New Mission Bay Advocacy Group Calls for Timeout on Warriors Arena

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In late April, the Mission Bay Alliance emerged to oppose plans to develop a Mission Bay arena to house the Golden State Warriors.  The Alliance said it wants to preserve the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) ability to use the proposed arena site to expand the university’s substantial array of research laboratories and medical facilities. 

Alex Doniach, Alliance spokesperson and senior account executive with Singer Associates, Inc., said the group will retain  California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) attorney “who will definitely be scrutinizing” the Warriors’ draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).  That document is scheduled to be published this month, with a public hearing on it at the end of June.

The Alliance recently filed a Public Records Act request demanding that the City turn over all correspondence regarding Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to tear down the end of Interstate 280 and add a rail station that would serve the proposed arena.     

According to Doniach, the Alliance has three board members, all of whom have close ties to UC.  They’re Dr. William Rutter, a Chiron cofounder, former chair of UCSF’s department of biochemistry and biophysics, and former director of UCSF’s Hormone Research Institute; Richard Snyder, a retired UC Hastings law professor; and Dr. Samuel Barondes, former chair of psychiatry at UCSF, former director of UCSF’s Langley Porter Institute, and current director of UCSF’s Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry. 

Doniach said political consultant Jack Davis, who supported the Alliance’s arena opposition at a special Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting in April, isn’t a member of the group.  According to Doniach, Davis had personal reasons for speaking out, and wasn’t compensated by the Alliance for appearing at the gathering.  Doniach said that former San Francisco Mayor, land use fixer, and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Willie Brown “was a strong supporter, is not now a financial supporter, but is definitely an ally” to the Alliance. 

According to Doniach, Bruce Spaulding, former UCSF senior vice chancellor, is providing consulting services to the Alliance.  

Doniach said the Alliance wants to work with environmental, bicycle, pedestrian, neighborhood, and other local nonprofit organizations to address parking and transportation concerns.  “The Mission Bay Alliance is made up of UCSF stakeholders: donors, faculty, workers, and physicians, who are concerned about the future of the institution,” said Doniach. “They believe in the future of UCSF and want to protect its mission. This is significant to those who spent decades securing this space. They [want] more UCSF research facilities on that site. The City has invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in the area. This is really the preeminent health care center in the area, if not the state. UCSF is one of the largest employers in the City. The Alliance doesn’t want a sports arena to undercut its vision.”  

Doniach said the Alliance is also concerned that the proposed arena will “make it impossible for those who visit the campus each day for work to reach” it.  “Visitors and staff will be forced to compete for parking spaces on a daily basis,” she said. “You can’t put 18,000 fans in several hundred parking spaces.” 

Although arena development plans have been in the works for more than a year, Doniach said the Alliance announced itself in late April because of impending DEIR publication. “Now is the time when the Alliance felt like it needed to speak up,” she said. 

Barbara French, UCSF’s vice chancellor of university relations, denied any formal association with the Alliance. “We are not affiliated with any other organization or group on this issue,” she said.  According to French, UCSF’s interests are driven by its commitment to patient care and public safety. “Patients, patient visitors and our patient care workers – as well as emergency vehicles – must have 24/7 access to our Mission Bay hospitals…which opened in February, are already full and operating smoothly with patients, visitors and employees reporting easy access and parking.” 

French said that it’s critical that access to UCSF’s facilities be maintained. She added that the university has been examining the proposed arena’s potential traffic and parking impacts, and has been working with the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) to identify ways to mitigate traffic congestion. 

According to Adam Van de Water, CCSF project manager for Piers 30-32 and Seawall 330, the emergence of the Alliance hasn’t impacted municipal review of the proposed arena.  “We’ve been working for the community for over a year,” he said.  “They are one of many voices. We’re in the process of conducting a comprehensive environmental review. It is not changing any of our thinking at the moment.”  

In May, Governor Jerry Brown’s office certified that that the Warriors’ arena proposal met the necessary environmental benchmarks to be exempted from open-ended challenges.  As a result, the Court of Appeal in which a CEQA lawsuit would be filed would have only 290 days to reach a decision.  

PJ Johnston, Golden State Warriors spokesperson, said that the Warriors remain steadfast. “Nothing has changed. We continue to move ahead with plans and designs and work with the community,” he said. According to Johnston, it’s unusual for a new group to emerge in the middle of a planning process and “threaten to sue the project to death. That land was on the market for several years. They could have purchased it. All the specific arguments they have made have turned out to be completely phony. It became clear this is a land grab.” 

Johnston said the Alliance’s statements insult Mission Bay residents. “They have been coming out to public meetings once a month to work with and learn about the project. This group was not at those meetings.”  According to Johnston, UCSF and the Warriors can benefit from one another’s presence. “There are lots of cases where a hospital and a sports team are in close proximity to one another. A lot of positive interactions result from that relationship. The Warriors strongly believe we will be a good neighbor for UCSF and vice versa.” 

Last month, Mission Bay, Bayview, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill residents published an open letter on in which they called on the Alliance to reveal the identities of more of its members and explain its funding sources. Among those sponsoring the letter were San Francisco school board member Shamann Walton,  who also directs Young Community Developers; Bruce Agid, vice president of the District 6 Democratic Club; and Patrick Valentino, vice president of the South Beach Mission Bay Merchants Association. 

