The new waterfront public park at Pier 27 along The Embarcadero is simply a stunner. On a crisp fall day, you can see dogs running free in the grass, couples young and old casually relaxing on the benches, and a diverse mix of residents and visitors to our beautiful city all enjoying awesome views of sparkling San Francisco Bay.
When the adjacent new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal has a ship in port, park visitors can look up and marvel at the giant ships that bring thousands of excited visitors to see our city and spend as much of their time and money here as they can. The cruise ships also serve as clear and tangible reminders that San Francisco was, is, and will always remain at heart a port city. Our waterfront is an integral part of our city's unique character.
This almost didn't happen. Just over a decade ago, then-Mayor Willie Brown and his Port Commission instead were about to steamroll through a politically-juiced project by the Virginia-based shopping mall developer Mills Corp. for a massive shopping mall and office complex in this exact same area.
The Mills megamall would have surely been built, were it not for a grass-roots coalition of environmental groups, neighborhood and civic organizations, and small businesses along the waterfront who came together to push for an alternative plan. Thanks to the backing of thousands of San Franciscans who wrote and called their supervisors before a crucial vote at City Hall, the Mills mall plan was ultimately rejected, and Pier 27 had a chance for new life. The fabulous new Cruise Terminal and Pier 27 public park are the result.
The moral of the Pier 27 story is this: We only have one waterfront, so let's get it right. The people of San Francisco voted to put in place a comprehensive Waterfront Land Use Plan that is supposed to serve as the guiding document for how our precious waterfront land is used. But all too often, as was the case with the Mills mall, the Port Commission's development decisions have instead been driven by the desires of developers and political pressure for rule waivers and exemptions that serve a bottom line instead of the best interests of the public.
We saw this again last year with the 8 Washington St. luxury condo project, which two-thirds of voters eventually rejected at the ballot box. But now, more than a year after that vote, the Port Commission has so far failed to move on from 8 Washington. Instead, the Port has allowed the same developer to freeze plans for the site so it can ostensibly come up with a Diet 8 Washington plan. This kind of developer-driven decision-making is a poor way for the Port to proceed with one of the few remaining spots of land left along the waterfront that need to be improved for better use.
In contrast, in this most recent election, we saw an example of the right way to move forward with development on San Francisco's waterfront. The proposal for a parks, housing, and arts complex at the dilapidated Pier 70 on the southern waterfront was the product of years of genuine community planning and an inclusive process that vastly improved the affordable housing, expanded the acreage of parks, and cut the building height of the project in half before it was brought to the voters to ask for their support.
The result was a united coalition of environmental and community groups, labor and business interests all standing together in support of Pier 70's Proposition F, which received 72 percent of the vote on Nov. 4.
San Francisco voters have made clear want they want: A waterfront that is not overdeveloped or filled with tall towers but one that respects our city's rich maritime history, opens up opportunities for public access and recreation, and invites people from all neighborhoods and visitors from around the world to enjoy the Bay's beauty whenever they wish.
I hope you will make your way to the new Pier 27 park along The Embarcadero on a beautiful day sometime soon to enjoy our newest waterfront public park and the nearby Cruise Terminal that we are so very proud to showcase to the world.
These are shining examples of what we can do on our waterfront when we work hard for what we want and take the time to get it right.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.