mission Bay and our regional parks. Having an open natural island in the middle of Mission Bay is a great asset to all of us. I think by working together we can meet all the needs of the public. Let’s be optimistic!


tennyson July 21, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Thank you for the clarification. I will try to remain optimistic and understand, now, the informational nature of Ms. Swink’s comments. No doubt my distress at what is happening on the Bay colors my perceptions of any mentions of re-development of the few San Diego icons remaining. Fiesta Island is as much an icon as is Seaport Village, soon to be destroyed, at least in its current state.


Vanessa July 22, 2016 at 12:04 am

The fenced-in 90-acre off-leash area is an extraordinary resource for San Diego with no equivalent elsewhere. We go there almost every day. Visitors from around the country have told me it is the best dog park they have ever seen. It is the only spot on Fiesta Island where dogs are safe from passing cars and are secured within a fenced-in area. It’s a wonderful place to walk, and an amazing bit of “wilderness” in the middle of the city. I share the concern that its magical nature will be destroyed in the name of development that is not even clearly articulated or justified, beyond a vague claim of the need to “increase access.”


Local One July 22, 2016 at 5:44 am

We also long assumed that the City would protect our beloved Balboa Park and Seaport Village. That was, until two of Mayor Faulconer’s campaign contributors (Irwin Jacobs and Paul Jacobs) showed interest in developing (i.e. ruining) the existing historical structures in Balbao Park and the open bay views at Seaport Village. I read that many of the Balbao Park tenants were only notified on the same day of the press conference that Mayor Failconer announced that Balboa Park would be rebuilt to Irwin Jacobs liking.

Please continue to be very diligent and aware of any and all movement to develop any (more ) of our public assets. If we believe these City’s leaders, we’ll have no Fiesta Island at all. Just give ’em time, as I’m confident this is just the first shot over the bow by developers over Fiesta Island’s open space.

The Mayor’s other campaign contributor, Paul Jacobs, is going to build a bunch of hotels and a 500′ tower at Seaport Village. Wouldn’t Fiesta Island also be vastly improved with three hotels and a SeaWorld like sky tower too?


tennyson clark July 22, 2016 at 12:24 pm

What can we do now to prevent or at least permanently delay further development of Fiesta Island??? At least, unlike Seaport Village, Fiesta Island IS city property, petitions, etc might be effective. Hopefully, someone can define for me what “increased access” really means here?


tennyson clark July 22, 2016 at 12:26 pm

The honorable mayor needs to know that many of us supporting him in the past will no longer be supporting him if he continues to proceed with his seemingly run-away development strategies


Byron Wear July 22, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Fiesta Island is a dedicated public park. The only lease is a non profit aquatic center run by the Boy Scouts and a kayak group. There are NO COMMERCIAL LEASES on Fiesta Island. The area will be left in a natural state with limited improvements that could include an expanding youth camp facility, a restroom or two, repaving of the road and a fence here and there.

Sea Port Village is en entirely different issue. The area is part of the San Diego Unified Port District (created by State Law in 1962) composed of 5 cities – San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach and Coronado. The 7 port commissioners are the governing body, not the SD City Council. The area is NOT parkland. It is up to you to attend the Port Commission meetings and voice your concerns about what may happen at Sea Port Village.


tennyson clark July 22, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Yes, I am firmly aware of the difference between Seaport Village and Fiesta Island, the land lease issues, etc having attending every open Port Commission meeting since this topic came up, both open houses, etc. and have voiced my opinion both verbally and in letters to all the Commissioners. The common threat here is the potential of run-away redevelopment. While the Port is governed by the Commissioners, not the City Council, which is why a petition would have been meaningless, I firmly believe that the Mayor could voice a strong opinion in support of the “Save Seaport Village” folks that would have more influence on the Commissioners than the Mayor would lead us to believe. Do you really feel that parkland is sacred? I do so hope that it is.


Jean Spengel July 27, 2016 at 4:02 pm

I would just like to reply to Ms. Swink’s editorial. She obviously thinks that people enjoying the beach with their off-leash dogs do not matter,- they should be replaced by other users she wants to bring into the area. This is in spite of the fact that the 90 acre fenced off-leash area is the most heavily used space in all of Mission Bay Park. Every day, 365 days a year, hundreds to thousands of tax paying citizens use this area to exercise with their dogs. While there are over 40,000 acres of parkland in San Diego only about 40 of those acres (not including Fiesta Island) are available for off-leash use. That is about 1% of the public parkland. Considering the fact that there are almost 800,000 dogs in San Diego County and almost 40% of all households have a dog, isn’t it fair and equitable for dog owners to have a space? Obviously Ms. Swink doesn’t think so. Even more important is the fact that this 90 acre area is a HUMAN exercise area. If she went to the area she would see people walking, running and biking with their dogs. She would also see people without dogs enjoying the area, one of the few open and undeveloped areas within the city. This will soon end if the current proposed plan is implemented as it includes roads, parking lots, fencing, an amphitheater, a tot lot,- all replacing open, undeveloped space. As to her claim that the rest of the island outside of the fenced off-leash area will remain off-leash,- that is highly doubtful. Fiesta Island Dog Owners (FIDO), representing the users of the fenced area, had acknowledged this and as a compromise, years ago decided that if we could retain the existing 90 acres, we would give up off-leash use on the rest of Fiesta Island. It is possible that the city may work with other dog organization representatives on keeping off-leash use on some unfenced areas. FIDO believes there is plenty of room in Mission Bay for everyone. The only difference is that dog owners have no other place to go while all other users have options.

Jean Spengel
FIDO Boardmember


tennyson July 28, 2016 at 11:27 am

Well said, indeed, Ms. Spengel. The “very minor, limited” development being defended by Mr. Wear does not appear at all consistent with the development Ms. Swink reports as being discussed. A “tot lot”, an “amphitheater” leave the realm of “minor” but then the longer I live in San Diego, the more I am coming to understand that any public area primarily used by residents of the city as opposed to that attracting “visitors” is not held sacred, “park” land or not.


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