Last week in this space, I wrote about my pie-in-the-sky desire to see a new city hall, a big public park and perhaps the new main library built on the Navy Broadway Complex site on San Diego's bayfront. This week, I'm turning my attention to the Navy and San Diego's congressional delegation.
The Navy owns the property, having received it from the city of San Diego in the early part of the last century. The transfer made it pretty clear that the city was giving it to the federal government for military use only, but in 1991, a federal judge ruled that the language wasn't explicit enough and eliminated any local claim to the land. In 2006, the Navy entered into a 99-year lease agreement with hotelier Doug Manchester. Under the deal, Manchester would build the Navy a new headquarters in exchange for the right to erect a bunch of skyscrapers containing hotels, offices and, most likely, chain stores and restaurants.
Abandoned for the most part by a timid San Diego City Council and its Downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), a group of citizens is fighting the project, largely on the grounds that the Navy's environmental review is inadequate. They scored a victory a few months back when a judge required the Navy to hold public hearings, which are coming up in the next couple of weeks. They're also awaiting a ruling on whether the Navy must release the Manchester lease to the public.
So far, the Navy appears unconcerned with the public's desire for this important chunk of real estate (15 acres currently holding ugly buildings and parking lots). It controls the land thanks to a legal technicality and is approaching its redevelopment with blinders on.
If the project's opponents lose the environmental challenge, the fight becomes concentrated in the lobbying realm. This is where Congressmembers Bob Filner and Susan Davis should play leading roles. Filner appears to be doing his part—last December, he introduced a bill that would appear to ban the Navy from entering into development agreements on land in certain seismic zones (opponents have wielded the earthquake fault below the site as a weapon). Project opponents say Davis, who occupies an important position on the House Armed Services Committee, has talked a good game but hasn't followed up in any meaningful way. Her spokesperson told me that Davis has been “working with the local groups, the CCDC and the Navy. They know she has concerns with the plan.”
If Davis can help persuade the Navy to change course, this is her chance to create a lasting legacy in San Diego.
Perhaps even a section of the resulting public park can bear her name. But she has to do something. If all else fails, she should tell the Navy Secretary Donald Winter that if greater anti-terrorism security measures are required for the proposed headquarters building, maybe a waterfront crawling with tourists isn't the best place for it. If a Bush-appointed secretary isn't receptive, Davis might need to wait (and hope) for an Obama appointee, but she should start laying the foundation now. She should be meeting with smart people who can propose alternatives that might satisfy the Navy, Manchester and the public. Davis has an opportunity to come to the public's rescue amid our city leaders' general malaise, and she should seize it.
And you, the public, should prod her. You can do this by contacting her personally (via the “contact” page on her website or by calling 619-280-5353), but also by attending the upcoming Navy hearings and making your voice heard.You might not share my vision of citing a city hall and a grand public library on that land, but do you think what San Diego really needs is more waterfront hotels? No? Would you rather see something like Chicago's Grant Park, on Lake Michigan's southwestern shore? If yes, then go to one of those hearings and say so. The meetings will be held at the Navy Broadway Complex (937 Harbor Drive) on Saturday, Sept. 27 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); Monday, Sept. 29 (4 to 8 p.m.); and Tuesday, Oct. 7 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Navy brass will want your comments to be specifically about the environmental assessment, so start by telling them that much has changed in the area since the review was done—but then tell them how you feel about the idea of high-rise hotels on your waterfront. Tell them that you understand that their proposal is convenient, but tell them there are bigger things at stake here and that we can do much better.