Friday, Aug. 11, 2006 | Kevin Faulconer said he doesn’t aspire to tinker with developer Doug Manchester’s controversial designs for the Navy Broadway Complex downtown. And he knows, even as a San Diego city councilman, he has no role in the federal project.

But that hasn’t stopped him from holding a meeting anyway.

Spurred by the public outcry caused by the waterfront development plan, Faulconer is one of a number of local politicians who, despite the fact they have no final say in the project, have stepped into the limelight and tried to insert themselves in the process.

So, at a special hearing on Sept. 19, the City Council will take up Manchester’s designs for the 14.7 acre bayside plot. They won’t vote on anything, but Faulconer, his colleagues and the public will, well, talk.

“I know CCDC is in the driver’s seat,” said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, referring to the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown planners, “but downtown belongs to everybody and the waterfront belongs to everybody.”

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, has tried unsuccessfully to extend the project’s deadline in order to improve its design and can be found at numerous public meetings.

“I’m not pleased with the way it is, but we need to do everything we can to try and have something that San Diego can feel good about,” Davis said.

Where drab gray office buildings, warehouses and a crumbling parking lot currently reside, Manchester is planning to construct a collection of hotels and office buildings that cascade down to San Diego Bay over four city blocks. A promenade connecting Seaport Village to Lane Field runs through the buildings, which house retail shops and museum space on the ground floor.

In exchange for a long-term lease on the Navy property, Manchester must build a new headquarters for Navy Region Southwest. By Jan.1, Manchester must clear a CCDC review, strike a final deal with the Navy, and receive final approval from the Pentagon – otherwise the project slips through his fingers and made available to other governmental agencies.

A grassroots opposition to the project has emerged in the last few months, as critics have derided the plan for “walling off” the city from San Diego Bay, and the politicians have taken notice. Considered the last chance for leaving an iconic imprint near the bay, many are hoping that the current proposal is scrapped for a project on par with the Sydney Opera House, Millennium Park in Chicago, and Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Perry Dealy, the president of Manchester Development, said that his organization has altered its projects to fit some of the public’s criticisms since the developer rolled out sketches of the proposal in May.

“Our goal is to make sure that everyone knows the facts and to make sure they have a chance to give input,” Dealy said. “We have made significant changes in response to the comments of CCDC staff, the CCDC board and the public.”

Dealy said, however, that it’s up to CCDC – not the City Council or anybody else – to make sure that the Manchester proposal lines up with the restrictions and guidelines set forth in the 1992 agreement between the city and Navy. CCDC has already delayed its review and is expected to wrap up its inspection of the plan in late September or early October, a spokesman said.

But officials said they want more input and more review before a single cornerstone is laid on the harborside property.

Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña is holding a public hearing herself next Friday in Old Town. The state legislator said a developer’s long-term control of military property threatens the public trust that the state tidelands the project sits on were designed to protect.

“It ultimately comes down to their bottom line, and since they haven’t fully opened their books, we don’t know what their bottom line is,” she said, referring to the confidentiality of Manchester’s contract with the Navy.

Saldaña argues the state Lands Commission should review the project as part of a package of changing conditions on the state tidelands. Also, she supports a push by the California Coastal Commission to also review the project.

Representatives from the California Coastal Commission say they are meeting with CCDC next week to ask them for an opportunity to review Manchester’s plans because the commission hasn’t reviewed the impact of a new development there since the guidelines were drawn up last decade. The commission should get a fresher look, said Deborah Lee, the commission’s senior deputy director.

“We think the situation has changed given the number of other projects moved forward, the scale of development, and parking conditions,” Lee said. “These are all things that need to be reassessed given the current conditions.”

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