The San Diego Unified Port District’s Board of Port Commissioners met on October 5 and discussed potential changes to the proposed Lane Field hotels project and the idea of issuing a new Coastal Development Project (CDP) for implementation of phase 1 of the North Embarcadero Visionary Project (NEVP).

Staff gave a brief report on the proposal to modify the existing Lane Field lease option to provide for a redesign of the project to accommodate a new 150-foot-wide park east of Harbor Drive on the west end of the project site. Port staff told the board members that there are no active earthquake faults under the Lane Field site. Staff said that if the board wishes, the lease option can be amended to include the parameters of the proposed Lane Field Park and that the park can also be spelled out in any new NEVP phase 1 CDP.

In public comments, Lane Field principle Jerry Trammer said that while Lane Field is willing to pursue the idea of the new park and begin a redesign of their project, they didn’t want any language in the updated lease option that says that if the park is not built the amended lease option is null and void. He suggested that a separate legally enforceable settlement agreement could be signed by the port, Lane Field and the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (NBCC) requiring that the park be built as proposed, before the port adopts any new CDP for NEVP phase 1.

Cory Briggs, NBCC attorney, said that his clients cannot support any new NEVP phase 1 CDP unless a clear commitment is made by all parties to building the Lane Field Park. He also questioned why port staff is now recommending dropping all the ideas put forward at the public meetings it held and go back to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) with essentially the same CDP that the CCC already rejected last April. He noted that in order for the Lane Field Park to be built, the port or Lane Field has to regain control over the 1220 Pacific Highway parcel from the Navy, noting that failure to do so would be seen as a deal-breaker.

Ian Trowbridge of the NBCC noted that this deal to mitigate for the loss of the promised oval park at the foot of Broadway is a “three-legged stool,” and that Lane Field Park is needed to make it work. He said that Lane Field is working hard to make things work out and that the port should support that effort. He noted that the next 30 days would be critical in reaching a firm solution to this stalemate, if that is possible.

Local architect James Frost talked about the alignment of the proposed larger setback park that would run from Broadway north to Ash Street. He noted that the latest port staff recommendations would make no changes to Harbor Drive, and reminded the port board that the CCC directed the port last April to come up with ways to increase the amount of public space west of Harbor Drive. He suggested that the port take the time to redesign NEVP phase 1 to make it more consistent with the Lane Field Park and the setback park concepts. One way might be to realign Harbor Drive to run it along the east side of the new setback and Lane Field parks instead of the west side.

Frost also noted that the latest staff report lease option amendment language deletes any mention of underground parking spaces underneath the north Lane Field hotel tower, while retaining underground parking underneath the south tower. He asked whether that was a staff oversight and asked that this issue be clarified.

Marti Kransberg said that she also would like to see Harbor Drive realigned to run east of the proposed setback park. She said that the port should not locate new parks along a busy Harbor Drive, noting that people didn’t come down to the waterfront just to look at cars and trucks.

Graham Forbes talked about how Lane Field and the Unite Here labor union have negotiated and signed a labor peace agreement and said that Unite Here now supports the Lane Field project as currently being discussed. He noted that NEVP phase 1 and the Lane Field project are inextricably linked.

A baseball historian showed photos of Ted Williams and Jimmie Fox playing at Lane Field in years past, and asked that the new Lane Field hotels build a nice statue of Williams, which could become a big tourist attraction like the Rocky Balboa statue is in Philadelphia. He said that the sculpture artist that created the Rocky statue has shown interest in doing a similar statue of Ted Williams at Lane Field. He complained that the port’s Public Art Committee has shown little interest in the idea.

Commissioner Lee Burdick said she wants certainty that the Lane Field setback park will be built before she is willing to sign off on any new CDP for NEVP phase 1. Commissioner Scott Peters noted that he too wants certainty, but noted that a redesign of the Lane Field project will take time. He said that we would all have to accept some uncertainty but that he supports construction of a 150-foot setback park on the west end of the Lane Field site.

