Four Evenings with the Port - Voice of San Diego

Letters UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Four Evenings with the Port

The port continues to hold meetings, tweak project ideas and dance around the requirements mandated by the original North Embarcadero Visionary Project.

In response to the rejection of its current North Embarcadero Visionary Project (NEVP) Phase 1 project proposal by the California Coastal Commission (CCC) last April, and a new offer by the Lane Field hotels project development team to reconfigure their project to provide more public park space near the foot of Broadway, the San Diego Unified Port District has been hosting a series of public input meetings over the last two weeks at the B Street Pier cruise ship terminal facility.

The port staff has posted many of the comments received at those workshops on its website, where you can submit comments of your own and read those of the workshop attendees. It has also posted a set of questions and answers to some of the issues discussed at the meetings.

When it rejected the port’s NEVP Phase 1 proposal in April, the CCC directed the port to identify ways to mitigate the loss of the 5 acre Broadway Landing Park called for in the initial NEVP document previously approved by the CCC. The Lane Field team, knowing that its project cannot move forward until work at the foot of Broadway called for in the NEVP Phase 1 plan has been completed, put forward the idea of shrinking the footprint of its proposed hotel project to provide more public space along the west side of its project site.

I attended all four of the meetings and want to provide you with an update on how port staff has responded to the Lane Field proposal to date and bring you up to speed on what is currently planned.

Each of the meetings kicked off with a presentation by port staff of the history of the North Embarcadero planning process and a discussion of what has been happening.

Staff indicated that their goals for phase 1 of the planning process would include considering minor tweaks to the proposed Broadway/Harbor Drive intersection design, requesting the Board of Port Commissioners’ approval to demolish the existing building on Navy Pier to make way for park development on the pier, finding funding for a new waterfront shuttle service, and updating the scope of the Port Master Plan Amendment (PMPA) Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process to include consideration of the development of a new setback park along the east side of Harbor Drive. Staff indicated that they are concerned that further delays in approval of NEVP Phase 1 may result in the loss of $28 million in Centre City Development Corporation funding currently earmarked for the project.

Long term, staff indicated plans are to design and develop low cost visitor accommodations along the waterfront, design and build a new parking garage on the block east of Harbor Drive between Hawthorne and Grape St., identify a site for and build 2.5 acres of new park space along the North Embarcadero, and to consider construction of a new linear park east of Harbor Drive. This new linear park would stretch north from Broadway to Hawthorne Street and would be as wide as the distance from Harbor Drive to the center of the west wall of the existing County Administration Center building.

Staff also indicated that they plan to look at narrowing Harbor Drive to three lanes to create another half acre of waterside public space, consider closing portions of Harbor Drive along the North Embarcadero, look at closing Broadway between Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive to create more public space, and look at closing Harbor Drive south of Broadway to create more public park space near the foot of the new Navy Pier park. It was also noted that narrowing Harbor Drive to three lanes is something that was called for in the original NEVP, that was previously approved by the CCC. Port staff said that they are beginning a new traffic and parking study to look at the planning impacts associated with this idea.

Following the presentation, port staff and staff from the Civitas consulting group outlined three very minor modifications currently being considered for the two small Jacaranda groves in the current NEVP Phase 1 plan on either side of the foot of Broadway at the east end of the Broadway Pier.

One alternative would remove a few of the trees and replace them with small plots of lawn. The second would remove all the trees from those small parcels and replace them with lawns on either side of Broadway, west of Harbor Drive. The third would add small fountains on those parcels on either side of the driveway leading onto the Broadway Pier.

Staff then discussed an idea to narrow Harbor Drive from B Street south to Broadway to three lanes, which they said would increase the width of the waterside embarcadero by about 25 feet, bringing the width of the proposed embarcadero to something like 125 feet.

At each of the meetings, port staff discussed the proposal by the Lane Field project team. It became clear that port staff does not support this proposal. This is in part because the existing Lane Field project plans have already received port and CCC approval and in large part because the changes being proposed might reduce the port’s own projected revenues from the project. It may also increase the port’s expenses associated with park maintenance down the road.

Port staff noted that if the setback park concept were pursued, up to 40 percent of the existing Lane Field site could become public parkland instead of generating revenues for the port. A port staff later told me that under current plans, the Lane Field team has to come up with $26 million needed to buy back the lease of the 1220 Pacific Highway parcel from the Navy, and that staff didn’t want to have to find the money for that elsewhere.

Staff announced that they would be taking all the questions and comments received at the meetings and reporting back to the Port Board of Commissioners (BPC) at its September 7 meeting to get more direction from the board.

