It’s important for the Port to understand the science of the Bay for a number of reasons. 1. We are the steward for our water resources; we need to understand how we are doing and how to address the problems we have not been able to address. 2. We also want to understand how climate change will affect the Bay’s habitat and our commercial operations there.
It takes a good bit of money to pay scientists to find out this stuff, and the Port (like many organizations) faces financial limitations. That’s why I’m particularly excited about our Center for Bay and Coastal Dynamics, which is a partnership of the Port, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego State University, and the Hubbs Research Institute.
The Port needs scientists to find out what’s up in our Bay and it turns out that the best oceanographic minds in San Diego want to do research here. We live in a region of technological advances and the Port is itself a member of Clean Tech San Diego. We are also a worldwide center of marine technology. Our partnership not only provides world-renowned scientific experts, but it helps us compete for grant funds. So we have turned the Bay into a national science laboratory, and we have saved the Port a bunch of money that we would have spent on consultants (no offense).
Our cruise business has taken a hit in the past couple years. Last year, Carnival decided to relocate our home ported ship, Elation, and this year, they decided to move the Spirit to Australia. The splashiest event was our successful rescue of the Splendor, which broke down offshore and was then pulled into our harbor before being motored upstate for repairs. We may have made money on that visit, but waiting for a ship to break is not a business plan.
So it’s fair to say our local cruise industry lacks Elation, Splendor and Spirit.
On top of the worldwide economic downturn, which depressed spending for all luxuries, including cruises, Mexico in particular is suffering from waning tourism interest. At the Port, we have long focused on our own waterfront improvements. We’ve built a new cruise terminal here, and we will be modernizing the one on B Street. We will also continue our work to make our waterfront in San Diego more than a dropping off point, but an exciting and interesting attraction for cruise lines and their customers.And because we know that our local business faces challenges that extend beyond our borders, we are not stopping our work on these shores. We are going to be thinking about how we might help our partners in Mexico create more demand.
In March, we will be sending a group to Ensenada to meet with officials from the city and their port. Later in the month we will be visiting with Mexican tourism representatives at the annual international cruise conference in Miami. If we want to see cruise business recover, we are going to have to go offshore to see how we can work together to increase our cruise traffic.
In San Diego, we defined our permitting partnership with the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, which proposes to develop the Phase III expansion of the convention center. As proposed, phase III will add about 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, 80,000 square feet of multi-purpose ballroom space and 100,000 square feet of meeting room space. The design also includes five acres of public space. Over the coming months, the Port, as lead agency, will conduct the environmental review process, solicit public feedback to refine the project design and public spaces. This year, we are focused on the permitting. At the Port, we hope to have our environmental impact report finished by the end of the year, which is a very aggressive timetable. Then we have to get the support of the California Coastal Commission. The current convention center is often criticized for “walling off the bay” from the public. The Coastal Commission, which is charged with protecting public access, will want to know how our expansion might make this situation better.
Assuming we get permits, we will have to figure out a way to pay for it. . We know that our proposed design is less than the $750 to $800 million originally expected, but we don’t know how much less. We also know that the hotel industry will finance most of the project, but we don’t know how much. Ultimately, those who will benefit financially from the expansion are the ones that should be expected to pay for it.
Toward the end of 2008, the “Gaylord plan” blew up. Gaylord is a major convention/hotel developer based in Nashville, who had been working to build an enormous, self-contained convention and hotel project on the waterfront in Chula Vista. There was a big fight over allocating the work to organized labor, an economic downturn, and finally Gaylord pulled the plug.
The Port went back to work with the landowner and has made great progress in putting Humpty back together again. The new Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan will redevelop 550 acres of waterfront property with a mix of parks, open space, commercial, retail, hotel residential and recreational uses. We reached an agreement with environmentalists on an appropriate quantity of development, and we agreed to locate the development away from sensitive land and species. We agreed with the developer on a land exchange that would accommodate that agreement. And the developer and organized labor worked out terms by which they will abide as the project goes forward, and we have worked through most of our local approvals.
Last fall, we received the welcome news that the South Bay Power Plant can finally be decommissioned. The removal of this dinosaur opens up even greater prospects for transforming the Chula Vista Bayfront into an economic and recreational powerhouse.
