Midway Planners Table Vote on Famosa Canyon

by on February 21, 2019 · 9 comments

in Ocean Beach

Google map showing Famosa Canyon – circled in red – and Famosa Slough – in blue.

By Geoff Page

“Point Loma” was the only action item on the Midway-Pacific Community Planning Board’s agenda at the Wednesday, February 20 meeting. That seemed odd, even to some board members.  The action item was a request for a letter of support from Midway for the Save Famosa Canyon group’s position of keeping a piece of land in Point Loma as open space instead of having affordable housing built on it.

The Midway meetings start like most planning boards and after introductions, approving minutes, and non-agenda public comment, come the “City Government Office Reports.”  Midway’s agenda listed ten of these government reports.  Not all of them show up at every meeting, and mercifully for all, this meeting was lightly attended. Only Josh Coyne, representing Dr. Jennifer Campbell, District 2 Councilmember, was there and his report was brief.

The next item on the agenda was the single action item “Famosa Presentation-request for support.”

The chair turned the floor over to the group of about five people.  Two of this group did the most talking, Cameron Havlik and Margaret Virissimo.  For reasons not entirely clear, the group didn’t have a presentation to give, although said they would offer printed Powerpoint presentation that they had. The meeting room at the Urban Corps where Midway meets is not set up with audio visual equipment.

The group proceeded to explain its position on what is being referred to as Famosa Canyon.  This is the open piece of land on the south side of Famosa Blvd. and the east side of Nimitz, across from Bill Cleator Park. A lot has been written about this property so there is no need to rehash it here. To summarize, the San Diego Housing Commission has the idea of building 78 affordable housing units there and a lot of people want to keep it as open space.

The group launched into an explanation that was, frankly, confusing for anyone who had never heard of Famosa, and it appeared that none of the board members had. They listened to a series of doom and gloom comments first from Virissimo about how this project would affect everywhere from OB through Midway. Traffic would become a “living nightmare,” “we live on the “very dangerous tip of a peninsula,” “there is no way out in a catastrophe,” “city is piling people in here,” “traffic will definitely impact Midway.”

It was obvious the hyperbole was having the opposite effect it was intended to have by the looks on the faces of board members.  At some point, it was just too much. All of these terrible effects from a 78-unit development way over by Nimitz Blvd. seemed a stretch.

The group then claimed that part of the land is a wetland, which would be protected from development if it was officially designated a wetland. If that were true, the point was lost because a wetland would not need protection from anyone, much less the Midway planners.  They did not appear to have documentation of it being a wetland with them at the meeting.

They claimed that the area drains into Famosa Slough and said they had video of water going back and forth between the canyon and the Slough from “major flooding” during the recent rains. Considering the distance between the two locations it was difficult to understand how a video would show the exchange of water between the two.

The oddity of the presentation continued with Virissimo relating that they met with Dr. Jen Campbell Wednesday morning to make their case and she said they were going to look for “another area” and “look into blighted properties” that exist in Point Loma and “make them affordable.”  Later, Virissimo said there was plenty of land, “hundreds of acres,” “along Highways 52 and 15 where you could put people, why squeeze them in here?”

This was déjà vu all over again.

Virissimo was heavily involved in the effort to boot the Prince Recycling Center from Stumps.  At that time, she promised that she and her group would help Prince find another location and would help financially with the move.  None of that ever happened when Prince was forced to leave.

At the time, Virissimo kept promoting putting Prince’s behind Big Lots.  The problem was that no one had ever done the research to see who owned the property or if this was feasible.  The other problem was that they never talked to the Midway board about it and when Midway found out about it, they were unhappy, to put it mildly.

It did not appear that the Midway board members realized, this idea of pushing the affordable housing out east was coming from the same person who advocated for pushing the recycling center out of Point Loma into the Midway area. It was another bit of irony that they didn’t hesitate to come to Midway now that they needed something

Virissimo went on to say they were going to “meet with the mayor ASAP,” that they were going to “watch out for Midway,” that the Famosa site has in it a “wetland within one nautical mile of the ocean.”  She explained they planned to get rid of a bike pump track inside the property because they had learned it would be a liability.  This was ironic because the first time anyone tried to do something with this land was ten years ago and it was mainly the dads, some moms and kids who built and used the bike track.

