Five Things to Know About the Port’s New Master Plan

Five Things to Know About the Port’s New Master Plan

File photo by Sam Hodgson

A view of the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

Imagine old jigsaw puzzle pieces, edges worn, that don’t fit together anymore.

That’s how Port Commission Chair Ann Moore views the Unified Port of San Diego’s master plan.

The document is supposed to provide clear guidance about what kinds of commerce, construction and recreation is permitted on waterfront properties and the tidelands off the coast of San Diego Bay.

But the plan hasn’t been fully revised for three decades, Moore said, and “a lot of topics that were important in 1981 aren’t important today.”

Last month, the port embarked on its journey to create a new master plan. The first step is a visioning process that will “shape the future of the port and its various uses” for the next 50 years, Moore said.

Here are five things you need to know about the future of land use around San Diego Bay:

The Port’s Authority

UnifiedPortPlanningJurisdiction

The Unified Port oversees more than 5,400 acres of San Diego Bay property.

In 1962, the California Legislature created the Unified Port of San Diego and made it the landlord of more than 5,400 acres of property in and around San Diego Bay. This includes waterfront property and tidelands just off the coast.

The Unified Port shares control of the bay with federal, state and local government agencies.

The port’s governing board has seven commissioners — three from San Diego and four from the port’s other member cities: Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach and National City.

The commissioners are appointed by their respective city councils to unpaid, four-year terms.

Moore, a former city attorney for Chula Vista, is that city’s representative and the leader of the commission.

The commission adopts policies for the port’s executive director and workforce to follow. Those policies are supposed to flow from a master plan that clearly explains how the port’s property should be used by hotels, visitors, waterfront businesses and other key stakeholders.

The Old Plan

The port’s current master plan has been amended 35 times in the last three decades to accommodate projects that weren’t anticipated in 1981 – like the $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center that was approved by the California Coastal Commission earlier this month, construction of the Broadway Pier cruise ship terminal or redevelopment of the South Embarcadero — for the second time — in 2001.

“None of those amendments have addressed the overarching policies in the plan,” said Lesley Nishihira, a land-use planning manager for the port. “We haven’t touched the whole of the document in 30-plus years.”

As it stands, Moore said the plan lacks regional unity and doesn’t adequately address concerns about open space preservation, public access to the waterfront and the need for more parking and transportation options.

“It doesn’t fit with what’s being asked of us today,” she said.

Industrial use accounts for the largest share of port-managed land under the old plan.

The port’s land parcels are easier for the public to get to than the water ones. But only about 15 percent of the land property is set aside for recreation.

Industrial use dominates the waterfront by comparison, taking up more than 40 percent of the space.

Moore said the commission wants the new plan to strike a better balance.

The New Plan

The new plan will be developed in six phases, starting with a six-month visioning process that is already under way.

In August, the port commission selected HKS Urban Design Studio to lead that process. The port expects phase 1 to cost $500,000.

That amount, which will come out of the port’s general fund, includes compensation for a team of architects, engineers, economic consultants and community engagement specialists that have signed on to assist HKS director Randy Morton.

The team will review the port’s current assets and reach out to all of the stakeholders who may be affected by changes to the master plan.

At the heart of the process will be the port’s mission to drive economic development and protect the public’s interest “through a balanced approach to maritime industry, tourism, water and land recreation, environmental stewardship, and public safety,” according to the port’s request for phase 1 bidders.

The goal: To draft planning principles that will establish how best to use port-managed land over the next 50 years.

“What encourages me is that this is a new approach to planning at the port,” said former Commissioner Stephen Cushman, who served 12 years on the board. “I think it is the right approach for government. We don’t just look at a plan for each city. We look at the entire tidelands of San Diego.”

Chula Vista as Land-Use Laboratory

Chula Vista’s bayfront master plan gives us insight into where the region may be headed.

Unanimously approved by the state Coastal Commission in August 2012, the plan pledges to balance tourism, job creation, environmental preservation and public access to the coast.

Here’s a snapshot of its projections for the future of the Chula Vista bayfront:

• A resort and conference center with more than 1,600 new hotel rooms

• Nearly 2,200 permanent jobs

• More than 230 acres of parks, open space and protected habitat

Moore calls the plan a model for the region.

Three of the firms that are helping the city carry it out are on board for the port’s visioning process: HKS Urban Design Studio; Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate consulting company; and CCI Partners, a financial consulting company.

Next Steps

The port has not set a full timeline for the master plan’s completion. That will be a byproduct of the visioning process.

We don’t know how much the project will cost because the port hasn’t put all of the phases out to bid yet. But the Port has defined what the next steps will be in general terms.

After the port adopts planning principles, it will commission a preliminary draft plan.

