Port of San Diego

From San Diego Public Policy and Fiscal History

The Port of San Diego was formed in 1962 by an act of the California State Legislature. It was authorized at the state level and formed through an election process involving the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the Port’s five member cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego. It is an independent special district within San Diego County, as described in section 56044 of the California Government Code.

The Port’s purpose is to manage, develop, and operate projects and programs along 34 miles of San Diego Bay’s waterfront and submerged tidelands for public benefit. The Port functions without tax contributions and operates primarily from revenues through its marine terminal operations and real estate leaseholds.

Although the Port is not a function of the State of California, it is responsible for providing annual financial reports to the State Controller, and must follow California state laws pertaining to public meetings, bonded debt, record keeping and elections.

The Port’s responsibilities are set forth in its governing legislation, The Tidelands Trust Act. This Act directs the Port to manage the bay and tidelands on behalf of the citizens of the State of California in a manner that promotes commerce, navigation, recreation and fisheries while balancing the uses of these areas.

The Port is governed by a seven-member Board of Port commissioners who are each appointed by the city councils of their respective cities. As the Port’s largest city, the City of San Diego has three commissioners. This is an unpaid position and commissioners are appointed to four-year terms.

The Port champions Maritime, Waterfront Development, Public Safety, Experiences and Environment, all focused on enriching the relationship people and businesses have with the dynamic waterfront of San Diego Bay. From cargo and cruise terminals to hotels and restaurants, from marinas to museums, from 22 public parks to countless events, the Port contributes to the region’s prosperity and remarkable way of life on a daily basis.

An economic engine for the San Diego region, the Port generates jobs and strengthens the local economy at a steadily increasing rate. According to a 2017 Economic Impact Report, it has a $9.4 billion overall economic impact on the region and is responsible for approximately 70,000 total jobs including waterfront jobs and jobs generated throughout the region by business operations on the waterfront.

The Port of San Diego is the fourth largest of the 11 California ports. It has two cargo terminals that specialize in roll-on, roll-off cargo (mostly automobiles), breakbulk, project cargo, and containerized fruit and other perishables. There are also two cruise ship terminals and the Port is the third busiest cruise port in the state. The Port is one of 18 strategic ports in the United States, ready to assist the military with load-out or load-in operations.

Real Estate Development is the Port’s largest revenue provider. With around 800 tenants and subtenants along San Diego Bay, these tenants range from convention hotels to shipbuilding and ship repair companies. The Port’s largest redevelopment project underway is the Gaylord Pacific Resort and Convention Center, which is part of a 535-acre development on the Chula Vista Bayfront.

Other upcoming projects include a 55-acre development on East Harbor Island which includes a 450-room, duel-branded hotel; and a 70-acre development in design at Central Embarcadero.

The Port has its own public safety department, the Harbor Police, with approximately 120 sworn officers. All Harbor Police officers are trained firefighters. There are 20 dive team members and a K-9 unit.

The Port is also a champion of the environment of San Diego Bay and its surrounding lands. Through emissions reduction efforts, sustainable development, and water conservation, the Port is a protector of our land, air and water. Examples of the Port’s dedication to cleaner air include its Climate Action Plan and Maritime Clean Air Strategy. The Port of San Diego was among the first ports in the United States to adopt a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In October 2021, the Board of Port Commissioners approved a Maritime Clean Air Strategy – the most ambitious clean air policy document of its kind in the state. It identifies and prioritizes projects to further reduce emissions and improve air quality.

To learn more about specific projects and initiatives the Port of San Diego has undertaken, please visit portofsandiego.org.