Keep the Waterfront Open
Is the new yacht harbor part of something bigger?
Yes. It is part of a redevelopment project spanning the waterfront between the St. Francis Yacht Club and Fort Mason. Rec and Parks calls it the “Marina Improvement and Remediation Project.” In addition to the new yacht harbor, the redevelopment includes removing toxic chemicals from Gashouse Cove and repurposing part of that area.
Why is a public utility involved and why is it funding the project?
The public utility company, PG&E, is involved because it is responsible for the toxic chemicals in Gashouse Cove. It is funding the project because it made an agreement with the City to pay for virtually the entire project in exchange for being allowed to remove less of the toxic chemicals than it would otherwise have to remove. Removing toxic chemicals is very expensive, so in this arrangement the public utility company actually saves money by giving money to the City.
How much money is involved?
The not-to-exceed amount is $190M. The City puts up no money at first. The public utility company funds the entire $190M construction costs and then, beginning three years after the harbors are up and running, is repaid a small amount. Repayment is in the form of a zero-interest loan that has a net present value of $10M. At the end of the day, the public utility company pays $180M and the City pays $10M.
Although the public utility company pays $180M, it’s cost for removing the toxic chemicals is $110M. This means that the City receives $70M from the utility. In exchange, the City is allowing the public utility company to remove a relatively modest amount of the toxic chemicals, 15% of the total. If the public utility company were required to remove more chemicals it would cost the utility more money.
If the public utility company were required to remove 42% of the toxic chemicals, the amount associated with the popular rebuild alternative, it would cost the utility $230M. In this alternative, the public utility company would be paying more than $180M and the City would not be receiving $70M.
If the public utility company were required to remove 100% of the toxic chemicals, the amount advocated by environmentalists, it would cost the utility $420M.
These are substantial amounts and money appears to be the primary motivator for the decisions that have been made.
What is a boat swap and why is it being done?
‘Boat swap’ is the term Rec and Park uses to describe removing 170 slips from Gashouse Cove and building new breakwaters and installing 235 slips in front of the Marina Green. The removal of slips from Gashouse Cove is necessitated by the decision to remove only 15% of the toxic chemicals. Otherwise, the chemicals would have had to be dredged to allow the 170 slips to remain viable.
The reason for replacing the lost slips and adding a few more is, once again, money. The public utility company is generously funding the capital project, but Rec and Park needs revenue for ongoing operations and maintenance and to fund its many other endeavors. Boat slips are income. Considering both the St. Francis Yacht Club harbor and Gashouse Cove harbor together, the loss of 170 slips would result in almost 25% reduction in revenue. The addition of 65 slips would result in almost 10% increase in revenue. This reinforces the idea that money is the primary motivator.
Are these boats or yachts?
Design details are tightly held so there is no data to answer conclusively, but there is a concern within the community that yachts are being favored and small boats are being squeezed out. The area’s wealth translates to strong demand for facilities that can host larger vessels and there is more profit catering to them. There is nothing wrong with yachts, but San Francisco has a long tradition of use by small crafts and Gashouse Cove has mostly smaller slips. The fear is that San Francisco will become more of a playground for the mega rich and the boating community will become less diverse.
What does it mean that San Francisco’s City government has endorsed the project?
There is a signed agreement between the public utility company and the City that spells out the financial arrangement, the 170 slips lost in Gashouse, the 235 slips added to a new yacht harbor in front of the Marina Green, etc. There is a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor that authorizes the agreement. There is a stipulation entered into federal court dismissing, with prejudice, the lawsuit between the City and the public utility company that led to the agreement. There is a multi-million-dollar contract with an engineering firm as well as other contracts with design companies and public relations firms. This is not something that the City is thinking about, it is something the City has decided it will do. The project was developed behind closed doors down at City Hall for five years before the “Marina Improvement and Remediation Project” was revealed to the public.
If it’s bad, why is the City government doing it?
Two reasons: Politicians have careers and their calculations seldom include the long-term welfare of the municipalities they govern. And money is always important. They see the City getting the derelict Gashouse Cove fixed and new income from the net increase in boat slips without any budget allocations for ten years and then very modest amounts. These factors blind public officials to the impact on its citizens and to the long-term degradation of San Francisco.
What is Mayor Breed’s role in this?
The plan was hatched in Rec and Park, a department that reports to the Mayor. It is inconceivable that London Breed was not aware of the project and did not approve it. She signed the resolution authorizing the agreement between the public utility company and the City. The Mayor nominally works for the people and she has the power to terminate the plan to build a new yacht harbor. Ultimately, London Breed is answerable to the voters and she’s up for reelection in 2024.
Isn’t Rec and Park asking for public input on the plan?
Yes, but it is disingenuous. Rec and Park is selling the project to the public, they are not listening to what they don’t want to hear. The plan is Rec and Park’s brainchild, they don’t want to be told they shouldn’t do it. Rec and Park’s listening is a way to gather select inputs so they can say ‘the people want’ and then do what Rec and Park wants.
Will the regulators halt the project?
No. People think regulators have more power than they have, or than they will exercise. The regulators are pushing the issue back to the City saying it’s a land use change.
Why aren’t politicians and other public officials speaking out about this?
Over a period of years, the power structure within and behind San Francisco City government has bought into the plan. It is understood that it will happen so no person who wishes to continue to have a career in government is willing to risk that, regardless of what their true feelings might be. The City has many important problems at this time. The open window to the Bay in front of the Marina Green is not very important to these people and upsetting plans and taking a budget hit at this time is not something they are willing to do.
What can be done about it?
Exercise your voice. It’s the only hope. Follow us, answer our calls to action if you possibly can.