Giants Batting Against Continuing Opposition to Development

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The San Francisco Giants, Anchor Brewing Company, and Port of San Francisco are progressing with plans for their Mission Rock development in the wake of last year’s passage of Proposition D by 74 percent of voters.   “We’re obviously delighted with the final numbers of the election,” said Fran Weld, vice president of strategy and development for the Giants.

The Sierra Club’s San Francisco chapter and Livable City, however, remain concerned about a variety of environmental, transportation, and financial details related to the development, including allowing 240 feet heights, or 23 stories, for the project’s towers.  The nonprofit organizations want to work with the Giants to address these issues. According to the Giants, conversations are ongoing.  “Maybe at that point when it’s time to get the Environmental Impact Report, we’ll be able to get some concessions,” said Susan Vaughan, chair of the City chapter of the Sierra Club.

Two other groups have expressed opposition to the development: San Francisco Tomorrow, an environmental and planning-oriented organization, and the campaign for “No Wall on the Waterfront,” a group originally formed to defeat Proposition B, a 2013 initiative which would’ve allowed development at 8 Washington Street.   

According to Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, the organizations are concerned about potential obstruction of waterfront views, the long shadows that tall buildings would cast on the neighborhood and Bay, and use of Jobs-Housing Linkage funds to build affordable housing.  The nonprofits believe that the proposed ten-story, 2,300 space parking garage, to be situated a block south of AT&T Park and McCovey Cove, would lead to traffic congestion in Mission Bay and air quality degradation. The advocacy groups are also displeased that the team wants to retain Mission Rock’s parking taxes to pay for transportation improvements.

“A lot of those felt like they didn’t need to be on the ballot and should have been part of the planning process. The developers were trying to get cute with the ballot and slip things in they knew wouldn’t get looked at,” said Radulovich.  “Is this a smart use of waterfront land? A ten-story parking structure? Mission Bay has six thousand parking spaces. Parking isn’t necessary.”

According to Vaughan, the Giants’ proposal to use Jobs-Housing Linkage funds to build affordable housing sets a bad precedent.  “Every developer that comes along will now want to use that fund,” said Vaughan. Jobs-Housing Linkage funds come from monies developers pay to build nonresidential structures.  Proposition D authorized the team to use these revenues to build affordable housing in Mission Rock. Vaughan said the Giants should pay the funds to the City and finance construction itself.

“All of these things will need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. We’ll be watching the project closely,” said Radulovich.  Neither organization is planning legal action against the development.

“We’re working together with the City, the Warriors, and the Port on making sure the transportation concerns are addressed,” said Weld. “From a sustainability and environmental perspective, we are hard at work at making Mission Rock the best it can be.”

According to Phil Williamson, senior project manager for the Port of San Francisco, the Port expects the plan for Mission Rock to go through more changes.  “I think in many ways the project will improve in what it will provide to the community and the Port. The Port is fully engaged with the project team and the City,” said Williamson.   “We are looking to have the draft EIR done…” late this year. “Then it will take several more months to get to the final EIR.”

Paul Kibel, an attorney with Berkeley-based law firm Water and Power Law Group P.C. and a Golden Gate University School of Law professor, said a number of the City chapter of the Sierra Club and Livable City’s concerns relate to the public trust doctrine. This doctrine directs the state to safeguard the people’s heritage in navigable waters for common uses, which have traditionally included water-related commerce, navigation, and fisheries.  The two big questions regarding Mission Rock are whether the land on which the development would be built is tidal and submerged land, or “public trust land;” and whether the purposes that the Giants have proposed are consistent with public trust uses.

“If I was the Giants’ lawyer, I’d argue at least part of this project is consistent with public trust uses so the project doesn’t run afoul of it. If I was opposed, I’d say that was window dressing. The lion’s share of the project is residential housing and commercial space,” said Kibel.

According to Kibel, if the Giants faced a lawsuit the team could argue that the statute of limitations had passed and that opponents didn’t make their arguments in a timely manner. Kibel said issues such as light obstruction and casting of shadows aren’t grounds for a public trust doctrine lawsuit. These concerns could form the basis for a suit under the California Environmental and Quality Act (CEQA).  “You have to do the CEQA analysis before you approve the project. Such issues wouldn’t be ripe for challenge before that,” he said.

Keith Greggor, president and chief executive officer of Anchor Steam Brewers and Distillers, said his company was “thrilled by the level of support” for Mission Rock and is looking forward to expanding its capacity to provide public tours.  “The next step is the EIR. We’re participating in that alongside the Giants. We’re not doing a separate report,” said Greggor.  “We’re restricted in Potrero Hill. We can only get 60 people a day here. There are some places where people can’t even walk. It’s too dangerous. If we’re designing a new space from scratch, we can make it much more accessible. There will be overhead walkways and more space. We could give continuous tours throughout the day.”

Greggor said Anchor is planning to create a restaurant, museum, and educational center related to brewing in Mission Rock, which ultimately could spell the end of the yeasty smell that periodically emanates from the Hill facility. “One of our dreams is to be a center of excellence in the world,” he said. “We wouldn’t move a lot of administration over to the pier. We’d keep sales and marketing in Potrero Hill. Most people don’t know that we do a lot of spirits. We’ve been producing them in Potrero Hill since 1992. We make the spirits inside the brewery. You need way less space to make spirits than beer. In the beer business, you can’t just build a big brewery all at once. You have to build as you go. We see it as more like an incremental, five-year process.”

Gradual construction on Mission Rock would allow Anchor to keep brewing on the Hill until the new facilities are constructed. At that point, Anchor would produce spirits and specialty beer on the Hill, with its main brewery at Mission Rock.   

Legal changes that took effect last month “…enable us to have people visit the distillery and sample the spirits. People will also be able to buy up to three bottles of a spirit at a distillery. They could buy zero before,” said Greggor.