At its September 7, 2010, meeting the Board of Commissioners of the San Diego Port District got an update from Port staff on recent public meetings held to get input on proposed modifications to the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) phase one proposal.

They also reviewed the idea of building new public park space on the Lane Field hotels project site to help mitigate the elimination of the planned Broadway Landing Park at the foot of Broadway caused by the Port’s 2007 decision to build a new permanent cruise ship terminal on the Broadway Pier, and discussed expanding their NEVP phase two EIR and Port Master Plan Amendment (PMPA) process to determine the feasibility of building a new public park running along the east side of Harbor Drive from Hawthorne St. south to Broadway, and to consider their next steps.

After about three hours of discussion, the Port Board took no action, but agreed to put this issue on its October 5 meeting agenda as their first order of business.

The meeting began with a statement by Scott Andrews of Save Everyone’s Access noting that recent documents have come to light that made it clear that Carnival Cruise Lines was never in favor or building a permanent cruise ship terminal on the Broadway Pier. He also noted that a Homeland Security regulation adopted by the Coast Guard on a permanent basis back in 2003 requires that the Port maintain a 100-yard-wide security zone around every cruise ship that docks in San Diego Bay. He noted that the Port should drop the idea of trying to approve the NEVP phase one project via a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and address it through a Port Master Plan Amendment as required by the California Coastal Act.

When the board got to the item on the NEVP, Port staff gave a presentation on three public meetings it had help regarding the phase one project in August. Port Vice President Irene McCormick said that the Commissioners should take no action on a new CDP at that meeting. She noted that any proposed changes to the NEVP phase one plan would have to be reviewed and approved by the NEVP Joint Powers Authority board of directors. She noted that a number of speakers at the meetings had decried the Port’s decision to locate a permanent building on the Broadway Pier, since that action blocks public access and views to the bay that had been a primary feature of the original NEVP. She also reviewed three very minor tweaks to the existing NEVP phase one proposal that staff had unveiled at the meetings, and noted that the public had had little to say about them.

She briefly discussed the concept of a new linear setback park along the east side of Harbor Drive, noting that Lane Field originally suggested that it be 150 feet wide, and that the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (NBCC) was calling for the new park to be the same width as the distance from the east side of Harbor Drive to the center of the County Administration Center (CAC) building.

She also discussed ideas for narrowing Harbor Drive to three lanes, and/or closing portions of Harbor Drive west of the CAC and south of Broadway and outlined the concept of closing the foot or Broadway west from Pacific Highway to create additional park space. She said that Port staff had commissioned a new updated traffic study to examine the impacts of these changes. She also listed several other issues that could be discussed as part of an expanded PMPA EIR process.

Other Port staff then discussed changes to the Lane Field project, and proposed that the board approve the demolition of Building 11 at the east end of the Navy Pier to clear space for a new public park on the pier, as required by the 2001 PMPA that cleared the way for berthing the aircraft carrier Midway at Navy Pier. Staff also asked the board to approve accelerated planning and solicitation of federal grant funding of the new Bayfront Shuttle required by the Lane Field CDP.

After the staff presentation, the board listened to public comments. Jerry Trammer of the Lane Field project team gave an update on recent discussions that led to the proposal to reconfigure the buildings on their site to create additional park space on the west side of their parcel.

NBCC attorney Cory Briggs recommended that the proposed changes to the PMPA EIR Notice of Intention (NOI) be amended to eliminate reference to a 150-foot wide linear setback park and include the larger width called for by the NBCC. He suggested that the Port not invest more money in changes to the Broadway Pier, since the courts may require that the new terminal structure be dismantled or moved. He noted that Port staff had not agreed to meet and discuss any changes to the Lane Field project with the project developers, and suggested that the board direct staff to do so if it wanted to resolve the stalemate at the foot of Broadway. He noted that if the Port tried to approve a new CDP for NEVP phase one without fully considering the proposal to add new park space on the Lane Field site, the NBCC would appeal that action to the California Coastal Commission and the courts. NBCC representatives also noted that the Coastal Commission had specifically directed the Port to find a way to fully mitigate the elimination of the Broadway Landing Park, and that failure to do so would likely lead to another rejection if the issue is taken back to the Coastal Commission.

Local architect Jim Frost outlined massing concept drawings he had developed showing different configurations of a new park on the west side of the Lane Field site and a larger setback park, indicating the square footage of new public park space that would be created by each configuration. He asked that the Port stop its piecemeal planning processes, and begin to look at the whole north embarcadero in a more comprehensive way.

Following public comments, the commissioners discussed where we are and where we should go next. Commissioner Lee Burdick said she was going to make everyone mad at her, but she wanted to discuss some public myths she felt had grown up around the NEVP.

Lee Burdick’s comments from the meeting. (MP3 819 KB)

The first myth she said she wanted to address was the claim that the Port and the Coastal Commission had approved the 1998 NEVP plan containing an oval Broadway Landing Park at the foot of Broadway, and that the Port had pulled a bait and switch move when it instead approved a permanent cruise ship terminal on the Broadway Pier. She said that based on materials provided to her by Port staff, she did not believe that the Port or the Coastal Commission had ever approved a land use plan requiring the Broadway Landing Park to be built.

She read from materials she had been given by Port staff arguing that while the NEVP was a general policy guidance document, no formal resolution had been adopted by the Port board requiring a public park at the foot of Broadway. She said the Port was not legally bound to construct such a park, based on the materials she had been provided to date.

