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Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007 | Former state Sen. Steve Peace and county Supervisor Ron Roberts laid out an ambitious vision for San Diego Bay waterfront Tuesday, proposing sweeping parklands, water-taxi service to the airport and a bolstered cruise ship business for the region’s harbor.

The plan — a word Roberts said he is reluctant to use because of the proposal’s preference for broad goals over specific strategies — includes several changes to the face of the waterfront, including the establishment of wide greenbelts along the North Embarcadero, the consolidation of the Port District’s cargo operations, and the relocation the cruise ship terminal south of the convention center.

Short of particulars, the proposal, they said, was meant to inspire the multitude of agencies that hold stakes in San Diego Bay to work cooperatively toward a cohesive plan when they might otherwise hold diverging viewpoints. That goal has often proved tough for the waterfront’s competing governing bodies.

“I think it’s time for us to dare to be great. That’s the challenge,” Roberts said. “We’re not one of the great waterfronts, but we could be.”

The vision contemplates several key changes to the bay’s landscape. They include:

  • Moving the terminals at Lindbergh Field to the airport’s eastern edge, along Pacific Highway. The relocation would incorporate the train lines that run nearby so that travelers could connect with public transit. A waterway would be dredged from the Naval Training Center boat channel adjacent to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot to service water taxis from Lindbergh Field to various bayside hotels.
  • Creating a “green necklace” of parks that would dot the bay front from Point Loma down to Chula Vista. The plan calls for closing Harbor Drive, from Seaport Village to a few blocks southeast of Lindbergh Field, in order to fashion a park along the North Embarcadero. Any development on the blocks between Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway would be scaled back to the easternmost half of the parcels in order to make room for the bayside park. This would have a direct impact on the plans in progress to redevelop the port-controlled Lane Field and the Navy Broadway Complex.
  • Transforming the parking lots that flank the County Administration Building into parks. Roberts said the Board of Supervisors is set to begin seeking bids for one of the parking lots next week.
  • Moving the Port District’s 10th Avenue cargo operations south of the convention center down to an expanded facility at the existing National City site, making way for a state-of-the-art cruise ship terminal to be relocated from the B Street pier to 10th Avenue.

The proposal was forged by politicians whose careers have at time been entangled in a debate over the region’s waterfront. Roberts claims he coined the “front porch” metaphor that is often used to describe the city’s western waterfront in 1988, when he was a member of the San Diego City Council. At the county, Roberts sat on the Board of Supervisors that pulled out of the joint-powers agreement that was forged in an effort to remake the North Embarcadero.

Peace, as a former state senator, co-sponsored the legislation that transferred Lindbergh Field from the Unified Port of San Diego’s control to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Currently, Peace is a senior adviser to John Moores, who owns downtown hotels, the Padres baseball team and is planning a behemoth residential project near the waterfront known as Ballpark Village. Peace said he was not prodded by Moores to spur the waterfront campaign, but acknowledged that his boss was a contributor to the California Independent Voter Project, which sponsored Tuesday’s event. Some insiders predicted that the waterfront proposal was a springboard that Peace was using for another run at elected office, a rumor Peace did not deny.

The two politicos were greeted by a mostly enthusiastic audience that packed into a hotel conference room to view the eight-minute PowerPoint presentation and ask questions. The presentation was reminiscent of the planned development of the Navy Broadway Complex into a dense collection of hotels, offices and shops at the elbow of Harbor Drive, which drove residents out to public hearings in droves and recently reignited the decades-old discussions about the waterfront’s future.

Outside the meeting, the same players that Peace and Roberts will likely need politically to see their vision play out applauded their determination, but were skeptical of its feasibility.

“I’m sure the mayor would be more than happy to work with Ron Roberts, but we don’t have enough information yet to make any kind of judgment,” said Fred Sainz, spokesman for San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.

In order for the plan come to fruition, it would have to cross the paths of several agencies that hold planning jurisdiction, own land or regulate activity around the waterfront. Roberts said they didn’t plan on laying out specifics of the plan, but that they “hope to crystallize the political will” that may shift agencies ranging from the port district to the U.S. Navy to the airport authority into the focus of their proposal.

“We finally got some people with power and prestige to stand up to say this is not the right thing to do,” said Peter Q. Davis, a former port commissioner and ex-downtown planner, referring to the current Navy Broadway Complex plans that will serve as the waterfront’s cornerstone.

But others said consensus needs to be built and actions taken sooner if Roberts and Peace want the waterfront to be shaped around their vision — if it’s not already too late.

“There are a lot of players that this needs to be coordinated with,” said Doug Manchester, the Navy’s hand-selected developer for the Broadway project. Manchester said he “is open to any and all ideas,” but said that time is running out. “I wish Ron and Steve would have come to us a year ago, before spending $3.8 million and going through the 28 public hearings,” Manchester said.

Peace said the two immediate policy decisions that had to be made were the airport authority’s upcoming review of the master plan for Lindbergh Field, and the Navy’s lease with Manchester. Peace dismissed the Navy lease, which was forged in December, claiming that members of San Diego congressional delegation could find a way to scrap it through legislation.

Others were downright cautious. Sharon Cloward, executive director of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, said she saw flaws in consolidating the cargo operations, claiming that the businesses near 10th Avenue can’t easily move to National City, and in the proposal’s impact on parking. With the expansion of parkland and the development of Lane Field and Manchester’s project, businesses will have a hard time accommodating motorists without suitable parking, she said.

Still, Cloward said she welcomes an “honest discussion” about the future of the waterfront, which has been bantered about before but without real scrutiny. “Maybe this is the time where we throw it out there and see, will it stick, or will it fall apart?”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Pacific Highway is on the western edge of Lindbergh Field. Pacific Highway is located on the eastern side. We regret the error.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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