Over the objections of some community groups, the San Diego City Council Tuesday approved a controversial “conceptual plan” for the completion of Cal. 15 through Mid-City that calls for construction of two parks on covers over the freeway.
The council also took the first steps towards establishing large new redevelopment areas in North Park and Mid-City by authorizing surveys of the neighborhoods and their deteriorating commercial cores.
With Caltrans currently laying the groundwork for the $122-million completion of the 2.2-mile stretch of Cal. 15, Tuesday’s 6-1 council vote modifies a 1985 agreement between the city and the state transportation agency, and begins to define the city’s role in funding and designing parts of the project. Councilman Bob Filner cast the only dissenting vote.
Planned since 1959, the project will bring an eight-lane freeway through Mid-City with interchanges at University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard and Adams Avenue. The city and Caltrans also plan construction of two separate blocks of cover: one between Orange and Polk avenues and a second between Wightman and Landis streets.
Both covers would be converted to parks, a decision praised as highly innovative by council members such as Bruce Henderson but criticized as inadequate use of the land by officials of the City Heights Community Development Corp.
Barry Schultz, president of that organization, said that the Mid-City community plan adopted in 1983 promised five blocks of cover over the freeway and claimed that the number is being reduced because the city lacks the funding to add the additional areas.
In addition, Schultz’s group wants the covers built to hold commercial or retail buildings that could help redevelop City Heights. Schultz noted that tax funds generated by the proposed redevelopment area are being targeted to finance the $18-million cost to the city for construction of the Wightman-to-Landis freeway cover, and street and bridge widenings. Caltrans will pay for construction of the second cover park.
“We’re not getting the benefits we think this construction could give us,” he said.
He and other officials from his organization also questioned the wisdom of building parks that will receive so much air pollution from passing cars that they will require a sensing system with “audio and/or visual alarms” that will warn users of an excess of carbon monoxide, according to an environmental study of the project.
Signs would direct restricted use of the parks when the alarms are sounding. The park between Orange and Polk avenues will be almost adjacent to Central Elementary School, which will have to be retrofitted to protect children from freeway pollution, John Stump, an area resident, said.
Noting Councilwoman Gloria McColl’s support for the project in her district, other council members backed the idea, confident that it could be altered if they later decide that the current plans are unworkable.
“There are very few cities which have understood . . . that freeways don’t have to be problem in your community,” Henderson said. “They can be an asset.”