Henry Mathis, an alternate member of the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, looks on as the public addresses a vote deciding whether two small water districts can divorce the San Diego County Water Authority on June 5, 2023. / MacKenzie Elmer
Members of the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission at a meeting on June 5, 2023. / MacKenzie Elmer

A city councilman from one of San Diego’s most polluted cities called for an investigation Tuesday night into San Diego’s waterfront landlords: The Port of San Diego.

National City Councilman Marcus Bush asked the city to investigate the Port after the City Council voted to oust their own Port representative, Sandy Naranjo, which Bush was against. 

The tenure of Naranjo, an environmental justice advocate, was overshadowed by controversy. And, eventually, Naranjo’s port colleagues voted to censure her. Then, after heated debate, National City’s council voted 5-2 to remove her from the appointed position. 

This comes after other turmoil at the port, like in 2023 when the port abruptly placed its chief on administrative leave, according to Axios. A month earlier, a grand jury report raised questions about the function of its unelected board.  

“We have the power to hire consultants or request independent investigation,” Bush said. “We have an opportunity to look into the things the Port is doing.”

Bush pointed to LAFCO, San Diego’s Local Agency Formation Commission – the region’s boundary referees – as a place to conduct such an inquiry. LAFCO was recently in the spotlight as it oversaw the hard-fought splitting of two water districts from the San Diego County Water Authority.

In fact, San Diego’s LAFCO had already been attempting to bring the Port under its purview since at least 2021. In a letter that year, LAFCO’s executive officer Keene Simmonds wrote that the Port is the kind of special district their agency regulates so LAFCO should be able to audit it.

But the Port’s leadership pushed back, saying the State Lands Commission was its regulator, which the State Lands’ leader supported in a January letter.

This week, the two parties settled on what’s called a “tolling agreement,” which basically means LAFCO and the Port will lay down their swords and agree not to sue each other until September. In the meantime, they will try and sort out who has authority over Port business.

Frank Urtasun, chairman of the Port board, told Planetcob in a written statement, that he appreciates LAFCO’s willingness to dialogue, but that the Port “remains convinced” the State Lands Commission is its overseer.

“This decision is essential for maintaining the efficient and effective operation of the Port, which has significant implications for economic development, public access to the coast, and environmental stewardship,” Urtasun wrote.

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