Pier 64 to Become Open Space
By Mike Stillman
When the Port of San Francisco closed down Pier 64 last month to make way for construction of Bay Front Park they evicted a small community of artists, boat builders, and fishermen who’d been using the pier for more than 30 years. While Mission Bay residents will soon have a new parcel of open space, the City has lost one of its last public boat yards.
The pier’s closure highlights an ongoing debate over the future of San Francisco’s southeastern waterfront. The Port of San Francisco has worked with developers to clean up the shoreline and increase public access. But some residents feel that the new rows of condominiums and well manicured parks along the water don’t preserve the area’s maritime feel.
Pier 64 will be demolished and replaced with Bay Front Park, six acres of open space that will stretch along the waterfront from Agua Vista Park to Mission Bay Boulevard. Using funds secured from the Proposition A Neighborhood Parks bond passed in 2008, the Port will remove the pier, the structures on it, and a series of pilings and pieces of broken docks and walkways that stand in the water between Pier 64 and Agua Vista Park. Then, the Mission Bay Development Group, the firm responsible for the public redevelopment aspects of Mission Bay, will re-route Terry Francois Boulevard, fill the shoreline with boulders commonly referred to as rip-rap, and construct a large grass field and multi-use walkway along the water.
Former Pier 64 tenant Jeff Brown wasn’t surprised to be evicted. Up until roughly a decade ago, the four buildings on the pier, constructed from driftwood and other recycled materials, fit in perfectly with their surroundings. Back then, San Francisco’s southeast waterfront, from Mission Creek to Mariposa Street, was full of warehouses, train tracks, and small boat yards. Today the area bears little resemblance to its industrial past. Mission Bay redevelopment is well underway. The area surrounding Pier 64 is home to luxury condominiums, the University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay campus, and office buildings.
While Brown supports opening the waterfront for public use, he foresees a number of problems with the Mission Bay Development Group’s plan for the area. “The rats are gonna love it, it’s great rat habitat,” said Brown, referring to the boulders which are going to be placed along the shoreline. “It’s going to be hard on the crabs, because rats eat crabs. It’s just tough on the food chain when the rat population gets out of control.” Brown, who is 51 years old, has been operating a landscaping business from a building on the pier for the past 18 years. He’s also been living there, in violation of Port rules, with his wife Christina, 37, and son Jackson, 16.
Through a double door in their small home’s living room the family had an expansive bay view. Living a few feet from the water’s edge had its share of drawbacks. Brown and his family cooked all their meals on a propane stove, heated their home with a wood stove, and used a compost toilet. But for the most part they enjoyed the rugged lifestyle. According to Brown, when herons spawned on the nearby pilings, it looked like the whole area was covered in a frost, the eggs glistened like a light snow in the morning sun.
Brown suspects that most of the birds will vacate the area once Bay Front Park is completed. “It will be hard on the birds.... You’ll see seagulls along there, but you won’t see the blue herons and the egrets and night herons. There are a lot of birds out here right now because people can’t get that close.”
Corinne Woods of the Neighborhood Parks Council doesn’t share Brown’s concerns about Bay Front Park’s environmental impacts. “Its going to be a tremendous park,” said Woods. And she shrugged off the potential rat problem. “You’ve got waterfront, you’ve got rats.” According to Woods the boulders will be installed along the shoreline to prevent erosion, with the main cause of rat over-population people who visit the waterfront and leave their food waste behind. Bay Front Park will “allow the public to actually enjoy views and access to the water, all of that area today is completely fenced off and isn’t accessible,” said David Beaupre, Senior Waterfront Planner for the Port of San Francisco. Both Beaupre and Woods stressed the importance of increasing public access to the waterfront.
While acknowledging that it’s important to clean up the waterfront and open it to the public, Brown said the current designs for Bay Front Park don’t utilize its unique location. “It’s going to be kind of a generic park,” he said. “Sure you can put your feet in the water and you can look at the bay, but its not going to be a really bay activity-oriented habitat.”
As one of the last public boat yards in San Francisco, Pier 64 provided inexpensive bay front property that was rented out and used for a variety of maritime activities. “The people who have been down here have really connected with the bay,” Brown said. “This place has definitely attracted a creative bunch of people, with their own dreams and passions and the courage to pursue their vision. Unfortunately, with this new park I think they’re going to go for something that’s a little more cookie cutter. You’ll have vistas and all that, but is it really going to connect with the bay?
Ed Bingham, who has been leasing Pier 64 from the Port since 1978, said he believes keeping the area centered around maritime activities would be the best use for the site. He had a small boat hoist that he wanted to install at the pier, but was never certain about how long he’d be allowed to stay, so he sold it. Instead of placing boulders along the shoreline, Bingham wants to see natural wetlands developed. Bingham and Brown both complained about being left out of the planning process for Bay Front Park. “It’s pretty hard to get your voice heard at development meetings,” said Brown.
The initial plans for Bay Front Park were drafted more than 10 years ago. Since then, the Mission Bay Development Group and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency have held a series of public meetings to discuss waterfront planning. According to Beaupre, “The design and plans for this space were not at all done in a vacuum. There has been a long and extensive community outreach process related to the design of the shoreline and the park.” Beaupre pointed out that the public meetings were well attended, with some drawing in excess of 100 participants.
Despite these efforts, some local residents are unhappy with the types of developments that are being built along the southeast waterfront. “Our Dogpatch Neighborhood Association feels strongly that there is a lack of community gathering places and little historic or maritime historic continuity in Mission Bay South,” said Janet Carpinelli, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) president. While Pier 64’s fate has been determined, DNA is trying to save a different remnant of the area’s maritime past: the Bluepeter building, located near the southern edge of Bay Front Park at 555 Illinois Street. “Mission Bay is a rather cold, unimaginative development project. We need to ensure that some of what is left of the maritime and funky flavor of the site remains,” Carpinelli said.
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