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The Port Versus The Paper: 10th Ave. Marine Terminal

February 15, 2012 1:12 p.m.


Katie Orr, KPBS Metro Reporter

Joel Valenzuela, Director, Maritime Operations,Port of San Diego

Marguerite Elicone, Manager, Media Services, Port of San Diego

Related Story: SD Port Commission Says No To U-T Plan


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, February 15th. Our top story on Midday Edition, a sweeping vision for San Diego's waterfront was offered recently by the new owners of the San Diego Union Tribune did not receive a favorable welcome from San Diego port commissioners Tuesday. The commissioners voted unanimously to keep the tenth avenue terminal exclusively for maritime purposes. The UT owners proposed that land be used as part of a waterfront stadium entertainment complex. Joining me to talk about the port commission hearing are my guests, KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr. Welcome.

ORR: Thank, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Joel Valenzuela, is director of maritime operations for the port of San Diego. Welcome to the program.

VALENZUELA: Pleasure to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Marguerite Elicone manager of port services. Hello.

ELICONE: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Katie, port staff presented commissioners with a report involving the tenth avenue marine terminal. What did they outline?

ORR: They really talked about the jobs they say are created by the terminal. They say they're about 14,000 associated with the tenth avenue marine terminal. Those aren't all people who work directly for the porter in the terminal, but they include things like ship drivers, truck drivers, people who have interaction with the terminal. They also talked about the economic value, and they said when combined with the National City marine terminal, they compare today to 4.5 super bowl, 12 US opens or the same as having 60 holiday bowls. During the meeting, they stressed several times that this was not about a stadium, this was just about reaffirming how valuable the tenth avenue marine terminal was. However, the stadium was definitely there, there was a graphic shown of what the stadium might look like if it were built. The proposal that the UT has put out there. So if it was not officially the cause, it was definitely the driving force behind this hearing.

CAVANAUGH: So that, as you say, it wasn't necessarily put on the docket that this was the reason they were talking about it, but it department leave any question in anybody's mind. Remind us about what this UT San Diego proposal is for that area at the tenth avenue marine terminal.

ORR: It's -- tenth avenue sits on about 96†acres I believe, and it's taking part of that is building a football stadium, building a Convention Center expansion, and creating eventually a sports and entertainment district down there on the water. It's not really gotten any traction politically. The current Convention Center expansion is going forward, which does not include this plan. The Chargers are still looking at the east village site near Petco Park, and they're trying to figure out how to finance this. So this is really just an idea being floated out there by the UT. But I think because of the prominence of the newspaper, of the background of Doug Manchester, it has people talking about it. This is a man who has some power. And I think that's one of the reasons we saw the port come out yesterday and try and get out in front of this before it takes off.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Joel, you direct maritime operations for the port of San Diego. Tell us what some of the reasons given by commissioners to reject this multipurpose use for tenth avenue.

VALENZUELA: Well, I think first off, we saw this really as an opportunity to educate not just the commission, but the public in terms of the value and importance of know irreplaceable maritime asset. When people talk about building on this terminal and the land value, they are totally ignoring the value of the waterside, which is a deep water infrastructure. Of the deeper it is, are the rarer it is. And it's something that's irreplaceable, and once you take it away, it cannot be replaced. So I believe the commissioner's stance is that this is a valuable economic engine, No.†1, and it's a vital to national security. It's a strategic port. Only one of 17 commercial ports in the US used by the military. And it's also -- it plays a great role in the California and United States port systems. And emerging countries are building ports and increasing their competitiveness. We couldn't afford to be taking away ports at this point in our history.

CAVANAUGH: Joel, what kind of numbers did the commissioners hear about the economic impact of this terminal for San Diego?

VALENZUELA: The -- if you take tenth avenue marine terminal on its own, it generates about nine hundred direct jobs. If you take all the indirect induced and related jobs, it's up to 14,000. So some papers sort of minimize the jobs as a couple hundred Longshore workers, but they're not talking about -- there are truckers, rail workers, ship agents, cargo broker, mechanics, port pilot, tug boat operators, security personnel, and on and on. There are a lot of jobs related to the terminal, and these are good paying jobs, family sustaining jobs.

CAVANAUGH: Would it be possible for tenth avenue to be used partly for a maritime operation and the bulk of the operations being taken over by National City marine terminal?

VALENZUELA: A couple of things about that. A large portion of the vessels calling tenth avenue cannot go to national city either because the draft is not good enough. Tenth avenue has 42†feet in draft. National city only has 35. So the ships that require a deeper draft cannot go to national city. And also a lot of the bunker vessels for fuel are tied to the tenth avenue fuel farm. So those vessels cannot move to national city.

CAVANAUGH: How many people would you say were at this meeting yesterday at the port commission?

ORR: It was overflowing. I believe the room it was full, people were standing in the aisles, lots of media there. People were set up in chairs outside, and there was an overflow room. This wasn't the only issue on the agenda yesterday. They were dealing with the statue of the sailor and the nurse down this and its future. And some other things related to the north embarcadero visionary plan, things related to the Convention Center expansion. So it was a full agenda. But this was something that a lot of people came out for. You saw a lot of union members there, getting up, talking about how important it is to them. A lot of people who operate businesses related to the port, lots of former port commissioners getting up there and talking about the tenth avenue. It really was sort of like a pep rally for the tenth avenue marine terminal. And clearly that was the point, to sort of strike back at that's articles and editorials that have been in the UT.

CAVANAUGH: Any voices from environmentalists?

