The Sports Arena Will Flood Later this Century – Is Anyone Planning For It?

by on August 20, 2020 · 6 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

Editordude: MacKenzie Elmer over at Voice of San Diego raised a damn good point just recently, in a post entitled, “Nobody’s Talking About the Sports Arena Flood Zone.” It points out the dueling proposals currently before the City for the redevelopment of the area do not take any scientific precautions to deal with the area’s historic flood zone nature and rising sea dangers. Elmer says the Sports Arena area would be flooded with a 4 foot sea level rise.

Two developers submitted dueling bids for the right to revamp Pechanga Arena and the area around it. But whatever stands there in the end could be up to its ears in seawater in the second half of this century.

By MacKenzie Elmer / Voice of San Diego / August 19, 2020

The city of San Diego is choosing between flashy proposals to redevelop Pechanga Arena area, but has said little about its very real vulnerability to flooding from rising sea levels. Though the city’s planning department recently studied how sea level rise will affect its most precious assets, the threat hasn’t featured prominently in public discussion of the redevelopment plan.

Two developers submitted dueling bids for the right to revamp a 48-acre triangular stretch of land off Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego’s Midway District. Critics are fixated on whether to replace the old, grain bin-looking sports arena. And the project is a flashpoint for a November ballot measure to remove Midway from the 30-foot height limit west of I-5, imposed by city voters in 1972.

But whatever stands there in the end could be up to its ears in seawater in the second half of this century. The property already sits on low-lying ground in a flood-prone area, according to scientific modeling from the U.S. Geological Service. It’s separated from a marshy section of the ocean-bound San Diego River by a thin strip of land occupied by I-8.

“Flood-prone areas are those that aren’t hydrologically connected to the ocean but (are still) below the flood elevation,” said Patrick Barnard, research geologist with U.S. Geological Service. “It’s like New Orleans. These are areas that are below a levy. So don’t think you’re totally safe because, if something failed, this area will get wet.”

Now add the threat of sea level rise. An interactive flood map produced by USGS shows most of the land surrounding the sports arena would be inundated if the sea rose just over four feet. That’s without any unseasonably large storms, which cause coastal waters to surge and increase the potential for flooding. Storms like that (often referred to as 20- or 100-year storms or floods) are becoming more frequent with climate change, Barnard said.

For the balance of this article, please go here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Blavatt August 20, 2020 at 11:32 am

The public program on the “Bay to Bay Chanal”, and other meeting, back over a couple decades, when the City was pushing Sports Arena/North Bay Redevelopment Plans (Midway area), was reporting about the area being on a flood plain, fill site, and other problems on the Sports Arena and nearby properties. Property owners threatened with eminent domain on Kurt Street told stories of flooding and hitting water 3 ft. down. Now SD wants to bypass the California Quality Environronmental Act (CQEA), when planning for “Complete Communities” Plans. That because most big parcels of land SD have major problems… Flooding, earthquake faults, toxics fill sites, unstable ground/cliffs, etc. I am supried that any insurers would sign onto these types of projects.The best thing would be to put parkland, active Robb Field type activity areas, and keep the Arena and Swap Meet.


Geoff Page August 20, 2020 at 2:29 pm

I think the actual problem may not be flooding but uplift apropos to the article in The Rag about ocean water affecting the underground on shore. The Midway area is basically floating on fill. Water pressure can do tremendous damage. Really, I think the danger is more from below than above, but both will be a problem. Anything build there will need to be set on deep caissons to last.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 20, 2020 at 4:01 pm

I also read this VOSD piece about rising groundwater in the Sports Arena/Midway area. It is hard to imagine such an unsightly mish-mash of tacky urban sprawl as that region being officially within the 30-foot height limit of the coastal zone, but it is, and the groundwater findings confirm it. We all know flooding is common there.

It is even more amazing that politicians on our City Council voted to put the cynical so-called “Complete Communities” redevelopment plan for the region on the November ballot. It proposes dense shiny high-rise towers to replace blight — just as soon as the landmark 1972 citizens’ coastal-zone 30-foot height-limit law is sunk. That would be disaster compounded.


Paul Webb August 20, 2020 at 4:41 pm

A lot of people forget that this whole area was once marshland. SDIA was built on mudflats know as Dutch Flats. And most people don’t realize that the airport and much of the Midway area has groundwater very close to the surface. The groundwater below the airport is only something like seven to eleven feet below the surface and it varies with the tide. Sea level rise is very real and will impact San Diego in our lifetimes (Okay, maybe not in my lifetime) and we need to start anticipating it and stop continuing to do things the same old way.

This whole Midway project and its associated lack of planning is a mistake. We as citizens are given a false choice between two competing projects without any of the information needed to make a rational decision. Even as we are making the choice the projects change and new and critical information comes out. This is a terrible process and will not result in the kind of project that this area deserves. We all realize that Midway is a mess, but lets not make bigger messes in the name of “progress”. Let’s slow down and do this right!


BRUCE COONS August 20, 2020 at 6:33 pm

Not to mention, it will liquify with a moderate earthquake on the Rose Canyon fault that tranverses the area.


Roy McMakin August 20, 2020 at 8:16 pm

There were public comments, before the city council vote to put the height limit issue on the ballot, that addressed/questioned this issue. YIMBYs mocked those commenters on Twitter. The ad hoc developer profit driven planning process of this city needs to end. We need to find a way to start making planning decisions based upon sound ideas vetted through a transparent and effective community process.


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