Despite mutual frustration, it was a friendly meeting with the new Harbor Police Chief, John Bolduc and several members of the waterman community a week ago last Monday, October 17, at one of the Starbucks at Liberty Station (of course there is more than one…). He had agreed to meet with John Decker, an avid stand up paddler (SUP) and representative of Kings SUPs, Randy Peterson of the Kanaka outrigger club, and Scott MacLaggen, longtime area water activist, and me. At issue was a small waterway, 54 acres, which runs between Liberty Station and the San Diego International Airport and is bordered on the north by the United States Marine Corp Recruit Depot.
Barely 500 feet across and one mile long, with calm waters, it is a haven for stand up paddlers, kayakers, outriggers, small sailboats and an occasional fisherman (although I would strongly recommend a catch and release policy due to the years of pollution), and those funny little boats you sit in and pedal with your feet. Unfortunately, the calm waters is also a draw to those who use the water without a single care to the safety of others; water skiers, jet skiers, and just plain jerks who like to go fast and make wakes.
MacLaggen has been raising the issue with regard to safety in the channel for over a year. He contacted former Harbor Police Chief San Fillippo regarding his concerns. Both were interviewed by the Union Tribune for an article published in March of this year. Nothing came of that article.
The only entrance to the channel from the bay is underneath the Harbor Drive and Sonar Bridges, both of which have small posted 5 mph signs. There were some 5 mph signs on the buoys which ran the length of the channel, but according to Decker, “a fella who likes to jet ski through there just takes them off when he sees them.” Regardless of the presence of signs, there is nothing the Harbor Police can do about speeders in the channel, and here is why:
When the City of San Diego and Port of San Diego received the old NTC property from the U.S. Navy and then promptly gave it to the Corky McMillin family for its years of service to the community, the channel was not included in the deal. The channel, after decades of use by the U.S. Navy is so polluted it is surprising it does not glow in the dark, but I can attest there are some of the biggest bat rays I have ever seen swimming around in there. Wisely, the Port of San Diego, not the City of San Diego, refused to accept the gift under the heading of “Pollution; You own it, you clean it up.” Needless to say, the remediation cost of a 54 acre underwater dump is going to be a bit on the high side. Just ask Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical about Convair Lagoon… oh that’s right, you can’t. Rather than clean their mess up, they just packed up and left, leaving behind 1800 unemployed aircraft workers. So much for social responsibility… but I digress.
Well according to Chief Bolduc here is the interesting part. Because the Port of San Diego, U.S. Navy and U.S. Attorney failed to come to an agreement regarding the transfer and responsibility of the channel, the U.S. Navy maintains ownership of the channel, and only the U.S. Navy can enforce speed laws in the channel, which it does not. The Harbor Police can enforce all State boating laws, i.e. speed of craft within a certain distance of a beach or swimmer, but they cannot enforce a speed limit in the channel. What really surprised us, was when the Chief told us his officers have joint enforcement policy (quit snickering), with the U.S. Navy in all other areas of the bay, but not here.
But what is truly confusing is the letter which was given to me by Peterson. It is from Anthony Megliola, Base Closure Manager, Department of the Navy to Chief Sanfilippo dated February 17, 2010. The subject line reads “PATROL OF FORMER NAVAL TRAINING CENTER SAN DIEGO BOAT CHANNEL (Original caps).” In the first paragraph it reads, “The purpose of this letter is to respectfully request routine patrol of the boat channel by the Harbor Police in order to help enforce the no wake/5 mph restriction in accordance with the pertinent State, County and City Laws.” It further states in paragraph three, “[The Navy] is in the process of installing six new buoys down the center of the channel to clearly denote the area as a no-wake zone.”
Now comes the interesting part. The letter is copied to Kevin Faulconer (city councilmember and San Diego Yacht Club schmoozer) his assistant, Matt Awbry, Ms. Libby Day, City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency, Capt Paul Marconi, Commanding Officer, Naval Base Point Loma, Capt Joseph Stuyvesant, Navy Region Southwest, Chief of Staff, Cdr Glenn Shephard, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, and LCdr Mike Dolan, Chief, Waterways Management Division, San Diego, USCG. That was 18 months ago, and it looks as if enough of the right people were notified. So where is the enforcement? At least, where are the buoys?
The fact is the only enforcement of speed in the channel is by the other users (read sup’s, kayakers, and out-riggers) which are generally met with rather unpleasant language, multiple one finger salutes, or in a case last summer, a boater who aimed his speed boat at me and turned away at the last minute knocking me off my SUP with a huge wake and spray of water and then a barrage of, “@$#%^!” while I climbed back on my board. I thought of yelling back, but then the line from the Untouchables about bringing a knife to a gunfight crossed my mind, and clearly he was not speaking English.
But all inter-activity disputes aside, I think back to the little boy who was killed by a speeding U.S. Coast Guard vessel a couple of Christmases ago. He was in boat with running lights when the incident occurred. I think of how vulnerable the folk on SUPs, in kayaks and outriggers are when a speed boat, bow (nautical term meaning “front”) up in the air limiting the driver’s view, goes roaring down the channel, and what would happen if the boat were to run them over. Decker asked the Chief if he had ever seen a body run over by a power boat. Apparently both of them had, and I am glad I have not. The bottom line, it is dangerous, and not a matter of “if,” but “when” someone is going to be seriously hurt or killed.
I called the U.S. Navy public affairs office to get their take on the situation and was directed to a voicemail. Needless to say, I have not heard back from them.
When I telephoned the U.S. Attorney’s office for comment, I was directed to a voicemail for Debra Hartman for whom I left a voicemail. I’ve not heard back from them either, but I suppose they are too busy shutting down medicinal marijuana collectives with the help of the city attorney to address real public safety issues (sorry, I had to get that dig in).
I also telephoned the Port of San Diego’s attorney, Duane Bennett to get his take on the situation. The woman with whom I spoke sort of giggled when I told her I wrote for the OB Rag and said she would give him my message. I received a return telephone call from the Marguerite Elicone of the SD Port Office of Corporate Communication. She listened to me, told me she would look into it (I even sent a pdf of the letter), but that was over a week ago and still nothing from them either.
Chief Bolduc has his hands tied. I know all too full well you cannot enforce a law which does not exist. But t seems someone of authority should be able to step up and say, “This channel is a no wake/ 5 mph zone, and the San Diego Harbor Police are hereby authorized to enforce the speed limit.” Or maybe it is just cheaper for the government to pay out for a wrongful death suit when another child, or father, or sister is killed because irresponsible people cannot be controlled. Seems like enough of the right people know about the problem. Perhaps it is time to find some more right people because from the top to the bottom, those we have now just do not care about us very much, regardless of the situation.
Those are my thoughts. I welcome yours.