Suddenly, Mission Bay Park is brimming with activity.
We're not just talking about the hydroplane races that wrapped up last weekend. No, now the wildly popular recreational stop seems to be the hot potato du jour for local politicians and the requisite wheeler-dealers who tend to gravitate toward such regional tourist meccas.
Last week, the Mission Bay Landfill Technical Advisory Committee-spearheaded by City Councilmember Donna Frye-drew a rare standing-room-only crowd to hear a reprise of testimony from Don May, president of California Earth Corps, that he had delivered earlier to the state Coastal Commission.
May's contention-that the city and SeaWorld San Diego, its politically connected tenant along the bay's south shoreline, have for too long downplayed the significance of an old toxic dump that operated in the area for decades-clearly made city and SeaWorld officials squirm in their seats during his 30-minute presentation.
Trained as an engineer, May has drawn the attention of Peter Douglas, the stalwart executive director of the Coastal Commission who recently put off defeat of May's request to revoke SeaWorld's permit for the 95-foot-tall "Journey to Atlantis" splashdown ride. Construction on the ride continues unabated, despite May's recent discovery of aerial photographs dating back to the 1950s that indicate dumping activity by the military and defense contractors stretching well under the theme park's leasehold.
"It took us one hour to determine that this whole area is a toxic dump site," May told the committee about tracking down the photos, drawing gasps from some activists who have been searching for proof of the dump's toxicity for two decades.
He talked about how San Diego's city manager from 1957 to 1959-when the city said it closed the dump-ordered the flooding of the area to dilute the toxins. "In those days," May said in invoking a now-debunked theory, "the solution to pollution was dilution." Workers, he said, would punch-sometimes even shoot-holes in barrels of toxic acids and other chemicals to make sure they sank in sea-level trenches.
For SeaWorld's part, executives who attended the committee meeting said they are reviewing May's data, but clearly they would like this debate to fade away, particularly now that they are in the midst of tough negotiations with the city over a possible rent hike for the 189 acres of land and water leased by Anheuser-Busch, the beer barons that own SeaWorld.
No doubt the discussions at City Hall must be pretty intriguing these days, considering that the mayor's chief of staff, John Kern, is on leave of absence from his political consulting firm, the Gemini Group, which ran the Proposition D campaign in 1998 that narrowly won voter approval to exempt the theme park from the city's 30-foot-height limit.
While SeaWorld's fate remains a question mark, the seniors and low-income folk who have fought for years to remain at the mobile-home park to the north at De Anza Cove have received some surprising news.
The current leaseholder and management company for the park and nearby Mission Bay Golf Course, which have been prodding residents to leave by Nov. 23, have themselves been told by the city that their services will no longer be needed as of that date, according to Ernie Abbit, president of the De Anza Cove Homeowners Association.
"I've been waiting five years for this moment," Abbit said in a message left on the association's hotline. "Through long patience and carefully planned negotiations, we are beginning to realize our goals and our dreams. The De Anza Corporation and Terra Vista Management have been notified by the city that they will not be operating this park or the golf course after Nov. 23."
Abbit said the city, which has remained quiet for months on the fate of the mobile-home park while closed-session negotiations dragged on, has indicated that it intends "to hire a qualified interim operator for the task after Nov. 23." He said the parties involved "are continuing sensitive negotiations to determine the terms of any actual transition period," but one thing seems clear.
"At this juncture, although we don't have the final agreement hammered out, one can surmise no one will have to leave on Nov. 24 except Terra Vista Management and the De Anza Corporation," he said.
The future of the mobile-home park has been in flux for decades. Sitting on 76 acres of prime bay-front property, park residents have been caught in a legal tug of war while the city's lessee, De Anza Harbor Resort & Golf LLC, debated the most suitable use for the land. Originally, the lessee proposed a 600-room hotel and a spruced-up golf course, but the financing and political popularity of such a proposal have frequently come under fire from local environmental groups. For more than two decades, residents have known that the mobile-home park would not exist forever-the trailers sit on public land. But state officials have allowed the park to remain while the city wrestles with a relocation plan for its residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes.
James Dawe, an attorney who represents the soon-to-be-bounced resort leaseholder, told CityBeat that a response would be forthcoming-but it didn't come.
Word that Charles Walker, executive director of the city's Ethics Commission, has tendered his resignation, effective Oct. 2, has local conspiracy theorists abuzz. They note that Walker, an FBI veteran of 30 years with a specialty in ethics, came on board to the $90,000-a-year post while City Hall-a-Go-Go wiretaps were a-sleuthin' and now says he will depart "to pursue other interests" just weeks after three councilmen are indicted.
Walker pooh-poohs the notion, but one political observer notes: "The mayor's Ethics Commission is in shambles." The mayor's statement: "I am sorry to hear of Charlie Walker's resignation."