The Save Famosa Canyon group explained that they were not asking for City money that the open space would be maintained by community groups.  It would not be a park and there would be no facilities such as bathrooms.

This accounting of events may seem confusing because it was; it was not hard to see why the Midway board was confused.  They listened and were very polite and asked for information to be sent to them to review for the next meeting.  They tabled the action item until the March meeting wisely deciding that they needed more time and information than this group brought before making any decision.

The chair did express that they were sensitive to making any actions about something in another planning board’s area, in this case the Peninsula Community Planning Board. They asked if the PCPB had supported the group’s position and were told the PCPB had stayed neutral on it.  The chair of the PCPB, Robert Goldyn, had sent a copy of a letter to Midway that the PCPB wrote and passed last year that stated the PCPB position.  The letter explained the PCPB had not taken a position because no project had come before them.

Virissimo was very critical of the PCPB and has been on social media.  She was a PCPB board member until she had to resign after a complaint was filed against her last year, so her opinion of the group is now unfavorable. The Midway vice chair said she would invite Goldyn to the March meeting to provide the PCPB perspective if they wished to.

The PCPB did have representation at the Midway meeting, of sorts.  Board member Jerry Lohla, who leaves the board in April after the March election, explained the PCPB position and stated he was attending as a community member and not representing the PCPB.

Lohla has a background in affordable housing and worked for four years at the Housing Commission before retiring five years ago and he is very open about that.  Lohla provided coherent information about affordable housing and corrected some of the misinformation the Save Famosa Canyon people had provided.  He remained very even-tempered even though Virissimo and her group have posted a number of unflattering comments about him on social media accusing him of being on the take and in cahoots with the Housing Commission.  There was a bit of a testy exchange when Virissimo went after him and the Midway chair had to step in and end it.

The board voted to have another presentation about Famosa Canyon at the March meeting.

Midway Board Elections – The Midway board holds its elections at the March meeting.  The election starts at 2:30 in the afternoon at the Urban Corps building on Jefferson Street before the regular Wednesday meeting held the third Wednesday of every month.  Candidates and voters are encouraged to participate.

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Jesse February 21, 2019 at 3:59 pm

As a volunteer for Save Famosa Canyon, the midway planning board meeting went as anyone expected it to go. The midway board made a motion to bring more information to their table, and it passed. This references your multiple claims through out this article about the midway board not having a complete view of the situation, or being confused about the issue.

The meeting room at the Urban Corps where the Midway board meets is set up with audio visual equipment, however their equipment for power point presentations was not set-up that day and was acknowledged by a board member. Save Famosa Canyon did provide paper copies for them to look at. SFC made it clear that asking for a letter of support was our initiative with the midway board. We are editing and improving our presentation daily as new information comes forth or is provided.

No one else that was on the agenda showed up, except Dr. Campbell’s rep. Josh Coyne. Saying that no one from the midway board had ever heard of Famosa Canyon is a lie. I can testify to that. Yes Margaret does need to be more focused on her communication with providing community concerns. However she made great points about how adding traffic density in Point Loma would impact surrounding communities, as Point Loma and Ocean Beach have limited streets to exit out of whether going to work, traveling to other parts of beautiful San Diego, or worst case a natural disaster or emergency situation and would most likely have to travel through the Midway area. Point Loma or Ocean Beach does not have an emergency room hospital.

The term Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. In rhetoric, it is also sometimes known as auxesis. In poetry and oratory, it emphasizes, evokes strong feelings, and creates strong impressions. As a figure of speech, it is usually not meant to be taken literally. This term has been floating around from people who have personal disputes with Margaret over a range of issues, being dragged out over the last 6 months, at least.

Save Famosa Canyon provided documents stating part of the canyon is a wetland and were included in the power point paper copies we passed out. I can send this to you Geoff, if you would like, or you can look it up yourself.

Save Famosa Canyon is getting better at restating our concerns for our community, as we have been fighting since last august, 2018. Not everyone has heard about this issue and we will continue to restate our concerns and positions towards improving our communication skills. As most people do, we practice as much as we can. Being prepared is equally important.

Offering different locations for any type of development is a part of the fight over Famosa Canyon. We do care about people getting into homes they otherwise could not afford. Offering ideas for the community to be involved with, includes but is not limited to; older buildings or homes, run down hotels or motels, air bnb’s, crime related areas or ‘trouble spots’, and properties that can be rehabilitated to provide housing away from our Last Open Natural space in Point Loma. Rehabilitation is something the Housing Authority is currently involved in and is not a stretch by any means. Logic before authority can be agreed upon by most everyone.

