There are two state highways that run through Coronado that are not under the jurisdiction of the city; State Route 75 (which includes Orange Avenue and Silver Strand from the bridge to Imperial Beach, and SR282 (Third and Fourth streets from the bridge to the Naval Air Station).
Removing all or part of a state highway system [known as Relinquishment] from state control is a standard, if not common, occurrence when a local government can better respond to the community needs. Relinquishment of Coronado’s two State Routes was debated locally for many years.
Eventually the Coronado City Council decided to pursue the idea with the California Department of Transportation. The parties settled on an agreement which gave the city a lump sum of $22 million in exchange for permanent responsibility for all future maintenance and upkeep. In June 2020, city council voted unanimously to accept the agreement and proceed with the Relinquishment process.
According to City Manager Blair King, the next step after council approval is two-pronged. “The California Transportation Commission (CTC) has to vote… and also, because state highways are embedded into state code, it requires legislation.” In fall 2020, the CTC conducted the first of two hearings approving the agreement and was awaiting action from the legislature.
State Bill 479 was introduced as the vehicle for Relinquishment to pass through the legislature. The bill passed through committees in the State Assembly and Senate and was sent up for a vote.
“As fortune would have it, on the last day of the legislative session, SB 479 was caught up in a ‘filibuster’ in the Senate,” explained King. He added that it was not the merits of SB479 that caused the delay and a whole group of bills ended up not making it through before the recess of the legislative session at the end of the year.
“We got close but didn’t cross the finish line,” Blair told the council.
It was expected that when the new legislature began in 2021, the bill would quickly proceed. Unexpectedly, during that gap in time, the Navy raised new concerns and demanded that additional language be included in the legislation. The city was informed only after the fact when additional language had been introduced.
According to King, the full content of what the Navy has added to the bill is currently ‘sequestered’ and unavailable to the public. He summarized the added language, concluding that the Navy has demanded that any action taken (from road improvements to special events) receive concurrence (approval) from Naval Base Coronado.
King acknowledged that this was untenable and in an effort to salvage the agreement already made with state entities, proposed the Navy and City agree on a side agreement which would attach to the bill.
“Obviously the reason for relinquishment was to gain control, have self determination, and do a better job of maintaining the roads,” said King. “We want to remind our neighbors at the Navy that we think we will do a better job of maintaining the roads than the state.”
King pointed out that the city already controls both Ocean Boulevard and First Street which the Navy uses as access roads. He also highlighted specific language already included the bill to: “provide continuous and uninhibited defense access, continuity, and emergency capabilities for the movement of military personnel, material, and equipment in both peacetime and wartime... that the city shall not limit the type, weight, or dimensions of vehicles needed for defense purposes that may use the relinquished portion of SR 75 or 282.”
Mayor Bailey reiterated that local control was the reason the process was initiated in the first place. “It’s disappointing that the language in this bill was changed [by the Navy] without consulting with city council and our community to effectively swap out CalTrans approval for Navy approval.”
Councilmember Sandke expressed his disappointment with the Navy’s eleventh hour actions. “I’m frustrated that the relationship of trust that existed for so many years between our community and the Navy has been tested in this way.” He said that although changing the new language in the bill seems unlikely, he still holds out hope that something can be resolved through a side agreement.
Councilmember Heinze also expressed disappointment and questioned whether or not the objections to the bill were coming from the appropriate department of the Navy. “There is a designated agent for public highway matters within the Department of Defense, that is where we should be negotiating.” He pointed out that “if they do want control, the dollars need to come along with it. It feels like someone is trying to throw something in here that gives the Navy a trump card which I don’t think they even have the authority to have.”
Heinze also agreed with his colleagues that if an agreement could not be reached it would be unwise to continue. “We need to make sure that we set up a situation of collaboration rather than subservience. We can’t put Coronado in a position of having to get approval from naval base personnel that change every 18 months in order to do improvements that take years to do.”
All five members agreed to have city staff continue to seek an outside agreement and report again at the Feb. 16 meeting.