Recreational groups cite optimism, but caution, on De Anza Cove’s future

Members of the Coastal Bay Girls Softball League .
Members of the Coastal Bay Girls Softball League have nowhere else to enjoy their sport if McEvoy Fields are destroyed, according to league officials.
(Courtesy of Coastal Bay Girls Softball League)

Whether it’s sports or camping, recreational users of De Anza Cove have had a lot to say about the future of the popular area of Mission Bay Park.

At the June 13 meeting of the City Parks and Recreation Department, proponents of soccer, baseball, tennis, golf and more attended in droves to let city officials know how their activities would be affected by amending the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, known as De Anza Cove Natural.

One of the biggest issues concerns a planned buffer zone, composed of sand dunes and brush, parallel to Rose Creek. The buffer would run from Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge to Garnet Avenue. The way the zone appears on proposed maps, the buffer would be built where playing grounds of the Bob McEvoy Youth Fields are now located.

Bob McEvoy constructed the McEvoy Fields in the 1950s on land dedicated to the city for the sole purpose of supporting youth athletics.

The busy corner of the Cove is home to the Pacific Beach Tennis Club, the Mission Bay Golf Course and the Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club. Across the creek lies Mission Bay High School, Campland on the Bay and the Kendall Frost Marsh Reserve.

City leaders have responded to the public concerns with revisions, including restoring a few acres of sports fields previously removed from plans, promising to minimize disruptions if any fields are relocated and changing the plan’s language to further protect those fields by ensuring that replacement fields be created before any areas become wetlands.

City Councilman Joe LaCava estimated more than 150 people showed up to his town hall meeting focused on the De Anza Cove Amendment, held in PB at the end of March.

LaCava noted there are multiple challenges with updating the De Anza Cove proposal, including the fact that despite the long history of the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, many people are hearing of the issue for the first time.

“Numerous people who typically would not be involved in the issue, for various reasons, are involved in this,” LaCava said, “and the public often does not understand that the guidelines being developed are for a vision 25 to 30 years still out.”

He said there will not be any changes anytime soon, and a lot of things still need to be finalized.

Nevertheless, LaCava said that if he had to hazard a guess, representatives on both the city and public sides “are optimistic, but cautious.”

He was pleased the public has been so interested in the De Anza Cove issue, and that people are recognizing the need to stay engaged, involved and advocate for their objectives.

DeCava is also very proud of the city departments’ response to the public’s feedback.

“I’ve seen the city departments do an excellent job of listening and responding to people’s concerns,” he said. “I’m very excited the city is willing to look at this corner of Mission Bay and all its uses. Pacific Beach doesn’t have a lot of recreational opportunities.”

Many meeting participants seemed to agree with DeCava’s “optimistic, but cautious” guess. While many said they felt the city listened to their concerns to varying degrees, many still expressed confusion or frustration at some of the proposed choices.

Speaking for the Pacific Youth Soccer League, Justin Weber, a coach, parent and board president, said between the PYSL, the Coastal Bay Softball and Mission Bay Youth Baseball, there are more than 1,300 kids in the leagues, and about 1,000 kids play on the fields every six months.

“These are local families and military families bringing their kids here. Take the fields away and it puts a huge burden on these folks to find places for their kids to play sports,” Weber said.

If the buffer zone goes in as proposed, he said it would destroy a large part of McEvoy Fields.

Coastal Bay Girls Softball League members line up in preparation for a big game.
(Courtesy of Coastal Bay Girls Softball League)

“If you look at their plan, construction of the buffer would mean two big playing fields go away, as well as six soccer fields,” Weber said.

The revised plan states the fields will be reconfigured before any demolition is done, which Weber called “a positive change.”

But Weber said he is concerned it doesn’t show where any new fields will be located, or how the work will be done. He also has questions about upcoming construction planned for the site.

Weber said bids have just gone out for a new, multi-million dollar bathroom renovation, necessary to replace the outdated facilities now available.

“So if the proposed changes are done, what happens to the work planned for the next few months? Does it stay or will it have to be redone a few years down the road? Is it a waste of money to potentially do the work again? And how much will that cost?” Weber asked. “It doesn’t seem like the left hand is talking to the right hand about this project.”

Weber said expanding the wetlands was not the issue, and his organization has gratitude for the revision.

“We are very appreciative that they’re listening and hearing us, and the accommodations being made,” he said. “Our advocacy over the past six months has paid off, with hundreds of parents attending the meetings. We’re an all-volunteer league and this has been very hard for us to do.”

Overall, he said the leagues just want to be there for the youths.

