Community members provide input to help shape new PHR park design

The community is helping to design the new neighborhood park in Pacific Highlands Ranch.
(Karen Billing)

The design process has kicked off for the new McGonigle Canyon Park in Pacific Highlands Ranch, with residents sharing ideas for a shady spot to play, picnic and exercise and perhaps get in a round of pickleball.

The Sept. 8 Pacific Highlands Ranch Recreation Group meeting was the first of three design meetings for the park, an approximately five-acre neighborhood park on the corner of Solterra Vista Parkway and Caminito Mendiola, adjacent to Del Mar Union School District’s future PHR school which is set to begin construction this fall. The park is currently scheduled to be open to the public in late 2023, however, the project schedule is subject to change.

For the record:

6:45 p.m. Sept. 16, 2020It was stated that Torrey Pines High School’s tennis courts can only be rented however four courts are available to the public first come first serve for free after school hours or weekends when not in use by students, though they must also yield to those that have paid for a permit to use the courts through the district’s facilities use program. The courts are currently closed due to COVID-19.

The park design process is funded by the City of San Diego in partnership with Pardee Homes. Per the reimbursement agreement reached between the city and Pardee, the final project budget is about $8 million.

Schmidt Design Group is on board to help bring the plan to life with community input. The firm has designed over 150 parks including Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park, Solana Ranch Neighborhood Park and the County Administration Waterfront Park downtown. The group also designed the outdoor civic space by the new Pacific Highlands Ranch Library which is also anticipated to begin construction this fall.

“Parks are our passion,” said JT Barr, design principal at Schmidt Design. “Each park is designed specifically to respond to the needs and desires of the community. We design parks in an artful, sustainable way and we’re always committed to embracing that unique sense of place that defines that community.”

The meeting on Zoom included interactive polls about the kinds of amenities people would like to see in the park. The 73 participants showed high levels of interest for a comfort station, a children’s playground, a walking loop, picnic shelters, multi-purpose turf area, active recreation fields and hardcourts for basketball, tennis and pickleball. There were also suggestions for items that weren’t polled such as shade structures, a low maintenance splash pad and another bike facility like the pump track at PHR Community Park.

There was less interest in features such as an off-leash dog park or a skate plaza.

Participants preferred a blended look for the park similar to Solana Ranch, one that combines natural canyon-esque elements with some modern or Spanish revival features.

Karen Dubey, chairperson of the Pacific Highlands Ranch Recreation Group, also shared the results of her community survey done over the summer in which 550 Pacific Highlands Ranch residents participated. Similar themes emerged as the items with the highest rankings were the public restrooms, walking loop, shaded playground, tennis/pickleball courts and passive use grass. Other preferences included lots of shade, a splash zone, benches and picnic shelters spread out around amenities, drinking fountains, sand volleyball court, outdoor adult exercise equipment and a climbing wall for adults and kids. There were also multiple safety suggestions such as lights and security.

Marilee Pacelli, PHR Recreation Group secretary, noted that the survey did not include an option for active use fields, which she said are very much needed in the area.

“Our communities are filled with kids who play sports,” Pacelli said. Other rec group members and public comments addressed the need for field space for kids to play sports like soccer, football and lacrosse, as well as fields for adult sports.

During public comment, there were more requests for tennis and pickleball courts—pickleball is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong, played on a smaller court with solid wood paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball. The sport has been growing in popularity and residents said it is a fun and multi-generational game they would like to be able to play a little closer to home.

In her comments, resident Cindy Hoffman referenced the lack of tennis courts in the area. “The number of tennis courts is inadequate to meet the need of the community,” she said.

The eight tennis courts at nearby Canyon Crest Academy are closed to the public however they can be rented through the district’s facilities use program, and the four courts at Torrey Pines High School are available to the public first come first serve for free after school hours or weekends when not in use by students, though they must yield to those that have paid for a permit to use the courts. The only public facility is at Carmel Valley Recreation Center—Carmel Valley Tennis’ four courts have fees of $5 an hour and require advance reservations.

Tennis courts were part of the discussion during the planning of PHR Community Park four years ago, however, the design committee moved away from a plan that would have included five tennis courts as they took up a lot of space. Danielle McCallion, who was on the planning committee for that park, said other issues they ran into with tennis courts were that they were expensive, difficult to maintain and need to be managed by a third party like how Carmel Valley Tennis operates.

The city heard input from one resident who expressed the real need for a playground that is accessible to children with special needs. People also made requests for low-maintenance landscaping as some noted that weeds often overtake the more natural walking paths at Solana Ranch Park, as well as the picnic areas.

During public comment there was even a suggestion for a new name for the park due to McGonigle Canyon’s “checkered past” as a migrant encampment. Resident Steve Cox made a suggestion for a name that was more attractive and palatable for families, pitching Pacific Canyon Park. Dubey said that McGonigle is a working name and could still be changed in the future.

The challenge ahead will be making room to fit all of the community’s desired amenities. When designing the park, Dubey said they should think about it in consideration of all of the other parks in the area, not duplicating uses but adding complementary features, “Items that are missing in other parks so Pacific Highlands Ranch has a really strong park system,” she said.

At the next scheduled meeting on Nov. 10, the group will get to look at schematic design alternatives for the park. A third design meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2021 to approve a draft general development plan. The San Diego Park and Recreation Board will review the final plan in January.

For more information about upcoming meetings and ways to get involved, visit or contact