A seemingly innocuous agenda item on whether to support a proposed Department of Defense Joint Land Use Study (JLUS), generated nearly 50 minutes of discussion at the June 4, 2013 Coronado City Council meeting. And some of the discussion between the councilmembers was quite animated.
First some background on the overall issue. Dated 2011, but actually released to the public in April 2012, was the Navy’s Air Installation Compatible Use Zones Update (AICUZ) which covers NAS North Island and the Naval Outlying Landing Feld Imperial Beach. Essentially the AICUZ concept seeks to keep residential and business development away from the Navy’s airfields for safety reasons.
Coronado was founded in the 1885, with the Hotel Del Coronado following in 1888. The earliest incarnation of Naval Base Coronado came 22 years later in 1901. On page 87 of the 157-page AICUZ, the Hotel Del Coronado and the Coronado Shores Condos are listed under a section entitled, “Obstructions and Prominent Objects in Airfield Safety Violation.”
Another piece of background information is that on June 9, 2012 the California Coastal Commission by a unanimous 9-0 vote approved the Hotel Del Coronado Master Plan which includes construction of a 50,000 square foot convention center; a 17,000 square foot underground parking garage; and new guestroom space totaling 86,000 square feet. Although approved, construction has yet to start on the site. These seemingly incongruent facts are relevant to the discussion that follows.
To participate in the JLUS process, the city of Coronado would have to agree in advance to implement the findings of the study and to agree to pay for 10 percent of the preparation cost of the report. City Attorney Johanna Canlas said the findings of the JLUS would be legally binding to the city. At the June 4 council meeting, City Manager Blair King commented that the scope of the study for the proposed JLUS had not been determined.
Mayor Casey Tanaka, who has been involved with King in discussions with Navy leaders and political figures seeking an exemption for Coronado for AICUZ, spoke against the city becoming involved in the JLUS study. Tanaka said, “As of 2011 say on Ocean Blvd. an appropriate land use is a lumber yard or grazing. I’m not making that up. AICUZs are meant to protect the Navy, not necessarily the city’s land use. The world that exists in Coronado is we were founded in the 1880’s and the Navy airfield came afterward. So in the reality of Coronado, we are a built out community that does have homes next to an airfield.”
Tanaka added, “Ideally when you have something that is ‘joint,’ meaning the military and the civilian city work together and you have empty space, you plan it out. In properly planned cities when you have empty space it’s an academic exercise. You talk about what’s smart. Is it smart to put this next to an airport? No. We’re not in that position. So a JLUS that talks about implementing the recommendations of AICUZ for Coronado is very dangerous. Because if it were up to the Navy, there wouldn’t be houses there. If it were up to the Navy it would be a lumberyard or grazing. And if you look at what is allowed in Accident Potential Zone 1 or 2, they specifically say the Navy’s recommendations are not homes, not businesses and not the uses that are there.”
Tanaka concluded his initial remarks by saying, “I want to point out again there are zero recommendations in the AICUZ that say work things out between the city and the Navy. There are zero things in the AICUZ that say we have a unique situation here. The Navy has been very clear that this is not unique. If Coronado is granted an exception, it could have a negative consequence up and down California for the Navy. I think we would be naïve if we didn’t realize that it is more of a Navy land use study than a joint one.”
Councilmember Al Ovrom took a similar approach and voiced his opposition to participating in the JLUS. He pointed out that in the AICUZ Red Zone there were 33 or 35 houses and in a larger Yellow Zone there were up to 900 pieces of property, where houses, businesses, condominiums or small hotels weren’t allowed. Ovrom added, “I don’t support JLUS, it leads to nowhere.” Councilmember Richard Bailey also voiced his opposition to the study.
Councilmember Barbara Denny took an opposite approach. Her statements included, “And the other reality is we are located next to a military airfield. It is disconcerting or concerning that Casey you seem to suggest that the Navy would demolish the homes on Ocean Boulevard and put in pastures and while it is emotional and dramatic and eye-catching and it would make great headlines, we know that is not going to happen in reality.
When we look at this in a mature and non-emotional manner, and just stick to the facts and the law it would almost appear as though the residents in the zone of the coming AICUZ document that we are talking about, the residences and businesses are sort of a secondary consideration when it seems to me from the inside, that the intent is for the city of Coronado to carry water for the Hotel Del’s extended expansion. And this comes up at loggerheads with the AICUZ. And so I’m concerned in that very basic struggle, we are forgetting about public safety.”
Denny continued by saying, “And that’s what it is about adding development, adding more building and development in the areas of the AICUZ and you see them right now (points to a map) on your screen. Right now it is bad for Coronadans, businesses and tourists and others. We have seen this all around the country when local agencies seeking additional tax revenues don’t really care about public safety and are willing to over-develop and over-crowd airports military and other.”
Denny continued, “But most importantly as city locally elected officials we want to protect the public and not cram development into an area or carry water for one entity, a large resort hotel and just leave out the public safety issues. So I just wanted to put that out there and put some facts out there.”
Tanaka answered, “If I heard correctly, my comments were characterized as emotional and perhaps alarmist and I would tell you Barbara that I think your comments are naïve. There is a history that one could easily look at. If there is an AICUZ in 1979, an AICUZ in 1984, and there has been no AICUZ between 1984 and 2011, there is a reason for that. It has taken the Navy a very long time to figure out what it wants out of its document and how it is going to impact its relationship with the city of Coronado.”
Tanaka then said, “This is a complicated issue. If I am being alarmist by citing the AICUZ I apologize. The city had no substantive input into the document. I also want to point out that all five of us were elected by the people of Coronado. That means we are elected to represent their interests and to whatever extent possible to protect their interests.”
The eventual vote found Tanaka, Ovrom and Bailey not in support of going forward with the proposed JLUS. Woiwode, who is the city’s representative to SANDAG, abstained. Denny voted to support the JLUS.