By Jeff Clemetson and Sara Butler
The City of San Diego is taking its first steps in updating its parks master plan — a process it hasn’t undertaken since 1956, and according to city officials is long overdue.
“There’s more people in the city now. Our city is denser. We have very different trends in recreation,” Shannon Scoggins, project manager for Parks Master Plan update, said. “People recreate differently than they did 60 years ago. Shuffle board was popular in 1956 and its not popular now. We have all kinds of new sports coming online like pickleball and cricket and quite a lot of other recreation that’s not necessarily field based — skateboarding, that kind of thing. So, we’re looking to update how we plan for parks, recreation facilities and programs.”
Updating the parks plan will come in four phases and take three years, said Scoggins. The first phase is a learning phase where the city looks at its existing parks while simultaneously gathering public input through a series of workshops and online tools. Scoggins clarified that this undertaking is separate from the Community Plan Update; rather, it is an additional planning effort to provide recreational opportunities.
The city held nine workshops throughout the month of June, including one in City Heights/Talmadge (District 4), one in Golden Hill (District 3), and another in Linda Vista (District 7). The Golden Hill Recreation Center meeting on June 25 was the city’s largest attended workshop and attracted many Uptowners.
Residents from inside and outside the districts were invited to give input on what they like and don’t like about the parks they have, suggest where new parks could be built, and share what their personal park priorities are.
“So, pick your top three. Do you want off-leash dog parks? Do you want more soccer fields? Do you want more swimming pools? That sort of thing,” Scoggins said. “We really need to understand priorities because the reality is that we don’t have funding to make all improvements, so we do need to provide some kind of strategic plan at the end of the day that provides what it most important moving forward.”
Kathryn Willets, who has owned her home in Golden Hill since 1974, attended the June 25 workshop and advocated for more family-friendly activities for Uptown’s youth.
“I bring my grandchildren here to the [Golden Hill] Rec Center, and my children came here when they were children. But many of the programs that were here when my children were growing up are no longer here,” Willetts said, citing a former ceramics program, free equipment rental, and other amenities.
She also wants the city to reclaim space devoted to cars for recreational use, building parks over Interstates to reunite neighborhoods freeways cut through.
“I think they should build a park over Highway 94, between 22nd and 25th [streets],” she continued, noting the location could be a city advantage. “Since 25th is a commercial street, they could allow commercial uses along there that could pay rent and that money could help maintain the park.”
Monetta Slaybaugh, who lives where Landis Street crosses the 805 Interstate in Cherokee Point, echoed Willets. She wishes there was a safer, cleaner way to cross into North Park and other neighborhoods.
Currently, Slaybaugh uses many city parks but not many are well-kept in her area. To combat that, she and the Cherokee Point Neighborhood Association clean up and maintain a small plot of city land, informally known as “Postage Stamp Park” and fittingly located on a paper street.
“The space is just sitting there collecting garbage,” Monetta said. They organize cleaning events throughout the year and are hoping for city funding to help maintain their efforts, as well as add a dog run to the space.
Talmadge resident David Moty, the vice chair of the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group, attended the June 18 meeting at Mid-City Gym and noted that there are “no parks whatsoever” in his neighborhood.
“I very rarely ever go to a park. Once or twice a year I get to Balboa Park [or] Kensington Park — but that’s it,” Moty said. There’s 9,000 people there — but zero parks,” he said.
He said that the intersection of Euchild and Monroe avenues, which he referred to as “the natural center of gravity in the neighborhood” that needs rebuilding, would be a great space for “a tot lot, couple of benches, trees and some grass.”
Kirstin Skadberg, an environmental planner and Mission Hills resident, attended the June 6 workshop at the Linda Vista Recreation Center, which focused on Uptown’s neighbor Mission Valley (District 7).
“I do use the parks quite a lot. I think they’re important in San Diego and I think we’re really lucky to have the ones that we do have,” Skadberg said, adding that she often frequents Mission Trails Park, even though Balboa Park is much closer to her home. She counts herself as fortunate for being able to use all the parks in San Diego.
“One of my concerns is making sure that we get parks in places where we don’t have that many right now — like for people who don’t have a car and can’t just drive wherever they want in San Diego County like I can, that they have parks close to their homes, that their kids can use too,” she continued.
Increasing parks equity is one of the major goals and reasons for updating the parks master plan, said San Diego Planning Department Director Mike Hansen.
“The accessibility of parks across the city is not equal at the moment and we are trying to make sure that people in different communities and the urban communities have accessibility just as much as the newly master planned communities,” Hansen said.
Parks needs are much higher in older, infill urban areas — such as the historic Uptown neighborhoods — than in recently built planned communities. Other areas of concern include nearby Mission Valley, which is changing from retail and commercial areas to more mixed-use with new residences.
The parks master plan update will also reexamine how the city determines what will count as a park.
Another Cherokee Point resident and the chair of City Heights Town Council, Taylor McDonald, said his neighborhood “wants to utilize what we have and enhance what we are already working on, making them official parks.” He added that small improvements, such as adding art or signage, would go a long way.
The plan will decide whether existing regional parks should count as adequate park space so that new developments near them can have reduced development impact fees for new parks and hopefully bring down the cost of building housing.
“Balboa Park is not considered a park for our parks needs master plan — totally excluded,” District 7 Councilmember Scott Sherman said at the June 6 meeting. “So, you can build something on Sixth Avenue, right across the street from Balboa Park, the jewel of San Diego, and you have to pay park fees to build a park somewhere else, even though the park is right across the street.”
All of the public workshops in phase one of the parks plan occurred through the month of June — at Linda Vista Recreational Center, June 6; Robb Field, June 11; San Diego Central Library, June 12; Black Mountain Middle School, June 14; Mid-City Gym, June 18; Skyline Hills Rec Center, June 19; Canyonside Rec Center, June 20; Stadley Rec Center; June 21; Golden Hill Rec Center, June 25; and San Ysidro Community Activity Center, June 27. For those who could not attend a workshop, there is an online workshop at cityofsandiegoparksplan.com.
“We’re doing more this year than we’ve done in any year in the past,” District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward said to attendees at the Golden Hill Recreational Center. “I promise you that this feedback is instrumental to getting efforts right and I’m going to make sure I advocate based on your input for the final parks master plan as it comes forward to committee and city council.”
After the public input is completed, the next phase will be to analyze the data collected and start putting together a new plan. Phase three will be about developing a long-range park plan and will also include public input workshops. The final phase will be implementing the plan that “will shape the future of the city’s parks and recreation facilities and programs for 20 to 30 years,” Scoggins said.