On a bright, sunny Saturday morning, a group of 30 planners and students eager to learn about Imperial Beach gathered at the City Hall. The following “re-cap” summarizes the tour from the perspectives of a recent graduate of the UCSD planning program and a current student in the UC Irvine Masters of City and Regional Planning Program.
Starting from the Imperial Beach Library, the group listened to thorough explanations on various projects led by Mr. Jim Nakagawa, the city planner of Imperial Beach. The County library, located right across the City Hall and standing out due to its distinctive juicy colors, was recently completed. Near the library, the City has built a park, as well as a Section 8 Senior Housing apartment complex, providing opportunities for people of all ages – young and old – to take advantage of the public amenities and the public realm. In addition, walking along residential streets, we saw many single-family houses with water-efficient landscapes like succulents and short shrubs which indicates that community members are taking actions for sustainability.
Walking further passing Breakwater and American Legion, we arrived at the Bayshore Bikeway, a SANDAG-funded, regional bike project which promotes biking in and out of the City and connecting to other South Bay cities. The current plan calls for the path to eventually extend 24 miles around San Diego Bay. Currently, SANDAG manages several bike counters and measures their contribution to San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan’s healthy community initiatives. The Bayshore Bikeway appeared popular among bikers, as lots of people riding bikes constantly passed through, enjoying the Imperial Beach scenery and the great weather. Furthermore, there is a developing interest in a future dog park and an integrated regional water management system near the bikeway and along the coast.
Next to the bike path lies a historic remnant of a railroad that shows the beauty and connectivity to nature within the urban form. The railroad existed since when the San Diego & Arizona Railroad Company used the rails to connect Imperial Beach to Hotel del Coronado. For historic preservation, the City left a stretch of the old railroad tracks exposed, equal to the length of railroad tracks that had been covered. Standing in between the new bike path and the old railroad tracks, one can juxtapose the past and the present forms of inter-connectivity.
While visiting the site of a former recreational vehicle park under redevelopment, Mr. Nakagawa explained the project will have 186 homes selling for $300,000 to $600,000 per unit. He described the City’s responsibilities for advising the California Coastal Commission to prioritize housing in the local community.
As the tour continued west along Old Palm Ave, we relished in the updated street design experience with bike lanes and streetscape investments funded in part by SANDAG’s Active Transportation Grant Program. One planner expressed the need for consistent design plans along Palm Avenue and State Route 75. Continuing south along the beach, we arrived at the intersection of Seacoast Drive and Imperial Beach Blvd where the 100-room Imperial Beach Resort is going through the discretionary entitlement process.
The last stop was the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center where we were able to see the displays on endangered plants and animals. We learned about the importance of the Clean Water Act in the community. Like many water bodies before the Clean Water Act, the estuary used to be a dumping ground for sewage and water runoff. Yet, as some individuals committed to restoring the estuary back to wetlands, the City also recognized the estuary’s positive impacts to the environment, the health of the City’s residents and visitors, and the economy. Now the City is working with federal agencies and AECOM to effectively prepare and finalize the Climate Action Plan.
At the estuary, the group talked a great deal about the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in response to sea level change. The City recently completed the 2016 City of Imperial Beach Sea Level Rise Assessment, funded by the California Coastal Commission and the San Diego Foundation that assessed local vulnerabilities to coastal flooding and sea level rise along its Pacific Shoreline. The study aims to enhance community understanding of future climate change impacts and potential adaptation strategies. Mr. Nakagawa called for increased awareness in the community of the City’s coastal vulnerabilities from sea level rise and the urgency of short-term strategies to help families plan for resilience.
On the walk back to City Hall, Mr. Nakagawa discussed the next steps in engaging the public during the upcoming public comment period on the Sea Level Rise Assessment. He stated, “It is crucial to recognize the need for more immediate planning and educating of citizens. It seems important to fulfill the immediate needs imperative to protecting Imperial Beach and the people who call it home.”
The walking tour was a great opportunity for both students and young planners to receive professional development advice and to learn how to interpret projects in the context of their impact on the community. It was also a very enjoyable time for senior planners and other seasoned planning veterans, as Mr. Nakagawa reflected that we were able to see things differently, and in more detail, by walking on foot compared to usual bus tours.
By Chanju (CJ) Yang, Recent graduate from UCSD Urban Studies and Planning Program, and Katia Polster, Master of Urban and Regional Planning Candidate, UC Irvine