Coastal Commission balks at port district’s plans to bring new hotel rooms to boating-themed area of San Diego.
SAN DIEGO — The California Coastal Commission and Port of San Diego continue to be far apart on plans introducing several new hotels into a potentially redeveloped Harbor Island. Both parties are at odds on the plans inclusion of lower-cost overnight accommodations.
Port officials presented its request for a master plan amendment on the Harbor Island redevelopment to the Coastal Commission on May 11; the request was denied by an 11-1 vote.
Commissioners specifically stated the port district must do a better job of making Harbor Island, if redeveloped according to its vision, more accessible to lower-income Californians.
The Port of San Diego seeks to bring 500 hotel rooms to Harbor Island, an area home to several marinas and thousands of recreational boaters. Original plans called for the construction of one hotel with 500 rooms; however, the port district amended its plans to spread out the accommodations over three separate hotels instead of one large venue (and occupying a larger footprint).
“You can’t put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. This is not about a hotel project. This is a master plan amendment,” Commissioner Mark Vargas stated. “The subject here is the Port of San Diego. Their current, existing low-cost accommodations stock is at about three percent. It’s abysmal and it’s shameful. We should not be rewarding their behavior and we should be holding their feet to the fire … to give the people of California more low-cost visitor accommodations.”
Commissioner Mary Shallenberger disagreed with a proposal by one of her colleagues – Commissioner Greg Cox, who also serves on San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors – to have the port district offset the project’s deficiencies by paying additional fees to the commission.
“Taking money in exchange for low-income overnight housing is not what we’re up here to do. We’re up here to make sure there is low-income overnight serving facilities,” Shallenberger said. “This port district has known, since the last time it was before us, what we were looking for. There’s nothing new coming from us up here. This is what we asked for last time.”
The port district’s request for a master plan amendment first came to the Coastal Commission in July 2014, but the request was withdrawn before commissioners had a chance to deliberate. An August 2015 hearing on the amendment request was denied due to the port district’s disagreement with the Coastal Commission on lower-cost overnight accommodations.
The port district took the matter to court and gained a favorable decision, primarily because the Coastal Commission included a specific dollar amount on what the port should consider as a lower-cost overnight accommodation.
Anna Buzaitis, a redevelopment planner with the Port of San Diego, said the Coastal Commission is breaking with precedent in essentially setting the rate for lower-cost overnight accommodations.
Commissioners – with the exception of Cox – agreed with the positions of Shallenberger and Vargas, however.
“The message, right now, is essentially, ‘you can come, walk around, but if you’re low-income, there’s no place for you on the Port of San Diego,’” Commissioner Donne Brownsey told port district staff. “I don’t think that’s the message you want to convey, because these are public lands meant for all of the citizens of California.”
Cox, in an attempt to have the Harbor Island redevelopment project approved, asked a representative of Sunroad Enterprises if he’d be okay with accepting an in-lieu/mitigation fee – set at $42,120 multiplied by 125 rooms – to offset the commission’s request for lower-cost overnight accommodations.
The commissioner also asked port district staff if it would consider agreeing to the in-lieu/mitigation fee and including language in its port master plan amendment to commit to lower-cost overnight accommodations.
Commissioners voted overwhelming against Cox’s proposal.
The Coastal Commission held its May meetings in San Diego.