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Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | Let me start by saying that the controversy and strong feelings that surround this issue are exciting to me, and show a city that has grown to “give a damn” about its waterfront and public spaces.

To understand this issue and, more importantly, to get a better perspective of the fair and honorable solution, one must step back in time and look at how we got here.

Back to perhaps the early 1900’s: San Diego had just undergone a still-famous mayor’s race, with the theme “Smoke Stacks or Geraniums.” The concern was about creating jobs in a town with a history of too many recessions – in fact the winning slogan in this race was “Let’s Make San Diego another Los Angeles.”

So you can see how desperate people were for work. Well, the “Smoke Stack” candidate won, but quickly realized the best of both worlds would be to attract “clean business.”

One had to look no farther then our bay to see visiting Navy Ships, and the mayor – along with the congressional representative for our area – agreed to work on bringing more of the Navy’s activities to San Diego.

Now to do this, the city agreed with civic leaders to make land available to the Navy. During these early years, land was given to the Navy and then often returned to the city or swapped for other land – Loma Portal land was given to the Navy and then swapped for land at 32nd street. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot land was given to the Marine Corps and then a part of this land returned and set aside with additional city land for the building of Lindbergh Field.

During this same era, land now known as Navy Broadway Complex was given to the Navy for the establishment of a supply center and headquarter facility. Never was it the intention of the leaders of our city to give land to the Navy that the military could sell or lease to private interests for a profit.

The gift was for Navy purposes. In the past when Navy purposes had not developed or no longer existed, the land was returned to the city.

Now fast forward to the 1990s. San Diego is again facing economic softness in its downtown. After 15 years of successful redevelopment, the real estate market collapsed – and with it downtown property values, and with those the (property) tax income to the city.

Downtown redevelopment was under the direction of the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), who had sold bonds to finance much of the early work downtown. These bonds were in danger of default if downtown property tax revenues continued to slip.

At this point, the Navy and CCDC began discussions about the Navy developing its property (NBC) into public-private uses. CCDC must have seen any development as good and more development as better during these bleak economic days.

A formula was worked out that would allow the development of over 3 million square feet of development in exchange for the Navy getting about 10 percent of this development for its use, and the balance going to private users. Even during these bleak days, this was a terrible ratio that allowed a developer to obtain a windfall profit, approaching hundreds of millions of dollars.

This is simply unacceptable. It should have been then, and it clearly is now.

During the decade that followed, the Navy did little if anything to push development. Meanwhile, the city redevelopment efforts, under new leadership, began to strengthen and grow. CCDC’s economic concerns faded from memory as its revenues approached an increase of 500 percent, over little more than 10 years

The Navy meanwhile, seems only spurred to action when BRAC threatens to take the property away from it – and thus seems to have rushed the selection of a developer with out any public involvement.

During this same decade, our tideland open space began to disappear as the port exercised its economic opportunities to develop this land, often using Manchester Financial or a related affiliate, the same group the Navy has selected.

Unfortunately, public commitments that open space would be protected and access to the waterfront made more available seemed to change from the time the original proposal was presented to the port and the final buildings were built.

And this brings us to today – Winston Churchill is supposed to have been asked why he changed his mind so often and he replied, “I change my mind when the facts change.” Then he added “And what do you do when the facts change?”

Indeed. What are we going to do when the facts change?

Unfortunately, we have had a sea change of leadership in the downtown area and civic memory has been lost. The present leaders seem to feel they have no choice but to march off the cliff – giving up our valuable land and chance for a “present to ourselves” simply to avoid being “BRAC ‘d.” Or, out of fear of offending the Navy…or for some other reason.

The Navy has been a wonderful partner to our city. Its arrival in the early 1900s got us through the depression, and created clean jobs and made us the wonderful place we are – “heaven on earth,” as Alonzo Horton once remarked.

But the Navy has become irritable with age – no longer willing to work with the city toward a common goal, as it did during the General Pendleton’s era, with the co-development of Lindbergh Field.

It has taken legal action against the port, and threatened condemnation of tidelands property if it weren’t sold to it at distress prices. It now refuses to discuss joint use of Miramar, and shows a “ramming speed” mentality toward grabbing and running with the economic opportunity a quick, if wrong decision, on NBC offers.

It’s time for leadership, for our city to require that fairness and responsible – yes even honorable action – be taken by the Navy. If they won’t, on their own, then our congressional leaders need to engage themselves in this situation.

The honorable and fair solution is for the Navy to return the property to the city – not to now take an economic advantage that was never intended to be theirs.

If they won’t, then legal or congressional action should be undertaken to remove this from the navy’s control, at least past the BRAC mandated expiration date of Jan 1st of next year. Then we can meet and engage in what can only be seen as a more open and cooperative process.

Peter Q Davis, a former banker and head of CCDC, describes himself as “A guy who spent 30 years working on our downtown’s redevelopment and the development of our tidelands and who finds criticizing the efforts of those groups he worked with difficult, but now necessary.

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