The Saga of the Money Behind the Cañon Street Pocket Park in Point Loma

by on August 24, 2023 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The city held a ground-breaking ceremony on Friday, August 18, to kick off construction of the Cañon Street Pocket Park, on Cañon at the northern terminus of Avenida De Portugal. Actual construction was planned to start on Monday, August 21.

The OB Rag has published numerous stories about the effort to get this park built. It is a sorry saga indeed, right down to the current bloated budget of $3,350,315. All that money to build a park that is two-thirds of an acre and will have no bathrooms and no parking other than on the surrounding residential streets.

It all started with robbing the poorer section of Point Loma to benefit the better off Point Loma folks. Here is a refresher on the history that The Rag has reported on since 2014.

In 2012, the San Diego Unified School District sold the Barnard Elementary School property to a developer. Many people in the community had hopes that part of the property would be a park. Considering that that surrounding area is dense with apartments and children and no parks nearby, this made sense.

Never happened. Instead, development of 180 condos in 19 buildings took up the entire site, adding many more residents with no park to go to.

A total of $840,000 in developer fees was collected by the city. The city let the Peninsula Community Planning Board decide what to do with this money. This decision was unprecedented — planning groups do not make such decisions.

The decision on how to use all that money was clearly a bald attempt to curry political favor in Point Loma for former mayor Faulconer, former D2 city councilperson, Zapf, and a very young PCPB chair with political aspirations. Lucky for us, all three political careers fizzled out like wet Roman candles.

The planning board handled this with a typically cryptic planning board agenda item in 2015 that did not adequately describe what it was really about. Here was the July 2015 agenda Item:

Action Items

1.       Canon Street Pocket Park- Review proposal for use of City of San Diego DIF funds for park design and construction. Presentation: Robin Shifflet, City of San Diego Planning Department

Not many people would know that DIF means “developer impact fees.” And, had the amount of money to be discussed, $840,000, been in the agenda description, that might have gotten some attention.

Here is how the city describes developer impact fees:

San Diego Municipal Code §142.0640 provides for the assessment and administration of development impact fees. The purpose of assessing development impact fees is to implement the City’s General Plan which contains policies related to the maintenance of an effective facilities financing program to ensure the impact of new development is mitigated through appropriate fees. Properties and land being developed in the City of San Diego are assessed a fee for public facilities. The fee is determined by the type, size and location of the development for the building permit being issued. Monies collected are placed in a City special fund by community, to be used solely for those public facilities specifically defined or generally described in the Development Impact Fee Plan for each community.

The important wording is “to ensure the impact of new development is mitigated through appropriate fees.” Barnard Street fronts the project and is how residents enter and leave the new development. To say it is a mess would be a major understatement. It was not in great shape when the development happened and it was in worse shape after the project was done. It is still a third world road in terrible shape nine years after the condo work began.

Barnard Street today.

The whole length of the street looks like this. $840,000 would have gone a long way to fixing this street.

Here are excerpts from the July 16, 2015, PCPB Minutes”

The amount in the DIF account (developer fees paid for public facilities and infrastructure, generally $3,300 per housing unit currently) is at $830,000 to $840,000. While the entire account would be locked up, there was confusion by the audience as to whether the park budget was for the entire amount.

Questions resulted in the answer that the DIF fund would indeed cover the entire cost of the basic park – design, construction and administrative fees and a 10% overrun contingency – while private donations would pay for any extras.

This was what everyone was first told, a park could be done for the amount available. There did not seem to be any concern that this entire pot of money was basically being taken from where it was really needed, and where it was actually generated, to build a little walk-to pocket park, in the tonier section of Point Loma.

The deplorable condition of Barnard Street never came up. Nor were there any questions about using the money for other things. Most importantly, there was no thought given to letting the community decide how to spend this money.

A motion was made to send the letter to Zapf in support of using developer fees for Cañon Street pocket park. The motion was made by Jon Linney, the politically ambitious, previously mentioned board member.

