Delay of Mira Mesa Community Park redevelopment led to discovery of forgotten $1 million fund


Lainie Hardman, one of the Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens founders, was interviewed for this article. Our groups have worked hard to find out about “The Mira Mesa Community Fund” and return it to the people.

See complete article below:

Delay of Mira Mesa Community Park redevelopment led to discovery of forgotten $1 million fund

A view of the 17-acre Mira Mesa Community Park at 8575 New Salem St. 

The city is soliciting construction bids for the park’s redevelopment, which was originally planned in 2005.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The city has long promised to upgrade Mira Mesa Community Park with an aquatics complex and skate park. The project most recently ran into a bureaucratic snag and the delay opened the door to questions about the city’s financing plan

FEB. 4, 2024 6 AM PT


The $45 million-and-growing redevelopment of Mira Mesa’s most important park seemed last spring, after nearly two decades of stagnation, to be on the cusp of becoming real.

The project, however, ran into a bureaucratic snag. The two firms competing for the construction contract were disqualified.

Now a second solicitation process for the project, officially referred to as Mira Mesa Community Park Phase Two Improvements, is under way. Bids are due March 7.

The project includes an all-new aquatic complex with three, distinct water features: a competition-grade pool with 14 lanes for swim teams, another pool for community classes and a splash pad. The plan also includes substantial site work, much-needed repairs to the Gil Johnson Recreation Center building, two new playgrounds, two new outdoor basketball courts, a skate park, realignment of the playing fields, a public art installation and an expanded parking lot.

The inadvertent construction delay is an inconvenience that could cost the city handsomely. At the same time, the setback led to a timely discovery for some community members.

A group called Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens, while digging around for information on a different project, unearthed an old, community-specific bank account, known as the Mira Mesa Community Fund, with a balance of more than $1 million.

Most of the money, they learned, was appropriated to the Mira Mesa Community Park project during a previous budget cycle. It was done so without broad community input.

The group, after pleading its case to the city, may have been able to wrench back the wad of cash for smaller-but-still-important neighborhood needs that they say the little-known fund was intended for, like new carpet for the 30-year-old public library near the park. Or it could be put toward converting the long-shuttered Epicentre into a performing arts venue, as the fund has past ties to that site, although that seems unlikely given the county’s plan to revive the facility as a teen center.

But the point is that the money should be spent by the community for the community, not appropriated behind closed doors and out of public sight, said Lainie Hardman, who has lived in Mira Mesa since 2000 and is a founding member of the Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens group.

“The community fund was not meant to bridge gaps in city funding,” she said. “This $1 million is not going to have a huge impact on that park project, but given back to the community, it could have a huge impact on a lot of things here right now.”

Andy Field, who is the director of the city’s parks department, has committed to putting the money back.

“When the project was … getting ready to go out to bid, we knew we needed more money to enable us to have enough in the project to allow it to go to bid and ideally to be awarded,” he said. The parks director had a change of heart when he learned that community members might want to use the money for other projects. “So now the idea is that once we go … to award the project, then there will be a council action, and then the money that’s there can be returned back to its fund balance.”

What ultimately happens with the money depends on the yet-to-be-determined final price tag of the Mira Mesa Community Park project.

Park fantasies

In 2005, the city finalized the general development plan for the Mira Mesa Community Park. In 2018, the city finished phase-one improvements, which concentrated exclusively on the baseball fields and children’s play areas east of New Salem Street.

As such, the promised redevelopment of the bulk of the park — or the nearly 17-acre portion north of Mira Mesa Boulevard and west of New Salem Street — has morphed into what feels like an urban legend for most longtime Mira Mesa residents.

“People have been waiting for this for decades and decades,” said Chris Cate, who previously served as the City Council representative for the area and currently chairs the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group. “People like my barber ask me, when is this thing getting done?”

Even professional skateboarder Willy Santos, who used to live in Mira Mesa and has been a longtime advocate for the skate park, inquired a few years back about the status of the project, Cate said.

The community park at 8575 New Salem St. sits at the center of Mira Mesa and serves as the recreational heartbeat of a middle-class community with a population that planners believe will nearly double to 143,000 people over the next couple of decades thanks to a newly approved blueprint for growth.

The community park, opposite the high school, frequently hosts softball games, soccer tournaments, large festivals and visiting carnivals. The gym inside the crumbling recreation center, dedicated in 1977, is home to low-cost basketball leagues and volleyball clinics. And the outdoor basketball courts are always busy. In decades past, the playgrounds and large gazebo were hot spots for sports league picnics and birthday parties. The facilities, which are still in use, have since been overshadowed by much flashier parks elsewhere around town.

“We’ve been waiting for this phase-two community park expansion for years. People who have gone to elementary school and graduated from high school have not seen this pool happen,” Hardman said. “The city has put Mira Mesa last — again. And we’re waiting for this park to be built. We’ve had this budget that’s been devalued from inflation.”

The park’s redevelopment sat idle as the city waited for money to accumulate from fees charged to developers building homes in the area, said Councilmember Kent Lee, whose represents Mira Mesa and lives in the area. “That has been, certainly, a long process,” Lee said. “Some of the development that we’ve seen in the community, such as 3Roots, has ultimately led to the funding being available.”

A rendering of the aquatic complex included the Mira Mesa Community Park Phase Two Improvements project. The center includes two pools, a splash pad and a 6,250 square-foot aquatics building with a community room.

Last spring, city staff estimated the total project cost, including design, construction, permitting, staff time and contingency costs, at $45.4 million, with funds appropriated from five different accounts.

