Request for public input: Proposed development of Fiesta Island

by Carolyn Chase

  he City of San Diego is considering issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to obtain development proposals to put a golf course and RV parking facilities on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay Park. The City Council has requested that staff obtain additional public input prior to considering the issuance of an RFP. The City Council will be determining whether or not to issue an RFP, and which elements would be included in any RFP for the ultimate development of Fiesta Island, at the Natural Resource and Culture committee meeting. The meeting will be held October 20, 1999 at 9am in the City Admin. Building, City Council Committee Room 202 C Street, 12th floor. Attend this hearing if you can. (To check to confirm item is still on agenda, call Douglas Sain, at 619-533-3980.)




Fiesta Island encompasses approximately 442 acres of relatively undeveloped land within Mission Bay Park. Prior to December 1998, the Metropolitan Wastewater Department operated a sludge processing facility on the southwestern end of the island. All sludge drying beds have been removed and the area has been restored to unlandscaped parkland.

Currently, Fiesta Island serves as the site for organized events such as the Over-the-Line tournament and Thunderboat races. In addition to these large events, there are a number of smaller events, including bicycle and running competitions, scheduled on the island throughout the year. The island is designated by the San Diego Municipal Code as an off-leash area for dogs and also includes least tern and salt pan preserve areas and a youth camp.

The 1994 Mission Bay Park Master Plan update speaks to the open landscape nature of the island and makes a number of recommendations for future island development. The major features for the ultimate development of Fiesta Island, as currently indicated in the Master Plan, include the following elements: developed parkland; youth and primitive camping; an upland preserve and salt pan habitat; special event RV parking; a two lane road, beach access around the island; proposed eelgrass expansion; a sand arena and viewing mound for the Over-the-Line Tournament; an improved launch area for board sailors; and paved parking for personal water craft trailers.

But the project-oriented list provided by the city doesn't disclose that the Master Plan's major land use orientation on Fiesta Island is supposed to be "Habitat Oriented Recreation." The Request for Public Input does not indicate that this area is to be the "ultimate refuge from urban congestion, noise and visual clutter." The RFP would not complete the Master Plan recommendations; it precludes them.

The City Manager's view is that these projects "will expedite the completion of the Master Plan recommendations by accomplishing the 20 year development plan for Fiesta Island in less than two years with no impact on the current budget."


Park dealmaking


It is proposed that the following elements from the 1994 Master Plan for Mission Bay Park be included in an RFP issued in order to obtain proposals on the development of Fiesta Island: · Developed parkland: grass, picnic areas, restrooms;

  • Open parkland;
  • Public beach access around island;
  • Swim beach on south end of island;
  • Proposed new eelgrass bed on southern end of island;
  • Expand existing least tern preserves to include recommended additional preserve area;
  • Expanded least tern buffer areas;
  • Retain Stony Point least tern preserve and buffer area;
  • 15 foot pedestrian/bicycle path encircling island;
  • Proposed swimming areas;
  • Berms to serve as wind screens for the water-ski area;
  • Enhanced sand athletic arena (for events such as Over-the-Line);
  • Proposed wetland area off of mount of Tecolote and Cudahy creeks;
  • Youth camping facility;
  • Primitive camping facility;
  • Paved parking area;
  • Turf parking areas;
  • Retain off leash areas for dogs;
  • All infrastructure required to support the development including a two way paved road encircling the island and utilities.

It is proposed that approximately 150 acres of Fiesta Island, identified in the Master Plan as future coastal sage scrub and beach strand habitat, be converted to a municipal 18-hole golf course. It is also proposed that approximately 30 acres, identified in the Master Plan as future turf parking for special events, day use parking for recreational vehicles, and some open parkland, be converted to a municipal recreational vehicle park. In addition, the personal water craft trailer parking lot and launch site recommended in the Master Plan for the southern portion of the island near the causeway would be moved off of Fiesta Island to the existing South Shores boat launch area.


Commercial use?


The City is claiming that, "Since the golf course and RV park will be owned and operated by the city, or operated by short term agreements with third parties, the San Diego Charter provision limiting commercial leases of land to 25 percent in Mission Bay Park would not be exceeded."

While the city attorney may be willing to defend this position, and would likely be forced to in court if they move forward with this, it violates if not the letter the spirit of the law. No matter who operates them, development of a golf course and RV park would restrict the uses of those areas to paying uses only and therefore would be a commercialization of public parkland, regardless of the legal manipulations to attempt to avoid the limits in the City Charter.

While the City Attorney has opined against public open space on this project, it isn't the first time. Remember the X Games in the Park? San Diego Audubon sued the city and negotiated a settlement to increase protections for the nesting least terns next to the site during the games. One part of this settlement was that the city would agree to move the restoration of Tecolote and Cudahy Creek to the top of the list for implementation when any funding would become available. Therefore, the city is legally encumbered to pursue this project first due to its past bad behavior and attempts to push aside park uses for commercial returns. This might be a good place for the public to remind them of this priority.

The loss of open space cannot be replaced. Where and how are they offering to mitigate the loss of 150 acres of habitat? Are they offering to mitigate it? Or are they just trying to commercialize even more parkland to pay for improvements in the Master Plan that the city already has an obligation to carry out?

According to the City Manager's office, "These modifications would be necessary in order to obtain the financing that will be required to complete the Master Plan elements identified for inclusion in the RFP, and to provide sufficient revenues to adequately maintain the improvements on Fiesta Island."

Existing leaseholders are generating more than enough revenue to fund the Mission Bay Master Plan if the City Manager and City Council would order it to be done that way. The current leaseholders in Mission Bay have agreed in principle, from what I understand, that some portion of incremental lease revenues should be placed into a Mission Bay Park Master Plan Development Fund for the purpose of funding the unfunded portions. There are other key leaseholds: De Anza and Sea World being renegotiated right now and a portion of lease increases should go into this fund. But the City Manager has so far opposed this.

Instead, they look for ways to make deals and trade away the contents of a carefully and some would tell you, painfully-agreed-to Master Plan. Why have a Master Plan at all, if every time a proposal comes forward it's just another round of "Let's Make a Deal?" Some of the public and users of Mission Bay Park thought we had made a deal: that it was called a "Master Plan" and that the city had a obligation to fund the balance of uses reflected in this agreement without changing that balance.

Finally, as our population continues to grow, we need more open spaces and parklands, not less! But more and more of our public parklands and open spaces are being threatened with development and sold as actually good for parks! Expanding public park lands should be the mindset of the city not continually commercializing parts for different user groups. We must watch each deal and process very carefully. Implementing the Master Plan should be the goal without losses to the park.