My former Port commission colleague, Steven Padilla, both the former mayor of Chula Vista and my successor on the Coastal Commission, deserves a lot of credit for forging agreements of the type that never happened in 2008. I was unhappy with the sudden way he was replaced, because he deserved to be thanked for his good work. I am looking forward to working with Chula Vista’s new commissioner, Ann Moore, to get the South Bay Power Plant down and to gain the approval of the California Coastal Commission for our Port Master Plan Amendment. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the Port and we want to be ready to welcome investment as soon as the worldwide
San Diego Bay’s water quality is improving; it’s already one of the cleanest bodies of water of its type – industrial port — in California. However, because it is an industrial port, we have a problem with copper contamination. Copper is used in boat hull paint to ward off the little animals that would naturally attach to the bottom of your boat and slow you down, when boats are cleaned. Even when the boats just sit in the water, copper seeps from the hulls, and eventually harms or kills other aquatic life.
It’s a pesticide. So it’s no wonder that when too much of it gets into the water, it is harmful to all marine wildlife, not just the barnacles. The Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an order that will require the Port to reduce copper pollution in the Shelter Island Yacht Basin 10 percent by 2012 and 76 percent by 2022.
We are going to improve painting and cleaning practices and we expect to meet our 10 percent reduction number by 2012. But everyone – environmentalists, Port staff and our tenants and boat owners – agrees that we won’t meet the 76% requirement without banning copper from bottom hulls.
With funding support from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Port is evaluating non-copper bottom paints that could be cost effective for application and cleaning. We did 21 test pieces in the bay and have several non-emitting paints. We are now working on implementation plan. It is a very innovative approach for a government, and we hope it will be productive. We will submit our final report on this project to the EPA this month.
The next step, so all our waterways can be protected, would be to end copper’s days as a legal pesticide in California. That would happen by an act of the state legislature, which Senator Christine Kehoe appears ready to pursue, and I will recommend that the Port help sponsor.
At the Port’s annual retreat this week, each commissioner was asked to state his or her goal for the year in two words. I said, “waterfront invigoration.”
Our waterfront is not what it could be. The “South Embarcadero,” the area of land between the water on one hand and Seaport Village and the convention center on the other, is nicely landscaped and manicured, but hidden from view and lightly used by the public. This area suffers from a lack of consistent programming for public attraction. The North Embarcadero, along Harbor Drive north to the airport, is a magnificent location, but is now a great expanse of asphalt more functional for cars and trucks than pedestrians. It suffers from too much blacktop, and too little allure.
For over a decade, the City, its redevelopment arm CCDC, and the Port have collaborated with the public to design the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan , or “NEVP.” The Coastal Commission approved early concepts in 2000; those concepts have been refined, changed and in one case ignored. The Coastal Commission denied our first attempt at implementation, but after some modifications and a lot more attention to the public, we are finally close to getting going.
In January, the Port approved the permits for Phase 1 of NEVP, which will level Broadway and narrow Harbor Drive between Broadway and B Streets to create an esplanade, including places for people to sit, walk, ride a bike and enjoy the waterside. We also cut the proposed Lane Field Hotel project in half to add significant additional public space to our plan. Although this latest version has widespread support, a few people, and the Coastal Commission itself have appealed it. But we hope they will ultimately approve our plan in April in Santa Barbara.
Making our waterfront a place for people, not just for vehicles, will create a useful amenity for San Diego residents. We know that when we make a great public space for locals, but it will also draw visitors. Invigorating the waterfront will improve our quality of life and make us some tourism money to boot.
The San Diego Foundation Climate Initiative , which I chair, commissioned a poll last August to gauge the public’s attitudes toward climate change. The results showed no great consensus about the science of climate change – only 54% of us accept climate change as a “proven fact.” However, there is wide agreement that the steps we would take to address the effects of climate change (if it exists!) would be good for our region.
For instance, climate change fighters would love to reduce automobile traffic so that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. San Diegans like that idea too. Over 70% of us like the idea of building more walkable communities in San Diego County – with homes, jobs, shops, and services within walking distance. And when asked what should be the highest priority for future transportation investments, 55% of us say that we favor the expansion of public transit, including buses and rail, over the expansion of roads and highways (32%).
Well, building a robust transit system is going to take some work and not a little risk taking. Nothing illustrates the challenge better than what’s happening along El Cajon Boulevard. SANDAG is trying to spend $43 million dollars improving bus service on a bus route where there is a lot of opportunity for new riders. In essence, SANDAG wants to spend a lot of money in our city to make improvements that will make the bus faster than the automobile, and more attractive to riders. But business owners are worried about the loss of nine – that’s nine – parking spaces that will result from the rennovations. So much so, that our transit advocates, MOVE San Diego, had to hold a transportation rally to gain support.
We can demonstrate that good transit will raise property values and increase access to neighborhood businesses. But if we can’t figure out a way to trade nine parking spaces for 43 million transit dollars, we can expect transit investments to come very slowly.