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Anyone who wants to experience a barely functional, unfriendly waterfront only needs to take a stroll along Harbor Drive as it passes through the south embarcadero.

For almost two miles, you won’t be able to even see, much less easily get to, the San Diego bay. It’s very difficult to reach to our bayfront unless you walk south from Seaport Village, due to blockage created by our giant convention center and three large hotel complexes. How the California Coastal Commission, whose charter includes maximizing public access to our waterfront, allowed this to happen over the last thirty years remains a mystery.

Mega-hotels like the Marriott and the Hyatt are designed to get hotel customers into their complexes and then keep them there as they spend their money. They are not designed so that tourists and local residents can easily walk through their facilities to the water. In fact, the convention center is designed to keep people in, watching slideshows and walking through exhibit halls, rather than provide easy paths from our downtown core to our bayfront.

While we have not walled off our north embarcadero with large hotel complexes like we see on the south embarcadero, we have instead catered to big cruise ship lines, setting aside limited pier space for giant six to eight story tall cruise ships and all their support and supply operations. This has made the north embarcadero unfriendly for local residents who want to spend a day visiting the bay.

Like the mega-hotel complexes, cruise ships are designed to keep their passengers onboard spending their money, not to encourage downtown residents to spend more time along the embarcadero. While wild claims have been made about how much the cruise ship industry brings to our local economy, the port’s own marketing director has admitted that the port actually loses money on every stop cruise ships make here.

Hopefully this will change as the city and the port begin construction of phase one of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan. Planning for phase two has already begun and the public is invited to participate in designing a more user-friendly north embarcadero. With any luck we will soon see several new public parks along our north embarcadero, and we may see more human-scale commercial and recreational development that encourages both locals and tourists to spend more time — and more money — in the area.

You can learn more about this public planning effort by accessing the port’s website here.

I strongly encourage you to educate yourself, then join in and help shape our downtown waterfront for the generations to come after us. It is critically important that we get this right.

The port is scheduled to break ground on January 5, 2012. In the meantime, come help us plan phase two and the rest of our north embarcadero. These are public tidelands owned by all the people of California. It’s your waterfront; so help make it something our children and grandchildren can enjoy for decades to come.

Catch up on previous posts about this issue here.

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.

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