Feds, Cup must stop tug of war over Alcatraz

Oops. Apparently it had not occurred to the city and county of San Francisco that the National Park Service might not be enthusiastic about turning over control of Alcatraz Island to the America’s Cup yacht race organizers during peak tourist seasons.

The bureaucratic tug of war began during the summer, when the America’s Cup organization released a draft environmental impact report proudly announcing that Alcatraz would be closed to the public and reserved for bigwig luxury viewing of the yacht racing Super Bowl during some 50 days in 2012 and 2013.

Alcatraz obviously offers some of the best views of the prestigious multimillion-dollar boat competition. The legendary prison site sits almost directly in the middle of the race course and has sweeping 360-degree views of San Francisco Bay. However, it already receives 1.4 million visitors a year and is at full capacity during the summer tourist season.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes much of the race course shoreline, is a federal reserve controlled by the National Park Service. As might be imagined, the feds are anything but enthusiastic about adding hordes of yachting spectators around the Bay — as many as 500,000 are expected for peak race days, with 80,000 at newly restored Crissy Field.

Federal authorities moved quickly to shatter San Francisco’s fond dreams. The park service pointed out that it had never participated in any detailed discussions about a temporary turnover of Alcatraz to The City. They were even less pleased that The City’s EIR also claimed the America’s Cup would have Alcatraz-like privileges for Fort Baker at the foot of Golden Gate Bridge.

The park service bluntly informed San Francisco, “All lands and facilities in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Alcatraz and Fort Baker, will remain open to the public throughout the entire period of the races.” America’s Cup spectators would have to follow the same highly restrictive rules as any other visitors to Alcatraz. The park service also wanted to know how The City would avoid interfering with “ferry traffic to and from Alcatraz [that] currently runs every 30 minutes” across the primary race area.

The City responded to these ultimatums with as much dignity as it could muster. America’s Cup Project Manager Michael Martin called the episode a misunderstanding based on poorly written passages in the EIR. Early inquiries about setting up private viewing areas had been dropped, according to Martin, when park officials made it clear that Alcatraz forbids any kind of seating, has no food vendors and only one limited picnicking area.

Now that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area pecking order has been established, what needs to happen is for the park service and The City to negotiate a sensible agreement enabling the America’s Cup to proceed and have fair (but not unreasonable) usage of the Bay.

The yacht racing series is expected to create 8,000 jobs and inject more than $1.4 billion into the Bay Area economy. This local bonanza must not be blocked, especially in struggling economic times such as these. The Bay Area congressional delegation is not exactly without clout, and it needs to get involved to make sure the America’s Cup goes ahead without arbitrary federal interference that blocks a fair deal.

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