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San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club could sink under proposed De Anza Natural Plan

Ikuna Koa Outrigger Canoe Club 12-and-under members competing in the Iron Champs race at Marina’s Cove.
Ikuna Koa Outrigger Canoe Club 12-and-under members competing in the Iron Champs race at Marina’s Cove. Ikuna Koa members store their large canoes at the San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club.
(Courtesy of SDMSBSC)
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Just 40 feet of a proposed buffer zone could wind up sinking the San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club — despite 83 years of operation, more than 340 family memberships, hundreds of stored boats and numerous community outreach programs.

That’s because an amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, known as De Anza Cove Natural, features a buffer zone composed of dunes and upland to be built on the club’s site.

“The location has been key for us, as the location of affordable family fun,” said Steele Young, commodore of SDMBBSC, when talking about the 4.3-acre site on the east side of Rose Creek.

The location is a busy spot in the cove, as it also home to the Pacific Beach Tennis Club and Mission Bay Golf Course. Just across Rose Creek are Mission Bay High School, Campland on the Bay and the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve.

The proposed buffer zone would run from Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge to Grand Avenue. There have already been suggested changes to the master plan, as the buffer has threatened the Bob McEvoy Youth Fields, as well as other entities along the creek.

“Our club would be bulldozed over a 40-foot buffer,” Young said.

In addition to the physical loss of the club property, without funds to move and nowhere to go, the many community programs would be lost, said club leaders.

The club makes use of nearly every inch of its grounds to generate funds that go back into its activities — many of which support other organizations or causes.

The club’s large open yard is used to host “Concerts on the Lawn” on Saturdays in the summer, numerous educational events and private functions.

The boat yard stores up to 140 small power boats and many non-power boats. The storage is so popular that there is a waiting list for spots. The club also stores outrigger canoes and other small boats for special programs.

“Since the boats belong to members, the revenue from the storage fees helps fund our programs,” Young said.

The club’s biggest asset by far is the clubhouse, Chandler Hall.

“The clubhouse is fundamental to all the programs,” said Brian Niznik, first vice commodore of SDMBBSC. “We have meetings there, fundraisers, weddings, celebrations of life — all types of events that are focused on our local community. And if the Mission Bay High School needs a place for a fundraiser, for example, we don’t charge them.”

Inside the clubhouse is the Boat Galley restaurant, a full bar, a conference hall and a social area.

More than 340 families representing about 1,000 individuals are club members. Membership is expected to increase to 375 before year’s end.

“The reason why our club is continuing to grow is the affordability factor. Dues are just $80 a month,” Niznik said.

The club strives to keep prices family-friendly. As an example, he said the restaurant serves a 12-ounce ribeye dinner for $14.75 and domestic beers for $3.

Poker, bunco, trivia nights, comedy nights and karaoke are some activities, as well as numerous live music events. Club members take part in floatillas and organized trips.

The events are popular with families, officers said, because “we aren’t the PB bar scene” and “we offer a lot of different activities that families can participate in and afford.”

“These families represent the thousands of participants that cross our property every year,” Niznik said.

Club leaders are quick to point out that funds generated from activities benefit the community at large, and have for decades.

But without their facilities, Niznik and Steele said the club would have no way to sponsor or host many of its programs, such as Blind Ski Clinics, outrigger programs or student competitions.

This year’s is Blind Ski’s 60th anniversary. The only blind water skiing instruction program in the county, the club offers several clinics a year, providing sight-impaired children and adults with hands-on instruction and interaction with various water sports.

The clinics also recruit numerous volunteers to help the sight impaired. Each clinic is followed by lunch at the club.

It also hosts another popular program, the Ikuna Koa Outrigger Canoe Club.

The amateur, not-for-profit outrigger canoe club provides education and skill in paddling and, according to the website ikunakoa.com, “a sense of the ancient cultural traditions and aloha spirit embodied in the sport of Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Racing.”

Members of Ikuna Koa range in age from 5 to 75 and includes recreational paddlers and serious racers.

“The Pacific Islander community has been athletic members of the club for very long time,” Niznik said. “We provide them a place to conduct their cultural events, to store their canoes and they are able to train young kids and adults (in) how to continue a part of their culture.”

The impact of the club on youth was summarized by 9-year-old Kiara Gaila, who paddles with Ikuna Koa. Gaila wrote a poem read by Marcella Bothwell at the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Board De Anza Ad Hoc Subcommittee meeting on July 18. Bothwell is the subcommittee’s chairwoman in addition to the Pacific Beach Planning Board chair.

Part of the poem read, “Down by the Bay is somewhere deep in my heart, where laughing and good feelings start. Down by the Bay is part of me, the Bay watched me grow up and that is key.”

The club also hosted Kumeyaay Day by the Bay. Kumeyaay Native American tribal elders taught participants how to build canoes the traditional way, out of tule rush reeds. The boats were then launched off the dock and sailed in Rose Creek.

