Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 | Of all the boards in the city of San Diego to which one could strive to be a part of, the port commission is probably the best.

The San Diego Unified Port District manages a $142 million budget, a police force, thousands of acres of extremely valuable land, a headquarters and staff all its own.

It’s an important and vital operation. To help run it is to help run what is almost a city of its own. A port commissioner has powers not unlike a member of a city council of a city the size of some capitals of western states.

The city of San Diego, as the largest member of the port, appoints three of the seven members of its commission.

Steve Cushman, the successful businessman who has served the community for years in various positions, has held one of those spots representing the city on the port commission for eight years. His second term is coming to an end in January, however, and as his appointment expires, one of those barely perceptible dramas familiar to City Hall has commenced.

Who will replace him?

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesman said that the mayor would not support Cushman’s request for another term on the commission.

We think it’s a prime opportunity for the mayor and City Council to find a fresh face that can provide new and different representation for the city of San Diego on the port commission.

Too often, mayors and members of the City Council have handed out coveted appointments like this one to the same people – the great majority of whom have served nobly. The same recycled faces have populated city boards for years. Oftentimes they are political friends, leaving them less likely to engage in constructive conflict.

But San Diego is a vast metropolitan city with three major universities and a diverse group of industries run by smart, active and interesting people. Surely one of them could represent the city of San Diego as ably as those who have represented it on previous boards before.

The port will be considering some crucial issues in coming months and years. On the table sits the approval and potential construction of Chula Vista’s massive new convention center built by Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment. It’s an ambitious project that captures as much criticism from the city of San Diego as it does accolades. The city will need someone who’s a quick study to get up to date, but there’s no need for an entrenched insider to take the reins.

Same goes for the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan that, when implemented, promises to change the face of San Diego’s front porch. As the Navy, the city and developer Doug Manchester wrestle with one major part of that plan, a new, fresh perspective on the issue representing the city on the port would be valuable.

Finally, the port has now been presented the intriguing opportunity to facilitate construction of a new stadium for the Chargers on land within the boundaries of National City. The proposal is being adamantly opposed by several businesses who say the port would do a disservice to allow land so well suited to the importing and exporting of goods to be used for an entertainment facility.

Cushman and others have determined that a stadium could fit on the land without jeopardizing the vibrant industry being developed on San Diego’s bay. The debate about the best use of the port and the bay – entertainment and living versus industry and commerce – is as old as San Diego itself. But as these complex visions for the future of the bay come into focus, new bright minds who spend their days learning about what will define the 21st century economy can add perspective and value to the debate.

Much as he reached out and found a new dynamic overseer of the city’s land-use management in attorney Jim Waring, the mayor should find other new interesting people to help represent the city of San Diego’s needs on the port commission.

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