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Friday, April 28, 2006 | Until now, the redevelopment of the Naval Broadway Complex has been deliberately kept out of public view by the Navy. Without asking the public, the city and business interests settled for safe mediocrity rather than challenging the Navy to keep past promises.

Recently, The San Diego Union-Tribune trumpeted “Think Greatness” in a faux editorial. But that will never be a reality unless we change course now! It is time for the public to be heard to ensure this unique waterfront property achieves its full potential as an icon of civic splendor instead of a monument to banality.

The Navy’s Role in the Broadway Complex Controversy

We must seize this opportunity, not squander it with a mundane plan that calls for “maximizing” the property with hotels and offices that will further wall off the city from the bay and only leave space for a token 1.9 acre park. Hotels and office towers can be located on a myriad of other sites downtown if the market requires without sullying the finest gem of the North Embarcadero, this last waterfront parcel.

In the early decades of the last century, the Navy used to partner with the city to create value for the public and the military. However, that synergy is in danger of being irreparably damaged by a “modern” Navy that takes but does not give back; that puts their entitlements above the public good.

This began in the 1980s when the Navy rejected reasonable alternatives to site a new Navy Hospital. Instead, they desecrated Balboa Park by building in Florida Canyon. The facility continues to grow and consume public parkland. It was one environmental battle that Hamilton Marston, grandson of San Diego’s civic father, George White Marston, unfortunately lost in a long distinguished career of public service.

In a 1988 editorial in the then independent San Diego Evening Tribune, the Navy seemed to recognize being a bully did not endear them to the public. As one Navy officer put it, “We don’t want to fight a Chinese tong war.” The editorial continued, “Since then, the Navy giant promised peace and diplomacy whenever it builds in the city.” This prescient analysis could have been written yesterday as it goes on to state, “If the Navy has any sensitivity to the needs of this city, it will develop a community asset, a monument to civic pride. If the Navy doesn’t care, there’s a danger that this project – the Broadway complex – will become an architectural eyesore designed primarily to offer high-ranking officers a nice view of the bay.”

Twenty years ago the Navy followed the strategy of keeping the public in the dark by meeting in Houston to discuss the “urgent” need to redevelop the Broadway Complex. Today’s Navy used a secretive bidding and evaluation process to select a developer – Manchester Resorts, Inc. – to enter into exclusive negotiations to redevelop the Navy Broadway Complex.

The Navy has been provided cover by CCDC in the form of a series of public relations events billed deceptively as public meetings. At every opportunity, CCDC reminds the public that a woefully outdated 1992 entitlement agreement between the city and the Navy limits public input to the features of a micro- park and architectural façades and everything else is off limits.

The party line mantra is: It’s a done deal.

How to Consummate the Dream

We need to gently remind Rear Admiral Len Hering that the San Diego public gifted this land to the Navy in trust, and contrary to his recent statements, the time for land swaps is not over.

We need to wipe the slate clean and begin the redevelopment process afresh. The public needs to be genuinely engaged and listened to, by the Navy and CCDC. The Navy doesn’t seem to realize that if this property is returned to BRAC, they lose everything, whereas the public would likely lose nothing and may even end up a winner.

It would be far more responsible for the Navy to work with the city, CCDC and San Diego congressional delegation to seek an extension of the period that the Naval Broadway Complex is excluded from BRAC. If there is the leadership and political will to fight for San Diego’s heritage, and a public park amenity where the current, and future, generations of San Diegans can relax or play with their children, this goal can be achieved. The grand vision of a nautical gateway to San Diego and panoramic vistas to the Bay, unique from the rest of the city, can also be fulfilled.

What is the alternative? A group of dedicated civic leaders from all walks of life have come together to form the Broadway Complex Coalition. The coalition demands the public have the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in the redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex. The coalition questions the touted financial benefits to the city of the current Manchester proposal. They question Manchester’s vision and express concern about his litigious past.

It would be in no one’s interest to litigate what happens to the Naval Broadway Complex, but if the Navy – under Hering’s command – continues its intransigent policy, litigation may be the only solution for those who view this site’s future as too precious to give up without a fight.

Ian Trowbridge is a retired Salk Institute professor and Vonn Marie May is a member of the board of directors of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3.

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