The key to effective governance, City Councilmember Mike Donovan says, is discernment.
“My job is 90% problem solving,” he said. “I bring a lot to the table because I’ve had to make hard decisions and then live with the consequences of them my entire career.”
Donovan is running for mayor of Coronado and says he’ll bring his decades of experience as an engineer and U.S. Navy captain to the leadership of the city.
“My goal is to preserve this small-town atmosphere that everyone loves,” Donovan said. “Our challenge is not to let outside agencies have such a drastic impact on our residents.”
Coronado falls under jurisdiction of a lot of agencies: Most obviously, the county, the state, and the federal governments all play a role. But there are countless working parts, Donovan said, and often their interests will intersect or contradict each other, with Coronado scrambling to keep up.
“Here we are, the City Council and the city staff of our little town,” Donovan said, “and we’ve got all these agencies telling us, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ or ‘You’ve got to do that.’ But we have to take into account – how does that affect our community?”
The city also must work with the California Coastal Commission, the San Diego Association of Governments, the Port of San Diego, the U.S. Navy, the California Department of Transportation, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and more.
Each agency has its focus, and Coronado sits in the crossfire of multi-agency government agendas, trying to maintain its own interests, Donovan said.
An easy example Donovan pointed to is the years-long challenge Coronado faced regarding its Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The state assigned San Diego County its regional allocation, and then SANDAG divided it among cities. Coronado argued that its allocation was unfairly high, but lost in court and eventually, reluctantly, submitted a plan to zone for 912 units of additional housing.
That issue was widely publicized, and for good reason, Donovan said. He supports lobbying now to ensure a better outcome in the next housing cycle. But there are other, less obvious threats to the city that he plans to hone in on.
Donovan calls these issues “sleepers” – issues that fly under the radar but that he says can potentially alter Coronado in a significant way.
The sleeper for the housing allocation is this: To rezone the city for its mandated new housing units, the city must revisit its Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan, which Coronado adopted in 1980 (it has since been amended, but the last change was in 2005).
“We’re holding our breath,” Donovan said. “The concern is that the Coastal Commission, once you open Pandora’s Box and say we want to make these changes (for zoning), they say, ‘While you’re at it, why don’t you make that park into a parking lot so we can increase access to the coast? And by the way, we don’t like your ordinance on short-term rentals.’”
Coronado prohibits property owners from renting their homes for fewer than 26 days. Donovan worries that the Coastal Commission would consider short-term rentals a boon for coastal access and fight to change Coronado’s code.
And this is why, Donovan said, the city must fight to maintain Coronado’s interests.
The Navy’s aircraft carriers
The U.S. Navy is considering an increase to the number of days three aircraft carriers could be in port simultaneously at Naval Air Station North Island. Three carriers, with 5,000 to 6,000 sailors each, currently can only be in port for 29 days per year, and the proposed increase would allow 180.
“This is where we have to try to be more forceful and make ourselves heard at the Department of Defense,” Donovan said. “This has the potential to severely impact life on Coronado.”
More sailors in port would congest streets and increase pollution, Donovan said. But he worries a less obvious challenge may be lurking.
“There are only two shipyards that are nuclear capable in the west,” he said. “One is in Bremerton (Wash.), and the other is in Pearl Harbor (Hawaii). Bremerton is getting overwhelmed because they do submarines and all kinds of other overhauls. So what I think is pretty clear is they want to be able to send a carrier to have a maintenance period here.”
In 2021, the USS Abraham Lincoln completed a six-month maintenance period at NASNI.
“It was a disaster,” Donovan said, referencing not only the sailors in port during that time, but also, the influx of shipyard workers in the city.
Other ‘sleepers’: Recycled water, infrastructure, historic preservation
Infrastructure isn’t the most exciting topic, Donovan said, but it’s a key part of a city’s obligation to its residents. He points to recent storms that prompted flooding in the streets of Coronado and the city’s plan to alleviate it.
In addition to stormwater draining, he hopes the city will be able to find a source of recycled water so it can irrigate its medians and golf course during droughts. The city could build its own recycled water plant or negotiate to use extra capacity from the South Bay Water Reclamation Plant.
Donovan also supports using a survey to more efficiently identify potentially historic homes in Coronado, a method the city is currently considering as more homes in Coronado reach the threshold age for potential historic designation. In the past, the city reviewed each home individually, but each review costs about $7,000.
“If we don’t do something, it’s just not going to be sustainable,” Donovan said. “We’ll just be overwhelmed with homes to review, and every year, more will be added to the list.”
The Tijuana Sewage Crisis
“We could fix this tomorrow; it’s not rocket science,” Donovan said of the 35 million gallons of raw sewage flowing from Tijuana into the Pacific Ocean daily.
But both funding and working across borders complicates things.
“We need to keep hammering on the politicians,” Donovan said. “I’m very disappointed in our governor. He seems to not even want to acknowledge the problem.”
But building infrastructure is only half the problem, Donovan said.
“Everyone is focused on getting money to build the project,” he said, “but they forget that going forward, you have to have money to maintain it and operate it – we need to keep that front and center as well.”
Donovan, who has served two terms on City Council, says he still has more work to be done, which prompted his run for mayor.
“My goal has always been simple: residents first,” he said.