On the waterfront: From World War II training ground to tourism and fishing hub

nwilson@thetribunenews.comApril 12, 2014 

The development and activity along the Morro Bay Embarcadero has a long and storied history that dates back to World War II, when the Navy built an amphibious training base in Morro Bay.

Without a mention of the environmental concerns that inevitably would crop up today, an Aug. 21, 1941 Telegram-Tribune article reported a $1 million federal dredging and reinforcement project to widen and deepen the channel.

Construction included northerly and southward breakwaters and inner harbor revetment. Sand from the dredging was used to create the current Embarcadero Road on what had previously been tidal flats, according to the Morro Bay Master Plan.

Morro Rock, once an island, was connected with a rock revetment to shore in 1935.

Historical records describe a busy military base site used for training, including preparation for the landings at Normandy in June 1944. Many soldiers who practiced for the mission in Morro Bay helped execute the invasion on D-Day.

When the war was over, the state granted the harbor area to San Luis Obispo County in 1947 through the Tidelands Legislative Grant. The county then became responsible for administering the harbor’s commercial development, along with fishery and navigation activities.

“The County considered business development on the waterfront a high priority and generally negotiated long-term low rent leases to facilitate private sector investment,” the Waterfront Master Plan notes.

In the early 1960s, the county and private property owners began to battle for legal rights over a western portion of the Embarcadero. Property owners claimed chains of title going back to the 1880s, but the state and county claimed those title transfers illegal.

An extended legal battle in the 1960s ultimately resulted in the establishment of 50-year low rent leases – called Pipkin leases – as part of a settlement after the city took over the harbor’s management in 1968. Four of the six Pipkin lease sites remain in place today.

While the county and the city of Morro Bay both initially were reluctant to take over the administration of the harbor, the man responsible for overseeing it now believes it’s a benefit to the city.

“After incorporation in 1964, the founding fathers of the city of Morro Bay didn’t want to deal with the leases because they were kind of a mess,” Endersby said. “There was some ‘You take it,’ ‘No, you take it,’ and the city lost.

"Fortunately, we ended up with those lease sites because it’s probably one of the biggest revenue generators in the city.”


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