The future of the San Diego Bay and its waterfront were front and center at a recent event held by the San Diego APA and the Port of San Diego. Port Planning Director, Lesley Nishihira, presented on a variety of topics, including: the Port’s function, its importance to the regional economy, the shortcomings of the current Master Plan, the need for a Master Plan Update, and the drafting process. The well-attended event focused primarily on the Port Master Plan Update (PMPU) and, significantly, the special district’s efforts to craft its first update since the original plan was drafted and approved in the early 1980s.

Increasing access was a notable and recurring theme throughout the presentation. Nishihira highlighted the Port’s significant public outreach and stakeholder engagement efforts, including more than 250 interviews with stakeholders and agencies, 13 open houses and community meetings, 36 public workshops, and two online surveys that had over 6300 respondents. The Port’s push for community input illustrated the Port’s commitment to its stated value of inclusiveness.

Although topics addressed in planning documents have a significant impact on a region’s residents, the language and layout of government documents often make them inaccessible to many. To address this issue and ensure that the future Master Plan is more comprehensible, the Port has made various structural changes to the document. Notably, user guide sections were incorporated and the ten planning districts were renumbered in a clockwise pattern to improve legibility. Additionally, the number of subdistricts was consolidated from 64 to 26 subdistricts to simplify the document and make it more user friendly and in a similar vein, use designations were also consolidated from thirty-five to twenty-one. In order to provide clarity, areas that allow flexibility in use designations are now referred to as “planning areas” instead of as “overlays”, opting for more accessible language rather than technical terminology unknown to many outside of the field. Through these organizational changes, the Port aims to improve legibility for the benefit of developers, staff, and residents.

The Port’s efforts to increase access, however, have not been without controversy or difficulty. Nishihira noted that the construction of private piers adjacent to public trails has been a point of contention between the Port and private residents. In addition, although the consolidation of use designations is meant to simplify processes for developers and Port staff, the lack of specificity has already caused confusion amongst Coronado residents concerned about the future of the Coronado Municipal Golf Course. Moreover, given the age of the current plan, the translation of paper maps to digital maps and the need to update acreage tables demonstrated the difficulty in reconciling the complexity of drafting a highly-technical document while ensuring legibility. 

The next Master Plan will serve as the blueprint for the San Diego Bay’s waterfront development for the next three decades. Given the Port’s extensive impact on the regional economy, the PMPU process is critical to the future of San Diego. The Port Master Plan Discussion Draft is available now and public comments are encouraged before July 31, 2019.