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The Port of San Diego went public yesterday with a draft Environmental Impact Report on a proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and the neighboring Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

The convention center project, if completed, would add about 220,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, 101,000 square feet of meeting rooms, 78,000 square feet of ballroom area, and up to 42,500 square feet of “visitor-serving retail space.” Upgrades to the Hilton would add a new hotel tower with up to 500 guest rooms, plus a 10,000 square foot spa, 2,500 square feet of retail, and about 55,000 square feet of additional meeting space. Additional components include a five acre public rooftop space above the convention center expansion, relocation of the existing Water Transportation Center, and necessary infrastructure improvements.

Included in the report were a host of issues brought forward by the public during a comment period that ran through January. Of four concerns regarding the impact on neighborhood aesthetics and visual quality, all were dismissed, with the report’s authors ICF International finding that no mitigation would be needed.

“Implementation of the Proposed Project would not substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings,” the report says, also stating that there would be no glare created from the new buildings that would harm water views and that there would be no impact on Pacific Highway, designated a state scenic road.

In order to control air quality and dust during construction, a number of fixes are suggested, including implementing a policy that delivery trucks that would be waiting for a period more than three minutes shut off their engines rather than idle, and that the site be watered down twice daily, with any dirt tracked out from trucks entering or leaving the site to be removed within 30 minutes. For longer term pollution impacts, the study suggests altering the Regional Air Quality Plan growth projections to simply allow for more pollution than is currently permitted.

Another issue raised through the public input process is impact on native bird species. During construction, the report suggests creating barriers between construction and nesting habitats, but debates whether the removal of trees used by birds for nesting is consequential when interpreting the language of pertinent law.

“Under the [Migratory Bird Treaty Act], ‘take’ means only to kill; directly harm; or destroy individuals, eggs, or nests; or to otherwise cause failure of an ongoing nesting effort,” the report reads, making the argument that proposed mitigation efforts would be sufficient despite the removal of mature trees from the site. Further efforts are proposed to limit the number of birds harmed from collisions with reflective surfaces that may be incorporated into the design of the new buildings, “such as stepped back building design, protruding balconies, recessed windows, and mullioned glazing systems.”

With regard to other natural features including sea life and plant life on and near the site, the report concludes that “contribution to cumulative biological resources impacts would be less than cumulatively considerable.”

It is also suggested by the study’s authors that a qualified archaeologist and paleontologist be employed to monitor excavation of the site both before it begins and throughout the digging process to identify items of significance worth preserving, as were discovered when construction was taking place on the Hilton’s parking garage, which led to the designation of the land as a significant historical site.

Should any fossils or artifacts from early native society be discovered during the course of excavation, construction could stop or be diverted for a period in order to allow for the qualified removal of such items.

Further impacts considered by the study include the possibility of affecting earthquake fault lines, the use of hazardous materials in the construction and their transport to and from the site, increased noise levels experienced by residents and workers near the site, additional burdens the expansion would place on local fire and safety personnel, increased demand from power and water utilities, and higher demand for transportation as the result of larger conventions that would take place once the facility is complete.

Most of the alternatives presented to moving forward with the existing plan primarily concern the hotel component, suggesting relocation of the new tower or downsizing the number of rooms. One proposal, however, suggests moving forward with an expansion roughly half the size of the overall 400,000 square feet suggested for the convention center itself.

The 45 day public comment period on the full 846 page report runs through June 29. A complete copy of the document is available here.

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