San Diego River Park Foundation President Talks About Mission Valley
The San Diego River Park Foundation's Board is urging voters to not support the SoccerCity plan to redevelop the Mission Valley Stadium site. Two board members, Jack McGrory and Tom Sudberry, are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat SoccerCity, but they still voted. San Diego River Park Foundation President Rob Hutsel joined KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson to talk about the board vote, the initiatives and the vision for the river park.
Q: What is your organization's vision for the river park?
A: The vision has always been about 60 acres of the site should be dedicated to a river park, now what does that mean? About 10 acres of that area should be for the river, to heal the river. To allow it to breathe and to heal it with some upland habitat and things like that, just technical issues. And 50 acres of public parks. So that would include the regional San Diego River trail which would go through the site. And then all the parks the community really needs.
Q: And the idea is that this isn’t just a park in isolation. It is part of a system that is intended to run along the whole river, right?
A: That’s right. So, 52 miles long is the river park. The city of San Diego is about a third of that. But this piece of property is really going to be a jewel. It’s the most urban area. It’s an exciting area where we want people to actually celebrate the river. It needs to have water. It needs to be a place where you can go down and go, 'I’m along the river.' You get it right away.
Q: Obviously November is going to be an important time. Do you think that’ you’re closer now than you’ve ever been to realizing this dream of a river park in that area?
A: I think so. Both parties, if you think of it that way, are talking river park. It’s actually in their names. And we didn’t have that when we started the organization 17 years ago. So we’re really close. Now we just have to get to the finish line. And it’ll be an interesting process to watch.
Q: Why take a position on the initiatives?
A: Our board felt strongly. We’ve worked with SoccerCity folks for a long time, for over a year, and working on how do we take their initiative and get it to work to our position of 60 acres. The reality is, what we worked on, they agreed to do that, but it wasn’t binding. And we hoped the lease would become done by then, but we haven’t seen a draft lease and so we really felt compelled to take a position on this. And at the same time, many of our board members are just concerned about the initiative process for planning in itself. CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) issues and just community planning.
Q: Two of your board members are known opponents of the SoccerCity initiative. How did you handle that conflict of interest?
A: Part of it is disclosure. I mean the biggest part is let us know what the things are that either in reality or are people might perceive as a conflict. So we went through an exhaustive process where we had a committee meeting to talk about it. We talked about all the members of the boards. And one of the things about our directors is they represent a really broad spectrum of people. They have conflicts. It’s just the nature of what we do. And we want those people at the table because if we can bring them together on common ground, then we can move forward.
Q: Do you understand why there might be criticism?
A: Absolutely. But the reality is these board members are civic leaders. They take positions on things. And that’s the sort of people we want for our organization to be on our board.
Q: When do you think that a vision for a river park in that stadium area will actually be realized?
A: Unfortunately, I think it is going to be the long term. If you look at both of the initiatives the process probably will be tied up, maybe, in legal battles. We’re talking maybe five, 10 years out.
Q: So you’re not optimistic it will be two or three years.
A: No. I wish I could be. You know it would be wonderful to say we’re going to turn dirt in December. Gosh, wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’ve waited 17 years for that. But the reality is, we just know San Diego. Things don’t happen that quickly.
Q: What happens if both measures fail?
A: I think we start over. But we start at a new place. We’ve had a discussion in the community where both parties have said river park is important. Both have agreed to the 60-acre number. So let’s start from there. Then I think what we need to do is go back to the city council and say how do we shape this thing going into the future. In fact, the community plan for Mission Valley has a process where you are supposed to identify what are the public needs for that site. And let’s identify them. Maybe there’s something else like a police station or a fire stations or libraries, the rec center that would be included in that as well.
Q: Rob Hutsel, president, and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation. Thanks for talking with us.
A: Thanks, Erik.