Pacific Beach residents discuss De Anza Cove revitalization

A map detailing the De Anza Cove amendment.
A map detailing the De Anza Cove amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan featured in the City of San Diego’s public notice on Jan. 11 announcing preparation of a program environmental impact report.
(City of San Diego)

Following a long delay, the city is moving forward with the De Anza Cove Revitalization project in the northeast corner of Mission Bay Park.

The city’s recent notice of preparation for an environmental impact report on the stalled project was the focus of discussion at the Pacific Beach Town Council’s Jan. 19 meeting.

For the record:

4:50 p.m. Jan. 26, 2022Story corrected to reflect that Jacob Gelfand operates Campland on the Bay and Mission Bay RV Resort.

In June 2018, the city prepared an amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan and took public input to get the project underway.

The upcoming EIR is to study greater wetlands restoration and other environmental upgrades than originally planned on the approximately 400-acre site as part of a settlement reached with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in October 2020.

During the council’s meeting, presenters and audience members expressed a lot of uncertainty. This included if prior efforts to glean the public’s desire for land use and plans developed by the San Diego Audubon Society and Mission Bay Gateway would be incorporated into the EIR, or if it was starting from scratch.

“In 2017 and 2018, we went through a process and we actually got into some of the details of what people wanted to see, where and everything like that,” said council Vice President Karl Rand, who also leads the PB Planning Group. “Now it seems like we’re starting all over again. And to a certain extent we are.”

The city’s Planning Department released the notice of preparation on Jan. 11. It included a map showing the allotments of the land for recreational use (parkland and active use such as the present golf course), overnight accommodations (currently operated by Campland on the Bay and Mission Bay RV Resort) and natural environment of wetland marsh, beach and uplands.

Land use details are to be elaborated in a General Development Plan that follows the EIR. A draft EIR is expected in the second half of 2023, according to the planning department’s public scoping meeting on Jan. 24.

Providing 221 acres of wetlands, the new map of the project — now named De Anza Natural — contrasts sharply with the proposal approved in 2018 by the Mission Bay Park Committee, which allocated 120 acres.

Rand said the state sued the city after a sewage spill along Tecolote Creek into Mission Bay in January 2016, leading to the settlement that included a supplemental environmental project as mitigation.

“There’s really no details,” Rand said of the De Anza Natural map. “We have the three components; the camping area, the recreational area and the marsh area in a certain balance. That’s all they really need to know to do the environmental study, which is going to take quite awhile.”

“I was told that when the new mayor (Todd Gloria) came in, that quite a few people within the city planning department decided we’re back to almost square one as far as the thought process,” said audience member Joanna Hirst.

Audience member Judith Swink disagreed, saying the settlement merely promoted the Audubon Society’s “Rewild Mission Bay” feasibility study as the alternative to the city’s original plan within the EIR.

“Because the city is well into an EIR process and they’re simply adding the additional plan, they’re not going back to the drawing board and redoing everything, although they may modify the city plan somewhat based on the NOP (notice of preparation),” Swink said.

Prior to the discussion, the meeting featured three speakers well steeped in the De Anza Cove Revitalization project.

Andrew Meyer, director of conservation at the San Diego Audubon Society, said the emphasis on wetlands restoration in the EIR will address problems plaguing the bay and San Diego in general, as well as problems to come, that are amplified by diminishing ecosystems.

“The northeast corner of the bay is one of the best places to regain some of the [lost] habitats and regain a lot of the services for water quality improvement, sea level rise resilience and for access opportunities that we don’t have anywhere else,” Meyer said.

Scott Chipman of the PB Planning Group highlighted numerous similarities between the city’s objectives for the De Anza Natural plan and his group’s detailed Mission Bay Gateway Plan, now 12 years old and privately created by planning and construction professionals in the interest of the PB community.

“That’s our principle; that we should not lose anything with this process,” Chipman said. “We think it’s very important to have a balanced plan; a balance between the environmental, recreational and educational elements.”

Jacob Gelfand, who operates the 840 campsites available at Campland on the Bay and Mission Bay RV Resort, touted the economic benefits his more than 400,000 campers bring to the local economy, including $3.5 million in rent to the city and more than $1 million in Transient Occupancy Tax receipts.

“I think it’s also going to be really important to do a financial analysis of any plan that is studied in the EIR process to really assess what the impact is going to be on the city’s ability to generate funds that will help to maintain the park going forward,” Gelfand said.

Following the presentations, three of the 13 audience members voiced support for camping at De Anza Cove and one for the return of wetlands.

Many raised concerns for the future of their particular interests in the vague De Anza Natural map.

Representing the Coastal Bay Girl’s Softball League, Mark Sullivan said he was unclear whether expanded marshlands would impact the athletic fields his organization uses.

“It’s hard to tell because it’s so conceptual,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn more about what’s being proposed there.”

Brian Niznik, first vice-commodore of the 82-year-old San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club, noted that the NOP states the parking lot and drives used by his group will be removed.

“This concerns us because there’s no mention of relocating us or making accommodations for our club,” Niznik said. “So we can only assume the worst on that.”

Rand said there will be plenty of opportunities to get answers.

“There’s going to be a lot of meetings as part of the process,” he said.

With the De Anza Cove project sidelined at the onset of the pandemic, council President Marcella Bothwell said it was refreshing news that the EIR was back on track.

“It’s been off so long and it’s finally coming back on our radar,” Bothwell said. “I feel like this is really moving ahead again. ... I do think that tonight is a really good mechanism to start the discussion. I think everyone here is a stakeholder in Mission Bay Park and certainly in De Anza Cove.”