Commissioner Michael Bixler indicated that he has no problems with public space but wants Lane Field in its project redesign to consider making the hotel towers on the east side of the site taller to limit any loss of port revenues created by the project redesign.

Commissioner Steve Padilla noted that the new deal, with a new hotel on the west end of the Lane Field site, would be substantially different from what is called for in the Lane Field CDP the CCC previously approved, but supported moving forward with this deal.

Commissioner Lou Smith said its time to let pragmatism rear its ugly head and reach a workable deal. On a motion by Commissioner Scott Peters, the board approved the Lane Field item.

The board then received a staff update on NEVP phase 1 planning. Staff explained current efforts to develop a new CDP for phase 1 and asked for authorization to send out a revised Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the Port Master Plan Amendment Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process. They noted that the Coastal Commission made it very clear at its April meeting that new public space will be required to get approval of any new CDP. They indicated that a new setback park along Harbor Drive would provide more than the 2.5 acres of public space that was going to be provided by the original oval Broadway Landing Park at the foot of Broadway called for in the original NEVP. Staff noted that the new setback park, except for the portion on the west side of the Lane Field project would be 205 feet wide, the same distance as the space from the east side of Harbor Drive to the central west wall of the County Administrative Center.

Staff showed several board minor variations on the existing phase 1 plan that were discussed at the public meetings held by staff, including modifications to the Jacaranda groves at the foot of Broadway and an option of reducing the width of Harbor Drive to create more public space west of the road. Staff said that since the port board has approved the idea of a new 150 foot setback park on the Lane Field site, staff plans to withdraw those variations to the original phase 1 plan, and recommend that the port go back to the CCC with the essentially the same phase 1 CDP that the CCC rejected last April, unless board members or the public had objections to that approach.

Under questioning by the board chairman, staff clarified that the recommendations put forward that day were what staff proposed to include in a new CDP to be brought to the board next month or in December and that staff wasn’t proposing that the board approve any new CDP that day. Staff outlined new items to be added to the new Port Master Plan Amendment EIR NOP, and said that two additional public EIR scoping meetings will be held to gather more public input after the NOP has been issued.

In public comments on this item, Jim Frost repeated his recommendation that the port take the time to redesign phase 1 to be more compatible with the new setback park in order to better coordinate the design of the parks with the planned public esplanade along the water. He again mentioned the idea of exploring realignment of Harbor Drive so that it would run east of the esplanade and the setback park, instead of running between them.

Frost also read from the Coast Guard’s 2003 rules requiring a 100 yard exclusionary zone around the whole perimeter of cruise ships that dock in San Diego Bay and said he had been unable to find any port or coast guard cruise ship security plans that explains how the port plans to comply with those regulations.

Diane Coombs cautioned the board from getting too locked into what it currently plans to do in phase 2, asking that it remain open to new and better ideas that may surface during the Port Master Plan Amendment EIR planning process. She also invited the board to attend a half day waterfront planning meeting being hosted by the NBCC, Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3) and half a dozen other local planning organizations on October 23.

Ken Victor said he was disappointed by the existing embarcadero. He called it “indecision by committee” and complained about the ugly above grade utility boxes and infrastructure at the foot of the Broadway Pier. He warned that going back to the CCC with the same phase 1 CDP that the commission rejected last April simply would not work. He complained that there is no vision in the port’s visionary plan, and the plan includes no “wow” element that would draw people to the bayfront and would create no new civic landmarks. He also called for a major new water feature to be created at the foot of Broadway.

Nick Marinovich, a retired county employee who used to be a part of the North Embarcadero Alliance Visionary Plan management team, called for the NEVP alliance to be reconstituted, bringing back the county and the Navy into the alliance, noting that many of the problems created by the port’s decision to build a new terminal on the Broadway Pier probably would not have happened if the idea had been properly vetted by the whole alliance, instead of being done as a separate project by the port. He said that the NEVP needs an independent champion, who would not be aligned with any of the various jurisdictions, and focused on building something for the whole region. He also suggested that the NEVP Joint Powers Authority board should be expanded to include representatives of the public and a new NEVP Joint Powers Authority waterfront parks financing committee be formed.

