July 20, 2011 Leave a comment
Long-Range Plan Looks at Imperial Beach’s ‘Big Picture’ and Redevelopment Projects
In the Big Picture, quality-of-life visions foresee an economically self-sustaining, pollution-free, small-town community.
As a private consultant, Greg Wade worked on “Imperial Beach-The Big Picture” in October 2000. Now as the Community Development Department director this month, he updated the City Council on the progress of the foundation he laid for the city’s vision at a meeting earlier this month.
Wade called it a community-based effort, prepared with a lot of research and community involvement.
“Included in the plan are several main objectives,” he said. “The vision remains clearly the same in many areas.”
Counciwoman Lorie Bragg said many people present were part of the plan’s creation. She said looking back, the vision never deviated and seeing so much come to fruition was “remarkable and an immense sense of joy.”
“One thing that sticks out to me is how much of this was done through redevelopment funds and we would not be where we are now without that,” Bragg said. “That to me is a really scary issue. Without a redevelopment agency we could not have accomplished three quarters of this.”
Wade had a more “emphatic picture” of redevelopment in the city, with a conservative guess that 90 percent of successful work is due to the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency.
“Through redevelopment expansion and fiscal planning the city maintains a balanced budget and a healthy general fund reserve,” he said.
In looking at a list of primary target areas, the city completed, made significant progress on or scrapped ideas due to circumstances beyond the city’s control, Wade said.
One main element is a hotel to replace the Seacoast Inn.
Wade said it is a viable, top-notch visitor accommodation for the city to expand upon. The 78-room, four story hotel is currently under construction and will include a restaurant, rooftop patio and conference rooms, with construction expected to be completed in late summer 2012.
Councilman Ed Spriggs said the timing was perfect with the new hotel and the project reflects ongoing efforts by the city and community. He said it addresses the balance of a family-oriented beach community against the need for growth and expanded development in San Diego’s South Bay.
“It ties in with our proposed zoning plan and so many of the developments we have been talking about,” Spriggs said. “Seacoast Drive with the new hotel surely has to be a high priority due to the amount of tourism it will attract and support our businesses that are there.
“It behooves us as a Council and a community, in keeping with this vision, to do everything we can to create this walkable, attractive, safe and enjoyable environment now that this hotel is a reality,” he said.
Mayor Jim Janney said finding a way to push absentee property owners to meet the challenge of a developing area is essential for the future of the waterfront.
“They just sit there and I cannot understand it,” he said. “I wish there was a way through redevelopment, zoning or some kind of code that could force these people to seize the opportunity.”
Many goals set for the Palm Avenue Commercial Corridor are complete or under way, Wade said.
Redevelopment of the 9th Street and Palm Avenue area began first with Wally’s Marketplace and the Imperial Beach Promenade Shopping Center, complete with a major tenant, CVS Pharmacy and commercial businesses. This was the first joint project between the city and the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency in 2001.
“The vision for Palm Avenue was a neighborhood-friendly, active, beautifully landscaped, well-designed and vibrant commercial corridor supporting community residents and visitors alike while generating property and sales tax and business improvement,” Wade said.
For Seacoast Drive and the waterfront, the vision includes a quaint, casual, pedestrian-oriented waterfront district with widened sidewalks to provide visitors, residents and tourists with shopping and dining opportunities, hotel accommodations and well-designed, low-scale structures with an oceanfront vibe.
One major goal of the project that was scrapped is seeking the closure of Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach or Ream Field as it used to be known.
Wade said the vision in 2000 was to develop a master plan for Ream Field that would accommodate for the city’s public works yard and work towards the closure of the Navy base and future redevelopment of the site that serves the city of Imperial Beach. Then the ideas were to develop a new college campus, industrial park, research and development facility, resort and golf course, potential housing and additional ecotourism opportunities.
“Since 9/11, events have taken a different course,” he said. “There has been an increase of operations, Navy activity and is likely no longer a base realignment and closure candidate.”
Border Field State Park plans included use as an ecotourism and cross-cultural activity area, tourist-oriented development, working with Mexico on beach improvements and shuttle service.
“Again, after 9/11 the construction of the double border fence significantly altered the park,” Wade said. “Physical access has been compromised over the past few years. Many things are a thing of the past due to heightened security.”
“The partial relinquishment of State Route 75 has been recorded,” Wade said. “We are now the proud owners of a portion of that right-of-way. That will be designed as we move forward with the Ninth and Palm Avenue Project, creating a Main Street feel for what is now a state highway.”
Keeping the Tijuana River and Pacific Ocean clean is an ongoing active mission, Wade said.
After two successful sand replenishment projects, Wade said, efforts to fight erosion have paid off. A SANDAG Regional Beach Sand Project II is scheduled to begin in April 2012 to add between 120,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach.
A much larger project, the Silver Strand Restoration Project with the US Army Corps of Engineers, is a federal project, congressionally authorized and awaits federal funding. This project is not expected to progress with the current state of the national economy, Wade said.
Completed in February 2009, the Palm Avenue End Project includes new sidewalks, Portwood Pier Plaza and additional on-street parking.
On Fridays, the Farmers Market at Pier Plaza is an additional attraction for residents and visitors.
For the Miracle Shopping Center on 9th Street and Palm Avenue, Wade said the city is currently negotiating a disposition and development agreement with developer Sudberry Properties. National chains like Fresh and Easy, Starbucks and Panda Express have made commitments to be tenants.
Implemented along the Palm Avenue Corridor, the Facade Improvement Program has completed renovations of 11 storefronts, two are in progress, with 15 more businesses on the waiting list. The Old Palm Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project was completed in September 2009.
Imperial Beach Boulevard and 13th Street facade improvements include three buildings, 12 businesses and pending applications for four businesses. Three different mixed-use projects have been and constructed since 2000 on 13th Street that have provided new commercial retail space.
The Bayshore Bikeway connection around the edges of the salt ponds and creating a major connection for the Bayshore Bikeway to the city is complete.
New projects completed along Palm Avenue include the new Imperial Beach Health Center and North Island Credit Union.
The visions for East Imperial Beach was neighborhoods free of gang and crime activity characterized by well-maintained residential structures, repaved and landscaped streets, alleys and sidewalks.
Working with the neighborhood revitalization strategy with gangs and drugs the overall crime rate decreased over the past 11 years, dropping 37 percent since 2006, Wade said.
“There has been an active code compliance program that has resulted in significant improvement of private property maintenance,” he said.
“And the abandoned vehicle abatement supports a half-time position and has been a very important finding for our code enforcement staff.”
Street improvement projects Phases 1 and 2 are complete. Phase 3 is in progress and Phase 4 is in design and preparing for bid. These improvements in accessibility and safety have been a continuous process for the last 11 years, he said.
The city’s Clean and Green Program resulted in energy-efficiency improvements to 63 owner-occupied single-family homes, 18 are in progress and 78 on the waiting list. Wade said this viable program combats, in a larger perspective, global warming, sea-level rise and greenhouse gas emissions.
Spriggs said although he is amazed with the progress, the city has a long way to go in some of the high-priority areas. He said Old Palm Avenue is “ripe” for continued effort.
Mayor Janney said he was amazed at what the city accomplished. He said even the little things make a big difference in the quality of life for residents of the city.
Councilman Jim King said Imperial Beach is like the “little engine that could,” making it up the hill all the way despite obstacles.