Port to Look for New Solutions to Resolve Waterfront Stalemate
Momentum is accelerating around a new public park space in conjunction with the Lane Field hotel project.
The San Diego Unified’s Board of Port Commissioners met today to hear an update from its staff on planning for the North Embarcadero and to consider new steps to try to address the concerns of public access advocates who successfully challenged the port’s last North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) Phase 1 Coastal Development Permit (CDP) before the California Coastal Commission (CCC) on April 15, 2010.
Port staff updated the board on recent informal discussions with the Lane Field Hotel project developers, city leaders and some of the appellants who prevailed at the April CCC meeting. Staff discussed the original 1998 NEVP and the 2005 updates the port adopted in 2005 before it decided to build a new cruise ship terminal on Broadway Pier in 2007.
Staff noted that the Lane Field development team (Lane Field) came forward after the CCC rejection of the CDP and suggested they might be willing to redesign their project to create public park space on the west side of their site, which might help mitigate the loss of the Broadway Landing Park at the foot of Broadway called for in the 1998 NEVP.
This would entail Lane Field negotiating an amendment of their lease option with the port, then going to the CCC with a proposal to amend their existing CDP. At the same time that is happening the port would reconfigure NEVP Phase 1 plans to reflect new public park space on the western portion of the Lane Field site.
Staff outlined two paths the port could take to resolve the stalemate: One, it could try to create a new NEVP phase one CDP based on solutions identified through a new public outreach effort and additional NEVP phase one public workshops; or two, it could reexamine its NEVP phase one plans as part of the North Embarcadero Port Master Plan Amendment Evironmental Impact Report (PMPA EIR) it began last fall, which will include public input workshops.
Staff noted that rolling the NEVP phase one issues into the PMPA EIR process could take from 18 months to two years, which might jeopardize phase one funding currently earmarked in the Centre City Development Corporation’s budget.
Staff noted that any new NEVP phase one CDP could also be appealed to the CCC and that trying to take a new NEVP phase one CDP back to the CCC runs the risk that the CCC would not approve it without requiring the port to complete the amendment process, or the CCC may add new conditions to an amended Lane Field CDP and the new phase one CDP. They said they were coming to the port commission today to get guidance on which approach to take, which could include some third path or additional tweaks to the two paths they laid out for the commission.
The various stakeholders in the process were asked to comment. Lane Field project executive Jerry Trammer explained what would have to happen for this to work, including a need for the port to buy back its lease of the 1220 Pacific Highway parcel from the Navy, since that parcel extends onto the western portion of the Lane Field site.
Cory Briggs, representing the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (NBCC), one of the successful CCC appellants, listed issues that the NBCC believes must be resolved as part of any solution. These included the serious consideration of the development of a new “setback park” that would run along the east side of Harbor Drive from Hawthorne Street to Broadway, with the setback from Harbor Drive equal to the existing setback from Harbor Drive to the center of the west wall of the County Administration Center.
He said that the port would have to give serious consideration to this as one of the key alternatives examined in the port’s PMPA EIR process.
He noted that the Lane Field project would have to be redesigned to create new public space along the west side of the site at the foot of Broadway.
He also suggested that the port work with Lane Field and labor to arrive as some sort of labor peace agreement in order to support the creation of quality jobs along the bayfront.
And he noted that any resolution to the current situation must be based on a completely transparent public outreach and input workshop process conducted by the port.
Briggs noted that any new NEVP Phase 1 CDP would have to be developed in lock-step with an amendment of Lane Field’s current CDP, which would have to be approved by the CCC and that one could not go forward without the other. He also noted that the port regaining control over the 1220 Pacific Highway parcel is absolutely imperative to reach any resolution of the issues. He said that NBCC was willing to help the port find new funding sources to do that.
Local architect Jim Frost proposed that the port give serious consideration to moving the cruise ships from the North Embarcadero to the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal over the next few years. He noted that this might help resolve the problems created when the port decided to locate a new cruise ship terminal on the Broadway Pier and would save the port the cost of redeveloping the B Street Pier cruise ship terminal, since moving the new terminal building to Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal would allow it to service three cruise ships instead of just one. Frost noted that if the port moved the cruise ships away from Broadway Pier and the B Streer Pier, those piers could provide 12 acres of new public park space along the North Embarcadero.