Marti Kransberg said that the port should hire someone to publicly plan and program how the public will use the waterfront.

Following public comment, Commissioner Lee Burdick questioned port staff.

In response to a question from Burdick, staff said that they proposed to issue a phase 2 Port Master Plan Amendment EIR NOP on October 18. She noted that the port staff had promised the public that they would have another chance to comment on the phase 1 CDP after the traffic study has been completed and asked if meetings staff is planning for October 27-28 were going to count as those meetings. When asked, planning staff said that a preliminary north embarcadero traffic study has been completed, but not yet made available to the public. Burdick asked that the study be released as soon as possible. Staff said several additional public input meetings will be held during the phase 2 Port Master Plan Amendment EIR development process.

Burdick read from a 2000 Port Master Plan Amendment resolution and questioned staff on it. Under her questioning, staff admitted that the existing Port Master Plan calls for Harbor Drive to be realigned and reduced to three lanes but said that their current phase 1 plan does not include reducing the road to three lanes. Staff said that a 10 foot bike lane called for in the current master plan has instead been rolled into a multipurpose lane along the esplanade that would accommodate individual bike riders and pedi-cab traffic.

Burdick said that in view of the staff’s current recommendations, she is beginning to understand the public’s frustration with the port’s planning process. She expressed concern that staff was now proposing to drop phase 1 changes discussed in public input meetings and said she will not vote to go back to the Coastal Commission with the phase 1 plan currently being recommended by staff. She suggested that additional public meetings be held to discuss proposed narrowing Harbor Drive and the idea of having a separate bike and pedi-cabs path and explore the idea of a large water feature at the foot of Broadway that kids can interact with on hot days.

Burdick also suggested that a public waterfront programming process take place to look at ways the esplanade and setback park could be activated to become an attractive waterfront feature. She said that this programming should be completed before an NOP for the North Embarcadero Port Master Plan Amendment EIR goes out, not after. The board chairman agreed to put this item on the November meeting agenda for discussion.

Commissioner Scott Peters said that phase 1 is just an interim plan that can be improved later, noting that the new terminal building on the Broadway Pier isn’t going anywhere. He said for now the port should focus on obtaining the NEVP phase 1 funding from CCDC.

Commissioner Stephen Cushman said that reducing Harbor Drive to 3 lanes wouldn’t work, but that if the board wants to explore the idea further, he’ll go along with it.

Commissioner Steve Padilla said that the port and its staff should complete its own initial planning and programming for phase 2 before sending out the Port Master Plan Amendment EIR NOP, so that the public would have something concrete to comment on. Planning staff said that they could send out the NOP without board approval. So, no motion approving the issuance of the NOP was needed at that meeting.

Burdick said that the configuration of Harbor Drive would have to be fully vetted through a traffic study before a new phase 1 CDP is issued. She said it makes no sense to issue a CDP, and then begin programming phase 1 public spaces later on. She said the port should determine what is going to attract people to come down to the waterfront, and then design around that goal. Staff said that they were preparing request for bids to hire a consultant to help them with this kind of programming and hoped to have someone hired by next month.

For those of you who are interested in the future of the waterfront, an independent community waterfront planning workshop will be held on October 23 at the port planning center which is co-sponsored by Citizen’s Coordinate for Century 3, the North Embarcadero Complex Coalition, the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, Partners for Livable Places, the San Diego League of Women Voters and several other prominent urban planning groups.

If you have concerns over how the port is planning our waterfront and want to voice your concerns, I urge you attend this workshop, additional public meetings planned by port staff and the Port Board’s November 2 meeting. Now is the time to help plan how our remaining elands on the downtown waterfront will be redeveloped, not after construction has started.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post misdescribed a speaker at the event and misnamed the person in a photo alongside Ted Williams regrets the error.

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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