By Jess Winans
North Park Planning Committee (NPPC) members voted unanimously at their monthly meeting on July 19 to send their prioritization list of local projects to be included in the city’s Community Improvement Program (CIP).
The city has tasked all its community planning groups to prioritize their projects by August to be included in a five-year plan. Being listed in the CIP does not mean that the city will be building any of the projects anytime soon, just that the volunteer planning groups have supported a “wish list” for their neighborhoods.
NPPC supports 28 proposed projects under the categories of parks and recreation, library improvements, transportation, and stormwater and sidewalk improvements. To read the North Park CIP list, visit tinyurl.com/y94m39sk.
Something not listed? The so-called M2M Footbridge project, which has unexpectedly become controversial.
The project is also known as the Montclair-McKinley Pedestrian Bridge or the Quince Street Bridge-East project.
Proposed by McKinley Elementary School parent and former NPPC member Robert Barry, the pedestrian bridge project has recently received backlash from nearby neighbors. They cited a lack of notice about the proposal and deep concerns about public safety, the environment, noise, traffic and the lack of funding.
The pedestrian bridge would traverse Boundary Canyon along the Quince Street right-of-way between Boundary and Nile streets. The main purpose would be to connect McKinley Elementary and its new joint-use park on the west side of the canyon to Montclair Park on the east side of the canyon.
The biggest selling points are that the pedestrian bridge would shorten the walking distance between the school and Montclair Park by a half-mile — from 0.7 miles to 0.2 miles — and would be safer for children and adults walking through the neighborhood. Boundary Street gets a lot of traffic since it provides both an entrance and exit from Interstate 805 into southwestern North Park and down into South Park.
“We came up with the idea [of the bridge] with the new joint-use park in connectivity to Montclair Park, because our kids have grown up playing there,” Barry said. “It’s one of those places that is hard to reach but is well-used and we appreciate.”
Barry first introduced the pedestrian bridge proposal at a NPPC Public Facilities and Transportation Subcommittee meeting in February. No motion was made at that time, so the proposal was reintroduced at the subcommittee meeting in June and again for a third time at the subcommittee meeting on July 12.
Barry asked that the subcommittee and the full board support the pedestrian bridge project so it could be forwarded to the city for a comprehensive evaluation.
“It’s going to get people out of their cars and in the neighborhood walking and using the parks,” Barry said at the NPPC board meeting. “What we are asking for you guys to do is put forward a motion to put this on the CIP so we can get it in front of the city to be vetted because we also believe this will allow us to apply for grant funding.”
The subcommittee meeting
Before the July 12 subcommittee meeting, NPPC chair René Vidales — who filled in as subcommittee chair due to absences — said he had received 15 comments in writing about the bridge project, about half in support and half in opposition. During the subcommittee meeting, however, 16 of the 23 residents in attendance opposed the proposal.
“I live [on] Boundary Street and so my house is adjacent to the lot being questioned; and my first question is, where is the data to show that this will actually reduce people driving in their cars to the Montclair Park?” resident Jason Folkman asked at the subcommittee meeting. “It seems to me there would be a lot of people driving, instead of walking to Montclair Park. They drive to Boundary Street to Quince Street and park their car there.”
“The [current] distance is 0.7 miles. We want people to walk more, not less; we need to be healthy,” said Mark, a North Park resident. “The neighborhood is very, very old and this will divert money from sidewalks and streets, the bridge will become a new billboard for graffiti, cigarettes and trash, and I’d like to know how this is going to be funded.”
Out of the seven residents who raised their hands in support of the bridge project, three spoke and cited increased walkability and park accessibility as reasons to add it to the CIP.
“I live on the Montclair side of the bridge and I think a bridge there would be very helpful,” said Maurice Amatta, one of the first supporters of the project.
Things got a bit heated as the night went on, as 13 North Park residents spoke in opposition of the bridge and two residents were removed from the subcommittee meeting.
But despite the disapproval of audience members that night, the subcommittee voted 8-1 to move the bridge project on to the NPPC board meeting for further discussion, stating that it was consistent with the goals of the CIP, the Community Plan and the city’s General Plan.
“There’s not enough information to analyze what the people don’t want to happen and the people who live there don’t even want the bridge,” said subcommittee and NPPC board member Dennis Campbell, the sole “no” vote on the motion.
The board meeting
The atmosphere was much different during the July 18 NPPC board meeting. The board members appeared to have considered the negative community feedback and were looking for more information before passing a motion.
Vidales, the NPPC chair, said he had now received 16 emails in support of the bridge and 20 in opposition.
“We need additional information,” Vidales said. “One, who is going to be maintaining the bridge? … We also need more information about the project so we can decide whether or not to put it on the list.”
Barry, who brought along a 3-D concept model of the pedestrian bridge, again asked for the bridge proposal to be added to North Park’s CIP.
“What we’re asking you to do is work off of the public subcommittee’s approval last week to add this to the priority list, realizing that projects sit on the priority list for years,” he said.
Addressing community concerns, Barry added, “Crime, homelessness, public safety, drugs, alcohol, suicide, fire hazards and that no one will use the project are all issues that will get flushed out and addressed through the city process.”
Eight community members were each given a minute to speak at the board meeting, one of whom was in support of the project, six who were in opposition, and one who was indifferent.
“I was part of the team until very recently when I realized how much vocal and intense opposition there was to this project,” said Eric Domeier, a North Park architect who designed the M2M Footbridge conceptual model.
“My goal is to step back and slow the process for the community because ultimately it’s public property and a public bridge and we should have a greater community consensus so if we do it, we can do something great,” he said.
“I’d like to see this paused so we can get consensus from the people who will be most adamantly affected by this bridge and get everybody on the same page to move forward with consensus.”
Although the board members didn’t include the bridge project on their CIP list, the NPPC did make a motion. Proposed by Dionné Carlson and Brandon Hilpert, the motion was passed 9-3 to “support a feasibility study to address potential impacts raised by the surrounding community regarding the proposed pedestrian connection between Montclair Park and McKinley Elementary being consistent with the mobility goals of the North Park Community Plan and the San Diego General Plan. This motion should not be construed as either support or opposition of the pedestrian concept.”
The three “no” votes were cast by Dennis Campbell, Eduardo Velasquez and Robert Gettinger.
Also on the July 18 NPPC meeting agenda? The prioritization of the 28 projects that were included on the plan. Most of those proposals were hashed out during workshops involved the Community Plan Update, which the City Council approved late last year.
Each project idea was submitted individually via an online form and includes items like North Park Neighborhood Park Recreation Center window replacement and Adult Center demolition, enhanced crosswalks, art installations and roundabouts on busy streets.
Previously the projects, which were chosen after debate and discussion by the NPPC board and subcommittee, were organized by priority. However, the NPPC board decided July 18 to eliminate the prioritization aspect to increase chances of getting projects implemented by the city.
“I think anything that we’ve already started we should kind of see through. It seems like if we’re putting out projects we’re getting them halfway through and then we’re pulling them apart. That’s kind of pointless and we’re wasting money we’ve already invested,” Hilpert said. “I would argue anything the city has a number on probably should be higher on the list than those that haven’t had any allocations.”
Hilpert proposed a motion “to submit the North Park Community Improvement Program prioritization list for fiscal year 2018-2019 with the document attached dated July 18, 2017 inclusive of projects A to BB with no ranking implied,” which passed unanimously.
For updates from the NPPC, check out their Facebook page at tinyurl.com/y8zwch8w.
–Jess Winans is an intern with San Diego Community News Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.