We think of “sustainability” as a new idea, a concept underlying our hoped-for environmental stewardship of the planet, but as Poor Richard first voiced a related concept at the beginning of our national existence, it really isn’t a new idea at all. I’m not going to use this opportunity to go tree-hugger on you (although it’s not a role foreign to me), but I do want to highlight how an unused asset of the City’s could be turned into a brilliant community treasure. Sadly, this is an asset the City was prepared to waste.
The Climate Action Plan for the City has, as one of its elements, a plan to encourage more and more commuter traffic onto bicycles. To this, I say (somewhat unabashedly) YAY! Given the natural attributes of San Diego, more widespread use of bicycles will be a terrific boost to us as people, to our community, and to the bigger biosphere. Slimmer waistlines, cleaner air, less dependence on resource intensive vehicles should be incentive for some to get out into our fresh air and pedal to work. Those who can. There is no question that cycling is undergoing a big renaissance, and public agencies in our region are all investing in bicycle infrastructure to help encourage bicyclists to commute. The safer the ride, the more people will roll that way.
Various organizations and clubs around town exist to help this growth of safe cycling. They are scattered about in cheap office space, sometimes in downtown high rises when subsidized space is available. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some public space where these organizations could be housed, sharing ideas and membership lists, hosting exhibits, lessons, events and community programs? What if there was a small City building that sat right on a bike path in a lovely City park close to downtown and directly connected to the Bayshore Bikeway? A building not currently being used for anything. Holey moley! There is!
Regular readers of local luminary Logan Jenkins might remember his article about the possibility of using one of the buildings that sits in Liberty Station for just this purpose. A long cigar shaped building that is on the City’s land, not land that the developer can improve, not land that the NTC Foundation can develop, but land that is owned by the City, outright. The City’s plan for the building? Raze it. Not enough budget to turn it into anything useful, no staff functions to put there – knock it down and forget about it. AARRRRGH!!!! Don’t do that!
The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, a collection of bicycle clubs from throughout the county, appealed to the City to use the building, just like the City leases out its buildings in Balboa Park to other not-for- profit organizations with civic functions. Mayor Kevin is himself an avid bicyclist, seen often around the Point Loma neighborhood, off for a two wheeled spin. The SDCBC offered to take on the whole project. No City money needed, no City personnel or staffing required. Money can be raised for the rehab of the building from private sources, and the clubs will manage the space and rent out offices to other bicycle organizations as available. Chris Bittner, of OBR Architecture, has had a hand in the redevelopment plans of many of the Liberty Station developments, and has already donated time and creative ideas to how the building can be rehabbed and put to use as a Community Bicycling Center. Brilliant!
Feedback from the Mayor’s Office was all positive. Great idea! Win-win-win! Take an unused building destined for the trash heap of history and transform it into a bicycle center to encourage a growing number of cyclists – without spending a dime of public money. But nothing is ever so simple.
This building came to the City as part of the big Base Realignment and Closure deal for the Naval Training Center (NTC) – and this part of the deal transferred the land for the park, land on which this building sits, by way of a Quit Claim Deed. That Deed requires the City ask permission of the Department of the Interior for approval to use the building to make a bike center using private funding. So – a glitch in our otherwise simple plan – the City needs to ask the feds if they can let the coalition turn the place into a bicycle mecca.
Despite “win-win-win” and without regard for “waste not, want not,” that letter asking for permission to turn the building into a community cycling center has been pending for almost a year. The last word from the City suggested that they had gone off to the Federal Aviation Administration to ask if continued use of the building was “acceptable,” before getting federal permission for the idea. Ugh. The building is situated not far from Corvette’s restaurant, and across the street from Ace Hardware. It is no different from others that have been redeveloped successfully – but of course, you need to define a project and this use is only a twinkle in our collective cycling eyes. I don’t know how the FAA will respond, or what they even have to review, but I do think that the City ought to jump on board this train, and let the coalition help the City realize its admittedly ambitious Climate Action Plan by encouraging more people to cycle – especially when the help comes from those who know how to get it done.
Slide Presentation (Click image below for slide show – to speed up show, click arrow on middle-right side of image):
Photo Credits: Slide presentation courtesy of San Diego Bicycle Coalition, graphics by Christopher Bittner and Ron Miriello.