Why would the San Diego City Council "give away" nearly 700 acres of Otay River Valley land to neighboring Chula Vista, receiving, according to the official records, nothing in return?
Members of San Diego's City Council are not known for playing giveaway with potential industrial sites--which the Otay River Valley property owners say their vacant property is. And, except for minor cosmetic re-alignments, land swaps between incorporated cities are rare. Yet San Diego officials already have given approval to deannexation of 63 acres of bayside property and 242 acres of Otay River bottomland for annexation to Chula Vista and are looking at requests by Chula Vista for about 400 more acres.
To Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox the boundary changes are nothing more than reasoned consolidations which will put the Otay River's 100-year flood plain under one jurisdiction--Chula Vista's.
Planners for the City of San Diego and for the county agency that controls annexations recommended otherwise. But San Diego City Council members, prompted by Cox's arguments and the aggressive support of the area's councilman, Uvaldo Martinez, approved the first two of five annexations without dissent. At the urging of Mayor Maureen O'Connor, last month the council delayed approval of a third annexation until Chula Vista spelled out its plans for the valley land.
Martinez, who received substantial contributions to his legal defense fund from some of the landowners who favored the boundary change, didn't return repeated calls this week to explain his reasons for supporting deannexing the land from South San Diego.
Two years ago, the Otay River meandered through three jurisdictions--the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista and unincorporated county property. Then, after six years of campaigning and three elections, Chula Vista officials finally convinced a majority of residents in the unincorporated Montgomery area to annex themselves to Chula Vista.
That Montgomery annexation, which brought 3.2 square miles and about 23,000 people into Chula Vista, became a fact last Jan. 1 and set the stage for what Chula Vista is seeking now--to move its southern boundaries even farther south to take in the Otay River Valley through a series of "reorganizations"--detachments of land from the city of San Diego and annexation to the city of Chula Vista.
Before the annexations began, the southern Chula Vista border with South San Diego resembled the gap-toothed grin of a Halloween jack-o-lantern. According to maps detailing the proposed annexations, the proposed boundary swaps would have evened out some of the jagged boundary edges but added others.
Chula Vista's intent to tidy up its southern boundaries by taking bites out of San Diego's city limits brought immediate opposition in the Otay-Nestor area from longtime activist Ruth Schneider.
Schneider, chairwoman of the Otay Mesa-Nestor Planning Committee, sees Chula Vista's action as "a land grab, pure and simple," and speculates that major property owners--a Pasadena industrial park developer, Chillingworth Corp. (210 acres), and a San Diego sand and gravel extraction firm, H.G. Fenton Material Co. (about 400 acres)--were using Chula Vista to escape from San Diego land-use plans that placed most of the river valley land into low-density residential, open space and agricultural designations.
Lynn Benn, local Sierra Club spokeswoman on land-use matters, said the environmental group sided with San Diego residents opposed to the boundary change. Along the developed portions of the river valley west of Interstate 805, the valley serves as the open space element for the Otay-Nestor community plan. To remove it from San Diego's jurisdiction is to forfeit control over the vital environmental element of the San Diego community plan, she said.
Paul Clark, a three-year member of the Otay Mesa-Nestor group, bemoaned the pending and approved boundary changes that remove potential industrial sites and possible greenbelt from San Diego's jurisdiction.
"Why would they do that?" Clark asked. "Why would San Diego give away control over that valuable land?"
Clark said he has asked that question of San Diego leaders time and time again and has never received a satisfactory answer. He has heard pervasive rumors, he said, that the boundary change was agreed upon several years ago as an exchange for South Bay cities' agreement not to oppose the Unified Port District's financing of the bayside San Diego Convention Center. But Clark discounts the rumor.
If South Bay port commissioners agreed to drop their opposition to San Diego dipping into the regional port authority coffers for financial aid, Clark points out, then where are the rewards for the other South Bay cities--Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City--from a jurisdictional land swap between San Diego and Chula Vista?