Battle Over Northeast Mission Bay: Recent Backlash to City’s Plans Is Against Initial Backlash by Environmentalists

by on May 25, 2023 · 4 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

There’s been a battle going on over the future of northeast Mission Bay for at least the last 7 years, but just recently in what the U-T described as “a powerful backlash this spring from tennis players, golfers, boating clubs, campers and supporters of youth sports,” this new push-back appears to be on the late side.

Folks in this backlash claim that “the city’s plan to replace some recreational areas with hundreds of acres of climate-friendly marshland threatens vital local institutions that have been part of San Diego’s civic fiber for more than 50 years. Those institutions include Campland by the Bay, the Mission Bay Golf Course, the Pacific Beach Tennis Club, Bob McEvoy Youth Fields and the Mission Bay Boat & Ski Club,” reports David Garrick — (in a subscriber only piece).

The outpouring of opposition, which has included critics flooding two public meetings and submitting more than 1,000 written comments, comes during the final stretch of a seven-year process to determine the fate of the area.

That’s right. A seven year process and we’re just now hearing from these folks?

Yet, their concerns “prompted the San Diego Parks and Recreation Board to approve … a special subcommittee to explore solutions and prospects for delaying the process.” Okay, so the process has been delayed again.

It was just in March that City officials unveiled Mayor Todd Gloria’s preferred plan for the 505-acre area, which would triple marshland and dune areas from 82 acres to 257 acres and shrink the acreage available for other activities. Space for camping would shrink from 62 acres to 48 acres, space for passive recreation like picnicking would drop from 89 acres to 31 acres, and space for active recreation like tennis, golf and baseball would shrink from 66 to 60 acres.

But people in the push-back felt these reductions were particularly frustrating to those who relied on the area for recreation because they had expected the elimination of the mobile home park to open new opportunities — not reduce them. It’s a particularly bad time to consider shrinking recreation opportunities in the area, they say — as reported by Garrick — which is just west of a new trolley line that city officials have targeted for high-rise residential development and many thousands of new residents.

Critics also complain that city officials have declined to say which recreational activities will survive and which will be forced out of the area — or be uprooted and forced to relocate elsewhere within northeast Mission Bay.

What’s the timeline for all of this?

The City Council is scheduled to approve this fall a concept plan designating which areas will be devoted to marshland, camping and recreation. In coming years, the council will specify which activities will occupy the recreation areas and precisely where they’ll be.

Let’s review some of the history of this battle.

In was back in September 2016 that San Diego environmentalists unveiled eight possible ways to restore some of Mission Bay Park’s marshland and simultaneously boost the iconic park’s recreational appeal. They were unveiled by Rewild Mission Bay, an effort led by the San Diego chapter of the Audubon Society.

Some of the scenarios envision aggressive changes like eliminating Mission Bay Golf Course or pouring landfill into De Anza Cove to create extra acreage for habitat or recreation. Other scenarios suggest creating a habitat island by cutting through De Anza Point, rerouting Rose Creek as it flows through the park or creating new marshland just south of Campland on the Bay RV park.

They are the first concrete scenarios to emerge from several public workshops held in anticipation of new acreage becoming available in the park this fall when a mobile home park on De Anza Point closes. Also, Garrick noted:

City officials have planned since the 1990s, when the Mission Bay Park Master Plan was created, to restore the Campland site to marshland, which dominated nearly all of Mission Bay Park before aggressive dredging after World War II.

It was back in November of 2016 that San Diego officials unveiled three proposals for turning 120 prime acres in Mission Bay Park into a combination of recreational amenities, restored marshland, campsites, restaurants and other features. The proposals were part of “a three-year process to determine the future of the 46-acre Mission Bay Golf Course and the recently closed 76-acre De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park,” as Garrick reported back then. And they got mixed reviews. Garrick broke them down:

  • Each of the proposals for the newly available 120 acres envisions playing fields, campgrounds, large open spaces for festivals, water sports areas, children’s playgrounds and a restaurant cluster.
  • Each also includes a strip of restored marshland that environmentalists contend isn’t large enough.
  • The proposals differ on whether part of De Anza Point will be broken up into islands or kept whole.
  • The proposals also include varying secondary amenities, such as piers, sand volleyball courts, skate parks, community gardens, bridges, boardwalks and tunnels for cars.
  • Another key contrast is the fate of the golf course, with one proposal expanding it, another revamping it and the third replacing it with a smaller golf practice area.

Here is some of the feedback heard from Garrick in 2016:

Community leaders in Pacific Beach have said they’d prefer to see the golf course replaced by youth sports fields, partly because the irrigation required for golf courses isn’t environmentally friendly. … Paul Robinson, chairman of a city committee that began gathering public comment on the 120 acres a year ago [2015!!!!], praised the initial proposals.

“It’s a good start, in my opinion,” said Robinson, noting that adding camping areas would create new opportunities to experience the park. “They all have residential guest housing, and I think that’s really needed.”

