Feds, city haggle over cost of isle

How much The City will pay for Treasure Island has left plans to develop the former Navy base adrift.

For the island in the Bay to transform from federally owned land to a new environmentally friendly community, the land, which was last used by the U.S. Navy in 1997, must be deeded to The City.

However, the Navy is driving a hard bargain in these recessionary times. The debate over the man-made island is whether the land should be handed over to The City for free or if San Francisco should pay hundreds of millions of dollars up front to the government.

After more than a decade of planning, The City says it is ready to begin building one of the “greenest developments in the world” on the land, with new stores, office space, a hotel, a ferry terminal and at least 6,000 new homes.

But when the idea of a no-cost handoff was opposed by the Bush administration, The City decided to wait until President Barack Obama took office, hoping for a change in the tide.

That has not happened.

“We thought we had big problems with the Bush Administration and the Navy because we couldn’t get a zero cost or no cost transfer of the property,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner. “We thought that would change with the new administration, so we kind of delayed the last six months of the old administration until we got a new secretary of the Navy.”

The new administration does not support handing over for free Treasure Island or any of the other dozens of shuttered military bases around the nation, according to a recent letter from Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and the environment.

San Francisco officials, however, are confident there will be a deal before the end of the year.

“The Navy has committed to meeting that timeframe,” said Jack Sylvan, director of joint development for The City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Even if legislation in the 2010 national defense spending that would mandate giving away former military bases falls short, the Obama administration is committed to selling Treasure Island to The City at a cost both parties can agree upon, Sylvan said.

The Navy has wanted to sell the nearly one-square-mile island for hundreds of millions of dollars more than what The City says it is worth, Newsom said.

Newsom argues that while Treasure Island is certainly worth money, it lacks market value until “The City contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure.”

The Mayor’s Office pitched a compromise, suggesting a “back-end deal” that would allow The City to take the land for free or at minimal cost, and then pay the Navy back with money earned from the sale of properties after the development is finished. 

Newsom is not holding his breath on that compromise. “They seem fixated on wanting up-front money,” he said.

The Navy told The Examiner that it was in negotiations with San Francisco regarding a deal structure for handing over the land and could not comment further.


Plan has ex-president’s backing

Former President Bill Clinton says he’s going to make certain Treasure Island becomes one of the world’s most environmentally friendly communities.

In May, the influential Clinton Foundation selected the island as one of 16 world locations where it will use its financial expertise and knowledge of U.S. Green Building Council standards to help The City turn the land into a beacon for environmentally friendly development.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a friend of Clinton’s, said the partnership was “another reason” the former president has endorsed the mayor’s bid for governor of California.

Green building has certainly been the direction for Treasure Island. Its proposed 6,000 homes, three hotels, marina, stores and restaurants will be clustered around a ferry terminal, webbed together in a way that will make walking, biking and public transit the easiest way to get around.

That setup will free up space for nearly 300 acres of parks and open space, planners said.

The mayor has also used Clinton’s policies as a former president for why the Navy should hand over Treasure Island to The City for free.

“You’ll read in Bill Clinton’s book what he wrote in 1992, one of his policies was to do this with all the old defense bases,” Newsom said. “It actually has a real sort of forensic history that this is what was supposed to be done. There’s a principle there that’s been advanced for decades.”


T.I. timeline

  • Treasure Island built from fill dredged from bottom of Bay in 1936-37. It was built to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.
  • In 1941, island leased to Department of the Navy.
  • In 1941, the Navy gained title to island.
  • After exposition, island was scheduled to become an airport until the Navy took over the land in exchange for property near Millbrae.
  • Starting in late 1980s, island’s old aircraft hangars used as sound stages for film and television production
  • In 1993, Congress decided to close Naval Station Treasure Island.
  • In September 1997, the Navy ceased operations on the island and began the process of turning it over to The City. Part of the island was transferred to the Department of Labor for a job corps center, and a portion of Yerba Buena Island was transferred to the Coast Guard for continued operations.
  • In early 2000, the Treasure Island Development Authority initiated a Master Developer selection process, culminating in the selection of Treasure Island Community Development LLC.
  • Final environmental impact report published June 1, 2006, for the transfer and reuse of the naval station.
  • In late 2006, a plan to redevelop the island was approved by the Board of Supervisors — which included 6,000 residential units, three hotels, a marina, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues — plus nearly 300 acres of parks and open space.
  • In 2008, negotiations fail between The City and the Bush administration aimed at setting a purchase price.
  • On Sept. 22, it was reported that President Barack Obama doesn’t support a proposal that would release Treasure Island or other defunct military sites to municipalities for free.
  • Infrastructure work on development is expected to begin in 2011.
  • By 2013, first homes on island scheduled to be ready for new dwellers.

Sources: U.S. Navy, City and County of San Francisco


Plans for the development of Treasure Island have been made public


  • 1,320 Units in four skyscrapers on Treasure Island*
  • 1,740 Units in 14 residential towers on Treasure Island*
  • 2,520 Apartments in four-story buildings on Treasure and Yerba Buena islands*
  • 500 Timeshare, hotel and wellness spa rooms on Treasure Island
  • 600 Townhouses on Treasure and Yerba Buena islands*


  • 135,000 Square feet of institutional space, including a school, police and fire departments and a sailing center
  • 270,000 Square feet of stores, including restaurants and entertainment venues
  • 325,000 Square feet of commercial space, including a ferry terminal, museum and parking

* Minimum

Source: San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development

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