“The Save Famosa Canyon group explained that they were not asking for City money that the open space would be maintained by community groups.  It would not be a park and there would be no facilities such as bathrooms.” These comments are partially false because Save Famosa Canyon does have a Master Gardener who’s vision of the community open park/community food garden, bike track or ‘pump track’ etc. is in the works. Community groups have reached out to SFC and have offered to donate supplies and materials to make the vision of what Famosa Canyon could be – a reality. SFC would like to thank those groups, but are reluctant to throw them under the bus so to speak before anything can happen. If they would like to comment, they are most welcome to.

Dads and Moms of PL/OB have donated time and energy to create a space for their kids to ride their bikes. The issue over the pump track is one of liability toward the City. Some people out there will sue the City if they trip over a broken sidewalk, this is just reality. The issue with the pump track being Unsupervised by City officials means that every person who rides there does so ‘At Their Own Risk’. This is the same case with the OB skate park and Linda Vista skate park, in which both parks operate under the ‘Ride At Your Own Risk’ understanding that if someone does get hurt, it is their own fault and not the Cities liability. Something that is already well established and completely understood by most everyone. And the statement of the pump track first being started ten years ago is again partially false. I can provide photographs from 1994-1999 when there was a different bike track, and many local residents remember riding small ‘mini bikes’ or small ‘motor-cycles’ down in the Famosa Canyon late 1970’s. It is almost a ‘community tradition’ for some.

The statement of “They (midway board) asked if the PCPB had supported the group’s (SFC) position and were told the PCPB had stayed neutral on it.” is only partially true. The letter referenced here is a re-statement after the pcpb rescinded their previous letter to the city saying the opposite (which promoted developing the Famosa site). Again this information is public and can be found easily. Jerry Lohla did speak up for the pcpb and did say some things which are still under debate. Jerry spoke with a few of us after the meeting for about 45 minutes and one thing I would like to mention from that conversation was that “we agree on more than we disagree.” Which is a positive step in any communication.

I do appreciate your opinionated article Mr. Page and would suggest speaking with Save Famosa Canyon to provide both sides of the issue, whether at any public board meeting or anywhere else you follow us around. I will say that this article is a little biased and one sided on your behalf because of your personal dispute with Margaret. I understand that we all have freedom of speech and will use it to the best of our concerns/abilities. I do not intend to discredit you, rather, I am simply making sure that the facts are presented and not misconstrued. Yes this issue is important to all of us who live in Point Loma/Ocean Beach and providing information is an important part of including the communities residents so everyone can make a decision with most or all of the information including said issue. As per the Recycling Center issue, I cannot speak on that as I do not have any information pertaining to said issue.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Avatar Geoff Page February 22, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Jesse,

You wrote, “The midway board made a motion to bring more information to their table, and it passed. This references your multiple claims through out this article about the midway board not having a complete view of the situation, or being confused about the issue.” I did not make “claims” in my article, I reported the confusion that I saw and heard. They tabled it because they did not have enough of an understanding of the issue and asked for more information.

You wrote, “Saying that no one from the midway board had ever heard of Famosa Canyon is a lie. I can testify to that.” First, I stated that “it appeared that none of the board members had” heard of Famosa Canyon. It was not stated as a fact so it was not a lie, it was an observation. That was based on multiple questions from the board asking where this property was. If you know that some of them were familiar with the canyon, you don’t need to testify, just say which board members and I will confirm that.

You wrote “The term Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech.” As a figure of speech, it is usually not meant to be taken literally.” It also means a way of emphasizing what you are saying by describing it as far more extreme than it really is. This is not the proper way to present to a planning board, they need to hear facts and none of those extreme statements can be backed up.

You wrote, “This term has been floating around from people who have personal disputes with Margaret over a range of issues, being dragged out over the last 6 months, at least.” Have to take issue with you there. Virissimo has always had only a fleeting familiarity with the facts and when she does not have them, she does this. She has been asked many, many times to back up her statements and has never done it. This has nothing to do with personal disputes.

I did not say the group did not have anything to document the wetland, I said you did not appear to have that with you at the meeting. Post it here.

