Editorial: S.F. economy wins one, loses one

Page five of Wednesday’s Examiner consisted of several wildly contrasting business news stories. On one hand, The City’s economy is about to suffer an approximately $20 million loss next year as one-fourth of the Port of San Francisco’s cruise ship port of calls are being eliminated by Princess Cruises, the port’s biggest client, and Celebrity Cruises.

Simultaneously, a developer suddenly canceled plans to build a $360 million state-of-the-art cruise ship terminal and mixed-use, office-retail project at piers 30-32. The developer backed out due to ballooning costs for retrofitting the rotting piers, which had risen to $80 million.

Yet to some extent, the port’s bad news was counteracted by the happier revelation that the hard-fought, two-year strike against 13 major San Francisco hotels has apparently been settled by a contract offer being described as a “win-win” by both sides. Workers don’t vote until Sept. 22, but acceptance of the agreement seems assured.

Following a 4,000-employee union strike and an employer lockout in the autumn of 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom pushed through a 60-day cooling-off period that hung on through 2005-06, even though little serious bargaining was done and Unite Here Local 2 mounted a hotel boycott that effectively resulted in some event cancellations.

Last month the workers voted to authorize another strike. This led to two weeks of marathon bargaining that produced a new contract supporting entry-level jobs with good pay and benefits. The City wins too, with its largest industry virtually guaranteed three years of peace without threat of disruptive pickets banging pots and chasing away guests.

However, now that the 13-hotel dispute has been resolved at last, union negotiations for 5,000 employees will begin with another 18 major hotels plus smaller lodging units. Local 2 will try to use the pending contract as a model, and hopefully this next round of bargaining will not drag out or create as much ill-will as the previous dispute. After all, San Francisco’s hotel industry is prospering again and it is in everybody’s best interests to make tourists feel fully welcome.

As for cancellation of the pier 30-32 cruise ship terminal, perhaps the ambitious restaurant-office project was too elaborate for today’s somewhat overbuilt commercial realty market. Port officials are going back to the drawing board with more focused projects that might have a better chance for success.

One intriguing possibility already being floated is constructing a large-scale events center at the piers. Certainly a contemporary facility that could host indoor sports events, entertainment, conventions and fairs would be a welcome addition to our city life.