Controversial developments proposed for Port of San Francisco property trigger public debate about who should control the city's valuable edge
The Golden State Warriors' announcement that its planned 18,000-seat basketball arena would be moved off the San Francisco waterfront was fresh in everyone's mind when former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos visited the Bay Guardian office on April 23, and he was electrified by the win.
"I resent anyone suggesting that this is not a genuine people-powered victory — again," Agnos said. "Because that's what it was, bottom line."
The former mayor has traveled up and down the city in recent months promoting Proposition B, an initiative on the June 3 ballot that may well have cleared the Warriors Arena from its proposed waterfront perch at Piers 30-32 had the team not announced that it would be taking that step independently.
If it passes, Prop. B will require voter approval for any development project along city-owned waterfront property that exceeds height limits set by the Waterfront Land Use Plan approved in 1997. Such a rule would have squarely targeted the Warriors' proposal.
The sports arena had been slated for a 13-acre parcel a stone's throw from the Bay Bridge that is now a parking lot, where it would have hovered above the water like a floating spacecraft. Across the street, at a site known as Seawall Lot 330, the Warriors had proposed installing shops, parking, a condo tower, and a hotel.
Agnos and the backers of Prop. B hadn't anticipated the Warriors' announcement that its waterfront venue would be moved to private property, a 12-acre lot in Mission Bay purchased from tech giant Salesforce.com.
"We thought, because people at the top of this city's government told us so, they would prevail," Agnos said of Mayor Ed Lee and others championing the waterfront arena. "They didn't."
Agnos and his allies say it was the prospect of voters having to sign off on a proposal that was hatched behind closed doors that caused the Warriors to choose a more appropriate location.
"We helped them go to a different place where we now support what they're doing — because it makes more sense for this city, and for our bay, as well as our waterfront. That's what the issue is," Agnos told us. "The spin doctors had their ass handed to 'em ... had their ass handed to 'em, by a low-income group of allies, over their $20,000–$30,000, gold-plated contracts per month. And so now, they understand."
They understand that the waterfront of San Francisco is a battleground and the people are willing to fight to ensure the public interest trumps private profits.
A rendering of proposed development at Pier 70, envisioning tech offices and housing.
A historic map hanging in a corridor at the Port of San Francisco building, in a rehabbed terminal at Pier 1 along The Embarcadero, traces the original curve of a coastline that once separated the city from San Francisco Bay.
The existing waterfront juts out considerably from where its natural edge once fell, and today's urban landscape features a mix of entire neighborhoods, tall buildings, parks, restaurants, merchant corridors, and transport terminals, all perched atop fill covered by layers of concrete.
Its shipping days long gone, much of San Francisco's human-constructed waterfront now serves as a draw for visitors, the iconic subject of countless tourist photographs. But at other locations along the shoreline, vacant waterfront parcels are hotly contested land-use battlefronts.
"We're clearly in a period of significant controversy," the Port's Special Project Manager Brad Benson told us. The Warriors Arena, Benson said, had been an opportunity for the Port to rehabilitate and generate revenue from Piers 30-32, which originated as two finger piers constructed in 1912, joined by a concrete slab in the 1950s.
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