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On Saturday, September 27th, a small crowd of civilians assembled inside Building 12 of the Navy Broadway Complex for the first of three public hearings on the redevelopment of the 15.5-acre site in between North Harbor Drive and Pacific Coast Highway, just west of downtown.

The redevelopment proposal has been in the works since 1987, when Congress approved the Navy’s plan to lease the valuable waterfront parcel to a private lessee in exchange for a new administrative building erected “at no cost to the taxpayer.”

In 2006, after two deadline extensions, the Navy finally found a lessee in developer Doug Manchester. Manchester agreed to build the Navy a one-million-square-foot administrative building in exchange for being able to develop the remainder of the property as hotel, retail, and commercial space...in addition to the 1.9 acres set aside for open-space use.

The proposal, however, hasn’t been without its detractors.

In 2007, a lawsuit was filed against the Navy for their insistence on using a 1992 environmental study instead of undergoing a more current study. In June of this year, the court remanded the issue back to the Navy.

In hopes of a “peace treaty,” the Navy has agreed to hear comments from the public and potentially address some of their concerns.

For the first hearing, it was evident from the parking lot that the hearings were going to follow military guidelines.

From the pebbled and potholed parking lot, attendees were asked to follow the “yellow brick road” (a walkway bordered by yellow “caution” tape and flanked by a police officer and two naval guards) into a ground-floor warehouse. Scattered throughout the room and posted above the greeting tables were signs restricting unauthorized recordings during the meeting.

Once inside, guests were invited to visit one of seven exhibits that detailed the environmental benefits of the project and the improvement the project would offer the community. At each of the exhibits, two “project specialists” (with nametags) waited to address any environmental concerns from the public while a dozen Naval officers circled the room offering additional assistance.

After the “open house” portion of the meeting, 30 or so San Diegans sat in foldout chairs and faced the podium and a projector screen. The citizens were greatly outnumbered by Naval officers, the handful of San Diego police officers, nametag-adorned “specialists,” and even a bomb-sniffing K9 police dog.

It took 18 minutes for the Navy judge to explain the rules of the hearing. He informed the individuals wishing to speak they had five minutes to comment. “This is not a debate, and it is not a popularity contest. Focus your comments on environmental issues. Navy representatives will not be allowed to respond.”

Once finished, the JAG judge was handed five speaker slips.

The first one was from Mary Wright, a city planner sent by Mayor Sander’s office. Her public comment reiterated the City’s support for the 16-year-old environmental assessment report.

While some comments focused on the need for a new environmental study for the project, other speakers addressed their concerns about the heightened security risk the project would pose for the community. One speaker noted the project’s disregard for Department of Defense setback requirements for the placement of naval strategic offices and commented that the new administrative building would house a “national logistics center for the war on terror.”

After the five comments were added to public record, the military judge asked the audience if anyone else would like to speak. One more person approached the podium and asked why more media outlets weren’t notified.

Per the rules, none of the public’s concerns were addressed.

Afterward, the JAG official ordered a recess until any other speakers had something to add. The first public hearing on the Navy Broadway Complex was essentially brought to a close after approximately 20 minutes of public testimony.

For more information on the Navy’s full-speed-ahead approach, go to navybroadwaycomplex.com.

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