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S.D. Developer Wins a Round in the Battle over Bay Front Proposal

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Aired 4/19/09

(Photo: Rendering of the Navy Broadway Complex. Manchester Development )

A major San Diego developer has won another round in the ongoing battle over the Navy Broadway Complex on the Embarcadero downtown. The San Diego City Council voted to deny an appeal filed by the citizens' coalition that opposes the project. Manchester's "Pacific Gateway" development is planned for an area often called "San Diego's front porch.” KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

The city is negotiating a tricky path, like Odysseus did in Greek legend when he navigated between the twin obstacles of the sea monster Sylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. On the one hand is the risk of a lawsuit by frustrated developer Doug Manchester. On the other is a lawsuit by the citizens' group the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition.

The coalition wants more environmental review of the proposal to put up massive high- rises on the bay. The developer argues the project doesn't need more environmental scrutiny -- it was approved back in 1992.

The city council has heard the arguments more than once, though a new voice spoke out at yesterday's hearing. That of eminent scientist, 90 year old Walter Munk. Munk, who holds the Secretary of the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations Oceanography Chair at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, spoke out against design of the new Navy headquarters on the waterfront.

Munk: The proposed Broadway Complex walls off the sea from the land -- it is not a good solution. I came here to urge you to provide a solution that all of San Diego including the Navy, can point to with pride.

But the Navy is committed to the project even though environmentalists point out that the Rose canyon seismic fault is probably running underneath the site of their new headquarters building.

Manchester's attorney Steven Strauss dismisses that threat. He says it is no reason to put the project through further review.

Strauss: Rose Canyon fault zone is not new, it's been known and the way you mitigate that is through compliance with the building codes and the municipal code.

And Manchester's spokesman Perry Dealy says the developer has plenty of experience of building high-rises on unstable tidelands with fault zones underneath.

Dealy: The Hyatt expansion and the two Marriot buildings were built by Manchester Financial Group. All of those buildings had to deal with liquefaction in a seismic zone downtown.

The city council voted 6-to-2 to dismiss the appeal, saying more environmental review is unnecessary. The council is well aware that Manchester has already sued the Port District and the city of Oceanside over projects that were blocked. The developer won millions of dollars.

But the citizen Coalition isn't giving up the fight. Attorney Cory Brigg says he will go on appealing the project on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA.

Briggs: Because you need a judge who knows CEQA to say to everybody this is the standard that I am going to follow. In here, in the political arena, there are lots of folks who are being less than candid with the city council. People who have an economic interest in this. Once we get into court where the person in the black robe knows the standard, our evidence is going to persuade the judge.

The city has more navigating to do to avoid threats of lawsuits and arrive at a downtown development that can actually start to break ground.

Alison St John, KPBS News.

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