The California Coastal Commission has approved a new electricity sub-station on the Chula Vista bayfront. It will be located less than a half-mile south of where the old South Bay Power Plant once stood, and like the old power plant it will be a visual landmark on our bayfront for decades to come. SDG&E and some city leaders believe the approval is a victory for bayfront progress. At best they are only half correct. I fear all that has been accomplished has been to replace one awful industrial eyesore with a new one a short distance south. And it all could have been avoided.
It is good the old substation will be torn down, many new utility lines will be placed underground, and $2.5 million dollars in funding for the Living Coast Discovery Center will be forthcoming from SDG&E. City and port leaders including myself have supported relocation for many years. Unfortunately, there’s more to this project that will soon meet the eye.
The issue is the new substation design. It will include structures and new overhead utility lines that will result in terrible visual and environmental impacts to our bayfront. These impacts are contrary to the goals and regulations contained in the city’s Local Coastal Program which require utilities on the bayfront be placed underground. They are also inconsistent with the vision and goals advanced by the Bayfront Master Plan, the Coastal Act, and the spirit if not the letter of an agreement between the city and SDG&E reached in 2004. The new substation will include a 75-foot communications tower and 8 large 69-foot steel A-frame structures supporting new overhead utility lines. Why undo the many positive improvements achieved by the relocation by allowing a new design which just reconstructs the negative impacts in another location?
I have been a vocal critic of the proposed design for over a year for these reasons and because during the long project approval process many opportunities to improve the design were missed or ignored. In February, a majority of the City Council finally adopted a Resolution which made clear their desire that the design comply with our vision for the bayfront but it was too late.
As a former Mayor and Coastal Commissioner I was dismayed to watch approval of this project despite the fact expert testimony indicated it was feasible to design a much more low-profile facility with underground lines and fewer impacts. The Coastal Act was not designed to be applied merely as local political compromise, taking a “half a loaf is better than none” approach to coastal protection standards. In fact, this project design is exactly the type of development the Coastal Act was designed to prevent.
Now we may live with this project for as long as 50 years. I am betting that in just a few short years many Chula Vistans will be unhappily asking; “Who allowed that monster to be built on our bayfront?”
Padilla is a former Mayor of Chula Vista and member of the California Coastal Commission and Port Commission of the Port of San Diego.