San Diego can move forward with the long-awaited removal of 150 decaying mobile homes in northeast Mission Bay now that the state’s Coastal Commission has approved converting the area into campsites and open space.
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Supporters of the city’s plan, which has been stalled since 2019 by litigation threats and bureaucratic delays, say it simultaneously eliminates a dangerous eyesore and creates more affordable lodging opportunities along the coast.
Critics say the plan gives recreational vehicle campers an unfair leg up in the ongoing battle over how much of northeastern Mission Bay Park will be devoted to camping versus restored marshland, golf and other recreational activities.
Mayor Todd Gloria unveiled plans in January to transform 265 acres of the 400-acre area into marshland and environmental buffers to help fight sea level rise, leaving 90 acres for recreation and 50 acres for camping.
His proposal envisions the camping areas to be on De Anza Point, the site of the mobile home park that became defunct six years ago after decades of litigation challenging its location on public land.
But local environmental groups stress that the city’s comprehensive plan for redeveloping the area is still in flux and that it must eventually be approved by the City Council and then the Coastal Commission.
“It will pre-empt the outcome of the city’s ongoing De Anza planning process,” Andrew Meyer, conservation director for the local chapter of the San Diego Audubon Society.
The area covered by the planning process includes De Anza Point, the RV camping areas, Mission Bay Golf Course and some nearby recreational areas.
Meyer and other environmental leaders also complain that the new campsites will be operated by the owners of Campland on the Bay, an RV campground just west of De Anza Point.
“The proposed project will intensify private use of public land in Mission Bay Park,” Meyer said.
Campland agreed to remove the decaying mobile homes in exchange for permission to establish 147 campsites on the land after it is cleared. Campland also agreed to make upgrades to a pedestrian and cycling path that circles the point.
“This is a huge victory and step forward for the city, public and environment,” said Jacob Gelfand, Campland’s chief operating officer. “We intend to work around the clock to make De Anza Cove cleaner and more accessible for San Diego families, visitors and wildlife.”
Gelfand stressed that the plan will also help reduce the shortage of affordable lodging options along the San Diego coast. In addition to slots for RVs, the new campsites will have slots for tents.
Brigette Browning, the region’s most powerful labor official, expressed support for the plan, citing the scarcity of affordable lodging on the coast and the positive impact she said the project could make on the environment.
“I am in full support of this initiative and am excited to see their vision realized,” said Browning, leader of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella group for more than 100 local labor unions.
There has been some disagreement about what the plan’s environmental impact would be. Supporters say removing the decaying mobile homes will help an area that should be dominated by local birds and plant life.
Critics say they are worried about debris in the bay and construction noise. Environmental groups say they’d like weekly water quality testing in the area, which typically has among the highest bacteria counts in Mission Bay.
The Coastal Commission approved the proposal Wednesday by a vote of 7-2, with some commissioners expressing concerns that Campland was fined last year for false advertising and blocking public access to the water.
The commission levied penalties valued at more than $1 million last September. Campland, which it accused of falsely advertising nearby public beaches as private areas that it controlled, agreed to pay the fines.
Company officials paid $250,000 in cash and agreed to provide provide new public restrooms, electric vehicle charging stations and other amenities. They also agreed to remove all signs and fencing that made the nearby beaches appear private.
And Campland recently launched free summer camps for underserved youth that were a required part of the settlement.
The plan to replace the defunct mobile homes with campsites has been weaving its way through the approval process since a version of it was approved by the City Council in 2019.
The local chapter of the Audubon Society threatened to sue over the initial version of the plan unless Campland agreed to seek approval from the Coastal Commission, which eventually imposed nearly a dozen conditions that go beyond any requirements imposed by the city.
Campland initially balked at the conditions but eventually agreed to them.