Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Have you ever focused your camera so that you captured the beautiful and cut out the ugly? Seated at a wooden table, at sunset, with your glass of crisp chardonnay beaded with condensation and your Bob’s by the Bay shrimp and cheese quesadilla melting before you, you might be inclined to forget that Chula Vista has garnered the unfortunate description of “the fifth-fastest-growing city in the United States.” When a light wind simultaneously lifts your hair and romantically clangs the halyards against the masts, you might decide to live in the moment, let the pyrotechnics in the sky and in the wine have their way with you — because Chula Vista’s bayfront is an insular gem.
The bayfront is bounded by three separate parks and encompasses two marinas. According to Dockmaster Ashe, it is the quietest and cleanest harbor and marina in San Diego. The only thing that might be better than sitting here with your food and your drinks and the fuzzy mallard babies milling around your feet would be to toast the sunset from your own yacht. About 10 percent of the boats moored in the two marinas have a live-aboard population. Although Mike Norton’s wife tells him living aboard “feels like camping,” he says,” It’s a great life.” Norton says live-aboards go out to sea only about once a month because it’s work to transform your home into a ship, to put away your TV, to tend to your cats, and, if the trip is long, to stock up on water and food. Normally, he says his wife and he take shorter trips, out around the bay or to Catalina Island, but last year they sailed for a leisurely 21 days to La Paz. Norton also says that the community of live-aboards is diverse, comprising doctors, lawyers, even the president of a turtle society. However, he warned me, don’t get them talking about anchors — it’s as if you’re a Chevy person or a Ford person — strong feelings abound about anchors.
The bayfront is replete with mythical creatures: green turtles, which everyone has heard of but few have seen, and the occasional sea horse, which Dockmaster Ashe swears to have seen. Mythical creatures also exist on the northern fringe of the bayfront at the Chula Vista Nature Center. In one aquarium, rainbow trout swim in their upstream disguise. According to the director of the center, Dan Beintema, these rainbow trout, which were collected above the Sweetwater Dam, are genetically endowed to become steelhead trout but, like Clark Kent without a telephone booth, lacking saltwater they can never transform themselves. Another indigenous and magical creature displayed at the center is the ghostly moon jellyfish, which floats like an iridescent bloom against a purple backlight.
But what is the angle of the camera cutting out? Swing south, just beyond the children’s play structures, and you will see the South Bay Power Plant, which the Environmental Health Coalition claims “emits an average of more than a quarter ton of air pollutants into the community daily.” And don’t forget to snap the vacant lots behind the bayfront while they’re still vacant. Approximately 300 acres owned by the Port Authority, 100 owned by out-of-town investors, and 30 owned by the City of Chula Vista are being studied now — convention centers, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, high-density, high-rise housing have been bandied about. What’s to become of Chula Vista’s insular gem?