The second myth she wanted to discuss was the suggestion that the cruise ships could be moved to the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal (TAMT). She argued that the Port didn’t have funding to make such a move, and that even if it did, the Navy has the legal ability to take over that terminal in a time of military emergency and suggested that the cruise lines couldn’t take that risk if their ships were berthed at TAMT instead of on the piers on the north embarcadero.

A third myth she wanted to address, which she said had been generated by Port staff, was the idea that the Port creating new public space along the embarcadero would end up costing the port money. She said that one reason Port staff has failed to meet with the Lane Field developers was a concern that the Port might lose money in any new deal. She discussed a Wharton School of Business study she had read that discussed the fact that when you take actions to attract people to public places, you also attract new businesses that cater to that public, creating significant positive economic impacts for all concerned.

Burdick then put forward a series of recommendations that called for Port staff to move forward with plans for NEVP phase one and hold another series of public meetings after the new traffic study has been Completed, direct staff to develop a new CDP for phase one in order to avoid the potential loss of CCDC loans needed to implement phase one plans, direct staff to add a new separate bicycle/pedicabs lane to the esplanade, noting she had almost been run over by pedicabs trying to walk to and from the public meetings on the B St. Pier, direct staff to take a hard look at putting a much bigger fountain or large art work at the foot of Broadway, and clearly direct Port staff to enter into discussions with the Lane Field project team regarding the creation of new park space on that site.

She said she expected to vote on a new NEVP phase one plan at the board’s November meeting, including an update from staff on progress on discussions regarding a new park on the west side of the Lane Field site. She said that if no progress has been accomplished by then, she couldn’t say whether the board might not just roll phase one into the NEVP PMPA process instead of pursuing a new CDP.

She also asked the Ports attorney’s to begin a legal analysis that could lead to the Port banning newspaper racks from the esplanade.

She also suggested looking at new ways to activate the North Embarcadero from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, perhaps closing Harbor Drive to make way for community fairs and festivals on weekends. She said the Port should also hire a professional organization to program and activate this stretch of the bayfront to make it more attractive for the public to visit.

She said before we do any new Port Master Plan Amendment, the Port should complete a new public social involvement plan that details planned public uses of the embarcadero in the future. She said that what gets built on the north embarcadero should match or beat the public amenities found at Millennium Park in Chicago or at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

She supported the demolition of Building 11 to make way for a new public park on Navy Pier.

Commissioner Mike Bixler of Imperial Beach then spoke. He said he could not remember ever discussing or approving the idea for a park at the foot of Broadway. He asked Commissioner Steve Cushman if Cushman could remember such a discussion. He claimed that he had directed Port staff to remove the oval park from earlier renderings of the NEVP.

Mike Bixler’s comments from the meeting. (MP3 1.2 MB)

Bixler than challenged the NBCC representatives to provide him with “a smoking gun,” proving that the Port Board had every approved any plans that contained the Broadway Landing Park.

In response to Bixler’s challenge, NBCC attorney Cory Briggs read into the public record a June 25, 2000, Board of Port Commissioners Resolution formally adopting the 1998 NEVP, including the oval Broadway Landing Park, and incorporating the NEVP into the Port Master Plan.

Commissioners Lou Smith and Steve Padilla then spoke about their concerns. Smith said we all needed to get back on track and move forward. Padilla said that as a former Coastal Commissioner, he knows its important to recognize and respect previous commitments and understandings reached along the bayfront, and fully recognize the publics desire for more parks and open space along the embarcadero. He said the Port should look at the economic benefits that could be generated by such public spaces, and agreed that Port staff needed to be talking with the Lane Field development team. He said he in uncomfortable with the idea of voting for a new CDP for NEVP phase one at this point. He supported demolishing building 11 and moving forward with a shuttle funding plan.

Commissioner Steve Cushman then spoke.

Steve Cushman’s comments from the meeting. (MP3 393 KB)

In response to Bixler’s question, CityBeat quotes Burdick as saying Cushman said, “The park was promised, it was in the plans, it was approved — live with it.” (This quote is now believed to be incorrect; see my update here.) Cushman noted that, “We put the oval park in. We printed it, whether you like it or not, it’s history that we did do it. So let’s not run away from — I don’t care what anyone says, we printed it, we published it, we can show it to you. So, it is what it is.”

Cushman said the Port staff already has authority and clear direction to begin talking with Lane Field about reconfiguring their project to create new public park space, including making changes to the Lane Field project lease as needed to make the park concept workable.

He noted that the Port’s lease with the Midway Museum clearly calls for the Midway to set aside funds to move public parking off the Navy Pier to a remote parking facility and to create a new park on Navy Pier. He suggested that staff read the lease then talk with the Midway Museum staff about following through on the 2001 PMPA requirements that allowed the Midway to move here.

By then it was almost 7 p.m., and Cushman said everyone was too tired to make any formal motions at that point. He suggested that this be the first item on the board’s October meeting agenda. Chairman Dukie agreed to do that.

Port President Charles Wurster agreed that Port Staff would begin talking with the Lane Field team regarding modifications to the lease to create space for new a new public park on the west side of that site. Staff also said that the amended PMPA EIR NOI could be put off until the October Port board meeting.

It looks like the October 5 Port board meeting will be eventful. You should plan to attend and make your own views heard.

Update: This blog post was modified to properly attribute a quote to CityBeat, to lightly revise a transcript of Steve Cushman’s comments, and to indicate that the author of this piece is involved with ongoing litigation related to things discussed here.

In addition to his other affiliations, Don Wood is also a member of the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, an alliance of local civic organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing public access to downtown San Diego’s waterfront, which is currently involved in ongoing litigation with the port over its alleged failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the proposal to build the new structure on the Broadway Pier.

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