ReWilding Mission Bay Will Restore a Wildly Beautiful Resource

By John Heatherington

I was fortunate to have been born in San Diego, and raised on the eastern shoreline of Mission Bay.

When I was a child, east Mission Bay appeared to me as a vast, wildly beautiful salt marsh. Millions of birds of every description seemed to fill the sky, from tiny terns to majestic herons.

In the water, the fishing was good. You couldn’t cast a line without catching something. We caught lots of sharks and rays, but we also caught sea bass and halibut. The bay was teeming with life with giant rays, octopus, and all manner of strange and exotic creatures. I could sit on the shore and watch the bay for hours. Like the clouds reflected in its waters, Mission Bay was always changing.

I spent some of the best days of my life at Mission Bay.

Sadly, most of that is gone now. Only one percent of the original marshland is left. The birds are mostly gone and I wouldn’t recommend eating anything you might catch in East Mission Bay.

Despite this, I’m excited about the future, because we have the opportunity to realize the concept, set forth in the Mission Bay Park Master Plan, of a living, breathing salt marsh where Rose Creek flows into the northeast corner of Mission Bay. This is the only area of the bay with all the ingredients in place to restore a natural salt marsh. The conditions here are so perfect, in fact, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted the Audubon Society almost half a million dollars to study the feasibility of such a project.

Audubon reached out to the community for its opinion by conducting public workshops and consulting with biologists, geologists and hydrologists to chart the progression of sea level rise over 25, 50 and 100 years. The recently-released study shows that not only is such a ReWild plan feasible, but that the “Wildest” of the three ReWild options is the most cost-effective for the city to implement.

Unfortunately, the city appears to have other plans. City officials are currently making infrastructure improvements to Mission Bay Golf Course and prematurely negotiating a lease in the middle of their own “special study area” that will needlessly entangle the city in the same legal quagmire that has existed at De Anza Cove for decades.

We would like, and would appreciate, a more deliberative approach to ensure that we as a city fulfill the requirements of the Mission Bay Park Master plan, and the aspirations of the public.

The public trust doctrine is the principle that all of the shoreline between high and low tidelines belongs to everyone. The doctrine is as old as the Byzantine Empire. It is cited in the Magna Carta, upheld in the constitution of the state of California, and in the deed of trust for the tidelands of Mission Bay. We have the right to decide how our bay is developed and utilized, and we have the responsibility to enhance and protect the bay for the benefit of future generations.

Please join the ReWild Mission Bay Coalition, and all of our community allies and partners, at upcoming city council meetings and other community forums to share your concerns with our elected officials – and help them make the right decision.

Help us speak truth to power and move the ReWild Mission Bay campaign forward for cleaner water, greater access to our bayfront, more wetland habitat for our native plants and animals, and to ensure we have a park that is open to all.

John Heatherington was born in San Diego and raised in Bay Park. He attended Bay Park Elementary School and graduated from Mission Bay High School in 1964. He learned to swim, fish and sail in Mission Bay.