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Support PCH Dinner Show at Pond 20 for Local Economy, Not Land Banks

Roger Benham: “Our long-term goal is to become the top-known dinner show in North America, attracting tourists from all over the world.”

To the editor:

The purpose of this letter is to solicit support for our proposal for a world-class entertainment venue for the Pond 20 location, near 13th and Palm Avenue.  Our proposal for The Pacific Coast Historical (PCH) Dinner Show was submitted on August 24th to the Port District in response to their request forPond 20 development ideas from the public.

The mission statement of the Pacific Coast Historical (PCH) Dinner Show is founded upon preserving Southern California culture through entertainment and to change the current perspective of the dinner show in the greater U.S. Our long-term goal is to become the top-known dinner show in North America, attracting tourists from all over the world. The PCH Dinner Show will also be known for its dedication towards enhancing the social and economic life of the South Bay communities of Imperial Beach and Nestor.

The PCH Dinner Show concept cleverly connects our off-the-beaten-path region of the South Bay to San Diego’s year-round multi-billion dollar tourism industry.  This concept brings year-round revenue, jobs, and prestige to the Imperial Beach and Nestor areas, without reliance on the seasonal, and often delusional, alternatives of a beach-based or eco-tourism economy. 

The PCH Dinner Show Concept cleverly directs traffic towards the center of our community, preserving the residential nature of our beach-front area that the residents of IB have always valued most. Of course, with over 7,000 visitors per week attending the PCH Dinner Show, businesses city-wide would benefit. 

Imagine how many out-of-town PCH Dinner show guests will want to see the ocean, walk the pier, buy an ice cream or coffee, and stay in our hotels?  This ideal “big spender tourist” traffic would be visiting our local businesses all year long!

The PCH Dinner Show will provide quality jobs for local people with long-term aspirations in the growing field of entertainment. 

I was the youngest of six kids who grew up in IB, and my mother worked for the South Bay Union Schools for more than 30 years. I can’t tell you how many talented young people I have seen whose ambitions were thwarted because of a lack of direction and opportunity in this community. The PCH Dinner Show will provide the fundamental need for a successful tourism-based enterprise in the IB/Nestor area. 

In contrast to the PCH Dinner Show, special interests want to turn Pond 20 into another “land mitigation bank”. What this means is that they want the area to be used by other communities to develop their own economic base. 

Of the 836 acres the Port District purchased from Western Salt Company in 2008, already 741 acres has been used to “offset” the water-front development impacts of other communities, including Liberty Station Point Loma, the Lindberg Field Expansion, Poseidon Carlsbad, and who know who else? All of this “public” land has been lost forever for any future development opportunities for IB and Nestor. This all happened without referendum, say, or input from the local population.

In an article published in the Union-Tribune entitled “Pond 20 Could be an Ecological Gem” dated January 9, 2012, the proponents of land-banking argue that “ample retail space along the Palm Avenue corridor sits empty, attracting neither proprietors nor customers.”

Do these proponents of the “land mitigation” banks really believe that the local patrons and proprietors do not deserve an opportunity of economic prosperity?  Are they suggesting that we should forgo any business-minded use of Pond 20 so that the existing businesses can be put out of their misery?

After decades of effort, the people of IB should understand that the concept of an ecotourism-based economy has not delivered economic prosperity. To make my point bluntly, turning Pond 20 into another land-bank offers minuscule benefits to the local economy. The land banking of Pond 20 is an example of imbalanced shortsighted thinking that provides economic benefits to a select few.

From my travels all over the world I have seen how people and cultures adapt to economic change. Here locally, I remember when a lot of families were tuna fishermen and aerospace machinists. These were the jobs that rightfully paid for our existing bird sanctuaries and estuarine preserves. Those jobs are gone.  Now we need to adapt, and do things that are not the same old 2x4 stucco track-home-condo strip-malls. We must adapt to optimize our share of San Diego’s tourism revenue potential.  

A focused effort for tourism dollars is a smart bet for the use of Pond 20.  With San Diego becoming higher on the destination list of world travel destinations, we need to adapt to provide them what they want. Yes, ecotourism can play a part, but is has to occur with the real revenue drivers, like Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, the Hotel Del, and The PCH Dinner Show.

Please note that when the 2008 Western Salt land was purchased, 114 acres, including Pond 20, was “set aside for development.” Therefore, we are not asking for any land use condition that was not approved in the original deal.  It is the land-bankers that are causing imbalance, trying to change the terms.

Let’s make sure that the community gets what it wants: that we have a say in the direction of our community. We would appreciate your support. You can view our proposal at www.pchdinnershow.com.

Roger Benham

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