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Port District Pledges to Pay Cities $7 Million for Services

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The member cities of the San Diego Unified Port District received a pledge of $7 million from port commissioners Tuesday, in exchange for police and fire protection and a range of other services provided on port property.

The agreement, which is subject to review by the state attorney general, is designed to alleviate the fiscal burden of the port’s member cities by paying for various services.

Although the cities have provided such services for years, the agreement, if approved, would pertain only to the fiscal year that began July 1.

At a time when many of the cities are facing budget deficits--San Diego’s, for instance, is more than $60 million--the Port District’s annual revenues now exceed expenses by about $40 million. In addition to San Diego, the money would go to National City, Coronado, Imperial Beach and Chula Vista.

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In other action, port commissioners heard arguments from San Diego County Postmaster Margaret Sellers and the leaseholders of a restaurant site near Lindbergh Field about converting the 20,000-square-foot building to an air mail facility.

The port referred the matter to an ad hoc airport committee, which was asked to consider as separate issues Sellers’ request for the air mail facility and the future of the former Copacabana restaurant site.

“We’re back to the issue of competing needs at Lindbergh Field,” said Dan Wilkins, a spokesman for the district. “We have only a few acres and many groups with many needs. What the board said was, let’s put (the restaurant-site) issue in a larger framework and have the committee review and respond.”

Sellers said San Diego County’s current air mail facility, at 960 square feet, is the smallest among the nation’s 10 largest cities.

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Jeannie Peck, a real estate specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, said the Copacabana site is perfect, since any new facility must have access to the Lindbergh runway.

Real estate developer Gregg Newman, who sold the lease to former San Diego Padres’ President Ballard Smith, said Smith has lost $15,000 a month on the property since being forced to close the restaurant in December when the windows were blown out by a jet on takeoff.

Newman said the lease costs $3,850 a month, but Smith’s expenses also include loan payments and insurance.

“My gut feeling is that they don’t want to put the Postal Service in there,” Newman said. “They don’t want to tie up the property with another long-term lease. But I already have a lease, which doesn’t expire for another 17 years. If Ballard and I wanted to, we could open another restaurant there tomorrow.”

Historic preservationists spoke against the postal facility, saying it would require too much remodeling of the building.


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