Crises of Severity vs. Crises of Convenience

By Tommy Hough

From remarks prepared for testimony before the Land Use and Housing Committee meeting on June 12, 2019.

In politics there are often no easy options, but that’s also part of the reason we step up as leaders. And while the dilemmas we face are often complicated with shades of gray, we shouldn’t take the easy route simply to clear the deck.

In the case of the northeast corner of Mission Bay, however, we’re up against some clear circumstances.

The city has previously made it clear that wetland restoration should be the number one priority in the northeast corner of Mission Bay, where we have the slowest tidal circulation and some of the worst water quality in the bay. Ask our friends at Surfrider. There are no longer meaningful wetlands to filter incoming water from Rose Creek, and there haven’t been for decades.

Because of De Anza Cove’s design and distance to the mouth of Mission Bay, those issues will continue to be problematic. They were identified as such in the 1994 Mission Bay Park Master Plan, which attempted to begin the process of rectifying that scenario 25 years ago.

But we’re also up against a warming climate. I’ve mentioned before that when I tell people I work with ReWild Mission Bay, they chuckle and say, “Well, climate change will ReWild Mission Bay soon enough.”

And they’re right.

But in the northeast corner, with restored wetlands, we can blunt those effects on water quality and water temperature within a few years, even as the tidal circulation remains slow.

We want everyone to be able to use Mission Bay. But Mission Bay is not going to accommodate that use unless we consider other areas removed from the waterline so that wetlands have a chance to work as green infrastructure, and so there’s room as our waterline rises.

Despite the shirts and signs, we have never once proposed that Campland be taken away, or that there should no longer be camping along the bay. We want someone to operate the Mission Bay RV Park, we just don’t want an expansion of that use on De Anza Point.

And of course we want the abandoned mobile homes on De Anza Point gone. Who wouldn’t? There’s no exclusivity there. We similarly want De Anza Point to be a jewel in the bay.

Hardening surfaces along the water and at water’s edge won’t stop sea level rise, but it will ensure the end of many of the native birds and plants that exist solely between the high tide and low tide level. Kendall Frost Marsh is already withering. It is already stressed, as are the wildlife there.

The lease process we are discussing has been rushed from the beginning with words like “crisis” being used – and I have a problem with that, because this isn’t one.

In San Diego we have genuine crises. We have a homeless crisis. We have a wage gap crisis. We have a housing crisis. We have an equity crisis. We have an environmental crisis. Those are real crises of severity, and they demand real attention from lawmakers and policy makers.

The city has already allocated money to remove the remaining mobile homes from De Anza Point, and doesn’t necessarily need the Campland proposal to accomplish this. The fast-track leasing process has sped through our local planning groups without defined decisions from any of them, and the new lease for Campland in the northeast corner of Mission Bay pre-judges the city-led planning process by making private investments in an area where land use is still being considered and discussed.

If we take the easy route of clearing the deck of headaches and pesky civic problems without weighing them and their long-term potential in a deliberative, thoughtful, transparent manner, we do our city and our neighbors in Mission Bay – plants, animals and humans alike – no favors.