Port of San Diego inches ahead with master plan update

SAN DIEGO — San Diego Bay would probably resemble a significantly different waterfront in the next 50 years than it is today, especially if the port district’s master plan update gains any traction and is ultimately realized. Very few details emerged, however, from a recent Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners meeting of how the bay might be transformed within the next half century.

Board members ultimately recommended port staff develop a “Framework for Planning” to serve as the foundation of how the master plan update will play out during the next few years. The board also recommended an evaluation process for port staff to prioritize preliminary concepts for future study.

“Once the update is complete, you’ll have a document that’s easier to understand, one that’s easier to use and one people could rely on,” Jim Sandoval, a former city planner and administrator, said, describing the goal of the master plan update.

Sandoval said the master plan update, which is currently in its preliminary phase, would cover four geographic regions: the entire bay, bay sub-areas, community plans and focused areas.

Portions of the master plan focusing on the bay as a whole or its subareas would focus on land and water uses. Accordingly, any policies or regulations impacting recreational anglers or boaters would likely be found in either of these two portions of the master plan update. Community plans and focused planning areas would cover density, height, intensity, landscaping and setbacks.

The former Chula Vista city manager added a major element of the master plan update is transparency.

“Something that’s not always found in plans, but we felt was really important, was to include information that tells people how to navigate the process. Anybody that works with any public agency knows that’s always a challenge,” Sandoval said. “We expect people to walk into an agency and be experts. Let’s create a clear path that tells people how you get from point A to point B.”

Commissioner Ann Moore said the master plan update should allow the market to dictate what projects ultimately are developed on the waterfront.

If economic forces drive what projects are seen through from beginning to end, however, Commissioner Bob Nelson said his vision for Pond 20 at the southern extreme of San Diego Bay would likely be unrealized. Pond 20 is a 95-acre site near Imperial Beach. Proposals have floated around to use the site for habitat restoration or partial economic development.

Dan Malcolm, chair of the port’s Board of Commissioners, said he will be asking staff to justify proposed costs and expenditures as the master plan update enters its next phase.

Board Secretary Robert “Dukie” Valderrama said he wants to see more details of how the master plan update impacts National City and East Basin.

How the master plan update would impact recreational anglers and boaters remains to be seen. In general, one state goal of the master plan update is to increase intensity of all water uses.

“[The master plan update] designates the general distribution and intensity of all uses of the water in the Port Master Plan. This includes commercial, industrial, recreation, and open space,” port staff stated in a report. “It also should consider the operational and physical constraints governing the maneuvering of vessels for existing and proposed vessel activities within the [port] district.”

Any development under the master plan update would take place in one of three regions: North Bay; Central Bay; and, South Bay.

The North Bay region includes East Basin Industrial within Harbor Island and a handful of focused planning areas, including North Embarcadero, Pacific Highway Corridor, Shelter Island Entrance Corridor and an entertainment district.

Central Bay, which would include National City’s bayfront, is also known as the “working waterfront.” The U.S. Navy’s presence in San Diego is predominantly based in the Central Bay region. Although, there is a 250-slip recreational boat marina in National City, the Central Bay region is primarily an industrial waterfront.

At the base of the port is South Bay, which includes the Pond 20 focused planning area and Chula Vista’s bayfront redevelopment.

According to Lesley Nishihira, senior port planner, a board workshop will be held April 7 to discuss preliminary planning concepts; stakeholder meetings are planned for April and May. The board could be asked to approve the planning framework in the summer.

Looking ahead, the port’s master plan shift from the current discussion of preliminary plans to what elements would be included in the update between July and June 2016. If the master plan update is completed as schedule, port staff will then conduct an environment impact review of proposed plans through 2017.

Port staff hopes to secure a California Coastal Commission certification by 2018. Once the Coastal Commission certifies the master plan update, port commissioners and staff will likely begin working with the district’s five member cities — Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego — to develop, fund and execute proposals.

Marinas, boatyards and charter and sportfishing businesses contributed nearly $4.4 million in direct economic output, according to a study analyzing the Port of San Diego’s monetary impacts and presented to commissioners earlier this month.

“With control of more than 33 of the 54 total miles along the San Diego Bay, the [port] district plays an important role in administrating a unique maritime, visitor-serving, environmental and recreational asset while protecting the tidelands and San Diego Bay and the people who live, work and visit there,” port staff stated. “The bay and its waterfront are essential elements of the San Diego geography, economy, and culture, serving as … an important recreational and environmental asset for urban residents.”

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