Regarding your comment about wanting to help with affordable housing, I was simply relating that big promises from Virissimo over Prince Recycling were never fulfilled and past actions are usually predictors of future actions. If you have anything concrete to show this effort to find other places, please provide that.

You said these comments in the article were “partially false.” “The Save Famosa Canyon group explained that they were not asking for City money that the open space would be maintained by community groups. It would not be a park and there would be no facilities such as bathrooms.” This was what Virissimo said at the meeting. If what she said is incorrect, then correct that but don’t say my statement was partially false, I correctly recounted what was said. You did not correct this at the meeting.

Your comments about the bike track and liability did not refute that Virissimo stated what she did at the meeting. An explanation was not needed, the fact is that your group’s position is that the pump track will not remain, unless you want to correct what she said, which you did not do at the meeting.

As for my statement about the pump track being started ten years ago, what I wrote was “This was ironic because the first time anyone tried to do something with this land was ten years ago and it was mainly the dads, some moms and kids who built and used the bike track.” Perhaps it was not clear enough, but my point was that the first effort to have this land moved from the Housing Commission to Parks and Rec started about ten years ago. I know the land has been used for many years by the community, that was not the point.

You wrote, “The statement of “They (midway board) asked if the PCPB had supported the group’s (SFC) position and were told the PCPB had stayed neutral on it.” is only partially true.” That is incorrect, that is the PCPB position and it is in the letter that the PCPB provided the Midway board that is also posted on the PCPB website.

Jesse, I don’t need to speak to the group, although I have already spoken to one of your members who is a reasonable and even-tempered person. I signed the petition a long time ago.

I don’t have a personal dispute with Virissimo. I got on her bad side some time ago when I had the temerity to challenge one of her outrageous statements I asked her to back up. As I later learned, and as did many others, she hates to be corrected. If you are just listening to her side of this, then you are getting the wrong idea.
What I hoped your group might get from this article is that you need to do a much better job of presenting yourself to groups like Midway and that would mean having someone else other than Virissimo speak for you. She can work with the group but having her as a spokesperson is just detrimental to your effort. That presentation was just as I have described it, confusing, filled with fear mongering, and full of misinformation, such as the 11-year waiting list for housing and the incorrect representation of the PCPB’s actions and position. You just lose support with this sort of thing. Your response here was very articulate, perhaps you should be speaking instead.

Reply

Avatar Jesse February 22, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Thank you Geoff. I enjoy critical thinking, and encourage more people to engage in conversation. If you noticed, I took a page from David’s playbook about “making sure all the facts are correct”. I do not believe that I have lost any support, as no one has officially supported anything I have said. No need for a back and forth. Good day sir! (Gene Wilder reference from Willy Wonka, 1971. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpK36FZmTFY )

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Avatar Geoff Page February 22, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Jesse, it has always been my goal to make sure the facts are correct, this was how I got on the wrong side of Ms. Virissimo. I did not mean that you personally lost support for your comment, I meant your group might unless you make a change.

Not sure what the Willy Wonka clip was for but assuming it was offered in good humor, here’s a brief one for us all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVCtkzIXYzQ

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Avatar Vern February 22, 2019 at 11:29 am

Is there a parking lot specifically for the Famosa Canyon Bicycle Park? Or is one planned? Or is a crosswalk from Cleator Park parking lot in the works?

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Avatar Geoff Page February 22, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Vern, There is no actual Bicycle Park. There is a dirt track that was fashioned by locals for kids to ride in this section of land. It is completely informal. There are no actual plans of any kind to look at currently.

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Avatar Vern February 22, 2019 at 5:38 pm

I reckon that’s one of the best kinds of parks, informal. Allows kids (and to some extent, their parents) to exercise some creativity in the “great outdoors”.

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Avatar Geoff Page February 22, 2019 at 5:52 pm

I agree wholeheartedly, Vern, that’s my kind of park. Like Sunset Cliffs used to be before they decided to “organize” the shit out of it.

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Avatar Vern February 23, 2019 at 8:39 am

Yep, SCNP was a great place to creatively agility-train German Shepard Dogs (on-leash, of course). Every outing was a new experience depending on which trail you’d take. Hopefully it won’t be too mucked up.
There was a joke circulating sometime back that a Starbucks kiosk was considered at SCNP (at least I think it was a joke). I suppose homogenizing SCNP & SD for tourists was always on tap, regardless.

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