Jul 17, 2023 - Development

Port of San Diego names acting CEO amid turmoil

San Diego Bay

General view of downtown San Diego and San Diego Bay on July 4, 2019 in San Diego, California. Photo: Daniel Knighton/WireImage via Getty Images

The Port of San Diego named an acting CEO Friday, three days after the agency abruptly placed chief Joe Stuyvesant on administrative leave.

The latest: The board selected former Port CEO Randa Coniglio as acting CEO.

Between the lines: The reason for Stuyvesant's quick departure remains unknown. An agency spokesperson for now is saying it's a confidential personnel matter.

  • But Friday's meeting gave some clues. In the same closed session meeting in which Coniglio was hired, the board met with legal counsel over its "significant exposure to litigation," according to the closed session agenda.

Why it matters: The Port's CEO controls day-to-day operations of a public agency with a $310 million annual budget. The Port dictates waterfront development on 34 miles of coastline and is the landlord for the Convention Center, cruise ship terminal, Navy shipbuilding facilities and cargo shipping operations.

The intrigue: Sandy Naranjo, the board's vice chair, recused herself from the board's discussion.

  • "I have been advised that I may be a witness to some events that will be discussed in closed session, and I've been advised that I should recuse from the discussion related to those events," Naranjo said.
  • Rafael Castellanos, the board's chair, was also absent from the meeting due to "personal business."

What they're saying: "[W]e also must honor confidentiality related to this matter," Port spokesperson Brianne Page wrote in a statement last Thursday when we broke news of Stuyvesant's departure.

  • The Port's seven board members are appointed by its member cities: San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach and Coronado.

Catch up quick: Regional planners are eyeing Port headquarters for a trolley connection to the airport, and the Port is still sorting out a $3.6 billion Seaport Village redevelopment.

The big picture: The CEO's departure comes over a month after a critical report by the San Diego County Grand Jury into perceptions the agency's unelected board was "not accountable to either the elected officials or the electorate of its five member cities."

  • The grand jury, a group of volunteer citizens that investigate government programs throughout the county, recommended Port commissioners be limited to two, four-year terms.
  • "We can do whatever we want, right?" the grand jury quoted Castellanos saying multiple times to support its conclusion during a board meeting last year. Castellanos has served more than two terms on the board.

Flashback: Stuyvesant came to the Port after a long Navy career. He was executive director of the Navy Region Southwest, after serving as a naval aviator and as a staff officer in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He took the CEO role in 2021.

The bottom line: A major public agency is under new leadership, and all eyes now turn to what precipitated Stuyvesant’s abrupt departure.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the quoted phrase "significant exposure to litigation" was taken from the board's closed-session agenda.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios San Diego.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More San Diego stories

No stories could be found

San Diegopostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios San Diego.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more