It’s a familiar scene: A new, $1 billion project on Coronado is exposing tensions among residents and the project’s developer.
But the developer is no normal developer, it’s the United States Navy.
The Navy’s new Coastal Campus will cover 170 acres on the south end of Coronado. The campus will be a training and administrative center for 3,400 people from the Naval Special Warfare Command, including four teams of Navy SEALs.
In a letter from Coronado’s attorneys last year to the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission about the Navy’s new campus, the city said that if the Navy were a private developer, it would likely try to stop the project.
“Coronado officials and residents are interested in preserving the existing character and level of development in Coronado,” the letter said. “While the City may not have the legal right to stop the Navy from conducting this development, it would likely not approve it for a regular private developer.”
The new project has also become a vehicle of sorts for Coronado residents and their city government to vent about the Navy’s existing footprint.
During the public comment period for the Coastal Campus, the city told the Navy that the community is “already significantly impacted with traffic,” bombarded with noise from traffic and aircraft, breathing air degraded by soot from trucks and airplanes and dealing with “ever diminishing access along coastal shorelines.”
City officials complain they generally were not consulted by the Navy during the planning of the campus, which will include 1.5 million square feet of new infrastructure.
The Navy, however, isn’t obligated to keep Coronado in the loop: The federal government’s authority supersedes such local interests.
Some of the concerns about noise and traffic are to be expected from residents adjacent to any sort of new development in California, particularly one along the coast near valuable homes.
Other criticisms are unique to the nature of the military training and operations being carried out on Coronado, because the noise comes from military aircraft and sometimes gunfire.
Everyone is quick to point out that they are patriotic and that their relationship with the Navy is relatively good, except for a few particulars.
“I believe we have a reasonable good relationship with the Navy,” said Coronado city manager Blair King.
Even in Navy-related disputes, the city seems to avoid tangling directly with the Navy. The city submitted 14 pages of comments that expressed concerns about holes in the Navy’s environmental impact study for the new campus. The city did not, however, choose to take legal action, King said. Such litigation could have slowed development of the campus, which the Navy says is “vital to the continued development and support of the world’s most elite cadre of special warfighters.”
The city also says it should have first dibs on the sewage from the new campus, but the Navy plans to send the sewage to Imperial Beach. Coronado filed a lawsuit over that, but did not name the Navy in the litigation. The Navy said in a statement that any change to its sewer system plans could cost millions of dollars and delay the project by two years. Coronado has questioned such figures.
The epicenter of concern over the new campus is Coronado Cays, a cluster of 1,200 high-end homes in southern Coronado. The entrance to the new campus will be hundreds of feet from some of those homes, which are all worth $1 million or more.
Residents worry traffic to the new campus will back up in front of their houses and that noise from that traffic – particularly motorcycles – will be unbearable.
“The people are going, ‘I better sell my place,’” said Helen Kupka, president of the Coronado Cays Homeowners Association, referring to people in the homes nearest the campus.
Some believe the new campus, while causing traffic in the southern end of the island, will ease traffic on the northern end of Coronado. That’s because the people heading for the new campus are simply being moved from the Naval Amphibious Base on the northern end of the island.
Cays residents, though, are pushing for the Navy or Caltrans to build an overpass there. They say that would help avoid traffic jams for personnel turning across traffic into the campus. The Navy is already spending a $1 billion on the project, so why not add an overpass, they reason.
On top of this is existing concern about aircraft that already fly overhead.
Kupka said helicopters will come unnecessarily close to multimillion-dollar homes, disturbing dinner parties and peace and quiet.
When residents complain to the Navy, “It’s like shouting down a black hole,” Kupka said.
Kupka and others recognize that not all of the helicopters are the Navy’s: The Coast Guard, Border Patrol and even news helicopters fly in the area.
“My observation is that there are lots of people who misinformed about who is actually making noise and who is not,” said Mike Durgin, a former Navy pilot and vice president of the Coronado Cays Homeowners Association.
One Cays resident, in a public comment submitted to the Navy, said the campus was “too much, too big and too unnecessary” questioned the need for such a large military establishment in this country.
That position seems to be in the minority, however.
“There is no place in the United States that feels a stronger commitment to the armed service than Coronado does to the Navy,” said City Councilman Mike Woiwode.
But the military population on the island rivals the civilian population. “There’s just a bunch of bumping and shoving, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Sandy DeMunnik, a base spokeswoman, said in a statement that the Navy was proud to be a part of the community and “is dedicated to being a good neighbor while supporting our warfighters.”
Bill Sandke, a member of the City Council, said when he was growing up in the early 1970s, about 70 percent of the city was in some way connected to the Navy. Today, less than 30 percent is.
“Consequently, I believe many in our town are quicker to point out the aircraft noise, the twice-daily overwhelming traffic onslaught and other community impacts generated by the US Navy,” he wrote in an email.