By TYLER RENNER
North Park is rapidly evolving—more mid-rise developments dot El Cajon Blvd. and University Ave. and infill housing projects replace outdated buildings in between these major corridors. Transportation has modified—expanded bike networks snake through the community and a dedicated transit lane remains a part of The Boulevard. The new mini-park is primed for public events and a dog run is coming to North Park Community Park. This was the intent of the visionary Community Plan update that was approved by the North Park Planning Committee (NPPC) and then-Councilmember Todd Gloria in 2016. One thing that hasn’t evolved is the vision for the North Park Library.
As communities grow, so should their public amenities. Unfortunately, North Park Library, last updated in 1987, is nowhere near the top of the City’s priority list. The 2002 Library Building Plan recommended expanding the North Park Library, which also serves South Park and Golden Hill, to 25,000 square feet, but this recommendation was not implemented.
In the last 35 years, the library has not been renovated for library services or operations and in the City’s 2016 Facilities Condition Assessment, its condition was found to be approaching the “poor” rating. According to the Library Master Plan, in 2019, the North Park Library hosted on average, more than 40 participants at its children’s programs, and was one of San Diego Public Library’s most popular branches for school visits.
A quote from the Library Master Plan, provided by a community member, sums up what many feel about the current state of the library: “North Park [library] is…small. It lacks a meeting room, so all programs must take place where they disturb patrons who want or require quiet. A meeting room or other similar space would make the library even more of a community hub than it currently is. The North Park Library lacks any quiet rooms. The exterior of the building is unattractive and the grounds even more so.”
Looking ahead at the City’s Capital Improvement Projects for the next several fiscal years—the only libraries being funded are the new Pacific Highlands Branch Library and a renovation to the Ocean Beach Library. So, what is there to do? When I got elected to the North Park Planning Committee (NPPC) along with a pro-housing slate of candidates called Rise North Park, my goal was to bring new ideas and innovative ways of improving our dynamic community.
Next came conversations with then-NPPC Chair, Aria Pounaki. We recalled a campaign promise from Todd Gloria, that any new city facilities would include housing. That campaign promise turned into a policy, via Land Development Code updates in July 2021 called “Homes for All of Us: Housing Action Package”. One such update included a new provision that permits affordable housing on a premise owned by a public agency or qualified nonprofit corporation. That inspired an idea—a new library, co-developed with affordable housing for North Park.
A little bit of research showed us that not only is this possible, but other places in the country were already leading this effort. Cities like Cornelius, Oregon, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois have already created mixed-use libraries that incorporate town homes, senior housing, recreation centers, and community meeting spaces.
Not only would this meet two needs of the community—more affordable housing and enhanced library facilities, but it would also match the scale and character of the neighborhood. The outdated library will soon be overshadowed by nearby developments that reach up to eight stories and the nondescript style of the current library makes it one of the least exciting buildings in the immediate neighborhood.
I chaired several NPPC Urban Design subcommittee meetings and asked, ‘What do we want in a new library’? We had exciting discussions about what our vision was for a new library. Consensus formed around an expanded footprint, meeting spaces, teen programs, and an overall facelift. Despite a wide range of views on growth, many community members also supported affordable housing—LGBTQ+ affirming, artists’ studios or senior housing. Given the value of this parcel, surely a public-private partnership that utilizes this new development code could bring this vision to life.
While we weren’t having detailed conversations about housing development, real estate or public financing, we did envision new possibilities for North Park. The aim wasn’t to come up with a prescriptive mechanism for this vision, but rather show our city leaders that we want them to think creatively about ways to deliver community benefits. We are turning a new page in our city’s history, leaving behind outdated ways of planning neighborhoods and we want North Park to be part of a new chapter.