Friday, April 16, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): On Monday, there was much celebrating by Navy families as the USS Carl Vinson glided into its North Island berth and became San Diego's third homeported aircraft carrier. Here to explain what an expansion of Navy personnel and vessels will mean to our community is KPBS senior metro reporter Alison St John. First of all Alison, why was San Diego chosen as the USS Vinson's new homeport?
ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS Reporter): It's part of the Navy's new strategy to move some of the naval resources. Previously they were split 50-50 between the East Coast and the West Coast, and now they are moving 60 percent of naval resources to the West Coast. And San Diego, of course, has a magnificent harbor. It's also at the center of a constellation of resources for training that includes air bases and ocean, Arizona, it's sort of the nexus of a constellation of really excellent training facilities for the Navy. And then, of course, they also cite the fact that the San Diego population is welcoming and appreciates the military presence.
PENNER: So we're talking about more than 3,500 crew members, plus their families here now as well. What does this mean to San Diego both economically and culturally?
ST JOHN: Well it is a big economic boost, they're citing, the military is citing the figure $400 million a year boost to San Diego's economy. That apparently is what all of the aircraft carrier would bring, so it's true, you know you have thousands more families living here, you have all the maintenance on the ship. I think, you know, we've been seeing a lot of, in the news, of ships returning and ships leaving. It sort of adds to that general feeling that this is a very strong foothold of the United States Navy, here in the United States.
PENNER: So we now have three aircraft carriers based in San Diego. What kind of challenges will that present, let's say, for the Coronado community which is were North Island is?
ST JOHN: It's going to present a challenge for the bridge. I think traffic across the Coronado Bay Bridge, everybody is aware that's a problem. It's on the ballot in June, as to whether to spend more money on that. And I think the Navy is very aware of it and is attempting to promote ride-sharing and other solutions to try to mitigate that problem.
PENNER: So what plans are there for San Diego's future as a home port for other carriers and maybe other ships? Can we expect more in the future?
ST JOHN: Yes, no more aircraft carriers. I don't know if there'd be room for another one, but there are a lot more ships coming. The next class of ship that is coming is the littoral combat ships, which are completely different from the aircraft carriers because they're small, they're fast, they're designed to, for example, defend against pirates. And the first one of that breed of ship is arriving in the next couple of weeks.
PENNER: Well since we're on the bayfront, lets move to the other side of the bayfront, the San Diego side. Because there was kind of a short circuiting of the plan for the North Embarcadero area of downtown. It's, let's see, $228 million plan and now it looks like it's at this point a no-go, what happened?
ST JOHN: Well, it was the first phase of the plan and they were hoping desperately to at least break ground at the end of the year, because they'd been working on this plan for 12 years. And it would have put an esplanade along the bayfront, right were the Star of India is. The Port Commission felt that the port, sorry, the Coastal Commission felt that the Port District had not fulfilled its promise to the public, according to its master plan. And that a large public park that was planned at the foot of Broadway, as a sort of gateway between downtown and the bay had been replaced with a square concrete plaza, which would of been closed off some of the year for tracks that were servicing the cruise ship terminal. So although the Port District did offer to find some other small pieces of public space around to make up for that, the Port Commission said, look this is not what you promised the public, this is not good enough, you need to go back to the drawing board.