In San Diego, they don't just meet rules forced upon city and county politicians by California state law. "We always do the legal minimum, but we also strive to do a lot more than that," says Scott Reese of the San Diego Parks Department. "We find that it's better to cast a wide net."
The Civic Park is the only successful project to emerge so far on a choice swath of downtown land that was slated to be turned into the grandiose, $3 billion Grand Avenue project.
Civic Park can be placed in the even-a-blind-squirrel-finds-a-few-acorns file. Without it, the city and county would have nothing to show for six years of effort — and their claims that this public-private project would create 29,000 construction jobs, 5,900 long-term jobs and more than $35.6 million annually in taxes.
None of that ever came to pass.
Under the deal with the developer, Related California, Related paid a nonrefundable $50 million development fee that has now, with interest, swelled to $56 million.
That money was always earmarked for Civic Park, which had been considered a relatively minor part of the original plan.
But when the economy tanked, Related was unable to float a $700 million construction loan, and by 2008, the envisioned Grand Avenue luxury hotel, condos and shops were temporarily abandoned. Today the financial markets have no appetite for any of it.
That's left many touting the Civic Park as a tasty appetizer served up at no cost to the taxpayers. There is, in fact, a big cost. The roughly 14 football fields' worth of space is owned by the citizens of L.A. County. A study has valued nearby city-owned land, where billionaire Eli Broad hopes to put a museum, at $473 per square foot. Although to build on the park acreage is more problematic than to construct on the proposed museum land, if it is valued anywhere in the region of $473 per square foot, it's worth up to $20.6 million. Yet county residents had little say over the best use of the park land they are donating.
"Everybody who has looked at this thinks it's pretty spectacular," Grand Avenue Authority chairman Molina said at the superquick July 7 Grand Avenue meeting, speaking to almost nobody in the audience.
Bill Witte, president of Related California, says the park will feature concerts, art exhibitions and a farmers market. He describes it as "an outdoor living room for the city."
But Denny Schneider of the Westchester Playa Neighborhood Council — a group never asked to weigh in on the people's park — thinks it's too close to the traffic-choked 101 freeway. He warns that Witte's city living room will be filled with L.A.'s version of secondhand smoke.
"There are so many studies that say if you live within 500 feet of a freeway or a major highway, you have an increased proportion of respiratory problems, especially among kids," Schneider says. "It blows my mind that they're going to put the Civic Park on top of a freeway."