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Chula Vista Gets its Vista

The city moves forward with a plan


Chula Vista coast

By the Numbers


Acres of the Chula Vista waterfront the plan incorporates



Billion dollars the plan is expected to generate for the local economy



Estimated number of construction jobs the renovation is expected to generate



Year the first shovel is expected to break ground in phase one

Translated from Spanish, Chula Vista means “beautiful view.” Now the city is about to get a waterfront to match its name. In August, the California Coastal Commission gave the green light to south San Diego’s ambitious waterfront development plans. Much of the Chula Vista waterfront as it stands today presents an eyesore of crusty, if historic, remnants of industry. But thanks to a planning process in the works for at least a decade, some 556 acres of Chula Vista waterfront will undergo extensive reconstructive surgery in the coming years.  

Picture a new seaside resort and conference destination. In the master plan, streets will be extended. Vacant areas will be reconfigured into hundreds of acres of green belts, parks, and open spaces, with pedestrian walkways, bike paths, and trails. Space has been set aside for a new RV park to replace the old facility, and for 1,500 new condominiums on the site of what was once Rohr Industries. Plans also include a commercial harbor and marina, and some 35 acres of mixed-use high-rise residential buildings.

The economic upside of the master plan is that $1.3 billion is expected to be generated for the regional economy over the next two decades, says Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, with an added annual tax boost of $11.5 million. The waterfront renovation will generate 2,000 or more new jobs. “Not only service jobs, but IT jobs, retail jobs, and office and restaurant positions. All told, a pretty wide variety,” explains Cox, who estimates that the project will generate another 7,000 construction jobs.  

In and of itself, the Chula Vista coast presents the largest such development opportunity remaining in California, according to Cox. “If you go all the way up to Eureka, there’s nothing even close to this in size.” But one of the more sensitive aspects of the master plan has been the environment. The South Bay waterfront is home to some of the last remaining tideland habitats along the San Diego shoreline. And over the years, much of that has become a toxic stew generated by past industry. “Prior to 1972,” Cox says, “they were parking wrecked cars along the waterfront.” The cars have been long since removed, but areas that were once cleaned to industrial standards must now be made clean to residential standards. “Nobody’s quite sure what’s there,” she adds, “but whatever we find has to be cleaned up.” Habitat replacement and preservation will create significant ecological buffers on either side of the new development.

With the unanimous approval of the Coastal Commission, the project can now launch. But consider it a slow launch at best. First, a project developer has to be chosen, a process that is expected to last well into 2015. If all goes according to plan, the first shovels could break ground in 2016. Construction itself will be divided into four phases. One of the first milestones will be the long-awaited demolition of the old South Bay Power Plant, a Kennedy Administration-era artifact that was finally decommissioned last year. For the 250,000 residents who call Chula Vista home, the loss of that rusting edifice alone will open up the beautiful view of San Diego Bay and beyond. “This project,” says Mayor Cox, “will stretch the attractiveness of San Diego Bay all the way from the north to the south.”

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