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Statement: “There really aren’t any design impacts that result from the cruise ship terminal being constructed,” said Shaun Sumner, the port of San Diego’s senior real estate asset manager, during an interview for a San Diego Explained segment about the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan.

Determination: BARELY TRUE

Analysis: Sumner was making a case frequently repeated by representatives of the Unified Port of San Diego: that the Broadway Pier, which extends off Broadway downtown past Harbor Drive, has always been envisioned as a host for cruise ships, their passengers and their needs. Further, they claim, they were unable to make any other conclusion than that the massive terminal now arising on the pier had to be built.

And it doesn’t matter to the surrounding area and the vision many have had for it, they say, because to handle cruise ships, you need vehicular access to the area, and that makes a plaza or grassy area in front of Broadway Pier impossible.

Here’s the building in question:

After studying this for a couple of weeks, we concluded that he is correct, the building itself did not have impacts on the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan. But the decision to host so much cruise traffic at the Broadway Pier certainly did. The terminal is a product of that decision.

The vision for the pier has not always included such a major cruise ship presence.

Critics suing the port claim that the pier was seen as simply an overflow valve for cruise ship passengers when traffic was high. But they say a decision was made to make Broadway Pier a true homeport for ships and not just a “port of call,” which meant more vehicles would need to access the pier more often, said Cory Briggs, their attorney.

Because of the added traffic, the port tried to get the California Coastal Commission to approve plans that have more pavement and make the area less attractive as a park/gathering spot.

Indeed, it is obvious that the intensity of cruise ship use at the Broadway Pier has morphed over time. The terminal imagined at the port went from simply being a tent that could be taken down when it wasn’t needed to the large, multi-million facility now taking shape.

When I contacted him for this fact check, Sumner acknowledged the building as it currently looks was not always in the plans.

“I don’t think anybody is disputing that at one point we were talking about a tent, then a prefabricated building and then an architecturally designed building. But all of them would have required vehicular access to the pier,” Sumner said.

Yes, but its strains credibility that a temporary overflow tent would need as much access as a major building.

When I asked Sumner about critics’ claim that the major terminal would need more vehicular access and therefore have more impact on the surrounding area, he said it didn’t matter.

“Vehicular access has been constant throughout the entire planning process, regardless whether the cruises are visitation or homeport,” he said.

But if it was consistent, the original 1998 and 2001 master plans for the area would needed room for traffic the way the port’s preferred plan now does. But they don’t show the kind of accommodation the current plan does.

Regardless, Sumner’s statement was that the building itself did not impact the surrounding design. He’s right, it didn’t. But the decision to accommodate the cruise ship industry certainly did. And since its design and permanence have blocked views to the water and added more traffic, the big building more than slightly impacts the surrounding area.

So the statement had an element of truth but if you hear anyone say it, there’s a lot more to think about — aspects that change the impression the statement alone makes. That makes it barely true.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

— SCOTT LEWIS

Summer Polacek

Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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