Relations between San Diego and the Navy have matured a lot since December, 1980, when the Navy decided to build a hospital in Balboa Park, defiantly disregarding the wishes of city residents.
The Navy thumbed its nose at a voter-approved offer of an alternative site and flouted congressional warnings.
The result was the ravaging of Florida Canyon with a massive concrete structure that lacks any of the grace of its predecessor.
In 1986, when the Navy released its first proposal for developing a regional headquarters along with hotels and office buildings downtown, it looked like it might be Florida Canyon all over again. The proposal called for as many as eight high-rise buildings on its 16-acre site just south of Broadway, a key parcel of bayfront land.
But this time when local alarms sounded, the Navy was more conciliatory and agreed to work with other agencies on developing a waterfront plan.
The Navy seemed to sense that San Diego had grown up and should be treated as an adult partner rather than as a troublesome teen-ager.
Now the Navy has backed up that conciliatory attitude with action: The size of the bayfront project has been scaled back almost 40%.
The design recently released calls for only five buildings, and they would be slender and set back from the water to preserve views. Access to the bay would be improved by opening E, F and G streets through to Harbor Drive. Most parking would be underground, and a 5-acre ceremonial park is envisioned if the San Diego Unified Port District contributes some land.
That’s a major improvement over the 1986 proposal and shows Navy sensitivity to key San Diego concerns about access to the bay and view corridors.
City Councilman Ron Roberts, who chairs the Broadway Complex-Bayfront Coordinating Group, said the design shows more sensitivity than any of the private plans the group has reviewed.
This new Navy spirit is heartening. With five government agencies sharing jurisdiction along the waterfront, it will take liberal doses of sensitivity and cooperation to coordinate plans for a bayfront that San Diegans can be proud of and that both residents and tourists will be able to enjoy.