Aerial view of Midway District
An aerial view of the Midway District along Sports Arena Boulevard. Courtesy City of San Diego

By John McNab

Record heat has punished San Diego over the last three months. Coastal beaches and parks have been overwhelmed. By 8:30 a.m. on weekends, beach parking lots are full and access roads clogged. The need for more, not less, coastal parks has never been more apparent. The one perfect spot for such a park is the Midway-Sports Arena-Marine Corps Recruit Depot-NAVWAR district.

This district, sitting in the coastal zone between two bays, is the historic outfall of the San Diego River. Even today, river water runs under the land into San Diego Bay. The year-round climate is as good as anywhere in the world for outdoor sports and recreation.

This is the opportunity to create a River Trail Park extending from San Diego Bay up to the Sports Arena, with a spur to the Old Town Transit Hub. This takes outdoor adventures on our coast to another level. The spur to Old Town does what no city plan has ever imagined — creating a small water craft channel flanked by bike, skating, and walking paths from a transit hub to the beach.

From there, a journey can lead downstream into San Diego Bay or upstream to a terminal at Sports Arena. A pedestrian bridge or tunnel can connect to Mission Bay.

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Within this journey, picnic spots, beaches, sports fields and gardens throughout a 200-acre immersion park becomes the perfect place to unwind from the stress of living in a city increasingly jam-packed with residents.

And proudly we can see all of MCRD preserved for public benefit that honors its legacy, just like all Army bases around San Francisco. They are now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Yet this practical, doable vision cannot happen if Measure E passes in November.

At the center of Measure E is a monstrous, up to to 669 acre, public land giveaway. Public land under the city’s jurisdiction south of the Sports Arena is slated for high rises that would permanently blockade any sizable park  extension to Mission Bay. Public land under the Navy’s jurisdiction at the NAVWAR site would be jammed with at minimum of 10 luxury condominium towers and 20-plus mid rises.

MCRD today is being targeted for closure. Such a plan would certainly be fast tracked if it, too, could be razed for more high rises.

A Miami Beach and Hong Kong style wall of buildings would be the result. Traffic impacts and loss of coastal access would be secondary to the need to flow billions into the pockets of the well connected.

Lifting the 30-foot height limit is monetizing our quality of life. Air rights are the right to build as high as possible. Under the city’s ballot measure, these air rights are worth $2.5 billion to $5 billion in profits to developers. Not a penny of compensation for the air rights was given to the general public.

Measure E is a turning point in San Diego history. Past generations recoiled at the thought of becoming like Los Angeles. Every effort was made to preserve a low-lying, accessible coast that welcomed everyone.

We were known as the people’s beach city. Yet bit by bit, public coastal land has been lost to private development from the Bayfront Hilton up through the Naval Training Center and beyond. Now the politicians are rushing to abolish traffic, parking, parks, and other community standards for the city’s number one campaign contributor — the building industry.

Passage of Measure E will exacerbate these bad planning decisions. This is a prime example of what happens when elected officials forgo vision, harmony, beauty and the needs of the people for quick temporary personal gain.

Measure E is the measure, and moment in time, where losses of public land and development rights will either spiral out of control, or we will take a stand and fuel a civic action to keep San Diego beautiful. A key piece is creating a lock box for our remaining coastal treasures.

Future generations will be grateful for our efforts to enhance our public coast with a River Trail Park. Voting “no” on measure E is the first step. Joining a citizen movement to preserve our coast, which is the only way our coast can be saved, is next.

John McNab is a spokesman for the Save Coastal Access – No on Measure E campaign.