Last week, the new Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park finally came to life.
On a sunny April 10 San Diego day, community members came streaming into the park on opening day, walking, running and riding bikes around a half-mile loop pathway around the 5-acre turf field. Kids shot hoops on the basketball courts and families made music on the drums of the children’s discovery area.
In the back of the park, dogs chased each other around the two new dog parks—longtime residents thrilled that their dogs finally have room to roam off-leash. Next door, the pump track was full of activity as kids of all ages as well as adults caught speed on the rolling hills of the course.
People wandered into the new 17,000-square-foot recreation center to check out the spacious full gym, multi-purpose room and an outdoor patio. The building’s state-of-the-art solar panels will generate enough power to reduce the park’s energy consumption by 36 percent.
On either side of the recreation center, teenagers grinded rails in the skate plaza while the younger set tried out the swings and climbed all over the park’s unique obstacles on the playground.
Children’s play was undeterred by the ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place—as Mayor Kevin Faulconer made his remarks they continued to run around and scale the climbing obstacles behind him.
“It’s just a facility until there’s actually people here and it becomes real and it’s a park,” Faulconer said.“To see all of you here today, to see the kids enjoying it, to see the sun shining, it’s worth the wait…Our families deserve parks and that’s exactly what the residents of Pacific Highlands Ranch are getting, a magnificent new park for everyone to enjoy.”
The park marked the 23rd park to open in the city of San Diego as part of the mayor’s pledge to build or improve on 50 parks in five years. An additional 32 parks are in various stages of design and construction—the largest park expansion efforts in modern city history.
“Before I was mayor, before I was on the city council, I was a volunteer on the city’s park and recreation board. I know how important parks are to our families, to our kids and to our communities and that’s why I love the effort and everything that we’ve been able to do,” Faulconer said.
The mayor noted that the park would not be possible without the great public-private partnership with Pardee Homes and without the community getting involved to share their ideas on how to make the park special and make it their own. As a result, the city has its first parkour course and bicycle pump track—an example of San Diego “pushing the envelope to try new great things”.
“Pacific Highlands Ranch has always been envisioned as a community where someone would live, work and play,” Pardee Homes Division President Jimmy Ayala said. “This community park is a critical component of that vision in delivering the ‘play’ aspect of it, so it’s really exciting for me and the entire Pardee team that we are at this point of delivering this park.”
As a master plan developer, Ayala said Pardee feels a responsibility to work with stakeholders in order to make the community better. He said PHR was built on relationships with residents as well as the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board and its chair Frisco White. “You’re the most reasonable, pragmatic chair of a planning group that I’ve ever met,” Ayala told White. “You really helped get this community to where it is today.”
White has served on the planning board for 18 years and before that served eight years on the planning commission—he has witnessed much of PHR’s progression and growth throughout the years. Back in 2010, Pacific Highlands Ranch’s development was stymied by its connection to the SR-56 and I-5 ramps—Measure M of 1998 restricted the community’s development until the ramps were built.
Planning board members and volunteers led a ballot measure effort to untie the development from the connectors— “We wanted to see PHR develop to its full capacity,” White said of the successful Prop C effort, approved by 70 percent of city voters.
White noted that in 2019, those ramps are still not built, however, PHR has been able to grow to include its viable retail and mixed-use center at the Village, a diversification of housing types, new schools, new parks and the new recreation center.
Ayala credited the work of the volunteers on the PHR Park Advisory Committee, specifically calling out longtime PHR resident Chris Powell, a former professional BMX rider—“Chris’ ideas were progressive, unique and, as the mayor said, this park is different,” Ayala said.
Powell said it was an honor to be actively involved in helping PHR reach this milestone and he was thankful for Pardee and the city’s willingness to involve the community and their openness to include new types of park programming.
Along with Powell, the advisory committee included residents Danielle McCallion (now the PHR representative on the planning board), Scott Curry and Manjeet Ranu; Dan Curran from The Village at PHR; and John Addleman from San Dieguito Union High School District who was instrumental in allowing shared use of visitors’ parking at Canyon Crest Academy as well as the adjacent field at Pacific Trails Middle School.
“Today I strongly believe we have a park that meets the needs of residents of PHR, Carmel Valley and beyond. Whether you’re into playing traditional sports, skateboarding, running, playing catch with your dog or simply gathering with friends, this is a park that offers something for everyone,” Powell said.“The park is also extremely special because it contains San Diego’s first bicycle pump track. Children now have a place to learn fundamental bike handling skills and teens and adults can sharpen their two-wheel skills on the same track.”
Powell said the location of the pump track couldn’t be more perfect as it is nearby to both CCA and Torrey Pines High Schools, both of which have mountain bike teams.
“I’m hopeful given this new resource both teams will excel in the years to come,” Powell said.