By Leo Wilson
Last month, I described the background of the new Waldo D. Waterman Park that was recently dedicated in Bankers Hill. This article will focus on the future Woods/McKee Park, presently known as the Olive Street Park.
The Olive Street Park has been a long time in coming — more than 100 years. In 1908, the Woods-McKee family donated a parcel of land in Bankers Hill, at Olive Street and Third Avenue, to the city for a park. The following notice appears in the San Diego Union newspaper:
“San Diego Union, Oct. 18, 1908 … Park on Olive Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets, offered to city.” (Balboa Park Notes; from Richard Amero)
Although the city accepted the donated land from the Woods/McKee families, it never built the park. Instead the land sat vacant for decades. On June 11, 1963, the city granted the owner of an adjacent medical office building north of the donated land the right of ingress and egress to his building through the dedicated parcel. In return, the owner of the medical complex was required to maintain the rest of the site as a public park. This did not happen. Instead, the medical office building owner converted almost the entire Woods/McKee parcel into a parking lot for his business. The Woods and McKee family sued the city in 1981, seeking the return of their donated property, since it was not being used as a park as intended. The lawsuit was unsuccessful.
Nothing further happened until 2008, when a representative from the city’s Park and Recreation Department, and Michael Turko, a KUSI-TV investigative reporter, showed up at an Uptown Planners meeting. This led to a recommendation from Uptown Planners, adopted at its Aug. 5, 2008 meeting, requesting that the city revoke the permit of the medical complex owner to use the Woods/McKee parcel as a parking lot. Uptown Planners also recommended that the city acquire two additional parcels of land immediately south of the Woods/McKee parcel, for inclusion in a future Woods/McKee Park. The Woods/McKee parcel totaled 16,000 square feet; and the two additional parcels added 15,000 square feet. The new park will overlook Maple Canyon.
After Uptown Planners made its recommendation, the Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association set up a special task force to advocate for the creation of the Woods/McKee Park. Attorney Don Liddell, who was also vice chair of Uptown Planners, and myself led the effort. It was a very contentious process involving a labyrinth of hearings, countless meetings with city staff, threats of legal action, and ultimately a lawsuit by the owner of the medical complex against the city.
- On March 24, 2010, the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee approved the purchase of the two south parcels of land, which had been recommended by Uptown Planners for addition to the future Woods/McKee Park. This action was subsequently approved by the City Council, and the two parcels purchased. This was a major turnaround from the year prior; in 2009 we had learned the city had actually removed the purchase of these parcels from its priority funding list. After a strong protest, and timely intervention from then-City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office, it was restored.
- On May 1, 2013, the City Council terminated the medical complex owner’s revocable permit, which he claimed allowed him to place the parking lot on the Woods/McKee parcel. This action followed a strongly written letter written by Don Liddell, and approved by the Metro San Diego Community Development Corp., on Sept. 10, 2012, requesting the city “commence legal proceedings to immediately and completely revoke any formal conditional entitlement by the current owner of the adjacent parcel of property to use of any property that is owned by the city of San Diego.”
- The formal notice of revocation of the permit was issued July 13, 2013. In response, the medical complex owner sued the city. On Sept. 19, 2014, a Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, indicated that the permit could be terminated “at the will of the city at any time.” In February 2015, the city noticed a right-of-entry permit, so that it could enter the Woods/McKee parcel and remove non-permitted improvements. In effect, the city again took possession of the Woods/McKee parcel.
- In 2016, the city finally began planning the new park; retaining KTU+A as the consultant to design what would become the future Woods/McKee Park. A hearing on the KTU+A design concept will take place at Uptown Planners at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest. Making matters again controversial: There is now a proposal to place the city’s AIDS memorial in the Olive Street Park.
It has now been almost a decade since Uptown Planners made its Aug. 8, 2008 recommendations for the Woods/McKee Park. Since then it has been a long and contentious process. Want to especially thank Don Liddell for keeping the project on track. Also, a huge debt of gratitude goes to KUSI-TV reporter Michal Turko, who did about five stories about the Olive Street Park. Read four of them at metrosandiegocdc.org.
— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.