Olive Street Park: the 100-year delay

Posted: November 17th, 2017 | Bankers Hill, Communities, Featured | 1 Comment

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)

Aerial photo of Olive Street Park site at Olive Street and Third Avenue (Google)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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

— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.

One Comments

  1. Ann Feister says:

    Thanks for your efforts to turn this lot into a park! As a resident of Bankers Hill, it’s been an eyesore and I’ll be glad to see it improved.
    That being said, it seems a tad unnecessary to have a mini park that will almost assuredly become a dog poop park right across the street from one of the most amazing parks in the entire country!

    I think the space would be much better utilized as a community garden! There are many agencies in the community that could benefit from freshly grown donated produce. A great way to be more beneficial to the community that has suffered losses of loved ones from HIV and AIDS would be to use the produce to donate healthful meals to those in our community who are living with this disease currently. The memorial is a good idea in theory, but ultimately it’s hidden in a tiny neighborhood corner park as what will likely appear to be an afterthought. The community backlash reflects this opinion as well.

    In addition to this being an opportunity to help those in need of the health benefits that fresh and organic produce would provide, there are a plethora of other ways this would benefit the neighborhood:
    – there are 2 nearby schools that are 1 block away that could learn about gardening and the health values of eating fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that kids get excited about healthy food when they helped grow it! It’s a science, agriculture, health and community service classroom lesson all rolled into one!
    – there are many senior centers in the area and not a lot of activities for the folks who are living there within walking distance. A volunteer gardening club could help run the operations at the garden. Again, studies have shown (Robert Putnam -Harvard PhD, “Bowling Alone”) that being active in the community can ward off disease, depression and even premature death. Keeping our valuable senior community active and sharing their knowledge with a future generation of potential farmers is invaluable!
    These are just a couple of examples of how a community garden would be more beneficial to the community than a hidden memorial or a mini park.

    I know this is a late in the game suggestion, but hopefully the community agrees and we can make our voices heard at the next Uptown planning meeting!

    The next meeting is Tuesday, March 6th at 6 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Uptown Community Center. The meetings are held at the Joyce Beers Uptown Community Center, 1230 Cleveland Avenue the first Tuesday of every month.

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