By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor
The massive Morris Cerullo Legacy International Center has moved another step closer to reality after the Mission Valley Planning Group voted 12-2 on July 6 to advance the controversial project to the city’s Planning Commission.
Nancy Graham, the city planner assigned to Mission Valley, told the volunteer members of the advisory group that the official position of the Planning Department is that the applicant has met city standards and thus supports the project. That seemed to persuade the planning group to move the project forward, although reluctantly and with reservations.
The Legacy Center, as the project is commonly known, would replace the aging Mission Valley Resort property that includes a 202-room hotel, a liquor store, several restaurants and the shuttered Senior Frog’s fitness facility. The property comprises 18 acres of prime real estate at 875 Hotel Circle South and has direct access off eastbound Interstate 8.
The project would include:
- Tourist-style attractions such as a 500-seat History Dome theater playing biblical movies and an artifact museum, comprising 30,000 square feet; a 300-seat amphitheater; and an outdoor Old World bazaar.
- A two-story, 17,000-square-foot Welcoming Center featuring an immense, life-sized mural describing the life and ministry of Cerullo, the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and self-proclaimed faith healer.
- A Legacy Village with 127 timeshare units in a five-story building totaling 136,000 square feet, located at the Senior Frog site on the far southeast portion of the property.
- A 23,000-square-foot Executive Offices building for Morris Cerullo Ministries and security personnel.
- A Training Center Pavilion for missionaries, totaling 105,000 square feet and containing a TV studio, restaurant, gift shop and a wellness center.
- There will be an underground parking structure with 314 stalls taking up 114,000 square feet and an above-ground parking structure with 280 stalls utilizing 94,000 square feet.
The project has been before the Mission Valley Planning Group for several years. Board member Jim Penner, who must recuse himself from voting because he is a principal player with the Legacy Center, told his fellow board members that Cerullo purchased the property out of bankruptcy in October 2011.
The Legacy Center expects to bring in 350,000 visitors annually, Penner said, explaining most would be foreigners from Asia and Africa where the ministry does the bulk of its work.
Penner and original architect Mike Harrah of Caribou Industries have appeared a number of times before the planning group and its Design Advisory Board (DAB) subcommittee to address concerns about the project’s design and the impact on traffic and the environment.
DAB members criticized the original design, prompting the architect to make considerable changes to make the architectural motif fit in better with the Mission-style of Mission Valley. At the July 6 meeting, the planning group viewed a PowerPoint presentation that included a couple of updated slides showing some of those changes — the first time any of the board members had seen them. Those changes seemed to please some board members who were critical of the original Old Rome motif.
Meanwhile, during the public comments, two people expressed serious concerns about the project. A spokeswoman from the San Diego LGBT Community Center questioned whether the public was properly notified of the July 6 meeting.
Mission Valley News, for example, is subscribed to the city planning department announcements for Mission Valley but did not get an email notice of the meeting or a copy of the agenda.
A review of the city’s website page for the planning group did not have the agenda posted online on the morning of July 6, but the agenda went live soon after Mission Valley News questioned Graham, the city planner, about whether the meeting could be held under the Brown Act.
Graham said city policy and the Brown Act legally required agendas to be physically posted 72 hours in advance of the meeting — which was done at Mission Valley Library, where the planning group’s monthly meetings are hosted. However, the library was closed July 3 and 4 for the Fourth of July holiday. The newspaper could not independently confirm if the agenda indeed was posted properly, but Graham said a library official did tell her that the agenda was posted in time.
As far as the agenda not posted online, Graham said the person responsible for doing that was on vacation last week.
“I can assure you that this was just an oversight,” Graham said in an email.
In addition to the spokeswoman from The LGBT Community Center, David Meyer, representing the UCSD Health Center, told the planning group that the health center’s questions remain unanswered about traffic impacts on emergency vehicles trying to access the two-lane Bachman Place that starts off Hotel Circle South just east of the Legacy Center site and winds up the canyon to the health center complex.
“I have read the EIR [Environmental Impact Report], and I don’t believe our concerns are addressed,” Meyer said. “We are the busiest Level 1 trauma center in San Diego.”
A spokesman for the project’s traffic consultant, LLG, said the project would only increase traffic by 2 percent over existing conditions. He said the road would be widened in front of the Legacy Center complex and the I-8 ramps would be upgraded to help ease traffic flow. The Cerullo project would pay for those improvements, he said.
The city signed off on the EIR on June 23, and some board members indicated that they had not read the 610-page document. That triggered a debate on whether board members had the fiduciary duty to read every EIR that comes before the panel, prompting some audience members to shake their heads in disbelief.
When it came time to make a motion to vote on the action item on the agenda, none of the board members initially volunteered to make the motion.
It was an awkward moment for the acting chair, Perry Dealy, who was filling in for the absent Dottie Surdi. Dealy had to coax two board members into making a motion: Bob Cummings finally made a motion, and Rick Tarbell seconded it.
“That was pretty golden,” said one board member, who asked not to be identified.
After the vote, the Legacy Center officials and consultants left the meeting and gathered outside the front doors of the Mission Valley Library, hugging each other and giving high-fives as they celebrated.
For more information on Morris Cerullo, visit mcwe.com.
—Ken Williams is a contributing editor of Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952.