ORR: I was there for about an hour of the public testimony and then had to come do my stories. But not that I heard. It was very pro tenth avenue marine terminal, pro business, emphasis on the jobs, on the salaries these jobs give people, emphasizing the middle class jobs these create, which is something that San Diego increasingly has a problem with. We have the high biotech, expensive job, and the low paying service sector job, and snot a whole lot in between. So they were emphasizing that. And also the fact that this is something that we should value that we shouldn't just get rid of for a stadium.

CAVANAUGH: Did anyone speak in support of the Doug Manchester idea?

ORR: Again, not that I heard. But you very much got the sense that this was not a crowd that would have been receptive to that idea. It was very much pro tenth avenue.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I think in your article that the commissioner I read that the -- I read that the commissioner's action yesterday was an affirmation of a resolution passed in 2004. What was the proposal for the tenth avenue marine terminal back then?

ORR: This is not a few project. John Morris floated the idea of building a stadium there. And the port passed a resolution saying they shouldn't take any action on anything like that basically to continue tenth avenue in its current operation. In 2008, there was another proposal to double-deck the area, basically, and build a stadium on top of it, and voters rejected that. And you heard that a lot at this meeting yesterday too. Listen, we've talked about this, this has gone nowhere, there's no point in bringing it up again. However, I mean, people that own the paper and have control over the editorial section can write what they want! And put it wherever they want. And to me, it's a really interesting media story. It demonstrates the power of the paper. People have talked about the declining circulation, and is it the UT as powerful as it used to be? This shows that it definitely has some influence in the community.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Joel, is the port against any plan for alternative uses for the Marine terminal, or for the larger waterfront area around it?

VALENZUELA: Our position is that the deep water berths need to be preserved, and any proposal that diminishes our ability to meet your capacity as a deep water cargo port is not consistent with our mission.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in recent year, there have been some claims that the port has been using some accounting techniques to show that the maritime operations are actually bringing in more money than they actually are. We did an investigative report here at KPBS, Amita Sharma. When you present something like this to the port commission, how can we be sure that the port and the maritime operations really are the economic engine that they claim to be?

VALENZUELA: We are very transparent in terms of our financial statements. Yesterday at our board meeting, we had our independent auditor report on our financial statements for fiscal year2011. So that is available for the public to review. And we welcome questions that anybody has with regards to those.

CAVANAUGH: And how can people see these reports?

VALENZUELA: They could do it through our website or through public records requests with the port.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. And I can't figure, Marguerite
Elicone who has been patiently waiting on the line. I do want to ask you about some of the other things that the commissioners talked about yesterday.


CAVANAUGH: Katie mentioned the popular unconditional surrender, that large sculpture of the sailor kissing the woman. Will it remain on the San Diego waterfront?

ELICONE: Well, we'll have to wait till probably this Friday to find out for sure. We have had then conditional surrender, which as you mentioned is a well-loved sculpture on the G street mall in San Diego bay. We have had that since February, 2007. And it was intentionally to be a one-year loan. And we've renewed that loan 12 times. And so we have had the sculpture there for several years now. And the visitors just love it, the people love it. And we love it too. It brings a lot of good attention to our waterfront. But unfortunately, the current agreement expires at the end of this month. And we were anticipating having it dismantled and taken back to its owner in Santa Monica at the end of February. And we received notice just recently that the owner asked for an additional three month extension. So at yesterday's board meeting, we didn't quite come to a decision on that. Our public art curator will bring the subject up to our public art committee at tomorrow's public art committee meeting here at the port of San Diego, and she will receive some input from them on whether or not the loan should be extended another three months. Now, because this loan does not actually have any money involved, it doesn't cost us anything to have the sculpture here.


ELICONE: We're not paying them, they're not paying us. It does not require board approval to be extended.

CAVANAUGH: But there is the idea that -- being floated that there should be a actual bronze stature replica of the unconditional surrender. And I'm wondering, that would be a pricey thing. And who would be paying for that?

ELICONE: Well, actually some citizens have gotten together to try to raise funds to purchase a permanent version of this. And so the port would not be paying any money for that also. So we're still looking into that. That came up at yesterday's board meeting. And the board could not decide on that item yesterday so it will be revisited at possibly the March or April board meeting. And then with the version that is it currently out there, we don't know yet if it will be there for another three months. We'll find out hopefully tomorrow and for the permanent version, we will have more discussion on that probably in it March or April.

CAVANAUGH: And just another quick question about art projects for the waterfront. The port asked the coastal commission to consider another site for those wings of freedom, those big wings-like sculpture things that are supposed to go on the Navy pier. What other site might those wings be at?

ELICONE: Well, currently the Navy pier is the location where they would like to have the 500-foot iconic sculpture wings of freedom, and that was brought before the port board yesterday as part of the north embarcadero port master plan amendment. And during the discussion for this project, there came up the subject of Navy pier and a proposed park, and also that sculpture. And the commissioners had discussions, and there were several members of the public, some spoke in support of the artwork, some spoke against it. There were some concerns about the views being taken away.


ELICONE: And one of our commissioners suggested another location, possibly embarcadero marina pork north or south. So our board of port commissioners directed port staff to study this as another component of the port master plan amendment project. So they will be looking at other locations for this sculpture or structure I'm not sure what they're calling it if it's actually an artwork. But our port staff will be studying that as part of the north embarcadero port master plan amendment. So they will be looking at alternative locations.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you very much. I want to thank my guests very much. Katie Orr and Joel Valenzuela, and Marguerite Elicone.

ELICONE: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for speaking with me.

VALENZUELA: Thank you very much.

ORR: Thank you.