various agencies involved, Fish and Game, Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, etc. Knowing this, and with the Task Force having invested almost 20 months in studying the issue and consulting with staff, with consultants and with the community, they have not only come up with a specific plan but are still open to necessary compromises to meet the concerns of the various agencies. In their studies they included land use, hydrology, the ability to meet a 100 year flood plain plan, a transportation component as well as an architectural component.
The overall goal is to come up with a Specific Plan which addressses EIR concerns, is a complete and cohesive set of plans. “It’s important,” says Kildoo, “that we have one set of rules/guidelines for that entire area so developers don’t have to keep coming back; all fall under one set of rules."
Both Kildoo and Councilmember Mike Preston agree that if all of the obstacles are overcome with the various agencies that it will likely be three to five years before buildout commences . . . but then it should move fairly rapidly. One concern all along has been that there are 87 property owners within the affected area. City officials believe, however, that by dealing with a small set of property owners at a time they can eventually put all the pieces together. They plan on doing this by setting up a grid area . . with two to three property owners within each grid. By getting two, three, four property owners to agree to a project, the other owners are likely to see how it is in their interest to get on board the band wagon. The city has made the commitment and will try to assist with negotiations and while it could use eminent domain for infrastructure it will not use eminent domain for project assembly.
Councilmember Preston agreed that in the early stages of discussions about this project the Corps of Engineers once threatened to kill the idea; “Originally there was much more cement and a rock like environment . . . the new plan calls for an all natural creek with levees on both sides, a much wider footprint, much more room to channel the flood plain into the lake . . these are much more different plans. Fish & Game is usually the big obstacle . . . we can’t build during nesting season . . . in general terms I think we’ll be fine. There is some ongoing discussion, we’ll discuss mitigation, there are rules both sides have to follow, I think we’ll find some areas of compromise and work our way through it.”
Kildoo agreed and added, “Under this plan it’s a wide creek now; we have one berm to contain for 100 year flood condition. There will be no bridge at McMahr, but there will be a bridge at both Via Vera Cruz and Grand.
The plan has the enthusiastic support of all members of the City Council and City staff. In various interviews with top officals, no naysayers were heard. All parties who have studied and planned for the project acknowledge that it is a complex project that requires not only lots of planning, but financing and cooperation of property owners and regulatory agencies.
For years, city officials have been seeking a way to modify the flood plain to ensure flood control, while enhancing the riparian corridor, thus transforming the area into a viable, commercial operation that would become an area pleasing to the eye as well as to the city treasury. They believe the San Marcos Creek Specific Plan just may fit the bill. A number of workshops have been held for community input, city staff have met and studied the issues, council members have sought input, developers have expressed interest. Kildoo and his task force brought all this information together, studied the issues, and appear to have crafted a document that has a real opportunity to succeed.
Technically, the plan is known as the San Marcos Creek Specific Plan. The projected cost to the city will run in excess of $100 million to complete, according to Paul Malone, San Marcos City Manager, and that is only for the infrastructure.
"This is going to be a long-term project," said Jerry Backoff. Proof of that is that the statement was first made by him in 2001.
The Economic Development Commission, after having heard the outlining of the plan, greeted the plan with enthusiasm. A spokesman for the Commission said, "It's an excellent use of turning something that basically is unusable into an attribute for the city."
Former Mayor Corky Smith has monitored the project from its inception. He recalled, “when I first heard about it - Mark Loscher, (former San Marcos City Councilmember) had come back from San Antonio with this fantastic idea. He envisioned a beautiful riverwalk, just south of San Marcos Boulevard. The first thing that hit my mind was the water. They have an actual river in San Antonio. We have a creek. Where are we gonna get the water? Well, Mark said ‘we’ll pump it up from the lake and let it go down.’
‘Great idea, Mark, but too gigantic.’ So, I think the original idea came from Mark.”
