The way lawyers for Douglas Manchester see it, the Republican developer and U-T San Diego publisher is doing San Diegans a big favor with his controversial, mega-million dollar Navy Broadway bayside development deal.
"The Navy Broadway Complex is arguably the most blighted urban waterfront property in California," they write in a March 7 federal court filing. "The site contains dilapidated warehouse and office space built between 1921 and 1944, and consists mostly of parking lots."
"The entire site is fenced off and completely restricts public access and views from downtown to the waterfront."
Coming to the rescue, his attorneys say, is Manchester.
"This Project will transform the [site] into a welcoming waterfront mixed-use development with hotel, office, restaurant, entertainment, retail, and cultural attraction uses, a 1.9 acre public park, and about 2.4 acres of additional public open space.
"Thus, in addition to providing the Navy necessary new offices, the Project will significantly improve public access and views to the waterfront.”
Not much has been heard lately in local media about Manchester's ongoing legal battle with the state Coastal Commission over his lucrative deal with the Navy to commercialize the downtown waterfront, in large part, city hall observers say, because the newspaper owner appears to want it that way.
The privatization project managed to fly largely under the radar during the recently concluded mayor's race, won by GOP city councilman Kevin Faulconer, a Navy Broadway proponent backed by Manchester both editorially as well as with $356,000 in campaign contributions made to state and county Republican committees and the GOP Lincoln Club.
The latter's hit pieces are widely seen as having a major role in the destruction of the political hopes of Faulconer's Democratic rivals, Nathan Fletcher and David Alvarez.
But despite his paper's seemingly convenient silence, a corps of attorneys for his real estate project has been battling before a federal judge over allegations that he and the Navy are trying to foist a massively overgrown commercial deal on the city in violation of state and federal law.
In a lawsuit filed in January of last year against Manchester and the U.S. Navy, the state charged that a report prepared by the Navy in 1990 was out of date and failed to reflect numerous negative changes Manchester has made to his plans during the decades since then.
The project as described in the Navy’s 1990 [report] was never built.
More than 15 years later, the Navy signed a lease with Manchester to redevelop the site, and the Navy and Manchester proposed many changes to the project.
The Navy and Manchester proposed to build 7 towers (apparently three for hotel use, three for office use, and one for a mix of office and hotel use), and it allocated substantially less space for public use and recreation on the waterfront side of the site.
The Navy and Manchester moved the maritime history museum (from its waterfront location next to a park) to an inland location, reduced the size of the museum from 55,000 to 40,000 square feet, and replaced it on the waterfront with a 13-story, 296,535 square foot commercial office building.
In addition, the Coastal Commission suit says, "since 9/11 there are additional anti-terrorism requirements for federal buildings, yet the Navy has declined to analyze or discuss...whether its building will meet those requirements.
"The Navy also has declined to analyze or discuss alternative locations to other naval bases in the San Diego."
In response, Manchester's lawyers argue that the Navy doesn't have enough money to build new offices by itself, and thus the well-heeled developer is doing the cash-strapped federal government a favor by bankrolling the so-called public-private venture by linking it to his necessarily huge commercial development.
"The Navy needs new office space at the [Navy Broadway location], but lacks funding necessary to redevelop the site."
Questioning the Coastal Commission's jurisdiction over federal projects and citing the federal statute of limitations, among other cited points and authorities, Manchester's legal team is asking U.S. Judge Jeffrey Miller to throw the state's case out of court.
Oral arguments have been set for May 12.