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Coastal Commission To Vote On First Phase Of Embarcadero Plan

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Aired 2/10/10

Everyone seems to agree that San Diego’s world class waterfront has not been developed to its full potential. A North Embarcadero Visionary Plan has been in the works for decades. The San Diego Port District wants to break ground on the first phase this year. But the California Coastal Commission staff recommends denying the permit. The Commission will make its decision tomorrow.

— Everyone seems to agree that San Diego’s world class waterfront has not been developed to its full potential. A North Embarcadero Visionary Plan has been in the works for decades. The San Diego Port District wants to break ground on the first phase this year. But the California Coastal Commission staff recommends denying the permit. The Commission will make its decision tomorrow.

A cruise ship is moored at the North Embarcadero in San Diego.
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Above: A cruise ship is moored at the North Embarcadero in San Diego.

San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer represents downtown, including the bay font. “The water front is not just for people who live downtown, it’s for people throughout San Diego,” he says.

The Embarcadero has magnificent views of San Diego Bay, but a four lane highway, Harbor Drive, runs near the water’s edge. Faulconer is anxious to see the asphalt torn up.

“It’s a vastly better plan," he said of the Visionary Plan, “that has gone through a whole lot of public workshops. Not only on pavers and tiles, but what type of palm trees do you want, where should the restrooms go.”

The new plan is not fancy. The Port has cobbled together $28 million to build a wider pedestrian walkway and plant jacarandas and palms. Port District Chair, Steve Cushman, told a city council committee last week it’s finally ready to go.

“This is a shovel ready project that would produce 250 instant jobs," he said. "It’s a garden-style esplanade for the people to enjoy. It’s an open plaza. And unfortunately the “negos” have stopped us. We’re up before Coastal again.”

The California Coastal Commission staff recommends the Port’s permit be denied. Their main issue is a large oval public park that -- in earlier iterations of the plan -- lay at the foot of Broadway and connected downtown with the waterfront.

Ian Trowbridge is a waterfront activist who has sued the Port District over the new cruise ship terminal being built at the foot of Broadway. That terminal now requires a supply truck turnaround where the planned park would have been.

“The Port, all of this time has attempted to sweep difficulties under the table,” Trowbridge said. “So when they decided to give Carnival Cruise Ships a new cruise ship terminal, what they didn’t tell the Commission at the time, was the building of that terminal would make it impossible to build a 79,000 square-foot park at the foot of Broadway.”

Scott Andrews, of the group "Save Everyone’s Access” railed at city council members for not upholding the public trust.

“You're trustees of the public tideland,” He said. “You need to save those for the public use for which they are guaranteed.”

San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye has written a letter supporting the Coastal Commission’s position. She asked Cushman if it was true the park had shrunk from almost 80,000 square feet to about 14,000. Cushman replied, “ There is no oval park.”

“It was never part of the plan,” Cushman said. “That was a concept shown, it was never part of the Port Master Plan. The city and CCDC wanted to see a park. The Port never agreed to a park.”

The Port District has gone to great lengths to accommodate the cruise ship industry, which it estimates is worth $2 million to the San Diego economy for every cruise that originates here. The new terminal is already going up.

But Diana Lilly of the Coastal Commission says the Port District cannot simply eliminate public space from part one of their Master Plan without restoring it somewhere else. She says access to San Diego Bay has already been blocked by hotels and the Convention Center along much of the waterfront.

“It’s really only at the North Embarcadero that you have that connection down to the waterfront,” Lilly says, “and it’s always made sense to have some kind of signature public space there. If the Port doesn’t think that makes sense at this time, they need to make sure that they are providing that somewhere else. They can’t just take it away.”

Councilman Kevin Faulconer knows if the Coastal Commission denies the development permit, the first shovel likely won’t strike dirt on the Embarcadero plan this year.

“Opening the water front up to public access remains the number one goal of this plan,” he said. “It started long before I got here, it started several council members ago and has not gotten to fruition. I hope it does.”

The Board of the California Coastal Commission will decide tomorrow if the latest plan is consistent with the Port’s Master Plan, or whether the Port’s Master Plan is being eroded, one project at a time. .

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