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Tuesday, Jul 16, 2024
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Port of Commerce?

A view of the Port of San Diego from 10,000 feet shows a diverse place, with small businesses, heavy industry, hotels and restaurants, U.S. Navy installations, parks, wetlands, marinas, cargo terminals and more.

Port officials are taking a fresh look at this territory as they begin to assemble a 50-year integrated master plan for the district.

Several business groups have already responded to this effort. Their common refrain: Don’t forget business.

Port commissioners OK’d the opening statements to their plan Aug. 19.

Early versions of the document put an emphasis on environmental issues, public space and “all the fun stuff,” said Sharon Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association.

“In order to do that stuff, you need to bring money in,” Cloward said.

Balance is the word that many stakeholders use when describing a new plan for the port. Up and down the waterfront, there are competing needs, wants and desires, said Ann Moore, a land use attorney and port commissioner. “It’s all about balance,” Moore said.

Ship Repair

Organizations such as the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association weighed in with comments as the port commission’s August meeting approached. The association — which represents small contractors as well as large ship repair yards such as General Dynamics Nassco (NYSE: GD) and BAE Systems Ship Repair San Diego — delivered a three-page critique of the preliminary plan July 16.

The association’s president, Derry Pence, seemed happy Aug. 19 when asked about revisions to the final documents.

“I think progress has been made,” Pence said.

Cindy Gompper Graves, CEO of the South County Economic Development Council, said the port’s role as an economic engine must be at the “forefront” of the conversation. Planners must consider that role as they mull other concerns such as the environment, Graves said.

Environmental advocates and community activists, for their part, have different concerns.

Port commissioners approved two preliminary documents — a vision statement and guiding principles — at their Aug. 12 meeting.

Many years of work are still to come. On the way, port officials might be called to pull off a balancing act worthy of the Cirque du Soleil.

‘Tough Decisions’

There will likely be some “tough decisions” in the process, said Lesley Nishihira, manager of the port’s environment and land use department.

The tough decisions will likely take place during the next 20 months as the board launches into preliminary concept plans and a draft master plan update, said Moore, whose day job is senior partner with Norton, Moore & Adams. The port plans to begin drafting an environmental impact report around July 2016 and that process may take up to 18 months, according to a timeline provided to port commissioners.

The finished result must please the California Coastal Commission, which would have to give a plan final approval. Moore said she anticipates that the state commission’s concerns will include access to the water; public places, including parkland; and adequate parking.

Moore added that real estate developers on port land need more “certainty” — which is a big reason for the comprehensive plan update. The current way of doing business creates too much of a “guessing game,” she said.

Also watching with interest will be the U.S. Navy. A visiting Navy leader, Adm. Samuel Locklear III, emphasized San Diego’s importance to the military while speaking to a civic group Aug. 19. Ship repair facilities must be near the fleet, the four-star admiral said, acknowledging that the Port of San Diego is constrained and in the middle of a growing area. “We can work together as a community,” Locklear said, but he added that the relationship might require sacrifice.

Navy’s Pivot

The Navy is in the middle of a “pivot”— an effort to move more of its ships to the Pacific Ocean — anticipating that the hemisphere between North America and India will only grow in importance.

The port does not have residential land, but people live nearby, and those people are one concern for Kayla Race, who represents the Environmental Health Coalition. Race said her organization applauded the second guiding principle that commissioners approved, which is to promote clean air, healthy communities and environmental justice.

The group has long spoken about port-generated pollution. While recognizing that the port is a valuable economic driver and a source of good-paying jobs, Race said that residents living near San Diego Bay need access to clean air and clean water.

National City residents have one other need, she said, and that is better access to the bay. A look at a map shows the National City waterfront is taken up by Naval Base San Diego and the National City Marine Terminal, with public access at Pepper Park.

Race said she hoped the port continues with the inclusionary process it used in laying a foundation for the plan. A port district spokeswoman said the agency got hundreds of public comments and 7,000 page views on a website devoted to the master plan update.

Also contributing to the planning process was the South Bay Wildlife Advisory Group. In a letter to the commission, the group urged port officials to think about connecting habitat areas — both on the ground and in the water.

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