Mission Bay Park lies incomplete, with toxic waste from inland storm runoff and a malfunctioning river, yet each year it pumps $17.5 million into the city coffers. Now City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer wants the money back, and he's willing to go to the ballot box to get it.
"There's so many things that we still need to do in Mission Bay Park," he told CityBeat. "Wetlands restoration, pathway improvements, Fiesta Island. We will never accomplish these public benefits unless we have a public revenue stream."
When the city took control of the property from the state in the 1940s, "False Bay," as it was then known, was a huge marshy tideland, the place where multiple creeks and-after a rerouting project-the San Diego River emptied into the Pacific. San Diegans voted to dredge it out and build beaches and pay off the necessary bonds by leasing 25 percent of the property to commercial interests. The income from the various hotels and restaurants on the 4,235-acre property paid off the bonds in good time, but the excess cash has since gone to the city's general fund, which pays for things like cops and librarians.
Meantime, the park remains half-finished, and the rerouting of the creeks has left it unhealthier than ever, for both critters and for people. Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, says there are already designs for restoring the wetland at the mouths of Rose and Tecolote creeks, as well as plans to build a pump to restore water circulation around the bay. With enough funds, these projects would make the water cleaner and less dangerous to swimmers, and could reduce the number of days when bacterial spikes, like one that occurred last July, close the beaches.
Faulconer, who chaired the Mission Bay Park Committee before his election to council, believes Mission Bay Park has earned the cash and should get to keep it.
"No other park has commercial development like Mission Bay Park," Faulconer said.
He'll have to fight for it, though. As Mayor Jerry Sanders stares down the barrel of a $24 million budget deficit this year and $90 million in each of the next four years, he won't want to give up $17 million for a park, even one that hosts as many as 100,000 people on a hot day.
Ted Medina, director of the Park and Recreation Department, said he's pessimistic that Mission Bay Park will keep all of its income.
"There will be a division of funds-I will say that," he told CityBeat.
Faulconer envisions a multi-year process during which the city would be "weaned from the income."
But he vows to launch an initiative drive in 2008 if he can't persuade his colleagues on the City Council to segregate the funds this year.