New proposal would transform much of northeast Mission Bay into marshland

De Anza Cove is part of northeast Mission Bay.
De Anza Cove is part of northeast Mission Bay, which would become primarily marshland under a new proposal from Mayor Todd Gloria.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda - U-T)

Mayor Gloria opts for marsh-heavy option on prime land that’s also home to camping, golf, recreation


Mayor Todd Gloria unveiled a proposal Tuesday to transform much of northeast Mission Bay into marshland to help fight sea level rise and restore animal habitats destroyed when the area was aggressively dredged decades ago.

Gloria’s proposal is a big win for environmentalists in their years-long battle with golfers, campers and recreation advocates over the prime area, which became available for redevelopment six years ago when a mobile home park closed.

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The proposal includes 90 acres for recreation and 50 acres for camping, but the lion’s share of the area would be 221 acres of marshland and another 44 acres of dunes and environmental buffers.

That’s a dramatic shift from a proposal approved in 2018 for the area by the Mission Bay Park Committee. That proposal included 120 acres of wetlands combined with more acres of camping and recreation, including a restaurant.

City officials agreed in fall 2020 to spend $1.25 million studying an alternative with more marshland as a possible option among several, but they shifted gears Tuesday by declaring the marshland-heavy option the mayor’s top choice.

“We paused our efforts on that to give ourselves the opportunity to rethink how we were envisioning the land-use plan,” said Heidi Vonblum, the city’s interim planning director. “With the new administration, we have taken the opportunity to align the proposal with some other policy objectives.”

Those objectives include making San Diego more resilient to climate change, particularly with nature-based solutions like marshland instead of less-natural alternatives like giant sea walls.

Gloria’s staff touted the plan Tuesday as the right balance for northeast Mission Bay. The area now features a small marsh, Campland on the Bay RV Park, the defunct De Anza Cove mobile home park, Mission Bay Golf Course and other recreational amenities.

“This really accomplishes expanded wetlands while also preserving significant space for active recreational and low-cost accommodations that are very popular in that location,” said Randy Wilde, a senior policy adviser to the mayor.

The 50 acres for camping would include roughly 600 campsites for either tents or RVs. That compares to 53 acres and 838 camping slots now available.

Campland officials praised Gloria for maintaining a significant amount of camping acreage in the latest proposal, noting that it would be on land already devoted to such activity on De Anza Point.

“We are pleased to see the city’s updated site plan continues to include waterfront campsites utilizing existing infrastructure, while protecting environmental resources,” Campland said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to engage in this important discussion to determine the future of this beloved corner of the bay.”

The golf course lies within the new plan’s blueprint for active recreation, so it could survive the transformation. Wilde and Vonblum said public input in future years would determine which recreational amenities are ultimately included.

Environmental groups welcomed the new proposal Tuesday, but warned it is not a final victory.

“This is a positive step forward, but there are many more steps the city needs to take here,” said Andrew Meyer, director of conservation at the San Diego Audubon Society. He said those steps include water quality efforts, making habitats contiguous and boosting access to nature for all San Diegans.

The plans includes 5 acres of new beaches in Mission Bay’s northeast corner. That would be accomplished partly by creating a channel near the center of De Anza Point, which would be part restored marshland and part campgrounds. Campland would become entirely marsh.

The proposed marshland restoration would cost many millions, but city officials said they expect to obtain significant federal and state funding devoted to climate change and infrastructure.

The city is launching an analysis of the new proposal called a programmatic environmental impact report. Public comments can be submitted through Feb. 10.

After that review is complete in roughly a year, the City Council is expected to vote on Gloria’s proposal sometime in 2023.