Public opinion sought by April 20 for Mission Bay Park wetlands restoration plans

The Kendall Frost Marsh in Mission Bay.
The Kendall Frost Marsh in Mission Bay. The small cone shapes visible in the photo are nesting sites for the endangered light footed clapper rails.
(Regina Elling)

In the past, wetlands — areas of land saturated by either fresh or salt water — were considered messy, muddy and unwanted. In many places, these marshes or swamps were mostly dredged or filled.

Wetlands, however, are now becoming more appreciated as they act as natural water purification systems. They also serve to filter out contaminants, protect against flooding, provide wildlife habitat and more.

In California, only 10 percent of the state’s historic wetlands remain. But preserving wetlands, while retaining the recreational areas they border, requires a delicate balance of meeting the needs of many disparate groups.

Coastal residents of Pacific Beach and other nearby areas are now faced with a choice concerning the wetlands in Mission Bay — how much marsh to preserve?

Now is the time for locals to make their voices heard on this issue by submitting comments to the City of San Diego Planning Department.

“During my inaugural town hall meeting in Pacific Beach, I had the privilege of listening to the concerns of over 100 families regarding the preservation of McEvoy Youth Field and the tennis courts at De Anza in Mission Bay,” said Councilman Joe LaCava referencing the March 21 event.

Mission Bay Park — the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country — was created in the 1950s from 4,000 acres of marshland.

More than 15 million visitors enjoy the park annually. With equal parts land and water, the area offers 27 miles of shoreline, including 19 miles of sandy beaches. Many points of the park extend into the bay, making for numerous coves and two islands.

Land lovers can hike or ride bikes among numerous trails, enjoy playgrounds, picnics and other leisure and sports areas.

For those wanting to hit the water, there are abundant swimming locations and thousands of acres of waterways for boating, skiing, windsurfing and more.

Fishing is allowed, with exceptions, and Fiesta Island is a well-known leash free dog area.

Nature lovers enjoy bird watching throughout Mission Bay, with Kendall Frost Marsh being home to a variety of birds, including endangered light footed clapper rails and Beldings’s Savannah sparrows, as well as unique plants and a variety of animals.

Covering about 40 acres, Kendall Frost Marsh, 1 percent of the original salt-water marsh habitat, is nearly all that remains of the original 4,000 acre wetland site.

One of its most valuable aspects may be underfoot — wetlands are known for the natural carbon sequestration which takes place in the mud. Estimates show the top meter of mud in the marsh contains about 1,052 metric tons of carbon, all of which is extremely important for setting climate action goals.

Kendall Frost Marsh is managed jointly. The Kendall Frost Mission Bay Reserve — part of the University of California Natural Reserve System — is managed by UC San Diego. The City of San Diego manages the adjacent Northern Wildlife Reserve.

The Robin Stribley Marsh, in the southernmost section of the reserve, is owned by the city.

While the Master Plan of Mission Bay Park has called for wetland restoration for more than 25 years, the marsh area has basically been unchanged.

As more information is learned about the environmental aspects of wetlands, and climate change and seawater rising increasingly becoming topics of conversation, talks about restoring the original marshlands have become more urgent.

Last month, the City of San Diego released a draft Environmental Impact Report and addressed its wetland restoration plan for the northeast corner. The City’s plan — known as De Anza Natural — can be found at

The 446-page draft includes plans for a combination of marshland, recreation areas and campsites for the northeast corner.

Included in the proposal are 219 acres of marshland and 38 acres of dunes and environmental buffers, more land for active recreation areas (to be taken from land now used for passive recreation) and buildings, such as a clubhouse for non-motorized boats and a planned wildlife interpretation center.

Preserving marshland has long been a concern of the San Diego Audubon Society. The Society and the ReWild Coalition, which includes more than 65 community partners, joined together for ReWild Mission Bay, which seeks to enhance and restore the natural wetlands in Mission Bay’s northwest corner.

ReWild has issues with the city’s document, specifically calling out the lack of hard science and projections for sea level rise modeling.

The ReWild Mission Bay Wetlands Restoration Feasibility Study developed and analyzed a range of wetlands restoration options, and came up with three conceptual plans. The plans, which the group calls “Wild,” “Wilder” and “Wildest,” can be found at

ReWild’s comments on the city’s plan, as explained on its website, focus on restoring 315 acres of habitat in the “Wildest” level plan.

“I am closely monitoring this process and working toward an amendment that maintains a balance between preserving recreational uses and maximizing wetlands creation,” LaCava said.

“De Anza Natural provides a unique opportunity to forward our climate objectives and accommodate our popular recreational spot for San Diegans and visitors who enjoy youth sports, golf and birdwatching,” he added.

Both ReWild and the city are asking for public comments on the plans. The public review period closes on Thursday, April 20. To leave comments, visit and scroll to the bottom of the page.

The draft plan process includes community meetings for feedback. Future meetings include hearings before the Mission Bay Park Committee, Parks and Recreation Board, Planning Commission, Environment Committee and City Council.