A full plan will be released to the public for comment and consideration after the port reviews all of the details, including the possible impact on the environment.

And once the board approves the master plan, the state Coastal Commission will have to sign off.

Still, there’s no guarantee that the plan will make all of the stakeholders happy.

“It’s inevitable that in a year or two someone will probably see something that wasn’t thought of in the plan,” said former Port Commissioner Mike McDade, who stepped down from the commission in 1999. “It’s never going to be an easy process. It will always be debated back and forth.”

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Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the Unified Port of San Diego. You can reach him directly at joel.hoffmann@voiceofsandiego.org.

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18 comments
Pat McKemy
Pat McKemy

Simply making plans on paper does no good, it is about implementing them for the purpose they have been trying to. The major focus must be on the approval of the CCC at this time. Hope this point is understood at the earliest.

Pat McKemy
Pat McKemy subscriber

Simply making plans on paper does no good, it is about implementing them for the purpose they have been trying to. The major focus must be on the approval of the CCC at this time. Hope this point is understood at the earliest.

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak

At every opportunity I am going to comment on this issue http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/11/05/five-things-to-know-about-the-ports-new-master-plan/Five Things to Know About the Port's New Master Planhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/11/05/five-things-to-know-about-the-ports-new-master-plan/Imagine old jigsaw puzzle pieces, edges worn, that don't fit together anymore. That's how Port Commission Chair Ann Moore views the Unified Port of San Diego's master plan. The document is supposed to provide clear guidance about what kinds of commer...

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak subscribermember

At every opportunity I am going to comment on this issue http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/11/05/five-things-to-know-about-the-ports-new-master-plan/Five Things to Know About the Port's New Master Planhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/11/05/five-things-to-know-about-the-ports-new-master-plan/Imagine old jigsaw puzzle pieces, edges worn, that don't fit together anymore. That's how Port Commission Chair Ann Moore views the Unified Port of San Diego's master plan. The document is supposed to provide clear guidance about what kinds of commer...

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak

The Port Master Plan has a series of maps and areas representing the amount of landuses within specific planning districts. These maps are not to scale and the acreages are all wrong. For example: The curvilinear (or Grape Street) Pier in Planning District 3 is said in the text to be 30,000 SqFt. If the map is snapped into place this pier is over 120,000 SqFt. The entire plan has egregious mistakes likes this throughout. This example is just the most obvious to explain.

The infamous Oval Park issue was caused because the map shows a park at the foot of Broadway and Harbor Drive, but it was not mentioned in the text. The Port claimed the map was "illustrative" and therefore the Oval Park would not be built. The alignment of the maps and text is not trivial. This individual issue held up planning and proper development for a decade, many millions of dollars were spent in litigation on both sides and the foregone opportunity costs for one of the most valuable public spaces in San Diego certainly eclipsed the lawyers fees. This issue was a true loss for all San Diegans and visitors.

The Port overlaps with 5 Cities (San Diego, Coronado, National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach) and the Airport, the Convention Center and former CCDC. All 8 of these entities have planning documents which have maps to scale and areas which are relatively close to the real world.

The Port is terribly behind the planning curve. The current Port Master Plan would never be approved by the CCC today. I agree that a new Port Master Plan is in order. I also think the maps and areas can be fixed without a decade long multimillion dollar effort. As a former Port employee, I worry that there will be 5-10 more amendments which change as little as possible before any real progress take place.

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak subscribermember

The Port Master Plan has a series of maps and areas representing the amount of landuses within specific planning districts. These maps are not to scale and the acreages are all wrong. For example: The curvilinear (or Grape Street) Pier in Planning District 3 is said in the text to be 30,000 SqFt. If the map is snapped into place this pier is over 120,000 SqFt. The entire plan has egregious mistakes likes this throughout. This example is just the most obvious to explain.

The infamous Oval Park issue was caused because the map shows a park at the foot of Broadway and Harbor Drive, but it was not mentioned in the text. The Port claimed the map was "illustrative" and therefore the Oval Park would not be built. The alignment of the maps and text is not trivial. This individual issue held up planning and proper development for a decade, many millions of dollars were spent in litigation on both sides and the foregone opportunity costs for one of the most valuable public spaces in San Diego certainly eclipsed the lawyers fees. This issue was a true loss for all San Diegans and visitors.

The Port overlaps with 5 Cities (San Diego, Coronado, National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach) and the Airport, the Convention Center and former CCDC. All 8 of these entities have planning documents which have maps to scale and areas which are relatively close to the real world.

The Port is terribly behind the planning curve. The current Port Master Plan would never be approved by the CCC today. I agree that a new Port Master Plan is in order. I also think the maps and areas can be fixed without a decade long multimillion dollar effort. As a former Port employee, I worry that there will be 5-10 more amendments which change as little as possible before any real progress take place.

