Mission Bay Alliance Takes its Case to SF Board of Supervisors

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Last fall, the Golden State Warriors made considerable progress toward securing approval for an arena to be located at Third, 16th, and South streets and Terry Francois Boulevard. The advancements came despite continuing opposition from the Mission Bay Alliance, a group of current and former University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) faculty and donors.

“This is just one step in a long journey. We will appeal this to the Board of Supervisors,” said Alex Doniach, Alliance spokesperson, after the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure’s (OCII) board unanimously certified the Warriors’ final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on November 3.

In a mid-November filing appealing EIR certification, Alliance attorneys asserted that OCII’s approval was granted despite the project’s negative impacts, including emissions, traffic gridlock during the arena’s proposed 225 annual events, and a “flawed” $60 million transportation plan.  “We are appealing a city committee’s rubber-stamp approval of a disastrous project that will gridlock city streets, pollute Mission Bay neighborhoods, cost the taxpayers millions and threaten live-saving emergency care,” said Bruce Spaulding, an Alliance consultant. “We are asking the Board of Supervisors to give this massive project the scrutiny that residents deserve. We’re confident that once supervisors review this project with objectivity, they will realize the proposed arena in Mission Bay is the wrong decision for San Francisco.”

After OCII’s action, plans for the proposed arena came before a number of other municipal agencies. These included the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee, and the San Francisco Public Utilities, Port and Entertainment commissions. The  full Board of Supervisors will consider the proposed project on December 8.

The Warriors’ quest for a San Francisco arena gained momentum since the team announced on October 12 that it’d purchased the 12-acre Mission Bay site, which it’d previously held an option to buy. The development has been endorsed by the Mission Bay Community Advisory Committee (CAC), a group of Mission Bay residents who make long-term planning recommendations for the neighborhood; UCSF; 13 large biotech companies; and the California Life Sciences Association, which advocates on behalf of biotech companies. In early November, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) and the San Francisco Planning Commission approved elements of the project under their respective jurisdictions. 

Adam Van De Water, project manager for the arena, with the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said that after the Board of Supervisors approves the development the Warriors can file for building permits. However, legal action by the Alliance could create further delays. “The majority of the stakeholders are now officially and positively supporting the Warriors arena,” De Water said. 

At the November OCII hearing, Tom Lippe and Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorneys for the Alliance, each used their two minutes during the public comment period to note numerous concerns. Lippe contested the arena’s classification as a “secondary use” under the Mission Bay South Redevelopment Plan, stating that it doesn’t comport to a use that generally conforms to redevelopment objectives, planning, and design controls established pursuant to a redevelopment plan. OCII is the successor entity to the dissolved San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Lippe said the arena requires a variance.

Lippe also asserted that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District hadn’t contributed to the final EIR, a “trigger” that warranted recirculating the document as a draft.

“The EIR declined to study in any way the land use part of this plan,” Brandt-Hawley said. “The arena is being claimed as a recreational building, but this is where games are being watched, not played. A public use is being claimed, but this is not a public building. A sports arena was never considered in the original environmental study for Mission Bay. They (OCII) are supposed to study any inconsistency with what was planned. They need to amend the plan.”

Later in November, the Alliance issued a press release claiming that data developed by the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Legislative Analyst indicated that the arena would cost taxpayers at least $29 million in unfunded transportation improvements, and cause the City to incur $10.1 million in annual operating expenses, while producing only $1.5 million in net revenues.

Jim Morales, OCII’s general counsel and deputy director, wasn’t persuaded by the Alliance’s arguments. According to Morales, his agency exercises considerable power over the project and others like it in Mission Bay South. “This is an exercise of redevelopment authority that has survived dissolution (of the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority). OCII has been granted to exercise very broad authority. Its decisions are not bound by the state planning laws or the City’s planning code. The entire variance procedure and standards are not relevant to consideration,” said Morales.

Morales said there were no size limitations on nighttime entertainment. In addition, the definition of “recreational use” can include athletic events where people can observe games being played.

Numerous arena supporters turned out for the OCII hearing, including Mission Bay and Potrero Hill residents excited about the prospect of 3.2 acres of public space and entertainment options that the arena would create for children and families; officers of labor unions likely to be involved in arena construction, operations, and maintenance; and staff of youth organizations interested in having the children and teenagers they serve visit with and learn from the team.

“The Warriors have given us support when other folks wouldn’t come through,” said Sharon Johnson, manager of youth programs at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House. “It’s exciting to me to know that this is a possibility and hopefully it will be a reality. I would love to be able to take our students to (a game) for the first time right in their (backyard).”

“The privately built AT&T Park is one of the economic engines driving San Francisco,” said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “A privately built arena in Mission Bay will do the same.”

While supportive of the arena, Corrine Woods, chair of the Mission Bay CAC, cautioned that more work needs to be done to safeguard community interests. “There are some inconsistencies between the points of the EIR and the proposal,” she said. “OCII has taken a very light-handed approach to Mission Bay over the years. We need OCII to take a much more aggressive approach to the delegation process so we can survive this.”

“We’ve got an incredibly diverse array of community members coming out in support of the arena,” said Pat Valentino, South Beach Mission Bay Merchants’ Association president.  “The opposition is not the community but high-paid consultants who show up…and give you binders full of garbage to throw mud against the wall.”

“Chancellor Sam Hawgood has put a lot of attention and time into this effort, almost a year,” said Barbara French, vice chancellor of university relations at UCSF. “We’re the second largest employer in the City. We need to have a seat at the table.”

According to French, UCSF believes that the City has acted responsibly in having SFMTA work to increase the availability of public transit, expand bicycle and pedestrian paths, and create a plan to divert event-goers away from the hospital.   “We’ve seen some really concentrated efforts on the City’s part so that we can get patients and our workers to the hospital. That was a lot of work and we’re really pleased,” said French.