Time out by the Bay

The city should huddle to better examine the full-court press to land a mega-entertainment complex on the waterfront


OPINION Pretend that you and your best friends are entrusted — temporarily — with responsibility to run a big city. The energy of its people, the diversity of its residential neighborhoods, and its natural beauty have made this a successful city. The centerpiece of its natural beauty is its front yard, a body of sparking water called "The Bay." You are entrusted with keeping the Bay accessible and visible to the people — all of whom own it.

One day developers come along and say that they want to build an entertainment complex on public property, right on this Bay. It will be a big, 14-story structure. It will bring in some 2 million patrons for more than 200 entertainment events each year. And, the developers go on, it will be in the middle of a residential community, mess up traffic and block physical and visual access to the Bay. Furthermore they tell you, we will need you to violate all the controls you have painfully placed on building heights and uses on the waterfront. And, by the way, they will need a subsidy of $120 million in public money.

Lastly they tell you, they will play 41 professional basketball games in the building. This will double or triple the value of their franchise — but unfortunately requires that they significantly increase the ticket price for their fans.

As a good manager you might ask what the landlord, the Port — which holds the land as a public trust — will get in return for its $120 million subsidy and for the use of public property. You are astonished to learn that, for the next many decades, the Port receives not a penny. Knowing the environmental damages, the impact on transportation in your city and being concerned about maintaining livable neighborhoods, you might then say: "Hold on — this is a bad deal. Is there not a better, less costly, less destructive, less divisive location in our city?"

You might say that — but SF's city management has not. There has been no effort whatsoever to find a more appropriate location, one less destructive to San Francisco's environmental values, that would require less than a $120 million subsidy.

And time has virtually run out to ask the basic question of whether the proposed site on Pier 30/32 is an appropriate site for this entertainment complex. The city is rushing headlong into making this deal. The Board of Supervisors does have final authority, but when it gets there, so much time and effort will have been spent that the likelihood of it being stopped is virtually zero.

You, the pretend manager, would surely call a time out. You would put together city officials and representatives of the city's neighborhoods with the developer and require that they, together, come up with a site that all could gladly support. That might be what you'd do -– but it is not what is happening in the real world of City Hall.

It's time for people like you, and others like you, to demand that the real city officials call a temporary halt to their juggernaut and provide a process that would first answer the basic question of whether Pier 30/32 is an appropriate site for this entertainment complex or whether alternative sites would not better serve the city and its Bay.

Rudy Nothenberg has held senior positions in the administrations of six San Francisco mayors.


What, Napoleon Peskin was unavailable to write this?

Change nothing anywhere ever. Freeze SF in amber at the precise moment you moved here and decided it was perfect as you saw it.

Is it impossible for the SFBG to come up with ANY new ideas? Or do we just continue on as if the answer to everything should be "no"

Posted by Greg_the_diKC on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 11:31 am

Obviously Rudy Nothenberg is Tim Redmond's go-to Nimby on this particular project. Mr. Nothenberg apparently lives in the nearby 'residential community', one that was built within the last 20 years or so. But that development was somehow different. That was the one where he got his. All other development should stop at that point.

Not really sure how an arena on the edge of the waterfront is 'in the middle of a residential community' anyway.

And as far as the wisdom of letting a modern public arena ruin the waterfront...well, I don't know..maybe we should ask Sydney how they managed to survive their Opera House?

Posted by Troll on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

as reported by the SFBG last month:

Legislative analyst Harvey Rose released his initial analysis of the project on Friday. The $120 million plus interest that the city is paying to the Warriors would be partially offset by the $30 million the team would pay for Seawall Lot 330, a one-time payment of $53.8 million (mostly in development impact fees), annual rent of nearly $2 million on its 66-year lease of Piers 30-32, and annual tax and mitigation payments to the city of between $9.8M and $19M.

I'm all for careful consideration of this project, especially in light of the America's Cup fiasco we have brewing, but can we at least have an honest discussion about the project, and not hide facts that work against your argument? I realize that this ins an opinion piece and not straight reporting, but if you are trying to pursuade your readership, hiding the ball isn't going to win you many converts, IMHO.

Posted by guestD on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

Can folks not stand back from the overripe diatribe and see the bigger picture here? This is about an ill-planned project being built too quickly on a prime public access location without really studying the environmental and financial impacts or truly exploring other sites.

Also interesting to note that the Sydney opera house took all of a decade longer to build than anticipated, ran 14 times over budget and is already looking at needing a surrounding dam due to sea level rise caused by climate disruption. Is this really what you want your city to be dealing with in the future?

Posted by THINKAboutIt! on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

I have lived in Australia in the late 90's, I knew people that lived in Sydney, still know a few, they had different opinions on the Opera House before it was built. After all the problems with the Opera House, over budget, etc. When it was done, it was great, even the most stanch critic even liked it.

The Opera House has become a Sydney and Australia Icon.

I don't see anything wrong with Bayside Arena.

Posted by Garrett on Feb. 19, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

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