The San Diego Kayak Club members during a clinic made possible by a San Diego Unified School District grant.
(Courtesy of SDMSBSC)

The Concrete Canoe Races are also sponsored by the club. For the races, engineering students from more than a dozen colleges and universities compete to design, cast, build and race a canoe made out of concrete. UC San Diego and San Diego State University students compete in the annual event, with the club storing their boats on its property.

The club is also a big supporter of Mission Bay High School and other educational programs benefiting area youths.

Club officials say they can accept some changes, as they recently adapted to the loss of their boat ramp.

“At some point, the sediment from Rose Creek filled up and we can’t use our former ramp,” Niznik said. “We’ve adapted. We now have to take the boats out and use the De Anza boat ramp.”

The club has also had to adapt to changes in its lease with the city.

“The city has kept us on a month-to-month lease for the past eight years, since 2015,” Niznik said. “While they are getting more than $17,000 a month, they are unwilling to give us the courtesy of a lease.”

Without a multi-year lease, members are hesitant to invest in needed repairs or long-term program needs.

“We need a new roof. We’ve been asking for at least a 3- to 5-year lease to keep our programs going,” Young said. “We are good stewards of Rose Creek and good tenants for the city. We love the city and have been an outstanding tenant for 80-plus years.”

Young and Niznik are clear that the club “wants to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem” and they have no problem with the city’s plan to expand the wetland area. But they want assurances from the city that the club won’t be booted from its current location without a spot to move to, and funding to make the move.

“Not only would it cost a lot of money to move, but it would decrease access to our programs,” Niznik said. “If we had our way, we would stay here. It’s affordable for our members and a perfect location for our uses.”

The club’s history shows it has been in good standing with the city since the beginning.

Founded as the San Diego Speedboat Club in 1940, the club moved from San Diego Bay to Mission Bay in 1965, and was renamed the San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club.

In 1953 and 1957, it hosted the U.S. National Waterski Championships. In 1980, the San Diego Water Ski Team was formed and in 1995, club member Larry Penacho was inducted into the USA Water Ski Team Hall of Fame.

In 1963, the Blind Ski Program was started by Santo Lo Presto; in 2014, Blink Ski Club participant Scott Leason won a Gold Medal at the World Disabled Championships.

In 2015, the club celebrated 75 years of serving the San Diego community.

With strong leadership, growing membership, established community alliances and plenty of volunteers on board, the club does not want to be “killed by the plan,” Young said. Simply moving may not be an option, due to finances and lack of a suitable location.

The De Anza proposal indicates a 4-acre spot near the South Shores boat launch could be a potential new home for the club.

“The South Shores spot is a red herring,” Niznik said. “This area has long been known as a dumping ground for the aerospace industry, and chemicals and other deadly materials have been dumped there for decades on decades.”

A July 2000 article in San Diego Reader chronicled the toxic wastes dumped from July 1952 to December 1959. Name a toxic chemical, from hydrochloric acids to paint to cyanide and more, it was found to have been dumped at South Shores.

Testing of the South Shores site — and funding for the tests — are a big concern for a boating club, which isn’t comfortable moving onto a potentially contaminated spot.

“The De Anza Plan is fundamentally flawed,” Niznik said. “The city has not proven we can have that spot, and we don’t even know if the land is safe.”

Bothwell agreed.

“The solution for them isn’t as easy as just moving or building a new facility; the acreage at South Shores needs to be mitigated and the club can’t finance that,” Bothwell said.

“It could practically cost tens of millions of dollars for us to relocate, even without any environmental mitigation that might be needed, for 30 feet of buffer zone,” Steele said.

He said the club’s small piece of land will not only cost a lot of money to potentially move, but affect thousands of people with “skin in the game.”

“We are asking for language on a plan and language on a lease,” Steele said, reiterating club members are not against the wetlands, and the club wants to be part of the solution.

When the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Board De Anza Ad Hoc Subcommittee met on July 18, it voted to not recommend the De Anza Natural Plan. The committee has provided a list of recommendations. In the draft plan, the buffer would be phased in, but not removed.

“The buffer zone is required by the Municipal Code, but I don’t know who decides how to label something,” Bothwell said. “It is the code that triggered this whole thing, and someone higher up is going to have to negotiate the final decision.”

The De Anza Cove Amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan states, “The City will work with the community-serving public recreation facility operators to plan for the future of the facilities and will design and phase development in a manner that minimizes disruption to active recreation access.”

It further clarifies that buffers zones should be implemented “after these facilities have been modified, moved or replaced for continued use, unless imminent climate hazards necessitate more immediate mitigation.”

The next step is for the information to go to the San Diego Planning Commission on Aug. 31. The San Diego City Council is expected to consider plan approval by the fall.

Meanwhile, club members continue to plan activities, attend meetings and keep the lines of communication open with city officials.

“We don’t want our 83-year-old club to cease to exist,” Young said.

The San Diego Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club is at 2606 N. Mission Bay Drive. For details, visit sdmbbsc.org or call 858-270-0841.

For information about the De Anza Cove Amendment to the Mission Bay Park Master Plan and maps, visit tinyurl.com/DeAnzaPlan.

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