Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Harbor Island Timeshare Plan May Be Test Case

At first glance, the latest hotel planned for Harbor Island merely adds to the growing list of high-end lodging for tourists eager to take in San Diego's stunning coastline.

There would be a pool, a full-service spa, restaurants, well-appointed rooms with million-dollar views and all the amenities vacationers need. And the locale – a small stretch of San Diego's bayfront – provides access to a harbor, ocean and everything they offer.

The proposal from Woodfin Suites Hotels LLC would be the first of its kind on California tidelands, once-submerged public property filled in the name of progress and for the people's benefit. In addition to 100 traditional hotel suites, 40 privately owned timeshare units would exist within the eight-story resort.

Proponents see the inclusion of timeshares as a way to help finance new hotels when construction costs are skyrocketing and securing loans is increasingly difficult. But critics argue allowing this hotel-hybrid on Harbor Island would spawn a development trend that further threatens access to the waterfront and turns the publicly owned real estate into a pricey and exclusive destination.

The state has long permitted development on public tidelands in the way of hotels, restaurants, parks and other attractions that draw people to the waterfront. Private residences of any kind, however, have traditionally been banned. And now the question arises, do time shares encourage or exclude the public from enjoying the coast?

A 10-year-old ruling from the state Attorney General's Office concluded that time shares on tidelands are permissible under certain circumstances. Even so, the issue remains murky and the state has kept timeshares at bay since the 1996 opinion.

The San Diego Unified Port District is determined to use the Woodfin project as a test case. Elsewhere in California, eager developers, trustees of the tidelands and environmentalists are watching this case closely.

The Port Commission pushed the project forward over objections from the state's two main regulators of the coastline, the State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission.

The State Lands Commission, which watches over development of tidelands and enforces the Public Trust Doctrine designed to protect them, disagrees with the 1996 ruling by then-Attorney General Dan Lundgren, said Executive Director Paul Thayer.

“The commission is very concerned about access to the coastline,” Thayer said. “Timeshares are privately owned and they exclude the general public from being able to use them.”

In a July 11 letter to the San Diego Unified Port Commission, Jennifer Lucchesi, staff counsel for the State Lands Commission, wrote that time-share developments “do not enhance the general public's enjoyment of trust lands, nor is a timeshare development necessary or incidental to accomplish or promote such uses.”
The letter went on to state that “the primary rationale leading to the promotion of timeshare development is the desire of private developers to reduce their economic risk and maximize their financial return.”

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