Discussions are underway for the future use of a key piece of our waterfront. Located where Broadway meets Harbor Drive are 14 acres of valuable “public” property.

This property was given to the Navy decades ago, for naval purposes.

The Navy took legal action to have this “naval purposes” restriction removed, so they could develop it for private uses.

This sure seems like the Navy has lost its sense of mission.

Why does it feel it should use its time and resources to compete in the private sector?

But as they say “that battle has been fought” and so we now have a Navy seemingly unconcerned with how this valuable property is used, as long as they get their building.

The Navy wants a new building. The cost estimates range from $350 million to far higher. The Navy is treating the cost as a “top secret.”

I can understand the need to keep our secrets from our enemies, but I’m confused as to whom the Navy sees as the enemy here.

To get this building for free, the Navy approached the city, almost two decades ago, for the right to allow a developer the maximum density rights imaginable on this property. At the time, the city was in a financial turmoil downtown. Property values were slipping backwards, and with them, the tax revenues the city used to repay redevelopment bonds. Any development looked desirable and more looked better. After all, the more development (for private use), the more tax revenues the city and its redevelopment arm (CCDC) would receive.

The Navy did not take advantage of this development agreement with the city during the initial 10 year term of the contract – and during this time 9/11 occurred, which made logical minds ponder the wisdom of a Navy Headquarters Building, located in an area open to the public.

The in 2005 the BRAC review found that this property was no longer needed for naval operations and began the process of placing it on the BRAC list for base closings. The Navy, understanding that this property had economic value if not military value, rushed to enforce the then twice extended contract with the city and selected a developer in a secret process (again a good idea to keep naval secrets from the Navy’s enemies).

BRAC agreed to delay their control of this property until midnight, Dec. 31, 2006 to allow the city and Navy to finalize the contract which included the city of San Diego to make a finding of compliance with the decade old agreement.

The design, which was used to win the Navy’s competition, and changed several times since winning, still does not meet the agreement.

The city entered into the agreement with the belief that the development would include the navy pier and thus tie this area to the water – the Navy gave the pier away long ago.

The plan calls for an open promenade thru the property stretching from Broadway to G Street. The promenade, as now designed, has building bridges included and an ever narrowing width, which makes this far less inviting to the public than intended. The design that won the Navy’s selection had a far more public promenade.

The site was to have a 40,000 sq. ft. museum site. The developer has so packed the site with high rise buildings that the only way to reach the 40,000 sq. ft. is to split it into two. Two 20,000 sq. ft. spaces may total 40,000, but they certainly don’t allow the same types of museums that the larger space does – and this design does not meet the terms of the agreement.

The city negotiated long and hard for a public park of 1.9 acres. While hoping this park would be at street level and without parking underneath it, the city agreed that if parking were placed under the public park, it would be designed in such a way as to not infer with the use of the park, and that parking would not vent into the park area – and that designs must be approved by CCDC.

Mechanical ventilation is expensive and the “winning” design had no parking under the park. But like many other aspects of the design, once the developer had been selected he began to change the design and parking now was going to be under the park – but no discussion of ventilation has been offered or even asked about.

Fortunately CCDC and the City Council are now aware of the public’s concerns, and believe that this property should not be given to a developer for 99 years – but should remain a public place.

But the tax revenues the property will create are attractive to the Navy, the developer and the city’s redevelopment agency, and they are the only three at the bargaining table. The public it seems has no representation – and thanks to the navy, very little knowledge of the financial deal, or even why the navy’s needs to remain on this property, with this expensive a building-

Fortunately Congresswoman Susan Davis, and members of the state government and the Coastal Commission have all weighed in to protect the public. Let’s hope our city’s representatives join the cause.


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