In last week's issue, columnist Carl Luna laid out why he thinks San Diego's City Hall should be decentralized and plans to build a new government building Downtown scrapped. With all due respect to Mr. Luna, I disagree. When I traveled to Washington, D.C., a few months ago, I found myself in awe of the Capitol building, in spite of the shenanigans that go on within. San Diego should aspire to great things, and among them should be to build a great temple of local democracy.
That doesn't mean I like the proposed plan to redevelop the current City Hall location on C Street with that tacky building shaped like a sail. I don't. My idea of a great democratic hall of worship isn't crammed in amongst a bunch of other high-rises and chain stores and restaurants—with or without the absurd idea of selling the naming rights. And it isn't shaped like a sail. Nor a seashell. Nor a killer whale or panda bear.
My idea—and it is by no means only my idea, as I found out this week—is to find a way to wrest control of the waterfront Navy Broadway Complex land away from hotelier Doug Manchester and build a new City Hall right there next to San Diego Bay. My vision has a majestic City Hall (it can be modern, as long as it's majestic) at one end of a huge public park. The park is, of course, something just about everyone wants there.
The reason Manchester's involved is because the Navy needs a new headquarters, and the top brass chose him to build it. So, since the Navy is iconic to San Diego, and since the military is revered by many who live here, my vision can accommodate a stately new headquarters at the other end of the park (it can be modern, as long as it's stately).
As I was mulling my vision this past week, I got an e-mail from local urban designer Howard Blackson in response to Luna's column. Blackson's vision, it turns out, is similar to mine, only he has the new Navy building over at the 32nd Street Terminal and a new main library on the waterfront property. I hadn't thought of that. Outstanding idea. A large monument to knowledge would be right at home in my grand vision of public relaxation and democracy.
Yes, I'm aware of the obstacles—the first hurdle being Manchester and his stable of frothing lawyers. The Navy handed over the keys to the property (which once belonged to the citizens) in exchange for Manchester agreeing to build a new Navy building. Thanks to the Navy, Manchester has the right to build a bunch of hotels that no one but Manchester wants there, pending ongoing challenges.
Could we interest Manchester in the C Street land in exchange for agreeing to walk away from the Navy Broadway property? It's a long-shot, to be sure; Manchester likes waterfront land. Maybe there's a way the deal can be sweetened. I don't know. I'm just the vision guy; I leave the details to smarter people.
Speaking of details: Money. The city doesn't have any, and this vision of mine ain't cheap. There's no revenue in it. It's just a big park and a couple or three magnificent edifices. No Starbucks. No Hooters. No Hard Rock San Diego Bay. No sales tax. No transit-occupancy tax. No, the revenue comes in the form of public satisfaction and civic pride. Money is why some folks, such as City Councilmember-elect Carl DeMaio, don't share my vision. They rightly say that our municipal government doesn't know how to manage its money, and that's why we're in the pickle we're in. And our incompetent leaders shouldn't be rewarded with a costly yet splendiferic new place to make their mischief.
That attitude, though completely understandable, troubles me. Refusing to dream big because of the sins of the past is just compounding the misery and punishing the future. Who knows, maybe our city leaders would do better by their constituents if they had a city hall they could be proud of—rather than that structural ode to communist Poland where they currently toil. That's nutty, I know.
But this city needs some nutty thinking right about now. It needs an outside-the-box conversation about the future of an incredibly important chunk of real estate. Again, I'm just the vision guy; my job is to come up with really expensive plans—now I need folks with bigger brains to make it happen. Who's with me?