National City seeks to be more integrated in Port of San Diego master plan

NATIONAL CITY — Finding five people to agree on a large scale revitalization plan within a major urban waterfront is not necessarily an easy task. To have five cities reach an accord with larger government agency about how a harbor’s infrastructure should be redeveloped definitely requires some politicking and compromise.

The development and ultimate approval of the integrated master plan involved six government agencies: the cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego, and the Port of San Diego. Council members of one of those cities — National City — expressed some concern with the integrated master plan.

Port officials spent the past two years trying to bring into a focus how to revitalize San Diego’s harbor and waterfront during the next 50 years, including town hall meetings and workshops involving stakeholders from each member city.

When National City’s council met March 17, all five members on the dais agreed the city should be incorporated into large-scale projects in either Downtown San Diego or the South Bay.

Downtown San Diego is already a significant draw for tourists and visitors. The South Bay is home to the San Diego County’s second largest city in Chula Vista, where discussions are underway to redevelop the waterfront there.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison, who said he regularly attends the monthly Board of Port Commissioners meetings, said the integrated master plan could potentially isolate his city from ambitious plans to revitalize the South Bay.

“We’re not considered part of the South Bay in this deal. We’re considered part of the industrial waterfront,” Morrison said. “There were just a whole lot of things in this report that are scary. As you read through the report, there were all sorts of anomalies, to say the least.”

According to the integrated master plan, National City is included in the Central Bay — the area between Coronado Bridge and Sweetwater River. City leaders hope to develop the National City waterfront as a visitor-friendly destination. However, the port’s master plan update focuses more on National City’s industrial presence.

Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis requested council sign-off on a joint letter to the port and push for National City to have a greater role in the integrated plan.

“Our community needs to be part of the entertainment sub-area because we deserve that,” Solis said.

Brad Raulston, an executive director with the City Manager’s office, said the port is in the second year of a five-year process to develop its master plan (which is equivalent to a city’s general plan).

Solis wanted to ensure community input provided at workshops involving National City residents and the port were not overlooked as the master plan process played out. Specifically, Solis hoped the port would incorporate National City’s concerns about providing access to the harbor and maintaining the marina area as a working waterfront.

“I just want to make sure the priorities that we stated back when [the port] had those town halls and the community concerns that were brought up about access and the working waterfront  … don’t get lost in their five-year plan,” Solis said.

The city council ultimately agreed to sign-off on a joint letter to the port’s commissioners, expressing National City’s concerns with the integrated master plan.

Meanwhile, the San Diego South County Economic Development Council (SCEDC) has begun the process of studying how several industries, including maritime interests, will impact the region’s economy.

Cindy Gompper-Graves, president and CEO of SCEDC, said the study will take about five years to develop. She was slated to make a general presentation about the study in front of National City’s City Council this month.

“Maritime is one of six industries to focus on … in the next five years,” she said, adding nothing specific has been hashed out about how the maritime industry will impact National City nor has SCEDC, a non-profit organization, developed any recommendations.

SCEDC, Gompper-Graves added, is still waiting to hear from maritime industry leaders to determine what opportunities exist, the resources they need to pursue those opportunities and whether any challenges exist in executing plans.

The Port of San Diego’s integrated master plan is still being fleshed out. Port staff anticipates the plan will be presented in front of the California Coastal Commission at some point in 2018. The port held a plan workshop April 7; National City had a regularly scheduled City Council meeting the same evening.

National City, with nearly 60,000 reported residents, is the third-largest municipality in the Port of San Diego’s unified district, behind San Diego and Chula Vista but larger than Imperial Beach and Coronado.

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