Joel Hoffmann
Joel Hoffmann

The port was able to get me an electronic copy of the pre-amendment master plan that was adopted in 1981 (linked below). The version currently on their site includes all of the amendments.

richard brick
richard brick

The old plan was amended 35 times in 3 decades, yet this plan is for 5 decades. How many times will this new plan be amended? Why not make the new plan shorter, like say one decade? Maybe then the new plan will be less likely to be to be changed. Just thought I would ask!

richard brick
richard brick subscribermember

The old plan was amended 35 times in 3 decades, yet this plan is for 5 decades. How many times will this new plan be amended? Why not make the new plan shorter, like say one decade? Maybe then the new plan will be less likely to be to be changed. Just thought I would ask!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Master plans don't matter, it's all about what you can get the CCC to approve at the moment. It's like planning for a windy day a month from now. You can plan all you want, don't mean a thing.

The POSD is a paper tiger, the CCC has the say on what happens on POSD land.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Master plans don't matter, it's all about what you can get the CCC to approve at the moment. It's like planning for a windy day a month from now. You can plan all you want, don't mean a thing.

The POSD is a paper tiger, the CCC has the say on what happens on POSD land.

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak

The Port of San Diego is a state agency so I guess there's one thing that hasn't turned to crap.

The Port has inherent conflict in that it both regulates and benefits from development on the Port tidelands. Giving up one of those roles would allow the Port to do the other better.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage

The Port Authority should be in charge of the daily operations, security, and maintenance of our public State Tidelands, All CEQA Planning, Engineering, and Environmental functions should be moved to SANDAG and/or Caltrans.

SANDAG, our Federally- and State-Mandated Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for San Diego County, should take back all Public Work and CEQA Environmental planning from the Port Engineers, Officials, and Port Commissioners who never challenge staff. The Port has been hiding scientific evidence of active faulting from the City Council and State Officials for 7 years (2006).

There are several Construction Defect lawsuits against City Taxpayers adjacent and on Port Tidelands along Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive. The Airport Authority is even suing the City of San Diego for multi-million, instead of the Port, for water main breaks and public infrastructure damage on Harbor Drive that blocked traffic to Lindbergh Field.

We need help from the State to allow the Port to operate the day to day work, and all CEQA Planning, Engineering, and Public Works projects including the Climate Action Plan be move to SANDAG with Caltrans oversight.

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak subscribermember

The Port of San Diego is a state agency so I guess there's one thing that hasn't turned to crap.

The Port has inherent conflict in that it both regulates and benefits from development on the Port tidelands. Giving up one of those roles would allow the Port to do the other better.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage subscribermember

The Port Authority should be in charge of the daily operations, security, and maintenance of our public State Tidelands, All CEQA Planning, Engineering, and Environmental functions should be moved to SANDAG and/or Caltrans.

SANDAG, our Federally- and State-Mandated Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for San Diego County, should take back all Public Work and CEQA Environmental planning from the Port Engineers, Officials, and Port Commissioners who never challenge staff. The Port has been hiding scientific evidence of active faulting from the City Council and State Officials for 7 years (2006).

There are several Construction Defect lawsuits against City Taxpayers adjacent and on Port Tidelands along Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive. The Airport Authority is even suing the City of San Diego for multi-million, instead of the Port, for water main breaks and public infrastructure damage on Harbor Drive that blocked traffic to Lindbergh Field.

We need help from the State to allow the Port to operate the day to day work, and all CEQA Planning, Engineering, and Public Works projects including the Climate Action Plan be move to SANDAG with Caltrans oversight.

Ari Isaak
Ari Isaak subscribermember

Jim you are absolutely correct. Virtually every project on Port property deviates from the current approved 1981 Port Master Plan so each project has to go through the CCC approval process as an amendment to the PMP. The goal of a guiding document or any other regulations which effect landuse is to encourage preaproved development types.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

We would have to be complete idiots to move any part of our port further under state control.

The POSD answers to the San Diego area. SANDAG, like the CCC answers to Sacramento. Everything Sacramento touches turns to crap as they funnel tax money to unions, small special interests and religious environmentalists.

Let the State do for our port what they have done to our schools? Madness.

We don't need more Sacramento corruption in our local area.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

We would have to be complete idiots to move any part of our port further under state control.

The POSD answers to the San Diego area. SANDAG, like the CCC answers to Sacramento. Everything Sacramento touches turns to crap as they funnel tax money to unions, small special interests and religious environmentalists.

Let the State do for our port what they have done to our schools? Madness.

We don't need more Sacramento corruption in our local area.