In 1966 San Diego’s citizens passed a $7.5 million bond issue for Mission Bay Park’s development.
As the expiration date of the leases drew nearer, Sail Bay residents began to explore ways to preserve their private docks and beaches. In 1970 Clinton McKinnon sent a letter to members of his Crescent Beach Development Association calling for a special meeting of the membership to discuss the possibility of canceling their lease with the city and entering into a new 35-year agreement. McKinnon even went so far as to draw up a new lease agreement himself. The attempt to renegotiate the lease failed when the city expressed no interest in the proposal.
A petition initiative circulated around San Diego in 1971 forever changed the complexion of Sail Bay. The initiative sought to impose a 30-foot height limit on buildings in the beach area, and its supporters gathered enough signatures to qualify it for the November 1972 ballot. The measure was approved by San Diego voters, but prior to its passage, developers scurried to get their building permits approved by the city for the construction of condominiums in excess of 30 feet on the shores of Sail Bay. There is today an almost uninterrupted wall of condos at the edge of the bay from Everts Street to the south end of Riviera Drive. The structures are so massive that motorists driving on nearby streets are often unaware they are within several yards of the bay. The structures are so imposing that many area residents refer to them as the “China Wall.”
In 1974 Sixth District City Councilman Bob Martinet, whose district included the entire Mission Bay area, announced he would not seek re-election. Ten hopefuls ran for the seat. The June 1975 primary narrowed the field down to the two best-financed candidates, and two of the most conservative: Ray Lussa and Tom Gade.
Lussa had name recognition — two years earlier the young businessman had narrowly missed in an attempt to unseat incumbent councilman Floyd Morrow in another district. Gade, on the other hand, was an unknown making his first try for public office. Then 43 years old, Gade had begun a law practice three years earlier, after several years’ employment as an engineer with the state division of highways. His most notable community activities after living 14 years in the district were his involvement in Little League, the Mission Bay Youth Fields, and with the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts.
Another of the candidates in that race, Don Harman, objected to the campaign contributions Lussa and Gade were receiving from property owners living near Sail Bay. With the Sail Bay leases expiring in less than a year, Harman maintained the contributions could have some bearing on how either man might vote on the matter if elected. Gade received more Sail Bay money than Lussa, prompting Harman to charge that the lawyer was accepting funds from Sail Bay interests with the understanding he would champion their cause if elected. Gade denied the charge, and Harman recently admitted, “I had nothing really to substantiate it.”
After the primary, Gade received Martinet’s endorsement. The outgoing councilman announced after meeting the candidates that Gade “displayed a degree of integrity that was truly refreshing.” Subsequently, Gade received considerably more money from Sail Bay residents to finance his campaign in the general election. Between August and October of that year, Gade accepted donations totaling $700 from Catamaran owner William Evans and his wife; $650 from Dan McKinnon, his campaign chairman, and his wife; $500 from Bob Martinet; $350 from Clinton McKinnon; and $250 from Vernon Taylor.
In November Gade won election to the city council. In the next four years he would leave no doubt that, for whatever reasons, his sentiments regarding Sail Bay coincided with those of the wealthy property owners whose land abutted it.
From April 1976 to November 1977 the city council would pass no fewer than 17 resolutions concerning Sail Bay. Gade himself would write one of the earliest of these, in which he assured all that after the expiration of the leases the beaches would “become the public property of all the people to be used for public park purpose from that date forward.” And nine days after the expiration of the leases, the city council declared its intention to give high priority to the development of Sail Bay as a public beach. But largely through the efforts of Gade, the city council would in the next three years do everything in its power to delay development of the beach for public use.
On May 31, 1976, the tideland leases expired. In theory, the Sail Bay beach was now open for public use. Despite this, some nearby property owners continued to post signs warning “No Trespassing” and “Private Beach.” And to this day, nearly four years later, the Catamaran Hotel continues to exhort visitors, on its postcards and brochures, to “Relax on private, sundrenched beaches on the shores of lovely Mission Bay.” The beach adjacent to the Catamaran, like the rest of Sail Bay, is public beach.
Nine days after the leases expired, the city council ordered that 13 of the 28 piers built by Sail Bay property owners be removed within three months. Two docks — at the Catamaran and the ZLAC Rowing Club — were given permission to remain, contingent upon them being open to the public. The remaining structures were given a two-year extension before they, too, would have to be demolished. Some of the property owners refused to apply for the necessary permit from the regional coastal commission to remove the piers, so the city was forced to do it for them. After months of haggling with both the regional and state coastal commissions, the city finally received the necessary permits in May of 1977 to force the removal of the piers. The property owners were told they could remove the piers themselves, or the city would contract a firm to do the job and bill them. Many of the property owners chose the latter course, a scenario that would repeat itself the following year when it came time for those persons given a two-year extension to remove theirs.