Michael C. Burgess
The future of
recreational boating in San Diego hangs in the balance as the last
opportunity to comment on San Diego Unified Port District’s plans
for America’s Cup Harbor passes.
Against the recommendations of two Port District-sponsored studies into small-boat yard capacity
in San Diego Bay, the Port commissioners unanimously voted to change the use
of South Bay Boat Yard. Now the Driscoll boatyard faces jeopardy as
its Kettenburg site is slated for redevelopment even though
Driscoll’s relocation to a smaller plot near Convair Lagoon may yet
According to Bill Roberts, whose rival boatyard
business is situated on Shelter Island, the loss of Driscoll’s from
Kettenburg will hit hard at the interests of all San Diego’s boat
users and those whose livelihoods are connected to the marine
“There’s going to be a ten-week waiting list for a
haul-out for a brokerage deal, and that’s going to harm the brokers
and everybody,” Roberts said. “So it’s a competitor of mine. So
what? I care about the long-term effect on the marine
According to Ralph Hicks, the Port District’s director
of land use, Port District staff had recommended to the Port
commissioners they should give Driscoll’s a short-term exclusive
negotiating right to determine the feasibility of a small-boat yard
on a much smaller site off Harbor Drive.
But the 3.3-acre Harbor
Drive site, currently occupied by National Car Rentals, is very
close to Convair Lagoon. If it becomes a boatyard, disturbance of
the double sand caps beneath its entry channel would risk uncovering
large dumps of highly toxic Polychlorinated Biphenyls, known as
Roberts dismissed the Harbor Drive boatyard site as a
smokescreen so the Port District could say a new boatyard was in the
works. “The Environmental Health Coalition and the Audubon Society
have gone on record saying that when hell freezes over, they’ll get
to use that for a boatyard,” he said.
At a board meeting on Aug.
21, the Port commissioners rejected its staff’s recommendation and
commissioned an environmental constraints analysis to report in 90
days on the suitability of the site for either a small-boat yard or
a megayacht facility.
However, the boating public has only 45
days (until Oct. 9) to respond to the America’s Cup environmental
impact report, after which time decisions such as the closure of
Kettenburg will be in the hands of the Port commissioners. They will
pass their decision to the California Coastal Commission who will
look at it to see if it matches the facts.
Hicks said, “It
usually takes us three to four weeks to respond to all the comments,
analyze the comments, and get it back before our board. So that will
probably happen by the end the of October, with the
Then the Port will prepare the application for the
Port master plan change to the Coastal Commission. Hicks said, “That
takes us about a month or two. So we’re in January. Once the Coastal
Commission deems our application complete, which takes about 30
days, so we’ve lost all of January.”
Around Feb. 1 (90 days
out), the Coastal Commission has to have a hearing on either the
document or the application. And, according to Hicks, they usually
take about 90 days. “So we’re in spring of 2002 before the Coastal
Commission makes a decision.”
Part of the master plan that calls
for narrowing Harbor Drive to provide parking, will require approval
by the City Council, and Hicks said there are rumors that some
support for this within the Council is conditional on the plan’s
closure of Kettenburg to provide a bay view for development in Point
America’s Cub Harbor is overdue for redevelopment. Many
think the public will benefit from a walkway along the shoreline.
Residents of Point Loma will have a less restricted view of the Bay.
However, many fear the Disney-fication of America’s Cup Harbor.
If a change of land use towards hotels and restaurants prevails,
both the Port District and the Council will prosper, through the
Transient Occupancy Tax and, indirectly, by drawing greater revenue
to the newly expanded San Diego Convention Center. But
marine-dependent businesses such as full-service boatyards will lose
out if they are not adequately relocated by what Port District
officials refer to as mitigations.
James Pugh, the new senior
director of the Port District’s maritime division, told a yacht
brokers’ luncheon “You’ve got to get organized and prepare a
concerted plan,” at Shelter Island’s Fiddler’s Green restaurant on
Aug. 30. He said, if the Port District has seemed deaf to the
maritime community, it’s because there has not been one coherent
Roberts said it’s too late now to start a new organization
to defend the recreational boating industry. All we can do is get
enough people to add their public comments to the draft EIR to draw
the Coastal Commission’s attention to the lack of mitigation for
The Port District is required by law to
respond to each substantive comment received from the public before
the Oct. 9 deadline, and each of them will accompany the Port Master
Plan Amendment as it proceeds to the Port Commissioners and onward
to the Coastal Commission.
Hicks defined a substantive comment as
something that relates to the environmental impacts identified in
the document or not identified in the document. “Let’s say you write
a letter that says, ‘I think this America’s Cup Harbor plan stinks.’
And all we’re legally entitled to do is say, ‘Thanks. We appreciate
According to Richard Cloward, of San Diego Port
Tenants Association, the obligatory replies to more specific letters
may seriously delay the progress of the plan through the timeline
described by Hicks.
Such letters would need to focus on
environmental concerns rather than the economic. Hicks explained
that, for these purposes, environmental impact would not include the
economic impact to the maritime community. “It matters only in the
sense of whether or not a mitigating measure is feasible.”
a concern might be the planned replacement of a roundabout on
Shelter Island by a smaller turning circle which Roberts said his
65-foot semis would find impossible to negotiate.
Of course, the
Harbor Drive site has no feasibility as mitigation for the loss of
Kettenburg until the Environmental Constraints Analysis reports back
toward the end of November.
Roberts said the 3.3-acre site is
not big enough to build a decent boatyard on.
“The best of all
worlds would be to put a bulkhead across the caps, the PCBs, and cap
them forever with a bulkhead, back fill it. And that gives you seven
acres to add to the 3.3 acres. Now that’s big enough to build a
decent boatyard on. But that’s not going to happen for ten
Hicks said an argument citing decimation of the
recreational boating industry in San Diego would only figure in the
land-use analysis if there were incompatible uses.
hypothetical scenario, he said, “We’re going to put more restaurants
down there instead of boating facilities. And the boaters feel that
the restaurants may impact their economics. That would not be really
However, the Coastal Commission is required, under the
Coastal Act, to protect marine-dependent uses, such as boatyards,
against non marine-dependent uses, such as restaurants, unless the
relocation of a boatyard meets the need at another site. “That’s how
this whole Harbor Drive discussion came up,” Hicks said.
The full EIR is a massive document in two spiral-bound volumes and can be
ordered from Melissa Mailander, (619) 686-6283, at more than $50
each or viewed at one of the following three locations:The
office of the District Clerk, San Diego Unified Port District, 3165
Pt. Loma Branch Library, 2130 Poinsettia Dr.San
Diego Central Library, 820 E St.
The executive summary is located
on the Port’s Web site at www.portofsandiego.org/sandiego_environment/index.html.
public workshop for the EIR will be 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 at
the Embarcadero Planning Center (former Coral Reef Restaurant), 585