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Navy Broadway Project Suffers Setback

San Diego’s identity is inextricably linked to the Navy. Building a new Navy regional headquarters on San Diego’s downtown waterfront would solidify that, but it’s been 20 years since the California Coastal Commission approved a conceptual plan for the project.

The commission reversed its approval this week. Before the vote, Commission Chair Mary Shallenberger explained why they were voting on it again.

“If this passes, it will result in the commission finding that the proposed project will affect coastal resources and uses in a manner substantially different from what was originally described in the Navy’s 1990 consistency determination," she said.

In other words, the world has changed, and so has the project. The plan to put up highrises - in some cases hardly set back from the water’s edge - is no longer in tune with the rest of the Embarcadero.

Opponents of the project like attorney Corey Briggs brought up other ways the world has changed, particularly since 9/11.

"Navy Broadway is going to be the Center on Global Anti-terrorism,” Briggs said, “That’s public information. This place is a terrorist target.”

Briggs questions the safety of locating the Navy’s headquarters right next to hotels, shops and restaurants.

Public attitudes may have changed, too, and it may no longer be popular to see a prime piece of San Diego’s waterfront commercially developed to fund a new building for the Navy.

Nick Marinovich is with Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a nonprofit interested in the revitalization of downtown.

“What we’re talking about here,” Marinovich said, “is we’re taking a piece of land, we’re cramming as much development on that land so we can get enough revenue so the Navy can get their property for free."

"The basic premise of this project is flawed," he said. "This is some of the most valuable land for the region.”

But the economic benefits of Navy Broadway are tangible.

Larry Blumberg is the director of SDMAC, a nonprofit that promotes military interests in San Diego. SDMAC commissioned a study to assess what the region would miss without the project.

Blumberg said the current plan would generate 5,300 new jobs, $850 million annually in total output and $25 million in tax revenue.

New jobs is a key argument, which is why the Chamber of Commerce is strongly in favor of the project. But Lorena Gonzales of the region’s Labor Council turned out to support the Coastal Commission’s decision to reject the project.

The current Navy headquarters in downtown San Diego on on Oct. 26, 2011. A pr...
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Above: The current Navy headquarters in downtown San Diego on on Oct. 26, 2011. A proposed plan would replace the building with a new headquarters as well as a hotel and retail and office space.

“Especially because it wouldn’t be built for years," she said. "And it would only create hundreds of low wage jobs, with no benefits.”

The Navy did not speak at the public hearing, and instead sent a representative who said the Justice Department has advised them not to since they were in litigation. However, some members of the commission said they were confused by the fact that the Navy did send over 40 pages of written testimony,

Peter Heckman, a retired Navy Vice Admiral, warned the commission that talk of more public access and open space along the waterfront is wishful thinking.

“This land will never be turned over to the public, unless the public pays for it,” he said. “To pay for it would require a new Navy headquarters built with 99 years of free rent and utilities. Nobody’s going to do that.”

California Commissioner Martha Mclure was ready to take on the feds.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate,” Mclure said,”that the United States Government and the United States Navy aren’t working to honor California development, because we lead the world by example in how we can have environmental access, environmental protection and economic forward motion.”

San Diego Congresswoman Susan Davis sent a statement to the commission: “While we are all proud of the strong connection between San Diegans and the military, unfortunately, I don’t believe this project, as currently designed, meets the needs of either community,” she wrote.

Davis believes it would be better to locate the new headquarters building in a more secure location on a base. She wrote that she hopes the commission’s vote will force all parties back to the table and compel them to create a new redevelopment plan.

That may happen, but the Navy has not yet revealed what its next move will be.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | November 4, 2011 at 8:45 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Hand over our last piece of prime downtown bay-front property to the notoriously mediocre designs of Douglas Manchester so he can wall it off with a bunch of nondescript high-rises and a boxy military headquarters.

I don't think so.

This site should be used for something iconic that represents our city, a grand, interactive piece of architecture that sets us apart from other cities.

I am quite disgusted by the military's arrogant attitude in this and other matters involving land-use in San Diego.

We are a growing, diversified city and while the military is an important part of our economy, it is certainly not the only part of our economy.

For decades SD has been described as a "military town" and apparently that means we are supposed to sit back and let the military use our city for whatever purposes they want without regard to our own urban planning and infrastructure.

I am glad to see opinions slowly but surely starting to change in this regard.

No longer are the days where the military says, "we are using your city for this and we don't need to provide you with our rationale."

Increasingly, citizen groups and politicians alike are finally getting the courage to push-back and demand at least coherent rationale from the military before allowing them to make such important and long-lasting footprints in our city.

I find it an insult to the people of San Diego that the Navy and Manchester (and their squaking little parakeet in city hall Mr. DeMaio) would try and shove through a 20-year old plan like this without reconsidering the important issues at hand including the vulnerability of the location to possible attacks, the use of the land, the environmental concerns, and the aesthetics (i.e. walling-off our waterfront w/nondescript high rises.

And last I would like to thank Susan Davis for actually caring enough about our city to push back on the military.

Most local San Diego politicians are either on the take from military contracts (think Hunter Jr. and Bilbray) or they are just too cowardly to ever question anything the military does (think Issa) or they are political leaches who think they can become mayor by pretending to be rubber-stamp political hacks for the military/parasitic developers (think DeMaio).

Susan Davis has more courage and more love for our community than all of the above-named political shills combined.

Thanks Susan, thanks bringing common sense to our local politics when it comes to dealing with military issues and thanks for representing people who have for so many years been voiceless.

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Avatar for user 'LaPlayaHeritage'

LaPlayaHeritage | November 6, 2011 at 11 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

The California Coastal Commission should reconvene the 2006 Coronado Tunnel Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) made up of out-of-San Diego County Seismic experts from Caltech and Berkeley to give Guidance to all local governments to follow our State's Seismic Hazard Mapping Act. After Fault Buffer Setback Distances are establish there is still room for some development, but at a much lower density than the approved Master Plan.

A great secured location for our Navy's new HeadQuarters is at the Point Loma base across from Liberty Station/NTC.

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