Your Last Chance to be Heard on Massive NAVWAR Redevelopment Plan

by on July 1, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Jim Perry, Barbara McDonald, and Mary Koto

Are you aware of the NAVWAR proposal to redevelop the hangars near Old Town that we all see when we drive on I-5 or Pacific Highway?

Look at the picture simulating what this area may look like if the Navy’s proposal goes forward.

The Navy and City of San Diego support a mega-development of 109 buildings on the NAVWAR site, with 35 high-rise buildings.

The Navy is now calling for public comment on its “Preferred Alternative’” and other options. San Diego residents have been given a very brief amount of time to review this proposal, so if you oppose or have concerns about the Navy’s Preferred Alternative, the time to comment is NOW as the deadline is only 11 days away. Comments can be submitted directly to the Navy – go here . The deadline for public comment is July 13.

The Navy’s NAVWAR operation in Old Town is critical for national security as it defends the military against cyberattack. The Old Town operation is on two sites, totaling 70 acres, including three large hangars next to southbound I-5 between I-8 and the Old Town exit. The buildings, some dating back to World War II, are outdated and in need of repair.

Starting in 2018, the Navy began studying how to develop the Old Town site. In 2019, the Navy signed an agreement with SANDAG to study a public-private, mixed use development. The Navy issued its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on May 14, 2021.

The Navy’s Draft EIS outlines a range of re-developments and the choices are very different, from having a moderate effect on the city to significantly changing the way the city looks and functions.

There are 5 proposed alternative re-developments, Alternatives 1 – 5. All 5 alternatives incorporate the Navy’s desired modernization and meet the Navy’s needs.

Alternative 1 is the smallest, lowest-impact alternative and, importantly, would be funded solely by the Navy; Alternative 4 is the most dense and requires funding by private developers and the City. The time-frames also vary: 5 years for Alternative 1; 30 years for Alternative 4.

In summary:

  •  Alternative 1 renovates existing NAVWAR buildings, which have a maximum height of 55 feet. It will be funded solely by the Navy.
  •  Alternatives 2 and 3 are public-private mixed use developments. The existing NAVWAR buildings will be demolished, and from 91 to 106 new buildings will be built. The maximum height will be 240 feet, about 22 stories.
  • Alternative 4 is the Navy and City’s Preferred Alternative. The existing NAVWAR buildings will be replaced with up to 109 new buildings. There will be up to 35 high rise buildings with a 350 foot maximum (about 32 stories). It includes a new rapid transit hub, commonly called “San Diego’s Grand Central Station.” The hub will join all rail and trolley lines and include a people mover to the airport.
  • Alternative 5 is similar to Alternative 4, with 107 new buildings, 21 of them high-rise up to 350 feet. It also includes the Grand Central Station central mobility hub.

(Please see the May 18, May 24 and June 22 OB Rag stories for more detail on the Navy’s proposed redevelopment and the review process.)

The Navy EIS assessed 16 potential areas of impact on San Diego life. It concludes there will be significant effects on four, including traffic, views, and noise. In its Preferred Alternative, the Navy estimates an additional 70,000 daily auto trips in the area, leading to major traffic slowdowns on I-8 East from I-5 to Hwy. 163 as well as in 26 surrounding intersections and streets.

Navy’s estimated impact on local traffic. LOS is Level of Service, a qualitative measure of traffic congestion. LOS A=best traffic conditions. LOS F=worst traffic conditions. From Navy OTC Revitalization Draft EIS summary, page 16.

The effects on local traffic will be drastic. For example, the EIS expects the I-5 northbound on-ramp at Old Town Ave will experience lines over 500 cars long during the morning and evening rush hours, with wait times more than 1.5 hours. The Navy recommends a new I-5 interchange and changes to surrounding surface streets and intersections, but these costs are not considered part of the NAVWAR project. Bottom line: the Navy builds a major new project and the public pays figuratively and literally for the traffic consequences.

If you are concerned about these proposals and the potential changes to San Diego, act now. This is the last opportunity for the public to comment.

The remaining steps in the process are for the Navy to finalize the EIS based on public comment, then issue its final decision in late 2021. There will be little public input after that, as California passed a law in September 2020 (Assembly Bill 2731) that fast-tracks the NAVWAR development. The law, proposed by then-councilperson Todd Gloria, exempts the City of San Diego from doing a separate EIS to meet the state’s environmental law and requires environmental-based lawsuits to be resolved within 270 days.


“Save San Diego’s Character”, a local 501c3 nonprofit, just posted an online petition supporting Alternative 1. Alternative 1 renovates existing NAVWAR buildings and meets the Navy’s cyberdefense needs, with much lower impacts to traffic, noise, and views.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Pettry July 1, 2021 at 1:18 pm

In 1972 San Diego voters established Coastal Height Limits to protect the city’s character via its bay views, by forbidding new buildings above 30′ tall west of I-5 (except downtown). If anything more than option 1 goes through, it will violate that and open the door to more such character-damaging obstructions. This is not just an Uptown/Old Town issue. It’s not even just a San Diego issue. This is a national (even iternatiional) issue affecting every resident of and visitor to San Diego. Option 1 is the only acceptable option.


James Ahler July 1, 2021 at 6:38 pm

We support Alternative 1, but oppose the remaining alternatives. Protect the city’s character. Thanks. Jim and Mary Ahler.


Kathleen July 1, 2021 at 9:54 pm

Alternative one is the only acceptable option. If the city even attempts any other alternative it’s a betrayal of our city and its residence. Homes in Mission Hills with views of the water will be devalued since their views will be blocked. Our freeways cannot handle the impact if increased traffic and our air quality will plummet. All other options are bad for San Diego. The increase of tax revenue is not worth the reduction in quality of life for residence.


Geoff Page July 2, 2021 at 2:17 pm

I agree with you, Kathleen. But, one correction, it is not the city running this show, it is the US Navy. I don’t doubt they are chiming in but it won’t be their decision.


Paul Webb July 10, 2021 at 9:13 am

And don’t forget that SANDAG is in there pushing the grand central terminal!


Frank Gormlie July 12, 2021 at 10:45 am

There’s been a 30-day extension of the public comment period to NAVWAR, just granted by the Navy. The deadline now is August 12, 2021.


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