“Changing values”: The environmental imperative in Mission Bay’s most recent Master Plan

Mission Bay started its life as a 4,500 acre estuary complex at the mouth of the San Diego River. In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the City of San Diego (along with state and federal agencies) set out to transform this “useless swamp” into the recreational destination we see today. At the time, the importance of wetlands to our coastal communities wasn’t well understood. Thousands of acres of marshland, crucial habitat for San Diego’s diverse wildlife, were destroyed to create islands, peninsulas, and expanses of open water.

But today, the people of San Diego want more nature, not less.

No where is that change in perspective more apparent than in the introductory language to the 1994 Mission Bay Park Master Plan Update, the document that guides development in the park to this day. It reads:

Mission Bay Park was conceived at a time when nature was viewed primarily as a resource to be exploited for the betterment of human life. In keeping with this early pioneer spirit, ‘wilderness’ was something which awaited taming for a better use, to be subjected to the metaphorical plough of progress. Early accounts of Mission Bay’s ‘improvement’ praise the achievement of transforming the ‘useless marsh’ into a public benefit. … By the late 19th century, men like John James Audubon and Henry David Thoreau were actively seeking the preservation of nature, but Americans were still strongly adhered to the pioneer’s attitude.

“Since that time, we have discovered acid rain, toxic pollutants, the ‘greenhouse’ effect, and ozone depletion. We have learned, through the painful mistakes of yesterday’s ignorance and myopia, that we cannot view the natural environment as something apart from the human race, but that we must find sustainable ways to coexist with it.

“The traditional ideas about Mission Bay Park are all still present and valid. It is, and will remain, a place for water recreation of all sorts. … Added to these ideas, however, is the emergence of the environment as a key generational concern. In the words of Steve Alexander, Chair of the Mission Bay Planners, ‘we live in an “environmental” environment.’ In no previous planning process have the environmental concerns been so earnestly and clearly voiced.

At the most fundamental level, shifting the direction of Mission Bay Park to account for its long-term ecological health is a choice for the future. … Pursuing environmental health with vigor will allow the Park to continue in its role as one of the jewels in San Diego’s ‘quality of life’ crown.”

As the City plans for the revitalization of Mission Bay’s northeast corner (including dovetailing the results of ReWild Mission Bay into an amendment to the Master Plan), we hope they will hold true to the values reflected in their own writings about the future of this amazing resource. By restoring wetlands that will be sustainable in the face of climate change, we can make sure our wildlife and communities thrive.

Join us on Tuesday, April 25th, from 4-7pm at Mission Bay High School to view and comment on ReWild Mission Bay’s draft final designs for wetlands restoration at the mouth of Rose Creek. It’s the last chance for public comment before the conceptual plans are finalized. More info here.