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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.

“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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