Supposedly, the concrete tiles used at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning for a new cruise-ship terminal were from a weak mix, designed to be easy to break. Since the Broadway Pier on San Diego's Downtown waterfront hangs over San Diego Bay, no actual ground could be broken for the terminal. So demolishing some cement tiles must have seemed like a nice symbolic way to launch construction. On the count of three, members of the Port of San Diego's Board of Commissioners and a couple of other luminaries brought their sledge hammers down on the specially prepared tiles. And with a mighty bonk! the hammers bounced off their targets, leaving the tiles unharmed. Nothing in San Diego, it seems, gets done on the first try.
The second, third and fourth hits were more successful. The tiles were broken, applause was heard and the new terminal will be built. Cruise ships will continue to dock at the nearby B Street pier most of the time, but when there's a third ship in port, it will dock at the Broadway Pier at the new terminal building and the pier will be closed. However, when there's no ship there, the pier will become a city-block-sized open space available to the public.
The terminal building was a battleground for two years. Now the battle has shifted to the near end of Broadway Pier, where Broadway meets Harbor Drive. What had once been slated to be a park is now expected to be a loading area for trucks servicing the ships. And some citizens, along with two members of the California Coastal Commission, want their park back.
The park is shown only on a map in the Port Master Plan, a legally binding document approved in 1998 that describes much of the future development for land owned by the Port of San Diego. An oval-shaped park was intended to be a grassy area for public gatherings and recreation. It protruded into Harbor Drive to slow the speed of traffic, and it had a driveway to allow trucks to access the ships on the pier.
But when the plan was written, there was no intention of building a cruise-ship terminal. The advent of that building forced the port to reconsider the park. With the terminal building there, Ron Powell, a spokesperson for the Port, said, the oval park “was not practical. It wouldn't work.”
Powell said the 18-wheeler trucks that would need to reach the ships for re-supply wouldn't be able to get through the driveway. He said a plan to have the park extend over the water on an overhang was too expensive; having an oval park protrude into Harbor Drive would cause traffic snarls. As a result, after numerous public meetings, the Port and the Centre City Development Corporation, which handles Downtown redevelopment on the city's behalf, both approved a new configuration for the base of Broadway Pier in 2005.
The new vision eliminates the park. It converts the dedicated bike lane into a shared bike and pedestrian area. It extends a sidewalk embarcadero and other parts of the plaza to make up for the lost open space, and there will be a loading area for trucks where a park would have been. Last month, the Port Commission unanimously approved a final coastal permit for the base of the pier with the revised plan, with construction anticipated for the fall.
State Coastal Commissioners Mary Shallenberger and Sara Wan, joined by five local citizens and the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, a group working to defeat plans to redevelop the Navy Broadway Complex, have appealed the permit to the Coastal Commission. The matter will be taken up at the commission's August meeting. If commissioners at that meeting decide the appeal has merit, there will be a second hearing at which the permit can be changed or revoked.
Wan told CityBeat that she entered the appeal at the request of Coastal Commission staff, and as such won't know much about the issue until the meeting. But for Ian Trowbridge, a 2010 City Council candidate and one of the appellants, the new plan destroys a grand vision for the base of Broadway.
“It's the crown jewel of the whole North Embarcadero plan,” Trowbridge said, “the grand ceremonial Broadway entrance opening up on the landing park, which is big enough for lots of public activities, then going into the open pier of Broadway with the views of the water.”
The North Embarcadero Visionary Plan to which Trowbridge refers is a years-in-the-making proposal to beautify the waterfront from Laurel Street south to Seaport Village. Unlike the master plan, it is non-binding, but all of the agencies involved with the waterfront signed off on it. Both sides in any debate about the waterfront will cite the North Embarcadero plan's goals as the reason for doing whatever they're doing.
Powell believes the appeal probably won't succeed. He said the picture in the Master Plan “was for illustrative purposes only” and does not appear in the text (which is correct).
Steve Cushman, chairman of the Port Commission, is also pretty certain the Port has behaved appropriately.
“Whatever we do in San Diego, it seems fraught with challenges,” Cushman told CityBeat. “In these recessionary times, it's a shame we can't break ground in September to provide those jobs to San Diego.”
Mike Stepner, a longtime urban planner and currently a professor of architecture and urban planning at the New School of Architecture and Design, thinks the pier will provide plenty of open space.
“It appeared that if they follow up on it, it will resolve many of the conflicts,” he said. “The question is whether they follow up.”
Former Port Commissioner Laurie Black attended the groundbreaking. She told CityBeat she thinks the elimination of the park was necessary, but she's concerned about the big picture.
“That building,” Black said, gesturing toward the scaffolding in place for the new terminal, “was a compromise. But what they need to understand is how this fits into everything else. We have to look at everything along the waterfront. We should be able to walk along the waterfront all the way around the airport and down.”
For Black, “they” are Trowbridge and the other appellants. She believes they need to understand how the new cruise-ship terminal changed things. But she shares their concerns about the damage to the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan.
“We have to stop piecemealing the plan,” Black said.
That term, “piecemealing,” was practically a buzzword among those trying to defend the oval park. It's repeated several times in the report prepared by Coastal Commission staff for the August meeting. They worry that a series of projects that demanded changes to the vision—Lane Field, the Navy Broadway Complex, the airport expansion—all cause irrevocable harm to the vision.
“It's when you approve various projects bit by bit,” said Diana Lilly, a Coastal Commission planner, “and each project changes slightly, so, years later, you have a different project than what was anticipated.”