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Parks & Recreation

Parks and Recreation Capital Improvements Program

The Parks and Recreation Department oversees more than 42,400 acres of developed parks, open space, underwater parks, and golf courses. This includes 60 recreation centers, 15 aquatic centers, and almost 300 playgrounds in over 9,000 acres of developed parks. The City participates in over 100 joint use agreements offering the public access to school properties for recreational use during non-instructional time periods. Over 27,000 acres are preserved as habitat in the open space system. The 110-acre Mount Hope Cemetery provides burial services. The Department cares for landscaped medians and parkways through its Gas Tax Median and Maintenance Assessment District programs.

Additional information about the park system can be found in the Parks and Recreation Department Fast Facts

On August 3, 2021, the City Council approved the new Parks Master Plan (PMP). While the City’s current park system has resulted in many beautiful and enjoyable parks for some, the system is not equitable across San Diego communities.

Lack of funding and land constraints have widened park shortfalls in typically older, more densely populated neighborhoods, particularly adversely affecting communities of concern. The PMP addresses these inequities so everyone will have equitable access to safe, clean, thriving park spaces. Work to achieve the PMP recommendations is currently underway.

Approximately one in four City parks assessed as part of the PMP has a maintenance and capital backlog of 20 percent or higher. Deferred maintenance increases the reinvestment needed to improve conditions in existing parks.

To facilitate specific capital projects consistent with the PMP to incorporate into the Department’s Capital Improvements Program, staff considers information from a variety of sources, including but not limited to:

  • Adopted Budget – The Department will continue to seek needed funding for existing projects within the current capital improvements program.
  • Age Friendly Action Plan – The Department’s AgeWell Services Program is outlining programmatic and capital needs to make San Diego into an Age Friendly City.
  • City Council Priorities Report – Several times each year, the Independent Budget Analyst (IBA) requests and receives budget priorities from the City Council offices, including programmatic, operating, maintenance, and capital needs. These memoranda often contain specific project priorities.
  • Climate Action Plan 2.0 – The City is working to make San Diego a sustainable play to live, work, and play. This includes capital investments to meet the strategies to decarbonize the built environment, provide access to clean and renewable energy, improve mobility and land use options, create circular economy and clean communities, implement resilience infrastructure and healthy ecosystems, and research emerging climate actions.
  • Climate Equity Index (2019, 2021) measures the levels of access to opportunity residents have within a census tract and assess the degree of potential impacts of climate change on these areas. The City recognizes that areas with very low, low, and moderate access to opportunity face the largest barriers and should be prioritized for funding of projects, including parks. These areas are known as Communities of Concern.
  • Climate Resilient SD Plan (2021) – This is the City’s comprehensive climate adaptation and resiliency plan, which will increase our ability to adapt, recover, and thrive in a changing climate.
  • Coastal Erosion Assessments (CEA) (1993, 2003, and 2018) – This assessment of 71 coastal sites has been updated three times over the past 30 years. Each coastal location is rated low, moderate, or high risk based on geological observations and knowledge of conditions that pose the greatest potential threat to the public. This includes the presence of pedestrian hazards, limitations to pedestrian access, and signs of bluff instability.
  • Community Planning Groups (CPGs) – Periodically, CPGs provide input on their priorities and share those with the City.
  • Community Plans – Each community plan (along with its companion Public Facilities Financing Plan or Impact Fee Study) outlines park needs in each community, including future development of new parks and additional uses and amenities for existing parks.
  • Community Public Input as collected by the Planning Department every two years in accordance with Council Policy 000-32, Neighborhood Input on Infrastructure Needs and Priorities. Related to this effort is Equity Forward, which is intended promote the construction of projects in areas with the greatest needs and greatest growth. These projects are intended to be innovative, collaborative, quick to implement, and reflective of community needs and wants.
  • Council Policy 800-14, Prioritizing Capital Improvements Program Projects, provides a priority scoring process for capital improvement projects that includes parameters such as safety, equity, environmental benefit, compliance with Parks Master Plan recommendations, and operational benefits of the project.
  • General Plan (2008) is the City’s constitution for development. It is comprised of 10 elements that provide a comprehensive slate of Citywide policies and further the City of Villages smart growth strategy for growth and development. Blueprint SD is an ongoing strategic effort to update the General Plan by creating an equitable and sustainable framework for growth to support current and future San Diegans. As a result of this and other efforts, several elements of the General Plan have been updated since its comprehensive approval in 2008.
  • Golf Business Plan (2012) – The business plan outlines operating needs and capital needs to operate the three City-operated golf complexes (Balboa Park, Mission Bay, and Torrey Pines).
  • Maintenance Assessment Districts (MADs) Engineer’s Reports – Each MAD contains a menu of services that could include capital improvement projects.
  • Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) (1998) – This landmark initiative was developed to preserve a network of habitat and open space thereby protecting biodiversity and enhancing the region's quality of life and is part of the BiodiverseSD initiative. The City is one of several jurisdictions participating regionally in the MSCP. Lands conserved under the MSCP are part of the Multi-Habitat Planning Area (MHPA). The Vernal Pool Habitat Conservation Program provides additional guidance to managing and restoring key preserves.
  • Natural Resource Management Plans (NRMPs) provide implementing guidance to successfully manage habitat and conserve San Diego’s diverse open space system. NRMPs are often created after a Park Master Plan to provide detailed guidance for park conservation.
  • Park Amenity Condition Assessment Report (2014-2019) – This report includes information from existing building, playground, pavement, and park amenity (fences, walls, stairs, benches, picnic tables, etc.) condition assessments. Deferred capital needs for existing park facilities are included in this report.
  • Public Art Master Plan (2004) provides guidance for developing a diverse collection of public artworks in a variety of public spaces including parks.
  • Regional Park Master Plans – Certain large parks, such as Balboa Park, Chollas Creek Watershed (under development), Mission Bay Park, Mission Trails Regional Park, and Otay Valley Regional Park have master plans and sometimes precise plans that outline park needs.
  • School districts prioritize improvements for their campuses that may create or upgrade a joint use area. The San Diego Unified School District’s Facilities Bond Program, for example, has a large-scale whole site modernization process from its bonds (Proposition S, Proposition Z, Measure YY, and Measure U) that has brought new fields and facilities into the City’s joint use program.
  • Stakeholder groups, including community nonprofit organizations, often have priorities for advocacy that are shared with the City to express their park project needs, oftentimes on their webpages or in written communication to the Mayor and/or City Council.
  • Strategic Plan (2022) – The City’s Strategic Plan includes five key focal areas: create homes for all of us, protect and enrich every neighborhood, advance mobility and infrastructure, champion sustainability, and foster regional prosperity. Selected projects are intended to align with these priorities.
  • Unfulfilled General Development Plans (GDPs) – Many general development plans contain park improvements that have not been constructed due to funding considerations.
  • Unfunded Park Improvements list – This document includes input from Community Recreation Groups, department staff, and stakeholder priorities and informs the Parks and Recreation Department’s component of the City’s Five-Year Capital Infrastructure Planning Outlook.

The process to obtain public input for project selection for both the outlook and project workshops is provided in two Council Policies:

Other resources for park capital project planning and development include: