In articles and in The Times' editorial on the topic of the commercial development at the Mission Beach Plunge, what I think is the most important issue was not brought out. This is not a question of whether a piece of city-owned land should be a park or a commercial center, because the site long ago was dedicated as a city park.
The City Charter says that, once dedicated, a park can only be un-dedicated by a vote of the electorate. Until such time as the citizens take such a vote, no city park can be used for non-park purposes. So says our City Charter.
Unfortunately, the charter doesn't say what are "park" and "non-park" uses and leaves that up to the City Council. It seems to me that, in the case of the Mission Beach Plunge development, somebody asked City Atty. John Witt what was the most one could get away with putting in a city park, and then wrote that into the developer's lease.
Some have said that the Plunge site, officially called Mission Beach Park, and also known as Belmont Park, was already commercial. What it was was a midway-type commercial recreation center, including retail sales of things beach-goers might buy.
I have heard the developers' plans numerous times as a member of the city Park and Recreation Board and as chairman of its Citizens' Advisory Committee for the coastal area. I've also seen the section of the developer's lease that defines what limits there will be on his shops there.
The developer has been up-front from the beginning that tenants will include vegetable markets, hairdressers and other activities that hardly fit the definition of serving visitors to a beachfront park. He plans a shopping center, plain and simple.
But, proponents say, this sort of commercial development is all over the adjacent Mission Bay Regional Park. Yes, yes, but the citizens voted for the development of Mission Bay Park in 1950 and again in 1959.
The City Council had a chance to observe the City Charter provisions and send out a mail ballot to the voters before the development proceeds further. Only Mayor O'Connor and Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer voted for that, however. One wonders where the other members of the council had their lessons in democracy.
City Atty. Witt told the council majority they were doing no wrong, and he brought up the analogy with commercial uses in Mission Bay Park but failed to mention that voters were asked to approve those developments.
The time, effort and money of the groups who have been fighting to protect the Plunge, and the 80,000 signatures on their initiative, appear at this point to be wasted, although many thank them for trying. The issue of charter protection for parks is not closed, however.
San Diegans must work now to see that more of our city parks aren't handed over to commercial developers for "improvement." Which will be next? Balboa Park? Kellogg Park in La Jolla? Sunset Cliffs?