Mission Bay water-sport enthusiasts fighting a hotel expansion they say would eliminate public access to a prime vessel-launch site were dealt another blow from the San Diego Park and Recreation Board on Thursday (January 18).
Hundreds of kayakers, mini sailboat enthusiasts, and stand-up paddlers showed up to a meeting two weeks ago, saying they were blindsided by plans to nearly double the size of the Bahia Resort from 315 to 600 rooms. In the process, the resort would reconfigure the ground it leases from the city, gaining about an acre of land to the east and north of its current holdings.
At issue is the loss of about 300 parking spaces that run the length of the Bahia Point peninsula, favored by bay users because of close proximity to sandy beaches from which their vessels can be launched. About a third of those spaces would be replaced by a parking lot partway down the point, but most of the public parking would be relocated to areas where launching and retrieving craft would require scrambling over riprap boulders placed to prevent erosion.
"This other parking would be located in parts of the park that are designated swim zones," argued Clarke Graves, one of about 15 speakers who showed up to voice opposition to approval of the expansion — several speakers also showed up to support the plan, though they were outnumbered by a three-to-one margin. "That's a tremendous danger for watergoers both in the water and on craft."
While most presentations before the board were handled by city staff, local hotel magnate Bill Evans was on hand to personally handle promotion. Evans noted that a scheme to grant his resort the expansion he seeks is codified in the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, drafted in 1994 and approved by the city in 1996.
As part of the expansion, the Bahia is required to install a 20' strip of grass and 10' bicycle/pedestrian path around the point — while the grass exists alongside parking on the east and north sides currently, the west side is currently blocked to the public and the exclusive domain of resort guests.
Both Evans and his supporters argued that this public access improvement was of greater benefit than the current parking for small-craft boaters, offering the observation that far more bay visitors opt to partake in shore-based activities like casual cycling. Opponents countered that by eliminating parking adjacent to the grass, local visitors seeking to launch craft, picnic, or hold bonfires would be discouraged from carrying their supplies an excessive distance from the consolidated parking lot, creating a de facto private amenity for resort guests.
"Anybody who makes a claim that this is going to restrict public access," Evans told the committee, "they just haven't read the plan. This is going to be the biggest win for Mission Bay Park casual users who come here to bike on the weekends that we've seen in a very long time. This is a great opportunity. Is it going to limit some people's access? Yes. But what it's mostly going to do is ease access."
Evans suggested that small-craft users relocate to nearby Mariner's, El Carmel, or Santa Clara point launches, while boardmember Katherine Johnston suggested Fiesta Island, a launch site on the east side of the bay dominated by motorized water traffic such as jet skis.
Opponents also attacked the master plan itself, arguing that developments over the 20-plus years since its adoption warranted a second look at the trade-offs required of the Bahia to have its expansion granted.
"The master plan is out of date due to the immense growth in the use of one-man canoes, surf skis, and, more recently, stand-up paddleboards," offered opponent Gary Cannon. "The city didn't anticipate the growth in these new activities when it adopted the plan in 1996."
After public comment concluded, committee members took turns praising Evans and his plan, which after completion would net the city an estimated $5 million annually in extra revenue, 35 percent of which would be available for parks and recreation use outside Mission Bay. He responded positively both to a suggestion that an alteration to the resort plan be considered to allow short-term vehicle access to the existing launch sites (though plans call for the construction of hotel buildings where the existing Gleason Road access is sited), and to a request from boardmember Marcella Bothwell to promise to provide staff members with golf carts to assist elderly paddlers with transporting their vessels from the parking lot to the water.
The board ultimately voted 10-0 in favor of recommending that the city council approve the Bahia expansion with no modifications.