The Board of Port Commissioners then discussed the staff report. Commissioner Lee Burdick thanked all the parties involved for being willing to talk and seek mutually agreeable solutions to the present stalemate. She asked if port staff could update the NEVP phase one project environmental review by simply updating the initial study the port did on the phase one plan that didn’t pass muster at the CCC.
Port planning director John Helmer said that he thought staff could update the phase one CDP with minor changes, without involving the Lane Field group. He suggested that any new environmental review of phase one need not address changes to the Lane Field project.
Burdick said that the port has been challenged by the CCC to come up with new ideas to solve the NEVP logjam and that she thought that the idea of a new Setback Park along the east side of Harbor Drive is a brilliant suggestion, one she wants staff to work into the PMPA EIR process.
Commissioner Scott Peters noted that the port is under considerable financial stress. He said he didn’t know where money to move the new cruise ship terminal to the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal would come from. He invited Frank Alessi of CCDC to give the commission an update on funding CCDC has earmarked for NEVP phase one.
Alessi said that funding for phase one is currently in this year’s CCDC budget and may be rolled over into its 2011 budget, subject to approval by the San Diego City Council, sitting as the city’s Redevelopment Agency. He warned that CCDC’s Marina and Columbia project areas are scheduled to go away in 2017, and that after that, CCDC would only be able to invest redevelopment funds in projects north of Ash Street. Peters warned that we need to get NEVP phase one underway soon if we want to use CCDC funding.
Commissioner Mike Bixler said he is against making any more major changes to the NEVP phase one plan. He said he is very uncomfortable with the Setback Park idea, and would oppose it. He suggested that the port create a new NEVP phase one CDP with only minor changes to take back to the CCC to see if they could round up a majority vote for approval. He said that the port has to support new commercial redevelopment projects along the waterfront because the port’s mission is to maximize its financial return on the tidelands.
Commissioner Louis Smith of Coronado noted that the port has had process failures in the past. He said that without meaningful dialogue with the public any project will fail. He said that completion of the PMPA EIR is one and a half to three years out. He said that any further delay would be equivalent to denial of the project. So, he wants to take the path that results in the least delay in implementing the project.
Commissioner Steve Padilla of Chula Vista said that he would give weight to what he was hearing from the city of San Diego representatives on the port commission, but we have to look at why we’ve failed to obtain CCC approvals in the past. He suggested that the port has wasted a lot of energy in the past, like a kid trying to climb up a snow hill, hastily promoting projects that were not acceptable to the CCC. He noted that the CCC has directed the port in the past to process any proposed changes to the existing Port Master Plan through a PMPA process, not CDPs. He said he thinks the PMPA process won’t take years to complete if we focus on it.
He said that it was important to get things right this time around. First update the Port Master Plan via the PMPA process, then develop any CDPs based on the updated master plan. He said he would prefer to consider any changes in the current Port Master Plan through the PMPA process, instead of going back to the CCC with another CDP, even if we have public support, but said he would abide by what a majority of the port board chose to do.
Board of Port Commissioner’s Chair Robert “Dukie” Valderrama said we all know we have to do the PMPA process, but he thought it’s important to take advantage of the positive momentum we have built up since the April 15 CCC meeting, through a transparent public outreach and input process. He noted that if a new CDP is effort proves unsuccessful we can always deal with the issues in the PMPA process.
The port commission then approved a motion by Scott Peters to direct staff to pursue a new NEVP phase one CDP.
A number of follow on steps will now have to be taken. The port will have to hold additional public workshops to discuss the idea of creating new public park space on Lane Field and will have to update its PMPA EIR Notice of Intent to add the concept of the Harbor Drive Setback Park alternative to the process. The parties will have to work together to identify potential sources of funding to buy back the Navy’s lease of the 1220 Pacific Highway parcel to fold into the Lane Field park space. The CCC will have to weigh in on the idea of reviewing another NEVP phase one CDP versus addressing all the issues as part of the PMPA EIR process and consider an amendment to Lane Field’s existing CDP to create park space on the site.
There are a lot of steps involved, but there will also be additional opportunities for the public to help shape what happens on the North Embarcadero.
I hope that you, my readers, respond to this opportunity.
— DON WOOD
In addition to his other affiliations, Don Wood is also a member of the Bayfront Complex Coalition, an alliance of local civic organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing public access to downtown San Diego’s waterfront.