California Sues Navy in Fight Over Prime San Diego Waterfront

     SAN DIEGO (CN) - The California Coastal Commission sued the U.S. Navy and a Manchester development company in a dispute over expanded plans to develop a 16-acre, multibillion-dollar property in downtown San Diego.
     The California Coastal Commission sued the Department of the Navy and Manchester Pacific Gateway, in Federal Court.
     The Coastal Commission claims that the development project has grown tremendously since the Commission approved the original plan in 1991.
     Manchester boss Doug Manchester, who is not named as a party to the complaint, is a heavy hitter in San Diego. He owns the Union Tribune newspaper and recently bought its only daily competition, the North County Times.
     The Manchester Financial Group describes the project on its website: "Manchester Pacific Gateway is a 2.9 million square foot above-grade mixed-use project, which includes approximately 1,575 hotel keys, 850,000 square feet of leasable commercial office space, a 351,000 square foot Naval administrative office building, and 155,000 square feet of leasable retail space and cultural attractions on a 12.07-acre (net developable) downtown site overlooking the San Diego Bay. The project also includes a 1.9-acre public waterfront park, an internal pedestrian paseo (including public art, plazas, cafes, and entertainment venues), and approximately 3,000 below-grade parking spaces."
     The giant Navy base in downtown, waterfront has been eyed by hungry developers for decades. It includes 2,000 acres of land and 326 acres of water, according to the Navy website. San Diego International Airport sits across the Bay from the Naval Air Station on North Island.
     The California Coastal Commission, charged with protecting the coastal environment, claims that elements of the Navy-Manchester project violates states and federal laws. It is the lead agency under the California Zone Management Plan and the Coastal Act, for ensuring that federal agencies comply with the state's federally approved costal zone management program."
     The complaint states: "For more than 25 years, the Navy has sought to redevelop a 4-block, 16-acre site it owns along the waterfront in downtown San Diego. The existing development, known as the Navy Broadway Complex ('NBC'), consists of Navy offices, warehouses, and parking lots. The NBC is bordered by the Pacific Coast Highway to the east, Broadway Street to the north, and Harbor Drive to the south and west."
     The complex was opened in 1922 as headquarters of the 11th Naval District and Naval Supply Center after San Diego citizens voted in 1920 to transfer the property to the Navy in 1920.
     The Navy once owned most of the waterfront property in downtown San Diego. Over the years, the land "has been adaptively reused to benefit both the Navy" and the city, according to San Diego's Center City Development Corporation website.
     The Development Corporation, which is not a party to the complaint, backs the project. It states on its website: "The Navy Broadway Complex project is one of the most exciting redevelopment opportunities in downtown. It anchors the $230 million North Embarcadero Visionary Plan to rebuild the public space from the airport to Seaport Village, creating a grand esplanade and adding more than 12 acres of new waterfront plazas and park lands. Other projects in the area will also contribute open space that will eventually give the public at least 28 acres on and near the Bay."
     The Coastal Commission says in its complaint that the Navy must establish that the project "is consistent to the maximum extent practicable with Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act" and then submit its determination to the Commission before work can begin.
     To meet the "maximum extent practicable" requirement, the project must be "fully consistent with the enforceable policies of the Coastal Act unless existing law applicable to the Navy prohibits full consistency," the complaint states.
     The Commission says the Navy submitted a determination to redevelop the Broadway Complex in 1990. The original project included "two office buildings, two hotels, a waterfront maritime history museum and park, waterfront retail, and above- and below-ground parking. The Navy found the project was consistent to the maximum extent practicable with Chapter 3 of the Coast Act," according to the complaint.
     The Commission approved that project in 1991.
     But the onset of recession in 1992 stopped development.
     "More than 15 years later, the Navy signed a lease with Manchester to redevelop the site, and the Navy and Manchester proposed many changes to the project," the complaint states.
     The Commission says these changes include construction of three hotels and three office towers, "allocat(ing) substantially less space for public use and recreation on the waterfront side of the site," moving the museum from the waterfront to an inland, and putting a 13-story office building on the waterfront site instead.
     The area around the project site also has been changed substantially since 1991, the Commission says.
     Among other things, more than 13,000 "residential units" have been built in downtown San Diego, which was once dominated by retail; the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum was installed at the Navy pier, which is "located immediately bayward" of the complex; Petco Park was built; and the Convention Center was expanded.
     "In light of the changes the Navy and Manchester made to the project and the changes in the surrounding area, Commission staff asked the Navy to provide a supplemental determination as to whether the proposed project is consistent to the maximum extent practicable with chapter 3 of the Coastal Act," the complaint states.
     But the Navy refused.
     At a public hearing in November 2011, the Commission found that the Navy made so many changes to the original plan that it is "no longer consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the Coastal Act," according to the complaint.
     The Commission says it "recommended several modifications to the project," so it would comply with the Coastal Act, including moving the museum back to the waterfront.
     But the Navy "continues to refuse to prepare a supplemental consistency determination," which violates 15 C.F.R. § 930.1, the complaint states.
     The Commission claims that "access to coastal resources and views will be forever lost" if the defendants are allowed to build their project that does not comply with the Coastal Act.
     Unless the court stops the project, the Commission says, it will be unable to perform its duties to protect the coast, and the public's right to these "precious coastal resources."
     The Commission seeks declaratory judgment that the Navy violated 15 C.F.R. § 930.1, and a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping work on the project until a supplemental consistency determination has been completed and approved.
     The Coastal Commissioned is represented by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris.
     Calls to Esther Sanchez, the Coastal Commission's San Diego Coast representative, were not immediately returned. Nor were calls to the San Diego Center City Development Corporation.
     Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jamee Jordan Patterson declined to comment.