The problem in the past has been one organization signs off on it, then another puts another condition. They keep adding conditions . . . it makes for a big mess . . . we can’t do what we really need to do with it. It would be a great shot for the community if we could make it happen. We’d open up that end of the town, allow the creek to flow in a natural state, have the bridges installed. . . but the different agencies have to cooperate.”
Jim Eubank, the founder of the Old California Restaurant Row, has long championed the idea of a Riverwalk project.
“His idea was similar to Loscher’s,” said Smith. “He had in mind a waterfall, an attractive one that would spill out of giant boulders, be visible from the freeway, lit up at night with floodlights. It’s a good idea but there are a couple of problems. Jim had offered his Artesian well to support the falls, but there’s money needed to lay the pipe, to pump the water, plus, we don’t know the amount of fall between the freeway and Barham, or the drop between city hall and the church.
The idea appears to have support from the Lake San Marcos area, the southern terminus of the River Creek Project. Way back in 2001, Tom Achter, then- President of the Lake San Marcos Community Association and well known activist on environmental and energy issues said, “I would guess that there would be generally widespread support within the Lake San Marcos community; it appears to handle the flood plain problem, would provide for economic improvement in San Marcos, as well as make an esthetic improvement, and certainly, we’d be pleased at the improved water quality. The last plan we saw tended to clean up the area and open it enough so the garbage and stuff we have coming into the lake at Lake San Marcos would disappear. We’re all for that. I think that would be great.”
Well known local realtor and owner of Homeland GMAC Realty, Phil Blaney, said, “I think it’s great. I think the town needs something like that; needs to get into a ‘downtown shopping area’ type of atmosphere. One of the concerns is to get all the property owners to agree. I think most of them, when it is explained properly, will go along with it. The developers may have to buy the property, perhaps pay a bit more than they wanted, but in the long run it would work best. I’d like to see that instead of an eminent domain situation. I’m generally against an eminent domain proceeding. We, in real estate, are all for property rights so would like to avoid that. Given reasonable people working together, I think we can manage that.”
Councilmember Hal Martin said,“I see it as a ‘Gaslamp North’ . . a great event and destination spot for North San Diego County. Restaurant Row put North County on the map many years ago, this project would make a great complement. It's a win-win for the community,” Martin went on.
His overall view is that, “The Creekside Development does have some viability problem potential. There are 99 owners who own land in the flood plain area that is presently undevelopable. They need to understand that we all need to work together if we ever want to see it happen. Right now, it's pretty much valueless. I think the majority of the people realize this . . . but there are some who will be unrealistic and overprice this land . . . they could kill the project.”
In that event, would he support eminent domain proceedings if there were only one, two or three owners who were styming the project? “We’ll have to wait and see. A lot of it will depend on a case by case basis. We know the development dollars are there, if we can bring the land together. But it has to pencil out.
The idea first emerged around 1990. It was tabled, now some 17 plus years later, we are, maybe, between three to five years away from seeing it happen, if it happens.”
From the business community, Jeanne Henderson, with A. G. Edwards said. . . “I think it sounds great! It would take land that is really not doing anything, being a flood plain, and put it to good use, both economically and esthetically.”
Doug Ferris of Ferris Communications said, “I think it’s a great idea. I’m all for it. It’ll bring high paying jobs to the community, it’ll be esthetically attractive. We need to move on it. It’ll be good for the community.”
And of Jim Eubank, the visionary who saw and built Old California Restaurant Row, andd who has lobbied consistently for the Riverwalk Project?
In an interview with The Paper before he died, he said, “We have an opportunity to take some flood plain land that is undevelopable, modify it, develop it, make it a beautiful destination spot for North San Diego County. We just have to overcome the obstacles that various state and federal governmental agencies put in our way. We can do it. If we want it bad enough, it will happen.”
Given the track record of Jim Eubank, who made Restaurant Row happen when everyone said it couldn’t be done . . it just might happen at that. Jim always was pretty much on target when he made his predictions.