Federal Conciliator Steps Into Bayfront Park Controversy
A U.S. Justice Department conciliator visited San Diego Thursday in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement to a long-smoldering controversy over 5.4 acres of bayfront land at Crosby Street, an issue that has sharply divided leaders of the city’s minority communities.
Ada Montare, based in the Justice Department’s San Francisco office, met separately with Al Ducheny, chairman of the Harborview Community Council; Ramon Sanchez of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, and San Diego Unified Port District Commissioner Phil Creaser.
Montare, who was expected to leave San Diego today, would not comment on the discussions.
The land in question is owned by the Port District. A subcommittee of port commissioners, including Creaser, conducted protracted negotiations over the land with the Chicano Park Steering Committee late last year. Both sides agreed that 3.2 acres of the 5.4 acres should be set aside for a park, and the remainder should be used as a ship-repair yard.
The neighboring area, Logan Heights, is 92% minority, according to Ducheny.
Phil Dick, a spokesman for the port, said he did not know if the Justice Department’s involvement would affect the settlement, which must be approved by the port commissioners and the state Coastal Commission.
In late 1983, the Coastal Commission turned down a similar settlement reached by the port and the Chicano Park Steering Committee, ordering an environmental impact report to determine if the park and shipyard could coexist without posing a health hazard. Dick said the report has not yet been completed.
Since then, the Harborview Community Council repeatedly has charged that the port was discriminating against black and Latino residents because of its failure to develop the entire 5.4 acres as a park. During Memorial Day weekend, a small number of protesters, including Ducheny, climbed over fences and occupied the now-barren land to protest the settlement.
Ducheny said the protest apparently caught the eye of the Justice Department, although he was uncertain after his meeting with Montare if the government would become further involved in the controversy.
“The only thing compromised here is the health and welfare of the minority community,” Ducheny said. “The people of the community will decide whether to accept this solution, and they do not want a polluting shipyard imposed on us right next door to our park. We’ll be there when it goes before the Port Commission, we’ll be there when it goes to the Coastal Commission and, if need be, we’ll be blocking the way when the bulldozers come to the land.”
Ducheny also accused Sanchez and the the Chicano Park Steering Committee of “selling out” to local government officials in approving the compromise. “You can’t call them racists one day and expect them to give you funding the next day,” Ducheny said, referring to Sanchez’s job running the city’s street youth program and to support for the compromise by the Chicano Federation, which receives funding from the city and county.
Ironically, the same forces being accused of selling out were involved in land occupations themselves in 1970, protesting the lack of bayfront access available to minority residents. Among those protesters was Sanchez, a leader in the movement that eventually led to the development of Chicano Park.
“Ever since then, for 15 years, we’ve been working to extend Chicano Park all the way to the bay,” Sanchez said. “This proposal does not give us a direct link to the bay from Chicano Park (the Crosby Street site is about half a mile southwest of Chicano Park), but it’s a step in that direction.
“They (Harborview Community Council) have only recently become involved, and they portray themselves as spearheading some kind of righteous movement. But through the long history of our struggle, we have realized that you have to move little by little. Getting any bay access has been a very long process, and while we’re not thrilled with the prospect of a shipyard, it at least gives us a foot in the door.”
Sanchez said the Chicano Park Steering Committee, not Harborview, has “the support of the vast majority of the local residents.”
“This agreement is not the end of our fight to get more access to the bay for the minority community,” Sanchez said. “Our negotiations with the port were tough--when you get big-money interests like shipbuilders involved, that’s bound to be the case.
“But Harborview’s involvement can only be detrimental to our movement--we might end up getting no bayfront land at all.”