After that, they announced that additional public input meetings will be held in September and October. They assured attendees that more public meetings would be held to discuss the results of the traffic study and if the Lane Field team redesigns their project, public meetings would be held on any changes proposed to those project plans. They said their current goal is to get a new NEVP Phase 1 Coastal Development Permit to the port board by its November meeting for approval.

During the public questions session of the meetings, port staff was asked if they had any rendering that showed the 300-foot “safety zones” required around the foot of the B Street and Broadway Piers required by Homeland Security regulations. Answer: No.

When asked if Homeland Security regulations would require that Harbor Drive be closed to the public when cruise ships are tied up at Broadway Pier, staff indicated that since the Coast Guard hasn’t required the port to comply with the 300′ exclusionary zone at the foot of the B Street Pier, they don’t believe that it will require the port to comply with the same regulations at the foot of Broadway Pier.

They were asked if more public meetings would be held after the new traffic study has been completed. Answer: Yes.

Staff was asked if more public meetings would be held when and if the Lane Field team completed its redesign of that project. Answer: Yes.

Staff was asked if the unsightly utility equipment at the foot of the Broadway Pier could be moved or put underground. Answer: No.

In public comments, a representative of Anthony’s Fish Grotto was concerned over the proposal to narrow Harbor Drive. He said that the goal should be to increase traffic on Harbor Drive, not decrease it.

Several speakers lambasted port staff for the port’s abandonment of the original NEVP vision and its undermining of that plan by locating an ugly building on Broadway Pier, thereby destroying views down Broadway to the bay. One attendee called the new terminal building “an ugly green box.”

Many parties supported a proposal to move the cruise ships from the B Street and Broadway Piers south to the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal which would free up 12 acres of new space on the two piers which could be used as new bayfront public parks and related retail.

Several complained that the port is planning the North Embarcadero piecemeal instead of looking at it and adjoining sites as one area.

Several parties complained about the height of the proposed buildings on the Esplanade (which port staff and consultants call “pavilions”) and asked if those buildings could be made shorter, smaller or moved to the east side of Harbor Drive. Several downtown residents who lived near the Lane Field site said they thought the project should move forward as planned. One noted that he lives in a highrise condo just east of Lane Field, and is concerned that if Lane Field shrinks its project footprint, it might redesign its two hotel towers to be taller, potentially blocking his views.

Architect Rob Wellington Quigley, who designed the new downtown library, suggested that the port allow its consultants to design additional public space in the 400-foot forecourt of the Broadway Pier in order to better connect it to the proposed esplanade. He noted that locating a big fence and gates at the foot of Broadway Pier would send the wrong message to the public if the port’s intent is to allow the pier and the terminal building to be used for pubic events when cruise ships are not tied up at the pier.

Developer David Malmuth, who is hosting and Art in the City symposium on September 4, said that the port needs to adopt planning principles for the North Embarcadero, planning the area for local residents first and for tourists second. He said any plans for the North Embarcadero should not just be focused on the physical site, but should also consider all the various uses that the space can be used for in the future. He supported putting a performance space in the new Navy Pier park and including a new waterfront children’s park in plans for the North Embarcadero. He said the foot of Broadway should be treated as the gateway to the city and include some kind of art walk as part of the port’s plans.

Several parties urged the port to move forward with the existing NEVP Phase 1 plan that was rejected by the CCC in April, complaining about delays the planning process has experienced to date. They were reminded by other attendees that the CCC already approved the original NEVP plan in the late 1990s, and that it is the port that created new problems when it changed its mind and decided to build a new permanent cruise ship terminal building on the Broadway Pier.

Several attendees suggested that the new bayfront shuttle should run from the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal to the airport and back in order to connect the airport to all the hotels and the convention center.

Mike Madigan said that with the loss of the commercial fishing industry, we need something to activate the North Embarcadero. So he supports retaining some elements of the cruise ship industry there, along with other activities to draw people down to the bayfront (other than turning the North Embarcadero into a parking lot for billionaires’ mega-yachts). He supported narrowing Harbor Drive to a small lane instead of a main thoroughfare. He suggested focusing on ways to open up the east-west corridors between central downtown and the bayfront, and the creation of a more people oriented plan for the waterfront.

The next key date in the North Embarcadero planning process will be the Board of Port Commissioners’ meeting on September 7. Commissioner Lee Burdick invited the public to attend that meeting and provide more input directly to the board. She noted that the port will be holding more public hearings in September and October after the port board has given staff more direction at its September 7 meeting.

 

— DON WOOD

 

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.

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