Rebecca Schwartz Lesberg, an environmentalist serving on Robinson’s committee, criticized the proposals as not focusing enough on marsh restoration and being shortsighted economically. Schwartz also contends the proposals don’t provide enough public access to the proposed new amenities and that they don’t accurately reflect comments the committee gathered during the past year at multiple meetings and community workshops.

“We heard three main desires from the public — community-oriented recreation, space for camping and habitat restoration — and all of their plans focus on the first two and give barely a nod to habitat restoration,” she said. Schwartz said it would serve the public better to have the three proposals focus on different priorities. “We were expecting more of a range, sort of the environmental option, the camping option and the recreation option,” said Schwartz, director of conservation for the local Audubon Society chapter. “It’s basically the same puzzle pieces that they’ve moved around a little bit, but they are remarkably similar.” …

Schwartz agreed that it’s a positive step to restore the Campland site to marsh but said the marshland restoration proposed for De Anza would have minimal impact. “What they’ve provided is a long and narrow strip of habitat, mostly along the western side of De Anza, but a little along the southern side as well,” she said. “The problem with habitat like that is the more ‘edge’ that habitat area has, the more it’s going to be impacted by edge effects like trampling, trash and pollution.”

One city official was emphatic and said the proposals were only “a first attempt to capture the wide array of potential uses the public recommended for the De Anza site.” He even encouraged residents to examine them and post comments and suggestions at

Brian Curry, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group said he expected the final recommendation to include eliminating or shrinking the golf course. “We are strongly de-emphasizing golf course and emphasizing youth fields and other types of active recreation — tennis courts, volleyball courts, that kind of thing, but especially for our youth,” he said. “The immense cost of the golf course, which is used by a relatively small number of people, seems like a less appealing option than much more low-cost recreation used by many more members of the public.”

Curry said the golf course doesn’t fit with the desire of Pacific Beach residents to make the community an “eco-district.” In addition, he said golf courses don’t fit well with the city’s ambitious climate action plan, which aims to cut local carbon emissions in half by 2035.

Schwartz said the city proposals are shortsighted economically and environmentally. If habitat restoration isn’t aggressive enough to buttress Mission Bay Park against long-term sea-level rise, which marshes accomplish, then the park won’t remain the economic engine it has been for the city.

In addition, she said the more habitat that gets restored the more bird watchers and nature lovers will visit the park. And the cleaner the water is, the more people will want to swim and engage in aquatic activities.

Earlier this fall, Schwartz and the Audubon Society unveiled eight possible scenarios for the 120 acres and the Campland site. Each of those scenarios included significantly more marsh restoration.

The city’s exploration of how to redevelop the 120 acres, which make up the northeast corner of Mission Bay Park, was prompted by the final residents of the De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park moving out in September after many years of litigation.

While each of the three city proposals would cost many millions to accomplish, city voters boosted potential funding sources on Nov. 8 when they approved Measure J, which secured an estimated $1.5 billion for San Diego’s regional parks from lease revenues in Mission Bay Park.

City officials have said they hope to begin environmental analysis of potential redevelopment of the site next year, with final approval from the City Council and the California Coastal Commission possible in 2019.

Then, in April 2017, concerns about sea level rise prompted environmentalists to revise upward how much new marshland they want included in San Diego’s proposed redevelopment of Mission Bay Park’s northeast corner. Three scenarios unveiled back then would make marshland the lion’s share of that portion of the park, shrinking the acreage available for new recreational amenities. The scenarios conflict sharply with three significantly more recreation-oriented proposals for the newly available acreage that city officials unveiled in November, setting up a potential battle over the area that could lead to litigation.

The new Rewild proposals each leave roughly 90 acres for recreation and don’t specify what kind of amenities, but did call for the wetlands to be bordered by more nature-based recreation, such as trails, overlooks, picnic areas, kayaking, tent camping and nature photography. They recommend more intense activities be located farther away. Public comments on the city’s three proposals, which were posted on the city’s website showed many people and some environmental agencies criticized the proposals for not adhering to that principle.

City officials say they plan to release revised proposals, based on public feedback, in June 2017. The city’s longtime goal has been to choose a plan this year and then begin environmental analysis of it, with final approval from the City Council and the Coastal Commission possible in 2019.

It was in April 2020, that area environmentalists concerned about sea level rise and climate change persuaded city officials to consider adding more than 200 acres of marshland to the northeast corner of Mission Bay.

In response to aggressive lobbying this winter by environmentalists, San Diego planning officials have decided to add a marshland-heavy option to the proposals they’ve been studying since 2018 for revamping the bay’s northeast corner.

But planning officials say they haven’t committed to the same level of detailed analysis requested by environmentalists, and they also must still secured funding needed to complete the study. The effort by environmentalists got a big boost in January when five of the City Council’s nine members —all Democrats — said they wanted to prioritize adding the wetlands-heavy option to the city’s ongoing environmental impact study.

