Sea-level rise map of Coronado
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The future of the Coronado bayfront is crowded with ideas. Some link islands of green and gray to increase options for walking and biking; others target tourists and revenue. But what will the San Diego Unified Port District’s 50-year vision plan mean to neighborhoods?

Some Coronado Cays residents see an opportunity to protect North Grand Caribe Isle, a four-acre, bayfront strip of weeds in the heart of their 1200-home community. Neighbors know it as room with views. Developers know it as, potentially, many rooms with views.

“We think the area is the front porch to the bay for the Coronado Cays,” says Phil Monroe, a former Coronado councilman who is urging the port to rezone the land, designated as commercial/recreation. In Coronado, such a zone doesn’t permit a hotel to be built, he says. In the Port of San Diego, it does. “That is why it is important to rezone this parcel.”

Recently, a group that builds hotels bought the lease from the port, which manages it. It’s happened before, with previous leaseholders envisioning spas, resorts, a timeshare. The last one went bankrupt.

“Here we go again,” Monroe says.

The port’s plan seeks a balance of open space and revenue-producing parcels.

“Our view is that they have the Loews” nearby for balance, Monroe says.

The land in question is now fenced and open. It stretches from Coronado Yacht Club to Grand Caribe Shoreline Park. In fact, South Grand Caribe is protected by the port as a preserve for native plants and nesting birds. There, only public art is allowed to rise from the reeds.

“We want it all open” as a park, preserve, or environmental education area, which Monroe says fits the 50-year plan to create a “green necklace” of open space around the bay.

Since many would oppose a hotel, Monroe says the new leaseholders will likely propose boat storage for now. The proposal is currently being processed.

In a letter to the port, Monroe said the 50-year plan should “affirm the port's 2002 statement” that the parcel won’t be developed without the consent of Coronado and residents of the Cays. But they aren't sure this applies if the proposed use is temporary.

Sea-level rise hasn't been considered for the land, but studies indicate that the Cays may be most at risk in the region in coming years.

At the last public meeting regarding the 50-year plan, Patricia McCoy, an Imperial Beach resident who has served on the state coastal commission, raised the issue of sea rise. But McCoy isn’t involved with Grand Caribe Isle — and Monroe says residents are united mainly around the issue of open space.

The area has “glorious views of the bay” and is “very accessible to the Bay Shore Bike Way,” he says. “It would be a travesty” to see it “given to developers.”

According to Keith Walzak, land-use planning manager with the port, it’s “too early to comment on individual parcels and land uses in the tidelands.” The residents have provided input to the draft guiding principles. As the plan advances, several criteria will help evaluate possible land and water uses for each planning district in the tidelands, he says.

“Sea-level rise will be taken into consideration, along with other criteria such as economic development [cost/benefits], mobility, transportation impacts,” and more. “Sea-level rise is particularly challenging” to weigh, Walzak says, since computer models that predict climate change impacts over time “are not always agreed upon by all interests.”

Does the port have the final say?

According to Sheri Pemberton of the California State Lands Commission, since the land is granted to the port district, they’ll have management authority over its use.

“The commission would have residual oversight authority” over the port’s compliance with its granting statute and the public trust doctrine.

Cays residents have argued that public trust lands must serve statewide needs, not just local public purposes.

Pemberton says a hotel is “not inconsistent with the public trust,” so is “generally allowed on granted land.” A hotel might be appropriate, she says, since it would “facilitate use of the tidelands.”

Sea rise is another matter, if a hotel was approved.

“Because sea-level rise is an emerging issue,” she says, it’s unlikely that courts have even addressed land uses in similar situations.

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