Public should weigh in on San Francisco's America’s Cup plans

The kids are back in school.

Labor Day used to be the official demarcation between summer idylls and school bells. But for many students, the first day of school was mid-August. They’ve been hard at work, and we should be, too.

It’s time for San Franciscans to do a little homework.

A draft environmental impact report was released a few weeks ago by the Planning Department for the 34th America’s Cup and James R. Herman Cruise Terminal and Northeast Plaza. At more than 1,400 pages, it’s a daunting document.

The public hearing occurred Aug. 11 before the Planning Commission, and from what I’ve read and heard, the public is participating in a thoughtful and constructive manner. Let’s hope this democratic spirit, in which all voices are heard, prevails.

The 34th America’s Cup (AC34) is a significant part of the EIR. A series of AC34 races begin in 2012 with the America’s Cup World Series, followed in 2013 by the Louis Vuitton Cup, America’s Cup Challenger Series, potential America’s Cup defender selection series and the match.

These races represent tremendous opportunities for San Francisco to be the setting for major spectator events for some 50 days. As one of San Francisco’s most avid fans and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, I recognize this as one of those opportunities that literally only comes along once in a lifetime.

Some speakers who addressed the Planning Commission on Aug. 11 expressed their concerns about crowd control and traffic management. I share their concern. We want our visitors to have an optimal experience, whether they are here for a Giants game, a second honeymoon or a marquee event such as the America’s Cup.

The “People Plan” to facilitate the movement of thousands of visitors during the AC34 events was released on March 31; two progress reports have been issued and a third is due any day. The America’s Cup Event Authority is slated to review this final plan Sept. 30. This plan is also an important part of the EIR process.

Environmental issues are also of paramount importance. We have assurances from the Event Authority, in consultation with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, for an event management plan that calls for LEED or LEED-equivalent permanent buildings as well as zero waste for recycling, composting and waste reduction. More than 30 environmental organizations have indicated they support holding the race here as long as it is done in an environmentally sustainable way.

Part of AC34’s legacy will also be the enhancement and development of several piers, water areas and facilities managed by the Port of San Francisco. An America’s Cup Village at Piers 27-29 would include the initial phase of the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal. The Northeast Wharf Plaza would provide an approximately 2½-acre open space at the south end of Pier 27. Both these projects provide long-term benefits to our hospitality industry.

Public comment on the draft EIR closes at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The America’s Cup presents a terrific opportunity for San Francisco. So here’s your homework. Listen and read.

Visit www.sfgov.org and, in particular, learn more from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Port of San Francisco websites. And if called upon, be prepared to speak on the future of San Francisco.

Joe D’Alessandro is president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.  He also serves on the California Travel and Tourism Commission and U.S. Travel Association board.

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