January 14, 2005

National City Spotlight:

Worst-Case Scenario or Best Possible Future?

By Ted Godshalk

The community meeting held last Saturday was originally called for one purpose. The original purpose was to allow for community members to learn about the Downtown Specific Plan and to have a dialogue on how to best deal with the impacts from new residential units in high and mid-rise buildings. To many others and me the meeting overreached its scope and, in doing so, neither the impacts of the plan nor the fears of the residents and business owners were meaningfully addressed. By adding a lengthy discussion period about affordable housing at the beginning of this meeting, participation predictably dropped off as the meeting proceeded to the Downtown Plan and finally the issue of eminent domain. Several of us stuck it out for the entire five hours but many others could not.

Remarkably, all of the City Council turned out for this important meeting. Just as remarkable, Mayor Inzunza was gone from the dais before one hour had passed. The City Attorney has recommended that Inzunza excuse himself from any discussions about the Downtown Plan and eminent domain; however, while he was present he promised to meet with the church alliance (JOB) based at St. Matthew’s Church to discuss affordable housing. If this is to be his official role in the rapid growth of National City then I hope he makes a firm commitment to the low and moderate-income people of National City that this city will not become a place of economic segregation and that the true needs of the community will be met. One-bedroom condo conversions and high-rise town homes do not meet the needs of many people currently living in National City. Affordable housing deserves the consideration of a series of meetings for a full gathering of the thoughts and wishes of the community. In addition, developers must be required to include long-term affordable housing in their projects. This may be a touchstone issue for this term for Mayor Inzunza.

The Downtown Plan discussion began with CDC consultant Oliver Mujica stating that many developers have started coming to the city, creating what he termed as a “snowball effect.” Mujica went on to say that the staff has drawn up the Downtown Plan as a “worst case scenario.” I have studied this plan. It allows unlimited heights to the buildings on some blocks. The EIR claims that unavoidable significant impacts will result and yet it has no solid mechanisms for dealing with most of these impacts. For your review these impacts include: increased traffic on freeways and city streets, increased noise levels, increased air pollution, increased demand for water and sewer service, increased calls for police and fire service, and the increased need for schools.

It is not correct for city officials to claim, as Ron Morrison did last Saturday, that the other agencies must hurriedly prepare their plan for dealing with this worst-case scenario. Real planning provides ways for everyone involved to know how the issues will be dealt with. Agencies like the Sweetwater Authority can just dig up the streets and pass on increased service costs to all ratepayers whether we like it or not. On the other hand, construction of a new elementary school would be more difficult given the lack of open space in the city and the lack of money coming from the State of California for education.

The city’s consultant stated at this workshop that 90% of the housing in the downtown area would be for single-adults or couples. Incredibly, this goes against the first PowerPoint slide shown to the audience on Saturday. That very telling slide showed the group with the largest unmet need for housing was families. National City needs redevelopment to work for the community. I don’t believe this Specific Plan, as currently written, sets us up for a very bright future. As every one knows, “snowballs” can grow large as they roll down a hill and eventually lead to an avalanche. Our city needs a plan that provides for the best possible future we can imagine rather than the worst-case scenario. The City Council needs to determine the Environmental Impact Report is inadequate and give CDC staff several months to analyze the impacts from 50% of the new units (still 2000 units) currently called for in the plan. This would represent a reasonable amount of growth in the city and quality developments will not simply vanish while this is worked out. Lastly, the mechanisms for addressing the impacts must be determined and put in writing before the plan is adopted. This is what the community expected to come from the meeting last Saturday.

This issue will be on the Council agenda on Tuesday, February 1st at 6:00 pm.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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