San Diego - A Working Waterfront

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Since its founding in 1962, the Port of San Diego has shaped and improved the waterfront in each of its five member cities— San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado.

Over the years, the Port has fashioned a cohesive waterfront with these goals: Serve as a regional economic engine; protect the land and water; and provide for public enjoyment of the bay front. As the Port of San Diego looks to its 50th anniversary celebration, the transformation on the 33 miles of tidelands continues.

Our National City Marine Terminal opened its doors over 20 years ago, and in December 2010, Pasha Automotive Services executed a new 30-year Terminal Operating Agreement with the Port of San Diego. From 30,000 automobiles across the dock in that first year, Pasha Automotive Services has overseen the movement of more than 4,000,000 vehicles through its terminal. With a productive partnership that now reaches through the end of the year 2040, we thought we should introduce you to the key members who head up this bustling and attractive Southern California port.

Scott H. Peters, a member of the Port Commission since 2009, took over the chairmanship of the Board of Port Commissioners in January 2011. He served for eight years on the San Diego City Council, including as Council President from 2006 through 2008. Active in civic service, he has served on the California Coastal Commission, was co-chair of San Diego's Clean Water Task Force and was a member of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority. Chairman Peters is a leader in innovation, the environment and livable communities, along with many other interests.

Wayne Darbeau is President/CEO of the Port of San Diego. Prior to his appointment, Darbeau served as the Port's Vice President of Administration. He has been with the organization since 1998 and has held key leadership positions, including Senior Director, Director and Administrator.

Recently, we sat down with these two for an informative and enlightening interview.

Question: The Port of San Diego has more than 600 tenants and sub tenants, many of which are part of your working waterfront. Can you comment on the port’s priority for maritime business operations?

Scott: Let me first acknowledge our strong partnership with Pasha. Since 1990, when the company began operating the National City Marine Terminal, it has invested millions into infrastructure. The company is committed to investing an additional $10 million. As Pasha prospers, so does the port. It has generated millions of dollars in revenues and it has served as a catalyst for the region’s economic vitality. We are most appreciative of the benefits that Pasha brings to the port, and the region as well.

Wayne: The Port of San Diego as a whole is an economic engine for the region. The overall port operation has a $10.6 billion economic impact for the region. It generates $5 billion of the region’s gross regional product. That represents 3.2 percent of the total. Some 77,000 jobs are generated. The maritime business at the port’s two cargo terminals alone generated $40.7 million in revenue this past year.

The cruise industry is also a vital part of the maritime operations. Each home-ported ship that docks at the Port of San Diego has an economic impact of $2 million for the region. Home-ported ships are those that begin and end at the Port of San Diego.

Scott: We certainly are focused on rejuvenating our cruise business. Cruise lines have cancelled some of their Mexico itineraries, partly because tourists are reluctant to visit the Mexican ports because of concerns about violence related to drug trafficking. We are working with Mexican tourism representatives and government officials about the negative perceptions. We also are urging Mexican cruise ports to develop new and exciting travel packages that will help bring back some of this business.

Wayne: Additionally, we are concentrating on attracting new clients and expanding our imports and also looking into export opportunities. I’m happy to report that this summer has been a busy one. For example, we are processing imports of several shipments of windmill components, and we have begun exporting wind tower sections to Honduras for a large wind farm under construction there. Export cargo has been a strong part of our business model, and we look forward to more growth in this sector.

Question: What are the challenges you face to protect the maritime industry and the allied businesses, which currently employs more than 35,000 people?

Scott: The port’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal is situated on prime waterfront property. That’s why it has drawn so much interest from folks who would love to see a range of uses other than maritime. However, the Port has long recognized that our two marine terminals are critical to our future ability to help generate jobs and family-sustaining incomes. Back in 2008, a ballot measure proposed to change the land uses for the marine terminal to allow hotels and entertainment and sports venues. The working waterfront and business groups bonded together to soundly defeat the measure, by 70 percent of the voters. It seems pretty clear that the electorate understands the value of maritime trade in this location. Wayne: John Pasha was one of the port’s biggest defenders during this time. He steadfastly argued for the preservation of our maritime cargo operations, and we are most appreciative.

