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Which Way San Diego Bay?

The “Port of San Diego Marine Freight Preservation and Bay Front Redevelopment Initiative” qualified for the November ballot this week. The initiative is an ambitious plan that will pull voters into

Which Way San Diego Bay?

The “Port of San Diego Marine Freight Preservation and Bayfront Redevelopment Initiative” qualified for the November ballot this week. The initiative is an ambitious plan that will pull voters into the long running debate over how to make the best use of one of San Diego’s finest assets. Alison St John takes us to the waterfront. 


  080716-bayfront-cc-asj.jpg  Streetside view of the San Diego Convention Center, located up the street from the 10th Ave. Marine Terminal. Alison St John/KPBS .

Children splash in the pool tucked amidst lush landscaping behind the Marriot Hotel.  Jo Wolfson is visiting from Buffalo New York with his family, who are at a meeting in the Convention Center next door.  

  Wolfson: San Diego’s a great city, this is like, really a nice place, I mean we’ll come back.


The Marriot’s glass towers curve elegantly along the bay front, marinas full of luxury yachts bob in its shadow. 

But this world of leisure is a far cry from what’s happening just down the road.

St John : "I’ve left the Convention Center and I turned right to drive down Harbor Drive….and almost immediately I can see signs of the docks.    The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal lies just about a mile down the bay from all this tourist activity."

Popham: We handle about 2.9 million tons of cargo here at Tenth Avenue.

Ron Popham is the Port’s Maritime Director. He points to mountains of sand from Ensenada and India, rows of imported windmill parts, warehouses full of oranges from Australia, melons from Central America and bananas from Costa Rica.

<b> Popham:&nbsp; </b> Dole Fresh Fruit brings in about 50 thousand 40 foot containers. That adds up to about 900 thousand metric tons of banana. That’s a lot of bananas.

Through the cranes lowering giant containers of bananas onto trucks, you can see the new Hilton Hotel going up next to the Convention Center.

To the left, the Coronado Bay Bridge soars overhead, as sailing boats cruise by on the sparkling water of the bay.  


Chase : This site is probably one of the most beautiful waterfront sites, I would go as far as to say in the world, and to date has not been used to its highest and best potential.

That’s Nancy Chase, one of the developers who’ve put an initiative on the ballot to dramatically redevelop the area.

Redevelopment , like expanding the Convention Center for example, could bring millions of  dollars to the city of San Diego, a much more lucrative use than the docks.

However, the Port District has resisted redevelopment proposals at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal in the past, partly to protect hundreds of  well paid jobs.

Economist Marney Cox says that’s a valid concern. He says San Diego’s high cost of living means the region should be trying to preserve its middle class jobs, like dock workers, not replacing them with the  low wage jobs generated by expanding the tourism and convention business.

<b> &nbsp; </b> <b> Cox : </b> We’re so focused on those things that are good for the bottom line of the government revenue, that we have forgotten that the jobs and  the wealth and the wages that people earn in your area are perhaps more important. <b> </b>

But Richard Chase, Nancy Chase’s development partner, says his plan would not sacrifice the dock jobs, His wants to double deck the docks, effectively creating another elevated 97 acres of waterfront property.

   Click to Enlarge Google Map View

<b> Chase : </b> You have the ground level activities for marine freight, you have another 97 acres for hotels, stadium, arenas, Convention Center expansions, cruise ship  terminals, hotels, retail, you know, the list goes on and on.. <b> &nbsp; </b>

Chase argues the revenue from the top deck would pay for revamping  the cargo operations below.

San Diego’s Port District Commissioner don’t buy the idea that a commercial cargo import /export operation can function under a deck. Port District CEO Bruce Hollingsworth says the economic value of the working waterfront is dangerously underestimated.

<b> Hollingsworth : </b> We are going to need every single deep water birth that we have in this country.

Hollingsworth says, with manufacturing going overseas, capacity to import cargo will be increasingly important. He sees the Chase’s Initiative as a threat to a dwindling resource. 

<b> Hollingsworth : </b> And believe me, it’s not just happening at the Port of San Diego, it’s happening at every port in every city in every country. Gentrification is a serious problem.

The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal is now ground zero for the battle over San Diego Bay.   If voters approve the Chase’s Initiative in November, the Port District will have to move ahead with a redevelopment plan that tries to combine both uses, one on top of the other. 

Alison St John, KPBS news