City Council approves San Diego Parks Master Plan on fourth draft

La Jolla has a history of not wanting commercial enterprises in its parks, including Scripps Park.

After 23 public hearings and multiple revisions, San Diego’s “Parks for All of Us” initiative got City Council approval during its Aug. 3 meeting.

Parks for All of Us, which Mayor Todd Gloria launched June 2 as part of an effort “to provide parks and places for recreation where the needs are the greatest,” includes the latest revision of the city Parks Master Plan, which is on its fourth draft after being initially presented last year.

Andy Field, director of the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department, said the new plan will “lay the foundation for the future of our park system” by replacing a master plan that was implemented 65 years ago.

Parks for All of Us lists the master plan’s investment priorities as acquiring land for new parks; maintaining and improving existing parks and facilities; neighborhood parks; open space and trails; off-leash dog parks; aquatic facilities; fitness, wellness, senior, nature and outdoor programs; and making parks safer and more active.

The first draft of the plan went before the City Council in November as part of the four-part “Complete Communities” initiative. Three of the four parts were approved, but the council asked that the Parks Master Plan be reworked and revisited. Since then, five new members have joined the council.

After additional community review, subsequent drafts were created. The fourth draft was approved.

San Diego Planning Director Mike Hansen said the “hundreds and hundreds of comments” the city has received “made this plan stronger” and that there was “a remarkably high level of public engagement.”

He said changes to the plan were made as a direct result of the community feedback.

Among them, the plan emphasizes acquiring land for parks in what the city refers to as “communities of concern” (census tracts with very low or moderate access to opportunity, as determined in the Citywide Climate Equity Index) and developing a funding mechanism for acquisition and maintenance.

Project manager Jonathan Avila said the city would partner with nonprofits and public agencies that “rely on outdoor spaces as a place for them to hold their events.”

“The plan encourages these agencies to use city parks for programming and concessions. ... The revenue generated from these concessions is then used to provide maintenance, programming and other investments in park space,” Avila said. “Activity begets activity, and the more people are engaged in a park space, the more vibrant that space will be.”

However, groups such as the Parks and Recreation Coalition, or PARC, asked for more refinement in the language about commercialization, as La Jolla has a history of not wanting commercial enterprises in its parks.

PARC member and La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the approved plan.

Since 2005, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board has sought to regulate and reduce commercial enterprises in open spaces such as Scripps Park, more than once attempting to ban new events there if they charge admission or close the park to the public. LJP&B President Claudia Baranowski said she could not comment about the council decision until her group meets.

Another funding mechanism for the parks plan would be new development impact fees on new housing projects.

Even with the planned revenue sources, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the “missing piece” is dedicated funding for maintenance, “whether you have the oldest parks or, in my communities, some of the newest parks that are already falling into disrepair.”

Though he supported the plan as revised, he suggested that parks have a separate category in the council policy that prioritizes capital improvement projects funding.

In voting for the plan, he said the current system “isn’t working. We aren’t getting the parks in our under-resourced communities and we need a new system. This plan might not be perfect, but it is a huge step in the right direction, and I appreciate the persistence in bringing this forward.”

A motion to adopt the Parks Master Plan with some amendments passed 8-1, with Councilman Chris Cate dissenting.

In a statement issued after the vote, LaCava said: “In District 1, our open spaces are an important aspect of the quality of life. At my urging, staff will now prepare a comprehensive review of these spaces and evaluate how we monitor, manage and protect them. I am also working with the city auditor to secure an independent audit.

“The new Parks Master Plan is progress, yet it only speaks to funding for new parks or enhancing existing parks. As a city, we must secure new funding for management/maintenance to ensure that our parks retain their functionality, aesthetics and safety.”

More community input?

In June, the LJP&B board reconvened its Parks Master Plan working group to assess the latest drafts and provide feedback. Though the group met before the Aug. 3 City Council vote, it did not file any formal recommendations. Baranowski said the group will meet to discuss the plan’s adoption and announce its findings at the Sept. 27 LJP&B meeting.

Further, the Community Planning Association planned to discuss the most recent draft during its meeting Thursday, Aug. 5. According to the agenda, the board was to review PARC’s recommendations, vote on them and submit the recommendations to the city. Updates will be provided after the meeting. ◆