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— [John Bate] came to Hugo Fisher and to me separately and asked us to introduce legislation which would provide for the creation of the San Diego Unified Port District. We carried that legislation, and it was adopted in 1962 and signed into law by Pat Brown as governor.

The Port District Act said that the district would be created by a favorable vote from the people in the cities on San Diego Bay, because the tidelands of the state had been conveyed to each of the cities within their city limits, and to transfer those tidelands to the Port District would require a vote under the terms of the act. The vote was an inside and outside vote; that is to say, it had to be favorably voted on by the people within the city of San Diego and within the other four cities. That was on the ballot in 1962, and it was approved.

Why was it in the best interest of San Diego to join with the other smaller cities?

The City of San Diego opposed the creation of the Port District. So did most of the other cities. They did not want to give up control of their tidelands. The idea of doing this in order to develop maritime freight appealed to the voters. And the voters voted to create this additional district in spite of the opposition of the cities.

Why was this good?

It was good because it was necessary in order to develop the tidelands of National City to build that terminal -- a major terminal. The effect of this was to greatly expand the capacity of the Port of San Diego to handle maritime freight. So today, a major part of the maritime freight handled by the Port of San Diego is automobiles, which move in and out of the National City terminal.

Do you think that the cities have benefited?

Clearly the cities have benefited greatly. The City of Coronado benefited because that large park, which is just north of the bridge, was created by the Port District on tidelands. What had been there before was a slum. It was a slum of housing erected by the United States government to house defense employees and armed servicemen during the Second World War.

The City of Chula Vista benefited greatly because it has a really splendid marina, which was built by the Port District, and this was of enormous benefit to Chula Vista and its tax base. All those boats there are a source of income for the City of Chula Vista.

The City of National City got a major cargo-handling terminal and all of the revenue -- tax revenue -- that comes from it, and, also, at present, a marina is being built in the tidelands of National City.

And how about Imperial Beach?

Imperial Beach has just gotten the income from it. Imperial Beach has been very happy with getting the income.

What about the "equity issue" that's raised by some of the cities, especially the City of San Diego, that the revenues generated, for instance, by the City of San Diego are disproportionately spread around the bay?

Well, I do think there's a good deal of truth to it. But the question then becomes, are these improvements that have been made, are they of benefit to the general area? They clearly are. That is, the park in Coronado is used by people all over the San Diego metropolitan area. The people who will have boats at the National City Marina, and the people who do have boats at the Chula Vista Marina are not all residents of National City and Chula Vista.

Jack McGrory, when he was city manager, often talked about decoupling the city from the Port District so he could have sole control of those revenues.

What Jack McGrory was interested in, and what the City of San Diego is interested in, is not in correcting that imbalance. What they're interested in is laying hands on the income of the Port District to use for other purposes.

Presently the requirements of the law and the practices -- the policies -- of the Port District provide that the money that comes in is used for Port District purposes, which include maritime traffic, fisheries, tourism. What the City of San Diego wants, and what other cities want, is to take that money and use it for their pet projects. They don't like to see the money expended to improve the operations of the port. Presently what's needed more sorely than anything else is dredging to allow larger ships to come here.

Cargo ships?

Yes. The City of San Diego would much rather use that money -- the members of the council would much rather use that money for their purposes than have it used to dredge the harbor for cargo ships.

So the question becomes -- one question becomes whether the Port District should continue in existence to promote maritime traffic and tourism and fisheries and so forth, or whether the various cities should be able to take this money and use it for their purposes.

And what do you think?

I think it's being well spent presently. I think it's being spent in the interest of the area. I think that no matter how much money you give to the cities, they'll find ways to spend it.

Today, as you know, the city is facing maybe the worst fiscal crisis in its history, and I would assume the opportunity to decouple those tidelands, or dismantle the port, and let the city have control of those tidelands could be very positive from the city council's perspective.

The city council has never changed, and the mayor has never changed, one mayor to another in San Diego. They have always wanted the income of the Port District.

Given the current financial threat and also cutbacks from the state to National City, Chula Vista, and Coronado, wouldn't it be in the interest of these cities to support legislation to decouple from the port?

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Fred Williams Aug. 7, 2008 @ 10:12 a.m.

Here's another article worth a second look.

James R. Mills tells it like it is. The history of the Port District, inside information about Steve Peace and other major players.

Please, San Diegans, let's remember our local history.

Mills, in addition to being a noted California legislator of the old school, is a historian. I highly recommend his "San Diego -- Where California Began". It's complete text is available online here:



Fred Williams


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