Peninsula Planners: Tiny Cañon Street Pocket Park to Come In Near $3 Million – 3 and Half Times Original Budget

by on July 28, 2022 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The Peninsula Community Planning Board’s regular monthly meeting, Thursday, July 21, was not an exciting affair, but, as always, there were a couple of interesting moments. The Cañon Street pocket park item was the best and it calls for a review of this park’s weird history.

Before moving on to the park, it is necessary to note, again, that PCPB chair Fred Kosmo, again, opened the Zoom meeting by “warning” people that they were being recorded and “warning” them to be careful what they say. Admonishing people attending a planning board meeting in such a manner has a chilling effect on some people, which is the opposite of what these groups are for. Simply “informing” people that the meeting was being recorded would be sufficient.

Cañon Street Pocket park

Since this park project has been on-going for several years, with no visible progress, a refresher might help folks not familiar with it.

The park location is a 0.67-acre piece of land along the east side of Cañon Street.  Most of it is not visible from Cañon because most of it is considerably above the roadway.

The lowest part of this piece of land is a dirt road at the north end that drops down to the elevation of Cañon. This is just south of four or five custom homes along the east side of Cañon. At the south end of the parcel is the dead end of Avenida de Portugal.

The plan is to build a “passive” park on the spot. No parking. No restrooms. There really will be no easy parking, the only choice will be the residential streets south of Avenida de Portugal. There will be benches, some artwork, landscaping, flatwork, and other features.

About six years ago, then PCPB chair, Jon Linney, and board member Don Sevrens, who is still on the board, used some fleeting connections with politicians to get money for the park. It was this writer’s contention then and now that this was not the correct use of some money that had become available to the community.

Developer fees for the 170 plus condos built on the former Barnard Elementary School property amounted to about $840,000. The city allowed the PCPB to decide how to use that money. Linney and Sevrens wanted it for the park and the PCPB voted for that. That was unprecedented.

Planning boards do not have money or responsibility for money, other than a small amount for some operating expenses such as Zoom meeting fees. This is intentional. Letting a few individuals on a planning board make such a decision was clearly improper. That was the first problem.

The second problem was that the availability of this money was not made known in the community because people may have had very different ideas about how best to use it. Where it really should have gone was to fix Barnard Street, the war-ravaged road in front of all those new condos. The road was bad before construction and worse after.

On the other side of Barnard Street is a very large, older apartment complex. Lots of people use Barnard every day, the developer fees should have gone to fixing Barnard.

Unfortunately, a brief political romance that included former District 2 councilmember Lori Zapf, former mayor Kevin Faulconer, Linney, and Sevrens steered the money to this little park. Political aspirations, that have since fizzled, played a part. Sevrens is the last man standing.

Not long after the $840,000 was designated for the pocket park, Zapf announced she would be requesting an additional $320,000 for the project. This was a surprise because the park promoters said they planned to create a park for only the $840k but the budget was immediately increased to $1,160,000. There was no more public discussion about the additional money than there was for the original budget.

Everything about how this was handled was designed to ram something through with no real public discussion. It was designed to promote an ambitious political career that failed to materialize. Kind of sounds like how the city usually operates, but this was by the very group that was supposed to represent the community at that time.

Once the money was secured, the park then went for public input but even that process was flawed. The city had stepped in and was managing the project. A professional landscape architectural firm was hired, which was the first red flag. Design, construction, and management all cost money and right off the bat a design firm was hired to design a very small park the size of six 5,000 square foot lots.

Then, the project seemed to disappear into the ether perhaps because Linney, Zapf, and Faulconer all also disappeared into the ether. Sevrens has reported on it sporadically and it seemed no information was forthcoming from the city. No one knows how much of the original budget has been used, it seems, at least according to Sevrens. It’s PR time.

