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5 Bay Cities Seek Share of Port's Wealth

November 10, 1989|ARMANDO ACUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of mayors representing the five cities bordering San Diego Bay announced Thursday that they will seek changes in state law to allow them to use the San Diego Unified Port District's budget surplus for "public safety services," such as police protection.

Calling it another "landmark event" in her city, San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor said the proposal represents the first time that all five mayors of the bayside cities--San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado--have joined to change legislation that created the Port District in 1962.

All five mayors, along with state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Bonita) and Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier (R-Encinitas), presented their proposal at a joint news conference led by O'Connor at San Diego City Hall.

The mayors, all of whom said their cities need money to bolster police services, said residents voted to create the Port District and that it is only fair that they share in the agency's financial success.

By any measure, the Port District has found that. As custodian of state tidelands around the bay, it has seen its projects, from Lindbergh Field and Seaport Village to Shelter and Harbor islands, turn into moneymakers.

This horn of plenty has developed while the cities the port represents have found it increasingly hard to provide services while coping with revenue-spending limits imposed by the state.

For example, the Port District is expecting about $89 million in revenue this fiscal year. Most cities in the country would have to rely on bonds to pay for the $160-million convention center nearing completion on the bayfront. But the Port District is simply writing a check.

What the cities want a piece of is the agency's ongoing surplus, which currently stands at about $78 million.

Although a formula for how the money would be shared has yet to be worked out, O'Connor said she foresees the cities getting as much as 40% of the surplus. As now envisioned, the legislation would provide for the cities to receive a minimum payment from the surplus every year, plus another payment based on population.

As to whether the seven port commissioners would support the change, the mayors noted that the members are appointed by the city councils of the cities, and that their support shouldn't be hard to win.

The Port District's administration, led by longtime executive Don Nay, declined to comment.

Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox said that, aside from providing money to the five cities for public safety, the proposal accomplishes two other goals: keeping the port operating as a separate entity and providing Imperial Beach with money it desperately needs to stay afloat.

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