Port Chairman Zucchet Sees Rays Of Hope Along San Diego’s Bay Front In 2021
Speaker 1: 00:00 The port of San Diego just endured a brutal financial year. Thanks to the Corona virus pandemic. The agency is charged with managing the land around San Diego Bay KPBS environment. Reporter Eric Anderson recently sat outside next to San Diego Bay and spoke with the chair of the port commission, Michael [inaudible]. He said 2020 was an unprecedented challenge Speaker 2: 00:25 On the one hand, you know, cruise ships, hotels, restaurants, convention based businesses, not a, not a good year for those, uh, for those tenants and for those entities. And to the extent they pay rent to the port, that's been a particularly, uh, challenging part of our book of business. Luckily we're also quite diversified provide a lot of cargo Marine terminals. Dole is still shipping billions of bananas. Uh, every year we're still handling a lot of cargo shipbuilders and ship repair is still thriving, you know, hundreds of thousands of cars from Asia still coming. And so, you know, we're sort of just navigating all of that. Um, luckily as an organization, we had substantial financial reserves, which we have used this year. I think this is the definition of a rainy day as it, as it relates to public entities. And so we've used that. The big question is, you know, is this summer really the beginning again, of some form of normalcy. Um, that's the optimistic view and maybe the base case, but who the heck knows Speaker 3: 01:41 Has this financial crunch inhibited your ability to do what you feel is necessary for the port to do for the people of San Diego? Speaker 2: 01:50 So we have a, we have a need to spend money to maintain these, these lands. And we've been able to do that. We have definitely cut a lot of expenses. We've deferred certain capital projects. We've instituted a hiring freeze. Our employees have have given back a pay increases. So there has been sacrificed, but in terms of delivering those services, we've continued. In fact, you know, these, these parks and this open space and access to the waterfront has been particularly important during the pandemic because, you know, that's, that's some safe, outdoor, socially distance activities that we can do. Speaker 3: 02:28 When you think of the year ahead, what do you think of, Speaker 2: 02:30 You know, continue navigation, uh, of the pandemic and continuing on with those services. The port, you know, uh, is responsible for tens of thousands of jobs, you know, cargo and goods that are important for, uh, for, for San Diego and for our region and for the country, frankly. So continuing on all of that is, is number one. Um, number two, we've got some transitions at the port that are happening. We have some new commissioners, we have a new president and CEO. Third, we have a number of projects in the pipeline, some high profile projects related to re-imagining Seaport village, Chula Vista, Bay, front product project, and a number of others that are important. Uh, and then for me personally, the initiative this year, that, that I've really identified, I'm going to be working on is, is clean air. Uh, the port obviously engages in a lot of activities that, uh, that affect our environment. And particularly as it relates to diesel truck trips through some Portside communities, Speaker 4: 03:35 If you think about the port today and then think about where the port will be in five years, what transition can we expect? Speaker 2: 03:48 Well, I think for starters, we could be on our way to a fully electrified port, um, and not just in terms of diesel truck traffic, but, you know, that's something that is a possibility within the next decade. And to get there in 10 years, we have to start now charging infrastructure with short power micro grids and dealing with cruise ships and everything else. And so I think you'll see, uh, an energy in a, in a greenhouse gas emission and diesel emission transformation and the port over the next five to 10 years. Speaker 4: 04:22 Joining me is KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson and Eric welcome. Thank you, Maureen. You said the port had endured a brutal financial year and port commissioner Michael zoo cat says they've had to dig into their reserves. Do we know how much the port has lost? Well, I took a look at some of their, uh, end of the fiscal year 2020 numbers. And, um, kind of what I came up with was their total revenues were about $184 million. And some change, their total expenses were about $206 million and change. So you can see the difference between those two numbers paints, what the picture is. They, they lost money last year, and that's not surprising because COVID had such a severe impact on a number of sectors that they rely on for revenue. Uh, think about a convention. There was no convention center business in San Diego after February of last year. Uh, the hotels that rely on some of that convention business that are in the Tidelands area right along the Bay. Uh, they did not do as well because those conventions were not in town. And there were other areas too, that the port of San Diego struggled with. Uh, there were no cruise ships coming through, uh, after the first couple of months of the year. So all of that revenue, uh, was hit and some of their cargo revenue also took a financial hit as the year wore on how does the port Speaker 1: 05:58 Of San Diego's financial health affect the rest of San Diego's economy? Speaker 4: 06:03 Well, in some ways it affects the economy around the Bay. That's really what the port was designed to do when it was first conceived as a public agency, a number of decades ago was designed to manage the tide lands around San Diego Bay. There were five communities that have land that comes up to the Bay and rather than have five, uh, different, uh, viewpoints are different plans. Uh, the leaders in the area thought it would make sense to develop the unified port of San Diego, which would manage the tide lands. Um, and it needs money to operate. There are things around the tide lands, uh, that the port of San Diego is responsible for maintaining for protecting, uh, and for, uh, enhancing as well, uh, over the years. Uh, so the money that they pull in from all the different revenue activities that they have along the Bay is money that they draw on to operate the different things that they do around the Bay and also plan for the future. Speaker 1: 07:06 What are some of those things that they do? Speaker 4: 07:09 Uh, some big ones that are coming up, uh, it's going to be the, uh, the redesign and the rethinking of Seaport village. Uh, you might have gone down to Seaport village in the last couple of years and the traffic is not quite where the port wants it to be the foot traffic, the tourism traffic. So they're going to rethink that and redesign that another big project that's been on the drawing boards for a number of years, and it's going to have a big impact on the Bay is the Chula Vista redevelopment project. And then there are some other projects as well in national city to try to enhance some of the public assets that are there along the Bay, and to make that area a little bit more attractive, uh, to not only the people who live in national city, but to people from other parts of the County as well. Speaker 1: 07:54 Did you get the sense that the port has a plan about how to weather another summer where traveling conventions are curtailed? If we don't return to normal, Speaker 4: 08:05 Much of what, uh, I got the sense of was that this was a situation where they know they're going to feel some of those financial constraints in the first part of the year. Uh, but they're hopeful that by the summer, by the end of the summer or the middle of the summer, that things will start to get back to normal. And if the news about the vaccine continues to track it as, as it has, um, then I think that that's a reasonable expectation when things start to get back to normal for the port completely, uh, it might not be in this, this calendar year, uh, but certainly they hope to be moving in that direction. They don't want to continue to lose a large chunk of money, uh, for another entire year. Speaker 1: 08:52 And looking further into the future for a moment. Tell us more about the commitment the port has to improving the environment. Speaker 4: 09:00 Yeah. This is a big thing for the poor they're in the midst of redesigning their master plan. And one of the elements in that master plan, uh, is a statement that is something that's pretty rare for a ports around California anyway, uh, and it's that they want to take a position on environmental justice. They want to make environmental justice a part of what they do when they make business related decisions. They want to make sure that, uh, they're not impacting negatively, the communities that live, uh, near the Bay front. Uh, for example, by, by, you know, driving a lot of trucks through Barrio Logan or national city and increasing the diesel pollution, they want to make sure that they account for that and find a way to work with those communities. Speaker 1: 09:44 I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson, Eric. Thank you very much. Speaker 4: 09:51 My pleasure.