Over the last few weeks, coming to a head at the San Diego City Council’s February 28 meeting, a number of encouraging steps have been taken to redevelop downtown’s waterfront in a manner more friendly and accessible to both local residents and visitors.

On January 25, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $2.6 million to demolish the 50-plus-year-old J.W. Askew Building in the north parking lot of the County Administration Center. The board also approved another $1.2 million to complete final designs for the 12-acre County Administration Park, which will surround the National Register-listed, historic administration building. The new park is expected to cost $38 million to construct.

On February 16, the Centre City Development Corporation’s Centre City Advisory Committee approved an amendment to the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Joint Powers Agreement the city and CCDC signed with the San Diego Unified Port District in April of 2007.

The Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Agreement amendment includes an updated financing plan for phase 1 of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) project, which requires an investment of more than $29 million in CCDC funds. Half of this amount will be the city’s contribution to the project, and the other half will be a loan to the port to facilitate the construction of phase 1. Phase 1 will stretch north from the Navy Pier to B Street, will include the narrowing of Harbor Drive, the construction of a broad pedestrian esplanade along the west side of Harbor Drive and the construction of a new 150-foot setback public park on the west side of the Lane Field Hotel project site just north of the foot of Broadway.

This new park is seen as only partially mitigating the loss of the larger oval Broadway Landing Park at the foot of Broadway called for in the Port Master Plan, which was lost when the port decided to build a new cruise ship terminal on Broadway Pier, in violation of the California Coastal Act. It remains to be seen whether the courts will reverse that decision or if the port will propose to create additional new public park space west of Harbor Drive, as required by the California Coastal Commission.

Following the approval of the NEVP phase 1 financing plan by the CCDC Centre City Advisory Committee and the CCDC board, the Board of Port Commissioners met on February 25 and approved the JPA Agreement Amendment. The San Diego City Council met on February 28 in its capacity as the San Diego Redevelopment Board and voted 6-1 to approve the funding plan.

This means that the port will have about $28 million to support construction of phase 1. This is an important step, because the state legislature is currently considering shutting down all redevelopment agencies in the state to resolve its budget problems. Approval of this amendment to the 2007 JPA Agreement means that these funds are now legally committed to the completion of phase 1, but leaves the source of the remaining estimated overall cost of $200 million of the entire NEVP project in question. The 2007 JPA Agreement legally commits the city and the port to sharing the overall cost of the $228 million NEVP project.

The Navy Broadway Complex Coalition’s California Environmental Quality Act and Coastal Act lawsuit against the port regarding the Broadway Pier cruise ship terminal will be held in Judge Vargas’ courtroom at the San Diego County Courthouse on Friday, March 5 at 1:30 pm. The judge could order the port to dismantle the structure, move it to another location, or take other actions to fully mitigate the loss of the Broadway Landing Park and public access to Broadway Pier.

The next step in the NEVP phase 1 planning process entails the California Coastal Commission’s review of four appeals of the NEVP phase 1 Coastal Development Permit (CDP), currently scheduled to happen at the Coastal Commission’s April 2011 meeting. That meeting will mark the one-year anniversary of the CCC’s rejection of the previous, fatally flawed, phase 1 CDP adopted by the port in 2009. The Coastal Commission may reject this version of the CDP, or it may adopt conditions to its CDP approval that may require the creation of additional public park space west of Harbor Drive along our North Embarcadero.

But in general, the recent steps that have been taken by the county, the port and the city have made the last two months positive ones for our downtown waterfront.

Stay tuned.

In addition to his other affiliations, Don Wood is 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 permanent cruise ship terminal structure on the Broadway Pier.

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