Alkhifi knows a little about fighting for waterfront-access rights.

“I grew up in the [Red Sea port of] Jeddah, which is the closest city to Mecca. On Jeddah’s waterfront, public access is an issue. People just try to have private buildings over there.”

Grad student Andrew Sisson has the same feelings about San Diego. “The waterfront currently is very disconnected to the pedestrians of San Diego,” he says. He’s enjoying a flurry of fame with a twisting skyscraper he created in his graduate class, which was featured last February in a U-T spread.

“You have Pacific Highway, which is really a barrier. And I think we have to somehow try to break that barrier, because you have 720,000 visitors coming in on cruise ships [every year], you have 1.2 million people visiting the Midway every year. And if they build the [500-foot-high Wings of Freedom] on Navy Pier, this becomes a very iconic location for San Diego. Obviously, everyone wants to be connected to the water. They want to see the water, they want to feel the ocean.”

How far out do waterfront architectural theses get? Peter Jones’s project is on smart phones that can talk to buildings and vice-versa: click your phone and the entire color of a building might change to improve your mood. He thinks this would suit the fun atmosphere of the waterfront. He believes that the waterfront could be developed more than it has been, but “because of the value of the land, you’re definitely going to have a tough time. But anything’s possible, right? You’d have to find a creative way to fund it. Maybe having companies such as Apple [and] Facebook funding advertising on the [interactive] walls of buildings [down there] would do it.”

The Blue Economy

According to another Jones — Michael Jones — you can forget about dreamy ideas of orchestras on piers and waterfront-living clusters.

And don’t even talk to him about Doug Manchester’s idea of turning the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal into a football stadium.

He wants the waterfront to stay a working waterfront.

“If we lose the waterfront to housing and tourism, we’ll be sorry,” he says.

Jones is president of the Maritime Alliance, a trade group representing maritime-related industries in San Diego. “If we take away the working waterfront, we’ll never get it back.”

That would be a shame, he says, because the “blue economy” — ocean-related industries — is about to open up for San Diego.

“People don’t realize that San Diego has more maritime-related jobs than any other industry cluster in the county. We have 1400 companies responsible for nearly 46,000 jobs and $14 billion in direct spending into the local economy. We believe that, indirectly, they are responsible for 120,000 jobs.”

These numbers come from a recently released San Diego Maritime Industry Report.

“This is no small potatoes,” Jones says. “Everything from robotic undersea vehicles to desalination plants are designed and made here. San Diego is the largest desalination center in the world. And all sectors in San Diego’s maritime-industry cluster are growing an average 7 to 20 percent per annum. We are going to need a working port more and more. Not less. A Chargers stadium and a beach to replace the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal? If any of that land goes, it never comes back.”

It’s not just that the Dole banana boats won’t have a place to unload. Soon enough, Jones says, instead of rail and road, much local transportation of goods will be by sea, and we’ll need more, not fewer, facilities to handle them.

“Container ships now carry about 10,000 containers each. But, coming soon, they could be carrying as many as 24,000 containers per ship. Too big for most ports. This will mean creating deep-water ports offshore in the ocean, maybe 20 miles out. And then smaller ships will distribute those containers to ports up and down the coast. That ‘marine highway’ will reduce road-highway and rail-transportation dependence and bring a new lease on life to the last port with a surviving shipbuilding industry — San Diego.”

Jones says there is so much potential for San Diego’s status as the nation’s premier blue-tech center, and the port’s potential for expansion, that selling our waterfront to private and public leisure development is folly.

“The blue economy is San Diego’s future,” he says. “Besides, with climate change, we’re going to see rising waters. Building private residences on the waterfront is just asking for trouble.”

Damned Near Perfect


There’s a gun battle going on outside the porthole. The cracks of shots ricochet against wooden hulls. Blue smoke forms donuts in the air between ships.

I check through the porthole: two rake-masted revenue cutters pivot and swoop in the breeze to get the position advantage.


Now I wish I hadn’t stuck my head out quite so far. These mock explosions could burst my eardrums.

Dr. Ray Ashley doesn’t take much notice. As director of San Diego’s Maritime Museum, he’s more concerned with the logistics of this event, the Festival of Sail, which he’s spent the past two years organizing.

But it’s a thrill for me. Looking out at these sailing vessels, you can imagine the harbor back in the days of the Dons, of Juan Cabrillo, even. It makes you realize that in 1542 — nearly 45 years ahead of Jamestown’s beginnings in 1587 — this place was a cradle of European civilization in North America.

We’re aboard the Berkeley, next to the Star of India, in Ashley’s cramped stateroom. The cannon fire between two privateers booms and blats through the porthole. It makes the timbers of the old Berkeley shudder.

Ashley, historian that he is, loves the mix of old and new San Diego playing out on the waters right now. I’ve come to ask him if he agrees with Michael Jones, that San Diego should remain a working port and not allow people to live on the waterfront.

“What you have here is the mixture of different kinds of uses,” he says. “It’s more typical of a 19th-century seaport. San Diego is actually a bit more of an authentic experience than you’d find in most places. Whether by accident or design, I think the way our bay has evolved, with all this multitude of uses — Navy, trade, scientific, historic — is a rarity amongst seaports of the world. In consequence, it’s a precious resource and commodity for the people who live in San Diego. You have to be careful: because if you’re destroying those uses that can only take place on the waterfront, in favor of something that could take place anywhere, then you really are undermining the basis for the economy. It’ll just be gone.”

More from SDReader


Royvr Nov. 28, 2012 @ 11:03 a.m.

What a long futile exercise, figuring out what San Diego can do with it's fabulous real estate. Just look to the Naval Training Center to find the only plan they will come up with. GIVE it all to a God Damned developer to build condos and town houses. Throw in some professional sports arenas. No wonder I now live in Oregon.


robclements Dec. 2, 2012 @ 3:12 a.m.

they ran off all the ships along the strand and else where, its desolate because of those who did, and even what about the guy who built a castle in the middle of the bay, he gone now too. they all went elsewhere, baja, the gulf, etc, so you have what you have and thats it.


robclements Dec. 2, 2012 @ 3:23 a.m.

or to put it another way... instead of a casual little deli where you can drink a beers and listen to jokes till your sides hurt, now, yet another overpriced eatery bar with bands ... do you see the difference? perhaps thats whats missing in your view of it now.


SDEngineer Feb. 22, 2013 @ 2:56 p.m.

Another consideration is that San Diego bay was dredged back in the early to mid 1900's to accomodate those Navy ships that now transit the channel. San Diego is not a natural deepwater port and compared to any other major deepwater port on the west coast, SD can't compete for the commercial industry. There's also a lot of "Environmentally Sensitive" habitat further south which probably shouldn't be developed. I agree with the folks above; If you're an average person who wants to live on a real waterfront, move elsewhere.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!