After showing their considerable confusion over who is organizing San Diego's 1991 America's Cup defense, the Board of Port Commissioners Tuesday made the first move to house most of the expected flotilla of racing sloops in San Diego Bay's East Basin.
Faced with tight time constraints, the commissioners ordered Port District staff members to seek bids from firms interested in doing environmental studies and preliminary design work on a lagoon off Harbor Drive used by the Convair Division of General Dynamics.
America's Cup officials are focusing on the area as the best site to house as many as 19 sailing syndicates and a possible America's Cup village for spectators at the regatta. But formal negotiations with General Dynamics, which leases the lagoon from the Port District, have not yet begun.
Court Challenge Pending
A legal challenge by New Zealander Michael Fay could also becalm the defense plans. Fay has filed suit in New York Supreme Court in an attempt to compel the San Diego Yacht Club to hold a Cup race next year. A ruling is expected shortly.
In seeking competitive bids, a process that will take four to five weeks, the commissioners turned down a request from the Hope Consulting Group for a no-bid contract for the environmental and design work.
The decision came after Hope officials showed commissioners just how little time is left to prepare the lagoon for the 12-meter boats that will arrive by January, 1990, to practice for the world championships here that spring. The world championships are a tuneup for the more prestigious America's Cup regatta to be held the following year.
Hope architect Alberto Lau said it will take at least a year to conduct environmental studies and win approval from numerous government agencies to work in the bay, and 14 months more to complete dredging and construction.
The designers must find ways to cover up or rid the lagoon of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that have been found on the floor of the bay, and to compensate for any damage done to rare eel grass that grows there, he said. Lau said that grass could be planted elsewhere or money could be paid into a fund to compensate for any of the grass removed.
More importantly, construction crews can work only from October to March, Lau said, when the California least tern, an endangered shore bird, is not nesting. With a year needed to secure permits, engineers are already a month behind in any attempt to be ready for the Oct. 1, 1988, beginning of the "construction window," Lau said.
"Heavy construction will have to wait until the following September to begin, and there's little you can do about it," Lau said. "We will very likely miss the construction window by a five-week period if we start today."
Debate over the site also brought out considerable confusion over efforts to organize the defense, which is expected to contribute more than $1 billion to the San Diego economy. Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer seemed completely unaware that officials plotting the defense consider the East Basin the best site to house most of the boats.
"I was kind of surprised to see this as a fait accompli --this is the site and we'll put out the (environmental review) and let's get going," Wolfsheimer said.
Port District Executive Director Don Nay angrily challenged the Sail America Foundation's authority to choose the site and organize the defense without consulting the commission. He accused Thomas F. Ehman, the foundation's chief operating officer, of leaving "the Port District totally in the dark."
"Why did we hear about it last?" Nay demanded. "We're hearing about a proposal from an architect (on what) you've already decided to do."
But Ehman and Commissioners Chairman Dan Larsen told Nay that they have met privately with other leaders of the defense effort to discuss using Convair Lagoon.
Ehman pointed out that a contract with the San Diego Yacht Club puts Sail America Foundation in charge of organizing the defense, in much the same way that the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee oversaw the various agencies working on the 1984 Olympic Games. The foundation will establish a citizens advisory committee to bring together diverse groups in the near future, Ehman said.
At the request of several commissioners, Ehman, San Diego Yacht Club officials, and leaders of the San Diego America's Cup Task Force, a civic group, will describe organizing efforts to commissioners at their next meeting.