Solid port development package

Legislation to resolve a number of loose ends in the Port of San Francisco’s $1.4 billion, 10-year central waterfront upgrade plan is among the daunting pile of late-session bills awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature. Because the negotiated final version has apparently satisfied all active opponents, The Examiner hopes state Sen. Carole Migden’s SB 815 becomes law.

The bill would allow the port to bid out 80-year development leases on four nonessential lots to help close the gap in funding much-needed upgrades for the long-neglected waterfront infrastructure. As of now, only some one-third of the budget is firmly in place.

Aside from raising money to repair some of The City’s most dilapidated piers and related facilities, SB 815 offers the potential of bringing more liveliness to underutilized acreage now being leased for parking lots. One thing about the San Francisco waterfront that probably everybody could agreewith is that the ship long ago sailed away from any practical possibility of operating the port mainly as a commercial shipping center.

Nobody suggests that commercial shipping no longer has any place at all along the bayside. But it does seem evident that San Francisco waterfront realities now require a rare mix of traditional shipping commerce, public spaces utilizing the unique views and revenue-producing uses that help support infrastructure maintenance.

It is also a matter of record that long periods of municipal irresponsibility led to hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs that have now reached the critical stage. Making needed changes on Port of S.F. property is particularly cumbersome because the state Lands Commission administers all California tidelands. Port officials underwent painstaking negotiations with the state before offering draft legislation to state Sen. Migden, whose district includes the waterfront.

The most northerly lot to be opened for development is at the corner of Howard and Steuart streets. Going south, the next lots are across from Pier 26 and then at Bryant Street across from Piers 30-32. The hottest property is probably the parking lot adjacent to AT&T Park.

To satisfy conflicting demands over the plan, Migden ultimately dropped another four northern port sites that are Embarcadero parking lots between Union Street and California and Drumm streets. A coalition of homeowner groups strongly opposed the lack of building-height limitations in the bill’s first draft. And when Migden’s office inserted compliance to all existing height and density zoning regulations, anxious developers and the Mayor’s Office raised strong objections to any such preconditions being imposed on new construction.

Ultimately the senator simply removed the northern lots from the bill. However, Migden has stated her willingness to introduce another bill covering these lots whenever The City works out an agreement with the neighbors. Hopefully this valuable land can be opened for more meaningful uses in the near future.

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