Ongoing Updates to the Port Master Plan Aim to Improve the Future of San Diego

The Port of San Diego has been conducting a compressive and inclusive Integrated Planning initiative to update is Port Master Plan; the effort supports the Port’s goal to develop San Diego Bay for multiple purposes and uses to benefit the people of the State of California.

SAN DIEGO— On Nov. 8, a Draft of the Port Master Plan was published by the San Diego Unified Port District, the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act. They have prepared a Draft Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for the Proposed Port Master Plan Update.


“A Port Master Plan is required by the San Diego Unified Port District Act and the California Coastal Act,” said the Port’s Public Information Officer, Brianne Mundy Page, in an email on Nov. 17. “We’re currently in the process of updating the Port Master Plan; it has not been finalized. The Port’s existing Port Master Plan was certified (as a whole) in 1981 by the California Coastal Commission. Since then, there have been many location-specific amendments but never a comprehensive update. The PMPU seeks to reflect changes in the needs and priorities of Californians and the region’s growth since the adoption of the current master plan 40 years ago. The Port’s objective is to create a holistic, thoughtful, and balanced approach to future water and land uses on and around San Diego Bay for generations to come. The goals of the Port Master Plan Update are to:


  • Balance the needs of development with those of valuable natural resources.
  • Prioritize coastal-dependent developments and clearly define water and land uses for development.
  • Protect opportunities for public access and parks on the waterfront for all Californians and visitors to enjoy; and
  • Streamline the permitting process for developers, investors, and Port staff to process projects more effectively and efficiently.”


The Port Master Plan is a water and land use plan that designates specific areas of San Diego Bay and the surrounding waterfront for maritime, fishing, visitor-serving commercial, recreational, conservation, and institutional uses. The plan regulates where port activities should occur, where recreational amenities should be located, and where commercial services like hotels, restaurants, and visitor-serving retail can be built. The project will happen in San Diego, Imperial Beach, and Coronado, in San Diego County.


The Draft Program Environmental Impact Report prepared for the Port Master Plan Update was created to adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires public disclosure of the environmental impacts that will be associated with implementing the Port Master Plan Update.


The San Diego Unified Port District is the CEQA Lead Agency designated with the main responsibility to evaluate the potential environmental effects that come along with authorizing the proposed PMPU. Additionally, the District, as Lead Agency, is responsible for considering the potential environmental effects induced by the decision to approve or disapprove the PMPU.


“As required by CEQA, the Draft PEIR does the following: (1) describes the proposed PMPU, including its location, objectives, benefits, and features; (2) describes the existing conditions in the project area and nearby environs; (3) analyzes the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse physical effects that could occur to the existing conditions, should the proposed PMPU be implemented; (4) identifies feasible means of avoiding or substantially lessening the significant adverse effects; (5) provides a determination of significance for each impact, after mitigation is incorporated; and (6) evaluates a reasonable range of feasible alternatives to the proposed PMPU that would meet the basic project objectives and reduce a project-related significant impact,” said Mundy in the Nov. 17 email.


The project is an update to the district’s existing Port Master Plan. According to the California Coastal Act and the District’s Port Act, the Port Master Plan provides the official planning policies of the district consistent with the general statewide purpose, for the physical development of the tide and submerged lands conveyed and granted in trust, to the district and its acquired uplands.


The Port Master Plan Update would control the allowable land and water uses within the district, would list known disputable projects, and include goals, objectives, and policies that would implement the broad guidelines of the Coastal Act and shape the characteristics of development, coastal access, recreation, and environmental conservation to the year 2050, throughout the applicable District jurisdiction.


The PMPU would contain:

  • Six Baywide Elements.
  • Baywide Development Standards.
  • Special allowances.
  • Planned improvements.
  • Development standards that would apply to eight of the district’s ten Planning Districts.

The PMPU would also describe Plan Implementation and Development Conformance for future, potential development consistent with the California Coastal Act.


The Draft PEIR analyzes potentially significant environmental effects to aesthetics and visual resources, air quality and health risk, biological resources, cultural resources, tribal cultural resources, and geologic hazards and soils, paleontological resources, greenhouse gas emissions and energy, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise and vibration, population and employment, public services and recreation, sea-level rise and climate change, transportation, mobility, and public access, and utilities and service systems, and cumulative impacts.


In 2013, the district embarked on a multifaceted and integrated approach to begin the first comprehensive update to its Port Master Plan. This approach is known as the “Integrated Planning Process.” This updated plan is based on long-range planning principles that form a framework for future planning on Tidelands. The principles and framework were all identified and developed as a part of the Integrated Planning Process, including robust and extensive public outreach and stakeholder engagement. The effort is also referred to as “the future of the Port” and supports the Port’s mission to develop San Diego Bay for multiple purposes and uses that will benefit California residents.


Through the Integrated Planning Process, the district aims to modernize water and land planning methods and guide future users and development on Tidelands. The district identified the Integrated Planning Process objectives that included streamlining the permit process, balancing demands for growth with protection of natural resources, maintaining and enhancing coastal access, and promoting fiscal sustainability.


The Board of Port Commissioners cannot decide on the Port Master Plan Update until the completion of the environmental review process, which is required by CEQA.


“The next step, after the required 45-day public review period ending on Dec. 23, 2021[at 5 p.m.], is for the Port to respond to the public comments received and to prepare a Final Program Environmental Impact Report (FPEIR). That FPEIR and the Draft Port Master Plan, as amended, will then be scheduled for a public hearing and decision by the Board of Port Commissioners. It is anticipated that a public hearing will occur in mid-2022.

After the Board of Port Commissioners acts on it, the California Coastal Commission must also make a decision on the Draft Port Master Plan, and the process is as follows:

  • California Coastal Commission considers certification of the PMPU (Anticipated in mid-2023):
  • Port Board approves the PMPU, as certified by the Coastal Commission (Anticipated in mid-2023); and
  • California Coastal Commission considers approving the final PMPU (Anticipated in mid-2023),” said Mundy in the Nov. 17 email.


Comment letters stating specific environmental concerns about the Draft PEIR should be mailed to San Diego Unified Port District, Attn: Dennis Campbell, Planning Department, P.O. Box 120488, San Diego, CA 92112-0488, or emailed to

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