As a teenager Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm, who lived in Bonita, went to Imperial Beach to surf, often before school, and waterskied in the bay. “Imperial Beach was our beach,” he recalled.
Malcolm clearly remembers how in the1970s and 1980s the water in the bay was dirty and there was no eelgrass. “People didn’t talk about it back then. They were very sensitized to it,” he recalled.
As port commissioner for Imperial Beach since 2011, and in a position of power and policy making, Malcolm is proud of what he and the other commissioners have accomplished.
Malcolm graduated from Bonita Vista High School and spent a lot of time horse backing riding, in addition to surfing. He graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in real estate finance and later received a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law. His dream was to go into commercial real estate and thought knowing the law would help his real estate business dealings. Over time Malcolm achieved what he set out to do, and built shopping centers and commercial buildings.
Malcolm and his wife Nicole have been married for 25 years and have three children ages 24, 22 and 19. In 1996 he convinced Nicole to move to Imperial Beach from UTC. Malcolm’s next door neighbor was Mayor Mike Bixler. Thanks to Bixler’s influence, Malcolm quickly became part of the Architectural Design Review Board, and by 1998 his involvement grew and he was elected councilmember. While Malcolm was on the council, the city and the port district were in negotiations.
“The city was just completing the deal with the Port of San Diego to change the parking lot into Pier Plaza… I saw the power of the government and what you can do to change the community, saw what happened and how the entire beachfront changed…that was a catalyst for all the following projects,” he said.
Malcolm discovered he enjoyed being a policy maker who helped make things happen for the city. “I was aware of what the Port can do for member cities and became very interested in the Port of San Diego,” he recalled.
After his time on the council, Malcolm focused on his career until 2010 when a position opened on the Port board of commissioners. Bixler had become a Port commissioner after serving as mayor and he was now retiring. Malcolm decided to apply for the position and was eventually chosen. He is now serving his third appointment. Each appointment is for four years. Next year Malcolm will be chairman of the board for the second time.
Living in Imperial Beach, Malcolm couldn’t help but be passionate about clean water and solving the problem of cross-border pollution. The Port joined the city of Imperial Beach, the City of San Diego and other municipalities and organizations in the lawsuit against the federal government, which Malcolm says is a serious matter for all involved.
“We didn’t do it lightly…but for the right reasons, to find a permanent solution. Before the lawsuit, the EPA never talked to us, same for IBWC. When we filed the lawsuit we went in front of the media advocating for it and get the attention as the most polluted watershed in the U.S.,” he said.
Thanks to USMCA $300 million have now been designated to try to resolve the pollution issue. “We won’t get the foot off the pedal until [the infrastructure] is built. A diversion to a treatment plant which can treat 163 million gallons,” said Malcolm. He has seen many of his friends become ill from the polluted water and feels he was at the right place at the right time to help make a difference.
When Malcolm was a councilmember, he had a vision for Pond 20, which he later realized was not appropriate for the area. As a realtor and builder, he thought that Pond 20 could be developed into a shopping center using redevelopment funds. His vision was to create an area to build revenue. In time, thanks to the Patricia and Matt McCoy, a local environmentally minded couple, he came to the realization it was not a good idea.
Since then, Pond 20 has been turned into a mitigation bank and restored into a wetland. The idea of creating an economically viable area happened, but in a slightly different way. “We married environmental and economic policy to make it into a mitigation bank that will create millions of dollars…it’s a win-win all the way,” he explained.
Malcolm said the Port has been working for the past eight years on updating its master plan for the first time in 58 years. “We’re looking around holistically…for the different cities and we look at the entire port district, at all the jurisdictions and try to build a good policy…and build in an environmentally sensitive fashion,” he said.
In the past, projects have been created in a piecemeal fashion, but now the port has great environmental standards and policies, he explained. The planning has taken over 50 meetings, many community outreach meetings, and millions of dollars have been spent. “We’ve got to get it right. It’s so critical for this region,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be on the port. I love it.”
Sometimes people ask him if it’s worth working all those hours. He tells them, “Someday I’ll walk around [the port cities] and know I had a little piece in deciding.”
Having access to clean water both in the bay and ocean is very important for local families. “We want people to be able to get in the water,” he said. Malcolm is also proud that maritime businesses are now operating in a clean way and the port wants to ensure those jobs stay in the area while maintaining clean standards.
The Port District generates almost $ 9 billion of economic activity that is invested back into the port cities. Malcolm explained that the Port is aware that each city within its jurisdiction is different. The Port wants to maintain and enhance each city’s uniqueness - as in the case of Imperial Beach, known for its casual Southern California character. In Imperial Beach, the Port is currently working on improving the pier with upgrades and amenities. “It will be awesome,” said Malcolm.
Malcolm acknowledges that the Port at times has taken decisions that were not popular, but turned out to be positive for the area, as in the example of the Midway Museum, Petco Park and more recently redoing the building where Anthony’s Fish Grotto was located. The port received over 1,000 emails on that issue.
“People thought we would wreck the area, now they love it,” he said. “People stepped up and made good decisions…I’m proud of our board,” he said.