Questions Raised about the Cañon Street Pocket Park: Way Over Budget and Not Even Built Yet

by on August 23, 2022 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

There is a piece of land amounting to 0.67 of an acre along Cañon Street in Point Loma that some community members have been trying to turn into a “pocket” park for about seven years. This is a recent accounting of the money devoted to, and spent, on the unbuilt park to date. The information came from a public records request put to the city.

The future park is on the east side of Cañon Street as Cañon descends from upper Point Loma to the Point Loma village below. There is a dirt road the north end of the parcel that drops down to 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 main body of the park rises appreciably above Cañon, such that most of it cannot be seen while driving south alongside the parcel.

No parking and no amenities will be provided; it is intended to be a “passive” park. Visitors will have to arrive on foot or by bicycle. A park with no bathrooms and nothing but homes all around it will automatically discourage some segments of the community from using it.

As recounted in a July 18 story here in The Rag, the budget for this tiny park has gotten way out of hand.

The first chunk of change devoted to the park was about $890,000 in developer fees from the condos built at the old Barnard Elementary School site. Former District 2 councilmember, Lori Zapf, managed to add another $300,000. Then, somehow, another $200,000 was thrown in the kitty. The existing total budget is $1,316,407.

As if that was not enough, the mayor has added another $1,550,908 in the new fiscal budget. This brought the project total to $2,867,315. All for a park with no restrooms and no parking.

Park proponent Peninsula Community Planning Board member Don Sevrens has said he could not get the budget information out of the city, however, that information was easily obtained using a records request. What it shows is actually quite maddening and it has generated more questions the city will need to answer.

During a workshop held July 26, 2017, the city told those attending that the park would be built within the $890,000 available. Of the original budget, the city has spent $462,963 without turning a spade of dirt. The vast majority of that money was spent on design and planning.

Design – $303,650

The city hired a landscape architectural firm to design the park. The cost was broken in the following parts:

Design Package                $122,914.
Consultant services         $146,832
Subtotal                         $269,746

Public Art                         $18,820
and other permits           $14,884

Dry Utilities Design
and relocation                   $200

Keep in mind that the park will only consist of some hardscape and landscaping but it cost $270,000 to design that. The public art feature has already been paid for in the initial budget. Placing public art is usually the last thing done on a project of this nature. Where is this public art now since the park has not yet been built?

Planning – $135,022

This is what the city has spent for itself. It consists of:

Preliminary engineering –             $39,712
Planning Report –                           $2,043
General Development Plan –        $93,267
Subtotal                                     $135, 022

Paying – even exorbitantly – to design a tiny park, years in advance of actually building it, and paying for art and permits in advance is one thing because something is actually purchased. But, spending $135,022 in “planning costs” that includes a general development plan at nearly $93,267 raises some serious questions.

The preliminary engineering cost requires explanation about what this consists of and why this it in the planning budget and not the design budget.

The city spent all that money on a general development plan but needed another $2,043 for a planning report.

Construction – $15,922

Keep in mind, there has been no construction on the site. But, for some reason, the city spent $15,922 on “Construction Administration.” With no actual work taking place on the park, what was the city administrating?

Post Construction – $6,626

This one was a bit jarring to see since no construction has taken place. The city managed to spend $6,626 on “Close Out (As-builts).” For those not familiar with construction project management, closing out a project and obtaining accurate as-builts of the finished work is the end of the project. The city managed to spend money closing out a project that has not taken place. There’s a trick.

Not Assigned – $1,743

The only description of this items was “WBS – NULL.” WBS usually stands for a “work breakdown structure,” but NULL could not be deciphered.

The city provided a breakdown of “Personnel Costs” in three phases as follow:

Construction                            $1,083
Design                                 $183,158
Planning                                $41,755
Total                                    $225,996

The questions these figures generate are obvious to anyone. As already noted, the construction expenditure is $15,922. If only $1,083 was spent on personnel for this item, what did the city spend the remaining $14,839, or 93 percent of the costs, on?

If design personnel only cost $183,158, what did the city spend the remaining $120,492, or 40 percent of the costs, on?

And, if only $41,755 in personnel costs were attributed to planning, what did the city spend the remaining $93,267, or 69 percent of the costs, on?

The city provided another accounting document that contained more curiosities. There was a table titled “Budget and Expenditure Information By Fund.”  Three funds were in the table. The first was “Infrastructure Fund (Proposition H) that was all zeros.

The second fund, “Peninsula Urban Comm,” had the items of note. It showed the “Current Year Budget” at $1,186, 964. This would match the almost $890,000 in developer’s fees plus the $300,000 Zapf added. But, this total did not match the $1,316,407 shown in the current city budget. What was more interesting was the column farther to the right titled “Project-to- Date Budget.” It had a figure of $1,649,406.53. The question now is, where did the additional $500,000 come from?

The third fund, “Debt Funded General Fund CIP Projects,” had the mayor’s current budget addition of $1,550,908.

According to this document, the current total “Project-to- Date Budget” of $3,200,314.53.  This does not match the $2,867,315 shown in the city’s current budget.

The takeaways from all this are several. The city’s documentation is not matching, which would surprise no one. The budget has swollen by $2.3 million from the approximately $890,000 in developer fees that a planning board had a public vote on. While the original planning board vote was a sham, it was at least public. The public was never asked if it felt adding $2.3 million to build this little park was worthwhile.

To put it in perspective, 0.67 of an acre is about 30,000 square feet. This budget comes to $107 per square foot of land. It is an area about the size of six 5,000 square foot residential lots.

The third table in the document provided showed expenditures by year starting in 2016. The bulk of the money was spent in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Expenditures fell of drastically in 2021 and more so far this year. Oddly, there is a column for 2023 showing an expenditure of $521,32. Again, a neat trick on the city’s part.

The Public Records Request used to obtain this information stated, “This request is for an accounting all expenditures charged against the Canon Street Pocket Park’s $1,316,407 budget.”

What was received clearly did not satisfy the request as it was all summary information. Record requests need to be very specific. Although it was clear what was requested, the city decided to provide summary information instead making it necessary to send in another request. It is a game that takes patience.

There will be a follow up to this story when the results come in.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom August 23, 2022 at 6:24 pm

Excellent investigative work, Geoff. The city is always way off on its numbers and outrageously over budget — which is unacceptable for administering public money. If they were a private business, they’d either be out of business or under criminal investigation.

It really makes one question if there isn’t a reward system for favored contractors getting paid for what is basically make-work. But I guess now it doesn’t matter, as most of that money will be raided to pay for 101 Ash St.


Geoff Page August 23, 2022 at 8:41 pm

When you look at the additional $1.5 million the mayor added, you have to ask why. If the current budget is $1.6 million, then that would leave over a million to build the park. I have to wonder if the mayor is setting up slush funds for other purposes.


Mat Wahlstrom August 23, 2022 at 10:33 pm

Magic 8 Ball says, “All signs point to YES”


nostalgic August 24, 2022 at 9:33 am

A reminder that this is not a dedicated park, protected by the city charter. It is a designated park, whatever that means.


Geoff Page August 24, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Well, it appears that the suspicion about the $1.5 million added was correct. In Monday’s UT was a front page story about how the mayor will steal cash from everywhere to pay for 101 Ash Street. On the second page is a chart showing where the funds are being pulled from. About half way down the list is the “Canon Street Pocket Park” showing the $1,550,908 newly added to the park budget. This money was added long before the settlement but makes it clear the mayor was sprinkling money around in his budget for just this purpose.

I think the city auditor needs to step in and take a hard look at this.

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