March 25, 2005

National City Spotlight:

Of Yards and Play Lands

By Ted Godshalk

With the price of gas as high as it now is, it seems very likely that the Sunday car cruise to the country is rapidly fading into memory. While the Southern California Auto Club projects many car trips will be taken by vacationers this summer, the Sunday drive to the mountains will be less a diversion for the average family in California. Last Sunday I thought I might couple my trip to the store with a drive around National City to see what is happening in the various neighborhoods. This drive used all of one gallon of gas and one hour of my time, yet it resulted in several new perspectives.

From the flat land of the western part of the city, I climbed the gradual terrain up 18th Street. The streets above Highland bustled with activity on this sunny day. Buses squealed to their stops and riders jumped in and were off to their destinations; groups of joyful children played within their fenced yards and teens walked down the sidewalks. Olivewood Terrace (south of 24th Street) slept, as it always seems to, oblivious to the entire hubbub around it. Perfectly coiffed lawns covered the large lots, whispering of the stability this neighborhood possesses. Next I cruised over to the Manchester neighborhood, high above the end of Plaza Boulevard. Long known as the “Other National City,” and home to more than a few of the powerful in town, it wasn’t much more lively than Olivewood. Former Mayor George Waters was helping his wife Vickie, set up the giant Husband and Wife Easter Bunnies in their front yard. The mayor now wears a relaxed demeanor in his retired lifestyle.

Coming back down off the hill, I turned right and drove toward the edge of my city. There it hit me square in the middle of my sightseers. Have you seen it? A new mountain has been built at the end of Plaza Boulevard. Where there once stood a natural hillside with native plants, there now stands a forty-five foot high, man-made embankment, prime for supporting a housing development. As they say down at the McDonalds on Highland, “Super Size Me.” At the time when this development was proposed two years ago, I visited the site and saw a natural rise, tall trees and lots of vegetation. A red fox yielded the space to me that day and a Barn Owl perched high up on a branch was the only other inhabitant at the time. A construction fence now protects the place I can only really see in my mind’s eye. The man-made hills require plastic sheets covering them to keep them from hemorrhaging loose soil during the rains. These new hills assault the senses as one drives on to Paradise Valley Road. Paradise Ridge is no paradise. It just a new neighborhood devoid of the natural setting it once possessed. Now that feels like a big fatty burger sitting in my belly.

Working my way back into town, I noted another residential project, Kalesa Walk, near the Plaza and I-805 off ramp. I stopped and took a quick tour of the model homes and I can see how this might offer a housing alternative for some people. A young couple with a newborn baby strolled through the unit just ahead of me. These places are perfect for some new homebuyers, and the Olson Company builds a quality product. Then why can’t I support this type of housing? New housing is needed, especially if it qualifies as affordable —these units are priced at $350,000. But Kalesa Walk has no walk—apart from the roadway into the individual garages. Steep sets of three flights of stairs provide access to the upper units; sidewalks jut off at right angles and run for thirty feet before stopping at a dead end next to a steep hillside. Likewise, there is no open space in Kalesa Walk. Do the economics of projects like this dictate that two more units are squeezed in instead of building a common area for barbeques and play area? This project screams out, “No children! — Babies OK until three years of age.” A crawling toddler might not be in the safest environment here. Where is the open space we all know our children need? Older children will play in the street I’m sure, not the safest alternative, and I guess the younger ones can always go to the McDonalds Play Land down the street.

Our community needs open space for all in the form of new and improved parks as well as yards on private property. Exercise and an all-around healthy lifestyle should not be discouraged through the way we build our housing. Outdoors California will be more and more important to us as we start staying closer to home, and an eight square foot balcony is not a yard, and a flight of stairs is not a recreation area. With the Olson Company and others planning to build many more housing developments in town, the Planning Commission should look closely at these projects and include substantial open spaces. City requirements must return to the approach that made the other long-time National City neighborhoods attractive and stable when they were built for the growing population of those days and which remain so today.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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