The main funding source is the Mira Mesa Facilities Benefits Assessment, or FBA, fund. The city has allocated a little more than $44 million from the fund. It has also tapped secondary sources, including $1 million from the Mira Mesa Community Capital Outlay fund (which is another name for the Mira Mesa Community Fund) and $400,000 from the Mira Mesa Development Impact Fee, or DIF, fund, according to information provided by the city.

The budget assumes a construction cost of $35 million, based on an October 2022 estimate from city consultant Campbell-Anderson & Associates Inc.

Last year on June 28, the city solicited bids for phase-two improvements to Mira Mesa Community Park. Two groups — PCL Construction Services Inc. and a joint venture between Soltek Pacific and EC Constructors — responded to the original solicitation.

The bids were deemed not responsive because they did not meet the city’s subcontracting requirements.

As part of its Small Local Business Enterprise program, San Diego mandates that nearly 18 percent of subcontractors be small or emerging local businesses, as defined by average gross revenue.

“One bidder listed two subcontractors for the same scope of work. Under (California) Public Contract Code, this is a violation. They were able to, instead, self-perform the work they intended to subcontract out as a remedy; however, that impacted their subcontracting participation goals (lowered them). They elected instead to withdraw their bid,” said Claudia Abarca, who is the director of the city’s purchasing and contracting department. “The remaining bidder failed to meet the minimum subcontracting goal identified in the contract. Good faith effort documentation was submitted; however, it was deemed inadequate, leading to the bidder being deemed non-responsive.”

On Jan. 10, the city of San Diego re-advertised the project.

A rendering of the Mira Mesa Community Park skate park, or what the city is calling an “all wheels plaza.” The skate park is designed to accommodate skateboards, bikes and scooters, and will have lighting to allow for extended use

The new solicitation document, like the one before it, is structured with only the aquatic complex and site infrastructure work included in the base bid. The other features — identified as four, distinct “additive alternates” — are to be priced separately, giving the city the ability to prioritize project elements based on availability of funds.

Last year’s failed bids demonstrate that actual park construction costs will likely far exceed the city’s current budget. The Soltek-ECC joint venture bid included a total construction cost of $41.4 million and the PCL bid came in at $43.3 million for the base bid and all alternates.

“Right now the intention is for the full project to be funded,” Lee said. “I think there’s always some possibility of something unexpected occurring when we get the bids back. We’ll have to wait to see if anything comes up in this bid cycle.”

The million-dollar matter

The only certainty seems to be that the city will need to come up with more money.

There are additional, unappropriated millions available in the Mira Mesa FBA and DIF funds — $14.9 million and $2.3 million, respectively, according to information provided by the city.

Expending those dollars, however, would presumably put off for even longer other much-anticipated projects, such as the extension of Carroll Canyon Road.

The $1 million in the Mira Mesa Community Fund may or may not be on the table.

The money in question dates to a fund created in 1988 to collect proceeds from the Westview Development Agreement and a settlement agreement with Shapell Industries.

Under the Westview Development Agreement, Pardee Construction Co. made two payments totaling $1.4 million, one in 1995 and another in 1998, for construction of public improvements in Mira Mesa. Shapell Industries contributed $600,000 in development fees for its Mesa Del Sol development.

The money, according to city documents, is to be used for public improvements in Mira Mesa as identified by the community.

Over the years, the fund helped pay for the expansion of the parking lot at the Mira Mesa Senior Center, playground upgrades to Sandburg Park and Mesa Verde Park, as well as substantial contributions to the conversion of the old library into the Epicentre teen center. In 2016, after the Epicentre closed its doors, $511,187 from the teen center fund was transferred to the community fund.

The fund, as of July 2023, had a total balance of just over $1 million thanks to the cash infusion from the teen center fund and interest.

As it stands, nearly all of the balance is attached to the park, although Field, the parks director, said the $1 million will eventually be untied from the project.

The matter of how the money was quietly allocated by city insiders to the park project is still a sore point for Hardman, the Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens founder.

Community members were mostly in the dark about the fund’s existence, Hardman said. Her group learned of the fund last year while asking questions about the county’s plans to revive the Epicentre.

Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens and affiliated group Friends of Mira Mesa Arts and Culture are opposed to the teen-center plan and have been advocating, instead, for the boarded-up facility to be turned into a performing arts venue.

“From 2016 until we found out about it, the fund was lying outside of the community purview and I don’t know who was supposed to be keeping track of it,” she said.

The issue, she believes, is one with citywide implications.

“What are the council members doing about the money in their communities? And do the community members even know?” Hardman asked.

While Hardman and her peers have successfully raised awareness about the community fund, their victory in saving the money for other projects may be short-lived. Lee, the current council member, acknowledged that the fate of the $1 million is still to be determined.

“We do want to ensure that we’ve got the funding for (the park project),” he said. “It would be fair enough to say that if there was a gap, and there was a desire by the community to ensure the project was done, that might be a relevant discussion for folks to have.”


Compile ideas from community discussion

Letter campaign to city letters to let community plan our own future.

FOLLOW our Facebook page. 

Share your info and stay in touch with us.

Please share our content

This button will lead you to Facebook Page to RSVP for the event. If you want to RSVP personally please call 858-860-5355.

Who are Mira Mesa Concerned Citizens

We are a coalition and watchdog group. We are advocating for the citizens of Mira Mesa on a City and County level to bring representation, accountability and transparency in policy decision making that affects our community

We are community of individuals who are looking for answers on the neglected Epicenter in the heart of Mira Mesa. Join us to take action and find solutions so we won’t repeat the past mistakes.