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On May 3, a small delegation from the port and the city, led by Commissioner Scott Peters, visited the monthly meeting of the Board of Citizen’s Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3), the region’s oldest and most respected community urban planning organization. I was invited to the board meeting as a member of the C-3 Waterfront Committee.

Peters and the Director of Planning and Community Investment (Director of City Planning) Bill Anderson outlined the April 14 California Coastal Commission (CCC) vote rejecting the port’s proposed North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) phase 1 project. They noted that one reason the commission rejected the project was that the port wanted to eliminate the 2.5 acre public park at the foot of Broadway called for in the existing Port Master Plan, in favor of a paved intersection for trucks and busses serving cruise ships berthed at the new Broadway Pier Cruise Ship Terminal.

Mr. Anderson showed the board several renderings and schematic drawings and explained how the port changed the original plans for an oval grassy park at that site into a design calling for a paved plaza. Peters said that the plaza was designed to work as a public space with or without a cruise ship on the Broadway Pier.

Peters said that although the port has announced to the media that it plans to conduct a new Environmental Impact Report and develop a new draft Port Master Plan amendment for the entire North Embarcadero through a public planning process, they are concerned that a $14 million dollar loan the port wants from the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) and the city (out of the $28 million dollar cost of phase 1) might be at risk unless they come up with some form of resolution to the current stalemate by November.

Peters said that the port wants to go back to the California Coastal Commission at the commission’s October meeting and ask that it approve the project with no substantial changes. But, he also said that the port can’t survive as long as it’s at odds with the public. He said that they were approaching C-3 for feedback on ways that the port and the city could make the existing situation more palatable to the public, before deciding whether or not to go back to the CCC.

After the presentation, C-3 board members were allowed to ask the port contingent questions, followed by members of the public. One board member said that he had recently dropped a relative off down on the bayfront to catch a cruise ship. He said that between the ports security and efforts to keep cruise ship passenger vehicles moving along, he didn’t feel welcome as a local resident on his own waterfront.

When my turn to ask questions came up, I showed the board the renderings that had been used in the presentation — which showed the Broadway Pier free of any buildings — and asked if anyone could see a building on the pier.

Before anyone could respond, Peters said “We all know that the port made a big mistake by moving the cruise ship terminal onto Broadway Pier, but there’s nothing we can do about that now”.

His position seemed to be that the port had gotten away with moving the cruise ship terminal, which violated the port’s own approved master plan, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and apparently the Coastal Act (since the move was made without development of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a full-scale Port Master Plan amendment), but that there was no way to correct the current situation.

I pointed out that there is nothing preventing the port from simply disassembling the partially assembled metal building and reassembling the same building on the B Street Pier which is already zoned for cruise ship operations in the Port Master Plan, or moving it to a more secure location on the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal. This move could entail evaluating alternative cruise ship terminal sites as part of the new North Embarcadero EIR and draft Port Master Plan amendment development process it is now undertaking.

Peters made it clear that one goal of the port is to try to re-establish its own credibility and public trust in its planning process. As long as the cruise ship terminal sits on the Broadway Pier, it will remind the public of the port’s duplicity.

It will also be a constant reminder to the public that the California Coastal Commission has been unable or unwilling to enforce the Coastal Act and CEQA when it comes to San Diego’s downtown waterfront. Lax CCC enforcement has already cost the city its south embarcadero, today buried under a one mile long concrete wall of hotels and convention facilities.

It is not too late for the north embarcadero to be reclaimed for this region’s residents, instead of being sacrificed for commercial cruise ship profit making operations.

But for that to happen, the port has to stop digging itself into an ever-deeper hole and reverse its course in order to rebuild trust and credibility with the public.

Stay tuned to see what the port does next.

— DON WOOD

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