John was at the forefront of the effort by the San Diego Port Tenants Association to defeat that ballot measure. Nearly one million dollars was raised to help in that fight.

Thankfully, voters weren’t fooled. The measure was overwhelmingly rejected. The voters well understood the importance of a deep water port and the role that we play in the system of ports, the nation’s marine transportation highway if you will.

Scott: We have a very aggressive program for maritime marketing as well as an aggressive public outreach effort to educate the public and key stakeholders on the importance of our port and the national system of ports that play such a vital role in this country’s economic success. This country is more and more dependent on waterborne trade, both domestically and internationally. And one major challenge is helping the public, our stakeholders and our Congressional representatives understand the importance of the nation’s ports system.

A growing trade sector demands continued development and protection for public seaports in the United States.

That’s why the Port of San Diego and other ports across the country have joined together in advocating for the federal government to take a more active role in helping local port authorities "preserve, protect, develop and maintain this important national system of seaports."

Investing in the nation’s port system will keep the United States as a top-notch competitor in the global market, while increasing American jobs and stimulating export growth and investing in livable communities.

Question: You have stated that as the economy picks up, the port stands ready to welcome new investments. What type of investments opportunities do you think would be a good fit for the port, its tenants and the community?

Scott: We are constantly looking to expand our business. The port’s maritime trade development staff has been aggressively pursuing additional cargoes and over the next few months we are expecting several shipments of windmill parts, as mentioned, as well as other project cargo goods that cannot be shipped in containers.

We are seeking new maritime customers, and reinforcing our partnerships with existing customers. Over the past several months, we have contacted dozens of potential clients in Central America, Europe and India. Wayne: We also are targeting local companies for possible exports. We are working with Pasha Automotive to boost vehicle exports. Our trade development department is working with potential customers on the export of soda ash to Latin America and equipment for power generation projects to Russia.

We have approached Solar Turbines, a local company and a division of the Caterpillar Company, about exporting its heavy equipment. Scott: In addition, we are focusing our efforts to link with maritime technology and research and development companies, which are vital to the future growth of our region and the country. Linking with these companies is a logical next step for the port.

Already, we partner with some of the country’s premiere research institutions – Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of California San Diego and San Diego State University. Now, instead of hiring consultants to do the scientific research, we rely on the best oceanographic minds in the world.

We are applying this same innovative approach to our real estate section by searching out rent-paying technology business that may be interested in locating on our waterfront.

Question: The port has been extremely proactive in encouraging environmental efforts, including its 2011 "Green Business Challenge," which is just one component of your environmental initiatives. Pasha Automotive Services and Pasha Distribution Services, thanks to grant funding assistance from the port, have been able to greatly minimize their carbon footprint, as has Pasha Hawaii’s Jean Anne. How successful are your programs in establishing the port as a recognized environmental steward?

Scott: You’re right. We have a number of initiatives, and in many cases we are far ahead of state and federal regulatory requirements. For example, we’ve assembled a panel of experts to help us address the issues associated with the predicted rise in sea level. Remarkably, there are still some who would deny global warming. Nevertheless, climate change is very real. It is a global issue and affects everyone.

The port is committed to addressing this issue for the San Diego Bay tidelands, and one strategy is through a Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Plan that will help us prepare and protect areas of vulnerability. By preparing for anticipated changes, we will be protecting our property, saving money and safeguarding wildlife.

Scott: We have undertaken several other "green" initiatives that are minimizing the port’s environmental impact. For example, we’ve installed a shore power system at our cruise ship terminals. As a result, 22 tons of pollutants and 448 tons of greenhouse gases have been reduced since system went online in November 2010.

Shore power technology is just one of the initiatives. The port has also implemented its Green Port Program. This program focuses on six areas – water, energy, air, waste management, sustainable development and sustainable business practices, and it is designed to minimize our environmental impact in each of these areas.