“As long as we are not interrupted and can continue to play, we will sign off on a plan in the end; we just want play to continue uninterrupted for the kids. It’s fully going in the right direction,” Weber said.

Representing Coastal Bay Girls Softball League, Mark and Julia Sullivan also fall into the cautiously optimistic crowd.

“We believe city leaders are listening and trying to come up with solutions,” Julia Sullivan said.

But they also have concerns about the proposed buffer zone.

Mark Sullivan said the four girls softball fields at McEvoy are arranged in a cloverleaf pattern, putting all the backstops together, with a concession stand available to all fields. Two fields would be replaced by the buffer zone.

“With no where else for the girls to play, girls softball would be decimated,” he said.

Julia Sullivan said the city has committed to building two fields of equal or greater value if the current fields are removed.

“But from a taxpayer’s perspective, why do they want to do this when there are so many underfunded projects already? Where will the money come from?” she asked.

Speaking on behalf of Mission Bay Youth Field Association and Mission Bay Youth Baseball, Billy Bonelli reiterated what most sports organizations already expressed.

“We don’t have any problem with the buffer zone. But any new fields need to be constructed before the old ones are demolished — we don’t want the kids to lose out on playing sports,” Bonelli said.

He added that although a lot of areas around the beach appear to be parks, they are not set up for youth sports.

“McEvoy Fields is the only athletic facility available for all the kids,” Bonelli said. “We’ve continued to work with the council members and we still have to keep the pressure on. We also need to make sure Parks and Recreation understands the importance of these fields.”

Andrew Meyer, ReWild Mission Bay project director and San Diego Audubon conservation director, agrees with Bonelli, at least as far as the keeping the youth sports facilities available.

As part of their agreement on the issue, ReWild Mission Bay, the MBYFA and the Pacific Beach Tennis Club released a joint statement on June 21 concerning the buffer zones.

“If environmental funding is found and the wetlands restoration project is commenced, the Rose Creek buffer zone from Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge to Garnet Avenue will not be disrupted until replacement youth fields and tennis courts equal to or better than the affected facilities are constructed in their new permanent location within the De Anza Natural planning area,” said Meyer and Bonelli.

“The PB Tennis Club has been located in De Anza Cove for over 60 years, and must also continue to have a home within the De Anza Natural planning area,” said Joanna Hirst, a PB Tennis Club member.

Meyer does feel, however, that the city incorrectly analyzed the ReWild’s “Wildest” plan, which pushes for even more wetlands, in favor of the latest revision. ReWild is a group of environmental advocates that have partnered with SD Audubon to enhance and restore wetlands in Mission Bay.

“I hope that the plan continues to be improved, but we want a good plan with prioritized wetland conservation to pass as quickly as possible. We want the city to move quickly on this,” Meyer said.

Pacific Beach leaders are among those feeling positive about how the city has responded to their constituents’ concerns.

“Since I helped orchestrate the plan, I’m pretty pleased with it,” said Marcella Bothwell, PB Planning Group chair.

Bothwell said after a meeting in which the Planning Group members were reminded of how many youths use the McEvoy fields — and there is no replacement venue — they next met with the mayor’s office. As a result, they were able to restore six acres back to the players, without interfering with any nearby facilities.

“Without those fields, the kids would be left with nothing. There is enough land for existing uses, and we shouldn’t demolish something perfectly useable until we have a suitable replacement, a plan and money to fund it,” Bothwell said.

“As far as the community perspective, the most recent iteration of the De Anza Natural plan is a step in the right direction,” said PB Town Council President Charlie Nieto.

He pointed out that with so many families in the area, the community feared that the ballparks would be an afterthought once priority was given to the wetlands expansion.

“Everybody I talk to either has a kid that plays ball or they themselves played ball on those fields when they were younger,” Nieto said. “There were worries that there would be years of deliberation, and a generation of kids would grow up without access to the sports fields.”

In this case, he feels the public has been heard.

“I think the city has really taken note of what a huge asset to the community the fields are,” Nieto said. “It’s refreshing to see, and means a lot to me and to others. The Town Council is really happy to see this version of the plan.”

DeCava said some of the next steps for the De Anza Cove proposal include more community meetings, finalizing the draft plan, and completion of an environmental impact report. He is hopeful hearings can be held by this fall.

The Mission Bay Park Committee is expected to consider a recommendation on the city’s De Anza Natural Plan on July 11, after months of weekly meetings of the De Anza ad hoc Committee. The San Diego City Council is expected to consider plan approval by the fall.

For details about the De Anza Natural amendments to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, including maps of the area, visit The ReWild Mission Bay proposal can be seen at