Back to the present, those tennis players, golfers, boating clubs, campers and supporters of youth sports “don’t dispute that marshland can boost water quality, pull carbon out of the air and help fight sea-level rise and its impacts.”

But they say city officials haven’t properly weighed the pros and cons of the plan, particularly its impact on recreation.

So, there’s been this see-saw battle going on over the future of this part of the largest aquatic park on the West Coast. The environmentalists caused a backlash against the city’s initial plans. Now, after the city relented some in the eco-direction, there’s now a backlash against the backlash.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Snelling May 28, 2023 at 9:46 pm

“Adding” marshland. Left in its natural state would it not all be marshland? “Rewild proposal”. To truly ‘rewild’ the area, the El Capitan dam would have to be removed and the course of the San Diego River left to nature. Nature always has it’s way in the end. The first ‘big’ project in 1853 was the dike along the south side of the river course to keep it, and it’s silt, flowing into Mission Bay. That project lasted a grand total of two years before 1855 floods moved the course of the river back to San Diego Bay. 100 years later all the dredging projects created De Anza, the current San Diego River course, a nice landfill, and 32 miles of fabricated shoreline. More than 50 years of history for tennis and golf at risk? Maybe they should talk to the Kumeyaay about putting history at risk.


Frank Gormlie May 30, 2023 at 10:27 am

Excellent point, mi amigo!


Judy Swink June 9, 2023 at 11:03 am

The problem with the El Capitan Reservoir/San Diego River analogy to the De Anza issues is that the San Diego River is at the southern end of Mission Bay Park and the De Anza area is in the northeastern sector of Mission Bay Park. The San Diego River is in a different watershed than the watershed (Rose Creek watershed) which deposited silt for millennia in the northern sector of Mission Bay. There is little to no relationship other than the intervening, shared body of water.

I would add that there is a significant wetland in the San Diego River from I-5 west toward (but not quite reaching) Dog Beach. It’s called the Southern Wildlife Preserve and in addition to habitat benefits, cleanses runoff from the SD River watershed as it flows toward the ocean.

The Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh, adjacent to Crown Point and Campland, is the Northern Wildlife Reserve, an area radically changed by the dredge & fill process that created the land where Campland is now located and the land comprising much of the De Anza area east of Rose Creek. This terraforming removed the natural means for trapping pollutants and silt from building up in Bay waters.

Before all of the dredge and fill was done, sediment and pollutants traveling down Rose Creek from the watershed were distributed throughout the wetlands in small channels where vegetation was able to cleanse the runoff from pollutants, not just organic but also inorganic (metals, oil, etc) pollutants. The sediment accrued to the wetlands, expanding them southerly, adding to wetland and vegetation that could, today, be cleansing the much greater quantities of wet & dry weather pollutants that drain into Mission Bay.

Today, Mission Bay no longer benefits from that cleansing process plus we have been left with millions of dollars spent to dredge the navigable channels north of Fiesta Island (also dredge & fill constructed land). Reconstructing wetlands (a process that has proven successful in many areas including at the southwestern end of the K-F Mission Bay Marsh) could once again capture pollutants and silt coming into Mission Bay from Rose Creek.

I am in strong agreement with the need to retain a means of RV visitors to camp in the De Anza area; however, I am less in agreement with the push to include non-water oriented recreation like tennis and golf. There’s a perfectly fine sports area up Rose Creek by Grand Avenue for tennis and ball fields. I’d love to see the golf course shrunk to enable more passive recreational areas created in the De Anza area.

Opposing substantial, enlarged wetlands east of Rose Creek is short-sighted and will, in a matter of decades due to sea level rise, become a more obvious problem as non-wetland improvements are swamped (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) by encroachment of still polluted water that wetlands could mitigate. Impacts of climate change are accelerating worldwide, many of them directly related to increasing the rapidity of sea level rise.


Terri Campbell June 2, 2023 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for this article and shedding light on this important issue. It’s important to provide clarification that the community has voiced enormous support for preserved camping and recreational access in Northeast Mission Bay since the Master Plan was first amended in the 1990s, and tens of thousands have weighed in since the present-day planning process kicked off in 2015. In fact, camping was determined by the community to be the most important future use for the study area during the public input phase of the process. Minutes and data reflecting this can be found on the City’s website. For example, here is just one exhibit with a helpful graph on pg. 2 depicting early community support at in-person meetings from 2017 alone:

While the goal of creating a more sustainable Mission Bay Park is widely agreed upon, it is also important to recognize community support for recreational uses, which coexist harmoniously with wetlands. Despite this, the City’s plans will significantly reduce recreational access in the study area, including much-needed affordable camping access to our coastline.

This is disheartening considering the enormous outpouring of community support in favor of preserving these uses. It’s crucial that community input be considered and accurately reflected in the public discourse, and for decisionmakers to balance sustainability goals with these needs to ensure an inclusive and well-rounded plan for Northeast Mission Bay.


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