2 Ports Weigh Preserving Lagoon; Councilmen Assail 'Being in Dark'

Times Staff Writer

The possibility that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will preserve and develop a lagoon between Interstate 5 and El Camino Real in the San Dieguito River Valley received its first public airing Wednesday, amid some complaining by San Diego City Council members that they had been kept in the dark about it.

The proposal, which has been quietly discussed in government and private circles for nearly a year, would have the two ports, which want to double the size of their facilities in San Pedro Harbor, offset the environmental damage they would cause there by developing--at their expense--a wetlands habitat just east of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Final Site Undetermined

The ports have not yet decided whether they want to target the valley for the project, and, if they do, they will eventually need the approval of a host of federal, state and regional government agencies, not the least being the city of San Diego. The ports are not expected to make a decision until summer.

Proponents of the lagoon construction say it would fit hand-in-glove with a larger proposal, shepherded by both the city and county of San Diego, to develop a 43-mile-long regional park and wildlife habitat stretching from Del Mar to the foothills of Julian.

Planning agencies have already identified the lowlands between the coastal freeway and El Camino Real as the most critical component to the park, and its development by the two port districts would be a windfall to the local park development. If the project is completed, the more than 500 acres being considered could end up in public ownership, providing the western gateway to the regional park.

The ports' proposal surfaced Wednesday before the Public Facilities and Recreation Committee of the City Council at the request of Roy Collins, manager of the San Dieguito Trust, the largest of the private-property owners who would be affected by the plan.

Wolfsheimer Against Hearing

Collins' presentation was opposed by Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, who said she is not only concerned that the public discussion might jeopardize private negotiations among her office, other city officials and the port districts about the plan, but also that the proposal should be aired by the council's Transportation and Land Use Committee.

The Public Facilities and Recreation Committee is chaired by Councilman Bruce Henderson, who at one time was an attorney representing the San Dieguito Trust. But he deflected criticism Wednesday that it was improper for him to chair the meeting during the presentation, countering that, because of the public hearing, he is keeping the discussions aboveboard and public.

Two other council members welcomed the presentation because they had not previously known of its details--and said they were bothered that Wolfsheimer indicated that she had been involved in private talks about the ports' proposal.

"I don't know what negotiations are going on," Councilman Robert Filner complained. "It sounds like there are private discussions going on that the council is not aware of."

Added Councilman Ed Struiksma, addressing Wolfsheimer: "You're alluding to all sorts of things. We have no idea what you're talking about."

'A Great Deal of Mystery'

Wolfsheimer conceded: "There seems to you all to be a great deal of mystery here." She explained that she and several city staff officials had met with property owners and officials from the port districts on the issue.

"All the information we'd normally give you is not ready to emerge," said Wolfsheimer, who also sits on a committee organized by the San Diego Assn. of Governments to coordinate the regional park proposal. "We don't want to discuss fair market value and negotiations" in public.

But Filner and Struiksma said they were still confused by what negotiations Wolfsheimer indicated were being conducted.

"I ask you not to get impatient," Wolfsheimer responded.

Retorted Filner: "There's something about the process here that is bothering me. I don't understand the process in which we're interacting with the ports. I don't know by what criteria the city manager and the city attorney are even involved in negotiations. I don't know what policy you're working under."

Wolfsheimer said the matter had come up briefly at an executive session last week, involving the possible acquisition by the city of private land in that same valley region.

The discussion was not resolved except that an update report on the proposal will be presented to the committee when it meets March 8.

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