Submitted by Brad Gerbel
There was a lot of talk about “community values” during the last City Council meeting. Unfortunately, that sentiment was not taken into account when discussing the agenda item regarding the youth center proposed for the corner of 10th Street and C Avenue, by a group affiliated with Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church. The youth center was to offer after school programming and recreational opportunities for middle school and high school students.
Leading up to City Council meeting there was a significant effort on social media to spread misinformation about the project and to vilify the donors who purchased the land for this charitable purpose. Wild speculation occurred in one social media forum; a well-known individual even referred to the project applicants as a “cult” in an online forum. There is no place in our community for that type of bigotry.
The staff presentation about the project said the allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for the piece of land is .9, but the project, as proposed, had a FAR of .71. In layman’s terms, the proposed building is in-line with the size of a single-family residence that could be built on the site.
Many conditions were attached to the project to ensure all youth center activities would actually be targeted to the youth, including a prohibition of alcohol on the premises. This fact did nothing to stop one resident, who continued the disinformation campaign he started on social media, and claimed that the project was “an assembly hall, designed for large adult events, such as wedding receptions and conferences.” To make baseless statements as facts, ignoring the conditions in the proposed special use permit, is not helpful to the community. The same resident claimed the center should have 79 parking spaces, not the 29 underground parking spaces that were proposed and approved by City Staff. In comparison, the Vons parking lot has 76 parking spaces. Vons is arguably the busiest business in Coronado; to require a youth center, where most of the users are not old enough to drive, have more parking spaces than Vons is absurd.
The project was five years in the making, the land was purchased, the project was designed, the neighbors approved of the project, the Design Review Commission approved the project, and the Planning Commission approved the project, but the project came to a dead halt on April 16th. Councilmembers Benzian and Donovan voted against the project, while Mayor Bailey and Councilmember Heinze supported the project. I consider Benzian and Donovan friends, but I disagree with their votes on this matter. The arguments against the project were primarily density, traffic and parking. Those are not compelling arguments. As I mentioned above, the FAR for the project is on par with a single-family home that could be built on the land and the traffic related to the project would consist of teenagers riding their bikes or walking to the youth center.
Why does our community need a youth center like this?
A recent two-week study, conducted by Coronado SAFE and San Diego Youth Services HERE Now Program, revealed some very troubling statistics about teenagers at risk for suicide in our high school. According to the survey, 1,095 students received the presentation, 114 students were assessed by a counselor, 26 of the students were identified as being high risk for suicide (one student was sent to the hospital as a result of the survey), and 30 more students were identified as moderate risk. If 26 kids in our high school are at high risk of suicide; shouldn’t we be doing anything in our power to help them?
I met with a high school student recently and was told that drug use is very high in our high school, kids are using drugs at home and in the bathrooms on school property. Kids are falling through the cracks.
Several people have commented that the library is full of teens after school who are not there to study, they are there because they have nowhere else to go and have to wait there until their parents pick them up. Wouldn’t it be helpful to these kids if they had a safe place to go after school where they could participate in recreational activities, participate in onsite tutoring sessions, and build friendships outside of the classroom?
Our community needs to look out for these teenagers and I think that the youth center project would be a step in the right direction. During the current fiscal year, our city budgeted over $400,000 per year to fund the operations of the Spreckels Center, which serves the seniors in our community. Why aren’t we putting the same emphasis on our teens, by allowing a center for them to be built, which would cost taxpayers nothing to build or operate?
Not approving this project was a big loss for our local teenagers and for our community as a whole. It was a mistake, but mistakes are made to be corrected. I think this is a mistake our City Council can and should correct.