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents Mission Bay, said she was unaware of the Alliance’s interests before its April emergence.  “I was surprised, as many others were, when I read the articles,” said Kim. “My position stays the same. I am supportive of the Golden State Warriors site.”

Kim said she’s trying “to figure out what we can do to make sure that this neighborhood is workable on game night. I do think there are some legitimate concerns about traffic and congestion. We absolutely have to work through those issues.” Kim is optimistic that parties can identify solutions after the costs and proposed completion schedule for traffic improvements are determined. 

Corinne Woods, chair of the Mission Bay CAC, said she and other CAC members were surprised by the Alliance’s statements. “I don’t see the Alliance as looking for solutions,” she said.  “I serve on the UCSF Mission Bay CAG Action Team as well as the Mission Bay CAC. We spent five years going through their long-range development plan. You’d think someone would’ve mentioned it.” 

Woods said that to her knowledge, UCSF wasn’t planning to build a second phase of its hospital in the next 20 years.  “It costs a lot of money to build a hospital. Also, Mission Bay is infill. You have to pile drive down to bedrock to build a foundation,” she said. 

Woods said Mission Bay residents share the Alliance’s concerns that existing traffic and parking problems haven’t been resolved.  “I have a ballpark schedule in front of my computer. Everyone in this neighborhood does. I can’t afford to forget the dates. Traffic has been a huge issue with the ballpark for 14 years. We don’t have enough traffic control officers or cleanup. There’s all kinds of things the City should be investing in to make life bearable,” she said.

According to Woods, if the arena is built, it’s unclear how traffic congestion and parking problems will play out. “The Giants keep selling out. That’s 44,000 people. The Warriors have an arena for 18,000 fans. You add that on top of the Giants and that’s where things get very interesting,” she said. If half the expected attendees for a Warriors game come to the area “that’s 9,000 people. This neighborhood can’t handle 9,000 people.”

Woods said Mission Bay CAC members have discussed bundling game tickets and parking spaces and/or Fastpass fees.  “If we can keep the cars out of the immediate area and focus them in specific places that will help. For example, if you’re coming from the North Bay, you’d park here. If you’re coming from the South Bay, you’d park there. Mission Bay has very few ways in and out,” she said.  “Reducing the number of cars that come into the area is really essential.” 

“The Alliance wants two contradictory things,” said Tom Radulovich, a 20-year elected director of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board and executive director of nonprofit Livable City. “They complain about the traffic and that the neighborhood doesn’t have very much parking. If they actually add a lot more parking, that will generate more traffic.” 

According to Radulovich, Livable City hasn’t taken a position on the arena. “If you’re going to build arenas and hospitals, there are better and worse ways to build them,” he said. “You need to put them in areas that have good transit service. If the City gets set to do this, we should make it the best for residents here and the area around. There are fixes that lessen the burden. Mostly, enhancing transit services and bicycle access. Right now, I can get there on my bike, but if I’m there, I need a more protected bike path. A better north-south bikeway, into SoMa and then Market Street, would be good. We need to enhance pedestrian walkways. There could be a CalTrain station at 16th Street or between 16th and Mariposa streets.” 

Radulovich suggested additional improvements that the City is already considering. These include Mission Bay shuttles on game days, and service increases for Muni’s T-Third Street light rail line and 16th Street buses.  Radulovich said new development coming to Mission Bay should contribute to transportation improvements.  “For years, we were coasting on big investment in Downtown San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. There was capacity to be had there that doesn’t exist in Mission Bay. Now, the timing for the transportation improvements is in the City’s court,” he said.  “If the development got delayed, it might give the City the time it needs to catch up, if they plan well.” 

Nicole Ferrara, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian-oriented nonprofit, hasn’t heard from the Alliance, though she thinks their concerns about parking are interesting.  “We don’t have a position,” said Ferrara. “We support projects that would make the streetscape more walkable and livable. We are really interested in the opportunity to increase transit. Every trip made on transit is the middle leg of a walking trip.” 

Ferrara said Walk San Francisco wants safe streets built in Mission Bay “from the get-go. The quality of sidewalks is really important for people with disabilities. Curb ramps are all now getting retrofitted. We’re look at extended curbs, called bulb-outs, so people who move slower, such as seniors, don’t get hit,” said Ferrara.  “We need to make sure that the transit is reliable and frequent. The best thing you could do for that is build the density that supports transit.” 

According to Marta Lindsey, director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit geared toward making the City more accessible for bicyclists, her organization also hasn’t been contacted by the Alliance.  Lindsey said the Coalition’s priorities are to improve bicycle infrastructure and support growing bicycle ridership in the area.  “A 2011 San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority survey shows that Mission Bay already has higher ridership than the City as a whole, five percent in Mission Bay versus about four percent citywide, and is poised to grow even further,” she said.  “We’ve been working with the SFMTA, Port of San Francisco, the City and County of San Francisco Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, and neighborhood partners to ensure strong bicycle connections along our entire waterfront, including through Mission Bay.” 

The Coalition wants “better bike lanes both north-south and east-west that connect to and enhance our existing bike network.” Lindsey said. “Priority streets include Terry Francois, 16th/17th, Illinois, and Mariposa. We also think Mission Bay is a prime location for a robust Bike Share expansion and will be working with the City to ensure a strong rollout.”