But at the same time, the port wants to adopt environmental practices that do not harm our business tenants. We look for a win-win outcome. Wayne: Our portfolio of 23 Green Port projects currently in place includes the clean truck program, which is helping truck operators replace or retrofit older model trucks to reduce harmful emissions. Trucks failing to meet the standards are kept away from our terminals.

In addition, the port started the voluntary vessel speed reduction program, in which cargo and cruise vessel operators are asked to reduce speeds while traveling in and near San Diego’s harbor. As a result, emissions from cargo and cruise ships have decreased and we are enjoying cleaner air around San Diego Bay.

Scott: And we have created a significant partnership among the three institutions mentioned earlier. Through this partnership, we have established the Center for Bay and Coastal Dynamics. I fully expect this center will earn recognition throughout the region, the state and even globally for the cutting-edge research that it has embarked on. The Board of Port Commissioners, which I chair, has established an environmental fund that helps support projects aimed at improving the condition of San Diego Bay. Since its inception in 2006, 62 projects have been approved and for these projects we have committed $7.3 million for the improvements.

The projects include enhancing fish habitats in San Diego Bay, restoring 55 acres of salt marsh in a nature preserve area, removing more than 300 tons of debris from San Diego Bay and providing environmental education for more than 55,000 elementary and high school students.

Wayne: You mentioned the Green Business Challenge. It’s a shining example or port-tenant partnerships. We applaud Pasha and the other participants for agreeing to participate. More than 50 tenants are participating in the Challenge. Together, we are making a difference. We are reducing our energy consumption and our water use.

We’re minimizing waste and preventing pollution -– all of which are vitally important. It’s important for the environment and it makes good business sense.

Question: What is your vision for the port in the coming decade?

Scott: The short answer is that I want to see the port continue to be an economic engine and an environmental steward, a place for recreation, a place to appreciate our natural wonders and a place that visitors and residents alike can enjoy. What I envision is a world-class waterfront.

It is a challenge, though, considering this tough economic climate, a sometimes harsh political environment, and it is California after all. I know this shaky economy has impacted Pasha in a big way, just as it has the port.

Thanks to Wayne and his leadership team, we have right-sized this organization and this has been accomplished in the right way. They did it without laying off a single employee. He has reorganized the port to ensure that it is focused on building strategic partnerships both locally and nationally.

We recognize there are challenges. The economy remains fragile and unpredictable, but we are not doing things the same way we always have. It is a new day at the Port of San Diego.

I have the utmost confidence that our commissioners, with the partnership of our member cities and with the help of tenants like Pasha Automotive Services, will continue to innovate and invest. We will continue to create jobs and enhance our stunning waterfront and we will do even more as an environmental steward, all of which will be a credit to our entire region.

Wayne: Next year, we will be celebrating the port’s 50th anniversary. There are many accomplishments to celebrate. We have been a regional source for jobs, for commerce, recreation and community service. That will continue. But, as Scott said, it is a new day. It is time to set a new course. The question is how we become that "go-go port" in all the port’s member cities. I envision a new course for the port - a three-pronged approach focusing on strategy, streamlining our core services and innovation.

Our new port must be one with solid ties and support across our member cities. We must establish two-way partnerships. They must be forged with the governments of our member cities and the many civic organizations throughout the district.

We must be aware of the morale and professional excellence of our workers who are on the front lines of our service delivery.

To attract the best employees, we must establish a record of innovation. The best employees will want to work in a stimulating environment, a place that is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and managed in a way that creativity is paramount, not feared and in the best interests of the public.

We must rethink how we perform a function, rather than doing business in the same old way, just because we’ve always done it that way. We must remain agile, innovative and relevant. It is a great task and a great challenge. But if we move forward with courage and with the speed of trust, the Port of San Diego can and will become an organization that is cherished by our many partners and by residents across the San Diego region. It will continue to be the little agency that could.