Port of San Diego commissioner opposed vendor due to affiliation with border wall project.
SAN DIEGO — Rare is the occasion where plans to rebuild a popular boat launch ramp becomes politicized and associated with a major campaign promise from the 2016 presidential election. Yet such a rare occasion occurred at the Port of San Diego’s Board of Port Commissioner’s April 11 meeting, where one commissioner balked at moving forward with a vendor because of its affiliation with the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Rafael Castellanos, the port commission’s vice-chairman, voted against backing R.E. Staite Engineering’s selection to redevelop the Shelter Island Boat Launch Ramp near Point Loma, citing the company was also submitted a bid to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by Pres. Donald J. Trump during his White House bid.
Castellanos was the only commissioner who opposed approval of the vendor contract – though one commissioner abstained and another was excused from voting.
“Today we have before us a company that is the lowest bidder on what happens to be a wonderful port project that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Californians for decades to come,” Castellanos said. “At the same time, it’s bidding on a federal project that flies in the face of everything this region works for everyday … [and] will harm hundreds of thousands of Californians for decades to come.”
The vendor contract was ultimately approved by a 4-1-2 vote, but not before Castellanos cautioned his colleagues about selecting a vendor associated with the border wall – especially in a city where local businesses and civic leaders foster regular relations with their Mexican counterparts.
“I was very disappointed to learn the lowest bidder to do the construction – which staff has recommended for award of the construction contract – has also bid on the construction of the proposed border wall,” Castellanos told his colleagues. “I’m not speaking out of turn when I say that the border wall will be extremely harmful to California’s economy, including that of the San Diego region.”
Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports and our third largest import partner, according to a study cited by Castellanos.
San Diego’s sportfishing fleet, which the commissioner stated is the world’s largest, also benefits from the region’s relationship with Mexico.
“Fishing in Mexican waters results in tens of millions of dollars in direct ticket sales by local companies,” Castellanos said.
The proposed border wall could also strain relations between Mexico and San Diego area leaders, according to Castellanos.
San Diego’s Chamber of Commerce, for example, hosts an annual trade mission to foster dialog and interaction between the city’s local and regional leaders and Mexico’s top business and government officials. The trade mission’s objective, according to Castellanos, is to promote unity between the United States and Mexico.
“Every year we go to convey a message of unity and our region’s acknowledgement that Mexico is an extremely important strategic partner,” Castellanos said.
The most recent delegation was led by nearly 100 members, including members of the San Diego City Council, a state legislator, a county supervisor and business leaders.
Castellanos said the border wall wasn’t an infrastructure investment and threatens regional and national economic security interests.
The commissioner was still supportive of the planned boat launch ramp renovation and believes it will benefit boaters who frequent the facility.
“This is the busiest boat launch in the state of California, with [more than] 50,000 boat launches a year,” Castellanos said. “It was originally built in the 1950s but hasn’t had a major improvement since the mid- 1970s. We are going to really improve this for the benefit of the public.”
Commissioner Garry Bonelli was excused from voting, while Commissioner Bob Nelson abstained.
California’s Division of Boating and Waterways as well as the Wildlife Conservation Board are funding the $9.6 million project.
R.E. Staite Engineering was one of five vendors who submitted bids to the Port of San Diego for the Shelter Island Boat Launch Ramp Improvement Project. The five vendors proposed bids ranging from $7.41 million on the low end to as high as $12.75 million; San Diego-based R.E. Staite Engineering’s bid of $7,410,375 was the lowest.
The other four bidders were Reyes Construction (Pomona), Vortex Marine Construction (Oakland), Palm Engineering Construction Co. (San Diego) and Manson Construction (Seattle, Wash.).