Innovation

How Chula Vista is turning its bayfront into a smart city test bed

Find out how Chula Vista is working to add smart city tech to its bayfront and beyond with a major project underway in this fast growing southern California city.

Chula Vista is just seven miles south of San Diego, and oftentimes it's more famous sister to the north gets all of the attention when it comes to technology.

Yet Chula Vista, CA, with a population that has doubled in the past 30 years and is now at 265,000, has plenty going for it in the smart city tech realm. It first installed LED streetlights in a pilot project in 2013, and did a retrofit to install them citywide. Chula Vista officials are now in the midst of a pilot to test smart streetlights. In January, Chula Vista was one of 10 regions chosen as an autonomous vehicle proving ground by the US Department of Transportation with its local network of streets and roadways acting as a testing area for self-driving vehicles. And in February, the city was chosen as one of 10 finalists in the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant program.

And there's more. Chula Vista officials have spent 10 years creating a 24-year plan in four phases to redevelop more than five acres on its waterfront to include smart city technology that will spill over into the downtown area. The first phase of smart city tech is focused on reducing energy use in the bayfront development, and the long-term plan centers on citywide energy efficiency and smart devices, data analytics, and software to revamp its critical infrastructure such as lighting, garbage collection, Wi-Fi, and other city services.

chula-vista-bayfrontfuture-resortconv-center-development.jpg

This is the area that will be redeveloped in Chula Vista.

Image: City of Chula Vista

The bayfront area is the largest "fully entitled" waterfront development on the west coast, meaning that it's shovel ready and can be developed in its entirety, explained Gary Halbert, city manager for Chula Vista.

SEE: How not to do a smart city: Let a thousand flowers bloom instead of having a plan (ZDNet)

The first phase, which has yet to begin construction as negotiations with the developer are still being finalized, will include a 1,500-room hotel and convention center as well as a residential high-rise building. "It provides a great opportunity for us to implement some smart city technologies," Halbert said.

The rough timeline for completion of the first phase is 2021 or 2022, depending on when construction begins, which is estimated to take 30 months, said Dennis Gakunga, chief sustainability officer for Chula Vista.

A park will be added, as well as mixed-use residential and commercial buildings and light industrial usage. "The plan is that we design this as a smart city. We're looking for viable, sustainable development practices that we can eventually scale up and expand citywide. We're going to use this as a test bed," Gakunga said.

Sustainability is an important part of the project. The bayfront buildings will be eco-friendly, using 50% less energy than required. It will also include smart transportation such as extending the existing trolley system that runs along Interstate 5 in the area to integrate it with vehicles and pedestrian traffic. There are plans to have an autonomous driving shuttle bus on a path from downtown to the bayfront to transport visitors, Halbert said.

SEE: Smart cities: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

As plans to develop Chula Vista were discussed, city officials quickly realized they couldn't do it without outside help. The city hired Black & Veatch to design the blueprint for the bayside development, which is the location of a former aircraft manufacturing plant from World War II.

"Once you start thinking innovatively is when you start thinking smart cities," said Maria Kachadoorian, deputy city manager for Chula Vista.

Jennifer James, smart city solutions lead for Black & Veatch, said she's working with Chula Vista and making sure the communications structure is sound, since it is an important component to Chula Vista's plan. "Not just the services demanded today, but in the future, and that will be much more data centric. We are determining all of the different types of smart technologies that will be needed in the future," James said.

The smart city master plan includes input on how to build out the city using high-speed fiber internet service that can support future uses, such as being able to support live streaming video to the police department to help with public safety.

Partners on the various stages of the project include Cleantech San Diego, Qualcomm, Cisco, AT&T, Cox, and M3, a startup.

"This is really an extremely and unique opportunity that we have to develop the waterfront. The exciting thing is that as we continue to look at deployment for various smart city technology we feel like this could truly help not just the region, but really give us an opportunity to be a thought leader in this arena," Gakunga said.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Chula Vista, CA has a four-phase, 24-year plan in place to develop five acres on its waterfront.
  2. Sustainability is a key component of the Chula Vista smart city project.
  3. The first phase will be completed by 2021 or 2022, and will include a hotel and a residential high-rise building.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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