Local challenges are hare to take on City tortoise

The San Diego City Council voted on June 24 to allow the RV park ‘Campland on the Bay’ to expand onto De Anza Point, the site of a defunct mobile home park.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / Nelvin C. Cepeda)

In learning about various proposals and legislation affecting the community at the June Pacific Beach Town Council meeting, the real lesson for residents was that the City’s dawdling can turn simple procedures into potential problems.

The featured topic was a pitch to give Campland on the Bay, the low-budget campsite on Mission Bay, temporary management of the former De Anza mobile home park until the City decides what to do with the site, but questions were raised about the implications of such a move on any final plan.

Speaker after speaker cited the City’s foot- dragging as potentially impairing the effectiveness of acts, such as legislation already passed by the state, and some mused that the City’s inaction could create antagonism between neighbors waiting for solutions.

“So while we’re all here tonight sharing these stories, it’s because the City has not done its job,” said Kristen Victor, speaking for C3 (Citizens Coordinate for Century Three) on the De Anza proposal.

“We heard it on a couple of other issues regarding street vendors and scooters. The City has put the people in a really precarious position that in my opinion is pitting us all against one another.”

Front and center was Campland’s proposal to place the management of De Anza’s 160 abandoned mobile homes and 150 campsites under its temporary control after the current management company vacates its contract in June.

Noting that the City’s Planning Department expected a minimum of five years before the City moves on a final De Anza Cove Revitalization Project, Campland’s vice-president of operations Jacob Gelfand argued that his company could remove hazardous materials, such as asbestos, from mobile homes and demolish them as ultimately required, while increasing City coffers from the $3 million in taxes and fees collected in 2018 through expanded bookings with the extra campsites.

Improvements to existing infrastructure such as bike and pedestrian trails could also be made, Gelfand added. The deal would cost the City $8.5 million in rent credits that can be applied to Campland’s lease.

“The question is, do we allow this place to continue to deteriorate and pose safety risks for the community or is there something we can do in the short-term to address these challenges?” Gelfand asked. “Any way you slice it, no matter which plan moves forward, those homes have to be removed and those hazards have to be dealt with.”

City Council weighs in

(NOTE: The City Council was expected to vote on the proposal at its June 24 meeting and did so. The 6-3 vote was a victory for RV owners over environmentalists. Council members who voted in favor of the deal stressed that City officials need at least five years to complete analysis and prep work before any upgrades to the area.

Council member Jennifer Campbell, whose district includes Mission Bay, said the deal makes sense for the City in many ways. “Today, we are voting on a short-term answer,” Campbell said. “Our actions today will not prevent or delay the long-term conversation or the conversion of the northeast corner of the bay to marshland.”

Campbell also talked of the need to have an operator for the RV park on De Anza Point and the dangers of leaving in place the dilapidated mobile homes, many of which contain asbestos. “These areas will be abandoned and empty,” she said. “Let’s get them cleaned up.”)

Suspecting the likely duration of any “temporary” agreement, environmentalists feared the deal could lock in uses that make it less likely the City will adopt final plans for the area like San Diego Audubon Society’s “Rewild Mission Bay,” which emphasizes restoration of native habitat, such as marsh, to shore up damage to natural features like Rose Creek.

“The problem isn’t with Mr. Gelfand,” said Rod Meade, a volunteer at C3, the non-profit advocacy group on development. “He’s pursuing a business model that has been very successful over the last 50 years. The problem we have is with the City leadership not taking control, and not acting more like a steward of these sensitive resources, than like a landlord.”

“The problem we have is with the City leadership not taking control, and not acting more like a steward of these sensitive resources, than like a landlord.” — Rod Meade of C3
(photos by Steven Mihailovich)

A former senior analyst on the original Coastal Commission of 1973 and long-time project consultant for developments in vulnerable coastal ecosystems, Meade argued the City could fortify the transitory nature of an arrangement with Campland by offering rolling short-term leases.

Mission Bay Plans

He presented an alternative long-range plan recently developed by C3 that would meet the requirements of the Mission Bay Master Plan of 1994 to demonstrate what could be achieved by volunteers with community input. “We can do a much better job than the City has done to date in planning for this area,” Meade said. “This plan provides one option that we came up with in a fairly short period of time.”

Showcasing the long-term Mission Bay Gateway Project also drawn by volunteers to reconfigure present uses into comprises for all interested parties, Scott Chipman underscored the snail’s pace in the City’s handling of De Anza Cove.

“I should talk about timelines but it’s more or less a joke,” he said. “The timeline’s just being shifted and shifted and shifted. I’ve talked to three or four City Councils about this because this has been going on for 10 years.”

Eve Anderson, a PB Planning Board member, contended even if the City finally approves a final long-term plan, it will have to adjust to potential and expected circumstances such as sea level rise or protracted drought. “It’s going to change as they go on,” Anderson said. “This is just the start of it.”

“The timeline’s just being shifted and shifted and shifted ... this has been going on for 10 years.” — Scott Chipman of Mission Bay Gateway Master Plan
( Steven Mihailovich)

Sidewalk vendors

Some residents were similarly surprised and frustrated to learn from Chevelle Tate, PB rep for State Senate President Toni Atkins, that the City had not yet drafted regulations for sidewalk vendors even though a state law legalizing the commercial activity became law at the beginning of the year.

“So the City’s behind again on getting an ordinance together for a lot of the past year,” said meeting attendee Brian Curry. “So right now, we can have these things everywhere just like we have scooters everywhere.”

According to Tate, the City is looking at regulations adopted by the City of Carlsbad as a model. Michaela Valk, PB rep for local Assemblymember Todd Gloria, said residents should contact Council member Campbell with their recommendations for regulations to impel action.

“There are other cities that have already passed regulations as soon as this law went into effect,” Valk said. “For San Diego, the timeline is ticking. It comes from a push from the community and we could help facilitate that.”

Beach Team on the scene

Yet news from the City was not all dire. Police Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser reported that the arrival of the Day Beach Team resulted in 184 citations for alcohol, smoking and dogs on the beach, as well as 40 e-scooter infractions by adults and 67 e-scooter warnings to juveniles in just one four-day weekend.

“The stats show you what having eight extra officers that are proactive can do for us,” Hesselgesser said.

PB Town Council next meets 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 17 at Crown Point Jr. Music Academy, 4033 Ingraham St. (858) 483-6666,