Instead, the motion to approve the letter was overridden by a motion to table the issue to the September meeting, which passed. Linney and board member Don Sevrens voted against tabling. Linney has since disappeared from Point Loma.

Sevrens is still around like a bad cold that won’t go away. Sevrens made several attempts to have The Rag stop publishing this writer’s articles because of the criticisms. This is the same board member who sued the entire PCPB over a free speech issue. Sevrens was at the end of a shovel handle in the group picture grinning like a Cheshire cat — it’s not his money.

At the September 17, 2015, PCPB meeting, devoting the money to the park was again taken up. The proponents, included the city and board member Linney, pushed for PCPB approval.  Conrad Wear, representing Council District 2 Lori Zapf said there was no competing project like a library or fire facilities that needed the funds.

The folks trying to get the lifeguard station rebuilt and the library finally built might take umbrage at Wear’s comment, not to mention the folks who use Barnard Street.

According to the meeting minutes, Wear said that typically the city spends $1 million an acre on a park. He pointed out that the new park would only be .67 acres, implying it could be done for two-thirds of a million dollars.

The only recorded criticism came from board member David Dick. He was critical of a need for a park, citing the nearby pocket parks. Dick was the only person who ever mentioned the idea of using the funds for other projects.

This was the major flaw in the process of deciding how to use the money. The public never got a chance to weigh in with other possible priorities. Although Dick was initially critical, he decided to go along anyway.

According to the minutes, no other board member and no member of the audience spoke against using the money for the park.

There are things in this world that are sacrosanct like mother, apple pie, native plants, cycling, and parks. Being for a park is a bandwagon that groans under the weight of everyone eager for a share of the credit. Speaking against parks is an unforgiveable sin, something this writer knows firsthand.

Recapping Cost

September 14, 2014 – PCPB meeting minutes – The first estimate of the cost to build the park appeared. The entry stated, “City estimate of development cost is $550,000 although landscape architect estimate may come in considerably lower.”

July 16, 2015 – PCPB meeting minutes – The city stated the DIF fund would indeed cover the entire cost of the basic park – design, construction and administrative fees and a 10% overrun contingency. The “DIF fund” was the $840,000.

September 17, 2015 – PCPB meeting minutes – The minutes recorded Wear as saying “the city spends $1 million an acre on a park. He pointed out that the new park would only be.67 acres.” Doing the math, this estimate would come to $670,000.

The beginning budget for the park was finally $840,000.

In 2016, councilmember Zapf somehow managed to add $320,000 more to the park budget. Where this money came from and the approval process to use it this way was a mystery. Certainly the public had no say in it. The park budget was now $840,000 plus $320,000 totaling $1,160,000.

In the 2023 city budget, the mayor added $1,550,908 to the pocket park budget. Again, no public discussion or explanation for more than doubling the previous budget of $1,160,000. The 2023 city budget document showed the previous park budget at $1,316,407. This meant that another $156,407 was mysteriously added to the budget.

The new budget should be $1,550,908 plus $1,316,407 totaling $2,867,315. But it isn’t. The current budget is $3,350,315. Somewhere along the way, another $483,000 was attached to the project. Of the entire $3,350,315, the only cost the public had any chance to provide its opinion on was the original $840,000, or 25% of the whole budget amount.

Lastly, the estimate for actual construction of the park, according to the CIP document, is $1,815,378. The actual cost is not known at this time. But, using this figure, it means that $1,534,622 has been spent on management and design, and will be spent managing construction on a piece of land amounting to two-thirds of an acre. This is 30,00 square feet equal to six 5,000 square foot lots, less than one block.

With $3,350,315, Barnard Street could have been completely redone. The problem is that a ceremony to start tearing up a dilapidated road and later celebrating its completion is not nearly as endearing as park ceremonies.

The City of San Diego should not be allowed to build an outhouse.

For anyone interested, the Project Manager is Kevin Oliver, at (619) 533-5139 or The project number is S16047.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: