April 25, 2008

Steve Padilla

Bake the Right Cake

How do you unravel a promising bay front project? Let me count the ways. There’s not that much difference between ruining a good bay front and ruining a great recipe for a cake or dish. You start by freelancing. Change the ingredients, add some here, and throw out some there. Don’t forget to use old stale ingredients and methods on hand instead of something new and fresh. Work alone in the kitchen, ignore the directions and ignore what has worked, even if for no other reason than the good recipe is not yours.

In the case of the Chula Vista Bay Front, many ingredients are being tossed aside, left out or ignored all together. Some cooks in the kitchen don’t believe in the recipe and certainly don’t want to follow it. Some are even telling the other cooks the recipe is wrong and will not work. They prefer the good old stale ingredients and methods tried and failed for decades. This departure is just plain wrong, frustrating our community, leading many respected leaders and professional staffers to quietly pull their hair out. With this failure of leadership, what may come out of the oven may well be more decades of the same unappealing flavors of piecemeal development, abandoned buildings, contaminated soils, fenced off industrial junk, and limited public access. In other words: ‘the same old stale cake’.

Let’s take a look around the kitchen and also see just what the right recipe is all about. It starts with state of the art equipment, all the tools you will need. On the counter lies that Integration Tool, funny looking thing. What this puppy does is make all the different land owners, business entities, utility companies, and different government agencies that regulate the whole thing, come together around the same table and agree to plan together, use their staffs and resources in a joint effort for joint benefit.

Next to that sits the Community Bowl. No, it’s not a new college football venue or that half-circle in Memorial Park. It’s strong, broad and all encompassing. This puppy is a must in any bay front planning kitchen. It makes sure community members, organizations and advocates for jobs, businesses, and the environment as well as next-door neighbors can come together and work with the folks from the Integration Tool, in baking parlance this is the combining of the wet ingredients with the dry. With the Integration Tool added to the Community Bowl are set into a baking pan whose shape can truly be a thing of beauty and grace, one of community health and strength. Oh, and did I mention, you have to blend all the right ingredients together in just the right way, and ALL of it must work together and go into the pan at the same time. You can’t try to bake a little piece of the cake and worry about the rest later – unless you want the whole cake to come out crumbly.

Let’s look at those ingredients. This cake truly can be magnificent. It’s large, one of the largest waterfront master plans on the west coast. Because it is, it has the potential to include many great flavors. It has new jobs, restaurants, convention space and quality hotel and resort spaces. Even more exciting it has new parks and open spaces and the clean up of junk just getting in the way of people enjoying the bay. It has a way of putting the right pieces in the right places.

Today all the tools and ingredients are at hand. The cooks have been given a joint land use plan adopted by both the Port of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista encompassing the whole enchilada. The process of the Citizens Advisory Committee or CAC brought together community stake owners and built consensus around the plan, something very critical to ultimate success. A process was moving forward to achieve a land swap so that development can happen in the right places and not the wrong ones. A collaboration of important groups like environmental advocates, and labor unions concerned with good jobs was working for common cause, an effort that with the right chef’s leadership can bring about agreement.

Today despite these tools and ingredients, a sad disregard for progress made exists in the kitchen. Dialogue between these important groups has broken down or is going through the motions, not because they can’t come together, but because leadership has not brought them together. Some surrounding the cooks are arguing nonsense, saying no new environmental review is required for this master plan worked out over the last five years. That the land swap is not right or necessary and even that the new plan does not have to be approved by the California Coastal Commission. They are wrong, and they know better – even if the cooks don’t.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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