Americas Columns

AMERICA IN MY HEART: Resurgence of San Diego: learning lessons to protect and not to destroy bayfronts

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief/Columnist

SAN DIEGO – Under a Filipino American mayor, San Diego is experiencing a resurgence attracting migrants, businessmen and other groups.

A walk at the famous San Diego bayfront would attest to this resurgence. From the bayfront, as long lines of tourists arrive and appreciate the many attractions therein – the USS Midway, cruise ships’ port,  and the Maritime Museum that boasts of a submarine, the San Salvador Galleon, the Star of India Barque and others, the Kissing Sailor Statue (Embrace of Peace) and Bob Hope Monument dedicated to fallen soldiers — workers are busy as bees building several high-rise edifices, some of them hotels and condos, across the boulevard.

As you gaze upward the promontory towards the business district and downtown San Diego, tall buildings are also rising, adding to the newly constructed and old ones in that section of the city.

Already, an array of big hotels and condos has sprouted over the last few years in the bayfront complementing the impressive San Diego Convention Center  which is linked to a marina with scores of yachts and boats, big and small, and a well-manicured seaside park dotted with restaurants, souvenir shops and stores.

Further to the north of the bayfront, expansion is under way at the San Diego International Airport, hub of Southwest Airline and Alaska Airline, but the flow of all types of vehicles ferrying departing and arriving passengers continue without so much hitch. We did not see San Diego’s second international airport – the Tijuana International Airport – near the Mexico border if there are signs if it is booming as well.

One big factor why the bayfront has metamorphosed from a near eyesore to a majestic landscape is that the big part, or almost all of it, except the long stretch occupied by the US Naval Base, is owned and managed by the Port of San Diego, a self-sustaining or self-supporting (not getting any budget or subsidy from government) state agency which aptly has for its slogans “Where San Diego Greets the World” and “Waterfront of Opportunity.”

On its website, the Port of San Diego describes itself as “an innovative champion” for the 34 miles of San Diego Bay waterfront comprising about 2,400 acres of land and 11,800 acres of water along the city and county of San Diego which also covers the cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach and National City. It adds: “The Port is a conscientious innovator that leverages our unique expertise, deep-water berths, forward-thinking solutions, and relationships to expand the opportunities for businesses and employees. Port Maritime businesses employ thousands of residents with well-paying jobs and generate billions of dollars per year for the regional economy, creating a prosperous global economic engine for all.”

The agency further states its raison d’etre: “The Port of San Diego serves the people of California as a specially created district, balancing multiple uses on 34 miles along San Diego Bay spanning five cities. Collecting no tax dollars, the Port manages a diverse portfolio to generate revenues that support vital public services and amenities.”

The description is very correct as the agency has been leading the redevelopment of the vast coastline property which once included that occupied by the San Diego airport. Thus, the over 800 big hotels, condos, two cargo terminals, two cruise terminals, 20 marinas and yacht clubs and other businesses that have mushroomed over the years along the waterfront and its parks, all generating income for the Port. The agency states that in 2019 alone, it added $9.2 billion to the county’s economy in employing about one in 30 people in San Diego County.

In the wake of the controversies created by the 24 new reclamation projects in Manila Bay from Cavite to Bulacan and the “awakening” statements from the United States officials on the massive dangers that they will cause, it may well be timely for Philippine national leaders and city officials with major ports like Manila, Cebu, and Davao to visit and study the Port of San Diego and learn from its wealth of experience.

(Editor’s Note: The writer is a book author, professor and journalist in the Philippines and United States, having been president of the National Press Club during which he linked up with the National Press Club in Washington D.C. and launched NPC chapters in US. He served as a member of the Board of Regents of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila for two six-year terms, Commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Philippine Postal Corporation, among others. He is the editor in chief of Philippine News Today. He can be reached at alfredgabot@aol.com or alfred.gabot@gmail.com)