At the Thursday meeting, Sevrens happily reported that $1.55 million was included in the 2023 city budget for the park. This was a bit of a stunner. In the city’s 2023 budget, there is a line in the “Parks & Recreation: Capital Improvements Projects” list for the park and it is for $1,550,908. The line also showed a “Prior Fiscal Years” total of $1,316,407.

The “Project Total” figure was the eye-opener at $2,867,315. The “Prior Fiscal Years” budget was the $1.16 million and apparently another $200,000 added along the way. That figure was not an indication of what actually remained. The landscape architect had performed work on the design already, so some of the budget was used. The city was also probably charging management time to the budget as well.

Spending almost three million dollars for this tiny park, with limited public access, is something that deserves public discussion. The people who originally favored it were told it would be done for the $840,000. It would seem those people should know the budget has more than tripled and be asked if they feel it is still worth it.

30-foot height limit

The PCPB has a Long-Range Planning subcommittee that looks at a variety of things best described by its Mission Statement:

“It is the mission of the Long Range Planning Subcommittee, “to assess community trends and cumulative issues, initiate public discussion, consider possible responses, and make proactive recommendations to the Board for actions to interpret, to implement and, as may prove necessary, to amend the Peninsula Community Plan.”

Anyway, in the case of the subcommittee’s July 19 meeting, the action item was the 30-foot height limit in the Midway area. The committee discussed a draft letter that apparently generated a lively discussion, probably because the draft letter supported removing the height limit. The subcommittee ended by taking no action on the letter.

The probable reason for the unexpected position in the draft letter is that the subcommittee chair is a man named Matt Schalles. He is a highly educated scientist and is on the board of directors of BIKESD. He is representative of the cycling community that supports density everywhere. This group supports the effort to remove the height limit in the Midway area and would probably support doing away with it entirely.

The cycling advocates and new urbanists have been running for and obtaining seats on planning boards because they have been frustrated by planning board receptions to their proposals. The frustration is that they have to listen to the other side. That was the problem with the subcommittee discussion, there are people on the subcommittee who are against removing the height limit.

The opponents believe removing the height limit in the Midway area would be start of a slippery slope leading to more areas, if not all, being removed.

The full board made haste to dispense with the discussion saying that they needed the subcommittee to have another go at it.  They also said they should wait until the city council vote on placing the item back on the ballot.

This was a clear example of the current clash between the new urbanist philosophy and the status quo. Those defending the status quo have been labeled NIMBYs and alled boomers by the other side for defending their quality of life. That is why it has become a major conflict.

In other news

  • District 2 representative, Linus Smith said the whole OB pier is open to the public. He said depending on future damage, some of the pier may be closed again perhaps permanently. He said a city task force has begun work on a new pier.

Smith said the baseline price for the pier was $60 million but more realistically, $70 to $90 million. In fact, just the construction costs to build a new pier were estimated at $65 million by the engineering firm that produced the pier report.  That was three years ago.  Adding in design and management costs, the estimate is really over $100 million.

  • One project was reviewed and passed unanimously. It consisted of a lot with two homes on it now. One of the homes is to be divided into one unit at 552 square feet and the other at 776 square feet. The larger of the two will be designated an ADU and the smaller will be designate a residence. This is another example of a clever way to take advantage of the new ADU laws to have three units on a lot zoned for two. The PCPB had no problem with it.
  • The Voltaire Bridge beautification plans are before the city for review and comment. The original budget for the work was $90,000. It is not clear if that is still the budget or if the money has been raised.
  • The Community Planning Committee has withdrawn its support for the proposed changes to community planning groups being pushed by councilmember Joe LaCava. The CPC asked for changes to two items. The city ignored the CPC requests.

The new rules require planning groups to pay for appeals on projects that were once free to planning boards. This would discourage appeals as planning boards have very little money.  The second item was a change that would require a termed-out board member to wait two years before running again. Considering the difficulty in finding people to participate on planning boards, this requirement was deemed too tough.

The proposed changes appear to be a concerted attempt by the city to gut the planning board process.


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