Coronado has been abuzz the last ten days with discussion and concern about what the Port might have planned for its shores in the near future. In the fall, renderings circulated around Coronado of a plan that a leaseholder was said to be contemplating for the ferry landing that included a hotel. And last week, a Port leaseholder in the Cays, Keith Mishkin, announced that he would soon present plans to the Port for a low density, high-end hotel on Grand Caribe Isle.

Thus, began a struggle of sorts involving various actors – citizens of Coronado, Coronado City government, the Port of San Diego, and certain commercial interests, represented by leaseholders.

In the midst of the discussion, the Port held a meeting in Coronado to present its draft Port Master Plan Update (PMPU). Several hundred citizens attended the meeting, and many spoke out against such developments in Coronado. Many arguments were made including that the town already has multiple hotels with many hundreds of rooms, Coronado is already over-burdened with traffic, the infrastructure cannot handle so many more people, the environmental impact of so much development on the shore would be extremely harmful, and that the Port simply hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that Coronado is primarily a residential community and such developments would have a disparate impact from the same such development on other Port lands which are already primarily commercial.

The Port’s presentation was made by Lesley Nishihira, who made several critical points for those concerned about hotels. First, she said that the PMPU was directed toward policy, not projects, suggesting that the language was not meant to be an approval of any plan that might have been seen in the community. Second, she said the Port has never been presented with the plans for the ferry landing. Third, she stated that the PMPU, if approved, would rezone the land use of Grand Caribe Isle so that a hotel would presumably not be allowed. Finally, she added that part of the Port’s mission is to make money.

Nevertheless, citizens made many comments against increased density, traffic, and hotels. And, they were encouraged to make all of the same comments in writing to the Port. The meeting ended, seemingly as a victory for the citizens. They had spoken loudly and clearly against further development.

That meeting was followed by a Coronado City Council meeting the following day. Prior to the meeting, the City Council had drafted a letter to the Port that was meant to represent its response to the PMPU. It made a number of suggestions for changes to the draft document, including suggesting that the Port consider not just visitors to Coronado, but residents as well: “The City encourages development on Port properties in a balanced manner that preserves their unique open space and recreation potential while permitting new economically viable coastal dependent commercial/recreation uses; moreover, the City desires to ensure that the plan would not have a negative impact on existing Coronado facilities or residents.”

That draft letter, coupled with Mayor Bailey’s comments to a local news station on Monday, saying: “We’re hopeful that the Port will take those concerns into account and if not eliminate the hotel option altogether, at the very least reduce the intensity of the hotel option,” caused a number of citizens to call on the City to take a stronger position. At the council meeting, for instance, Marilyn Field spoke and said: “’This is the weakest letter I have ever seen … Here’s my problem. The City can stand up and say, ‘no, not on our watch.’ This letter doesn’t even come close to saying that … there’s not one mention that unlike other Port properties what they’re proposing is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood … there’s no mention that Coronado is already way over capacity with traffic and with tourists … not one word.” She went on to argue that the weakness of the argument must have to do with the City’s last paragraph which calls for a performing arts venue at the ferry landing, which Field pointed out would bring the same problems.

Jen Rubin echoed a similar sentiment: “I sense from the comments … of the City Council that you don’t really have the authority or the ability to direct what the Port does … that is inaccurate. You appointed the commissioner, Garry Bonelli, he reports to you and you have it within your authority to remove him if necessary. And I would strongly suggest you give him direction as to what we want as Coronado.”

Rubin formed the Coronado Coastal Conservancy in the summer of 2018 when she learned that the Port had approved another restaurant at the ferry landing, without local involvement. The Port’s desire to make money notwithstanding, Rubin focuses on the notion that the Port “has obligations as steward of the Ferry Landing property under the ‘Doctrine of Public Trust’ – which obligates the Port to maintain the property for the benefit of ‘the people’ – not the Port’s self-interest,” as noted in a letter signed by Rubin on behalf of the Coronado Village Homeowners Association and the Coronado Coastal Conservancy to the Port, dated July 1.

Following public comments, each council member suggested further amendments to the Port letter with Bailey also adding: “I want it to be perfectly clear that we do not want to see a hotel at the ferry landing.” According to resident Sydney Stanley, who also spoke, the response of the council represents an important pivot on the part of the council from a more conciliatory position to one where it stands with the citizens. She later said: “The mayor went on record and said they would be the tip of the spear in this.”

Rubin was more circumspect, saying that she would reserve judgement until she sees the final draft of the letter. According to the City, that is currently being written by staff, including all amendments from the Council meeting, with the expectation that it will be signed and sent to the Port next week.

Both agreed to Stanley’s further point: “The citizens, though, are so important. They must stand up and stand together and keep pushing … the commercial interests are so large … This is an important moment for citizens to stand together along with the City so that we can work through the process with the Port to get what Coronado needs.”

Rubin added, “I believe in Coronado citizens and the Council. The momentum is key.”

The Port is taking comments from interested citizens through the end of the month.

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