Treasure Island goes to the Board


There’s three reasons I’ll always remember the Chronicle’s Phil Bronstein: he used to be married to Sharon Stone, he got bitten by a Komodo Dragon at the L.A. zoo, and he had the audacity to write a column in the Chronicle that was titled “Treasure Island eco-dream is bad choice for funds.”
Now it’s true that Bronstein was a 1986 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work in the Philippines. But that was 25 years ago, and I didn’t read what he wrote, so I can’t comment on the quality of his work  then. But now I live in the East Bay and drive past Treasure Island most days of the week—and I have been waiting for someone at the Chronicle to finally voice something other than their usual preppy praise for this increasingly large development in the middle of the Bay.
And Bronstein certainly did have plenty to say about Treasure Island. And it wasn’t the usual upbeat pap about “bold and robust visions” that the Chron usually serves up when it concerns anything that involves Lennar and public-private development. Instead,  Bronstein began by describing T.I.  as a “onetime secretive Navy base filled with deer, political patronage and who knows what buried in the ground.”

Now, part of Bronstein’s fire may have been a result of him writing his column in April, a few weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, triggering a nuclear meltdown. Or two or three.

Bronstein’s infamous rant even mentioned some of the radiologically impacted things at Treasure Island that, as he put it, “leached into the soil from weaponry or other deadly items: radium and PCBs 100,000 times the acceptable levels.”
And then he compared Lennar and billionaire Ron Burkle to “contemporary development pirates.” Believe me, that was a surprise to read in the Chronicle.

“This year, they're scheduled to break ground on a huge multibillion-dollar public-private ecotopia mini-city built upon toxic waste and landfill,” Bronstein wrote. “This glorious contradiction might become a triumph of super-green living and high-end dreams. But it also represents something else: bad choices about how to spend public money in ever tighter times.”

Bronstein noted that the Board has a brief panic in April when they considered whether a Japan-style disaster could wipe out the T.I. plan, but that Rich Hills of the Mayor's Office said the "disaster potential has already been addressed.”
“Unless we have what Hills called ‘a freak disaster,’” Bronstein added with a cutting bite that his Komodo dragon would have been proud of, including Bronstein’s inclusion of the fact that Treasure Island is on the California Emergency Management Agency's tsunami inundation map, and that while we are coughing up $105 million to developers who want to profit from high-density living on T. I, all of us are neglecting aging infrastructure that we already have.

“While T.I. developers are busy putting some kind of shower cap-like cover over the land so trees and foundations don't touch toxic ground that can't and won't be cleaned up, our children stand a pretty good chance of being flattened like pancakes in existing structures while they're learning math and history during the next, inevitable big quake,” Bronstein concluded.
Meanwhile, those of us who drive the seismically-compromised Bay Bridge each day can’t help wondering how folks who decide to move to the development that’s being planned for Treasure Island will ever get off the island—unless they have a pirate ship.

That’s because every morning, we get to see a long line of drivers waiting—without much success—for drivers on the Bay Bridge to slow down and let them into the traffic.

Those of us who sometimes commute by ferry also know how tricky it is try and catch the last ferry, which leaves the San Francisco Ferry Building at 8:25 p.m. That’s way earlier than most commission meetings end. And earlier than most nightlife begins.

And then there’s the question of what happens when you get back to Treasure Island--and realize you forgot to buy milk, collect the dog, or pick up the kids from day care.

Now, maybe the city and the developers believe they have thoroughly considered and answered all these questions. But have they done any outreach to East Bay commuters, whose journey will likely be further impacted by the T.I. plan? If so, I certainly haven’t heard about it. And what about the folks in Berkeley who likely won’t be able to see San Francisco once a bunch of high-rises pop up in the Bay? Have they been consulted?

This Tuesday (June 7) at 5 p.m., the Board will hear an appeal of the city’s Treasure Island environmental impact report and consider a huge batch of related documents. (And I’m willing to bet that most current supervisors don’t know too much about this plan, and probably have only flipped through the thousands of pages of documentation related to it)

The appeal was filed by the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and Arc Ecology, who last year filed an appeal around the city’s EIR for Lennar’s massive Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Project. Only this time, this trio is being joined by a group of Treasure Island residents—and former Board President Aaron Peskin.

Which reminds me: Three weeks after Bronstein wrote his amazing Treasure Island hit, piece, his fellow columnists at the Chronicle, Phillip Matier and Andy Ross, were back, sounding much more like the Chronicle’s attack dogs usually do, when it comes to anyone who dares to find the city and Lennar’s massive plans less than perfect: “Peskin, who as a supervisor was notorious for his middle-of-night phone rants to department heads, called the proposed high-rise plan that just squeaked by the Planning Commission a ‘laughingstock mistake,’” M& R crowed.

But in the end, they quoted the very thought that Peskin wants M&R to print and Chronicle readers to consider about the city’s current Treasure Island plan:

"It will horrify San Francisco and the Bay Area for decades to come," Peskin said.

Now, as the folks joining Peskin in opposing the city’s current plan note, they aren’t trying to stop the development of Treasure Island. They are simply fighting the latest plan.

“The developer and the city already have an approved EIR and project plan for a 6,000 unit smaller scale, more transit friendly project that was passed in 2006,” Arc Ecology states in a flier that it plans to distribute at the June 7 hearing. “Environmentalists and many of the appellants supported that plan. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. It was the earlier plan that won all the awards for sustainability.”

And as Arc points out, the city’s latest EIR and the plan currently before the Board is an entirely different animal from the city’s 2006 plan.

“It’s 25 percent bigger than the 2006 plan, tipping the scales on its impacts,” Arc states. “It increases the housing by 25 percent to 8,000 units, decreases transit service and affordable housing and competes with hotels and businesses that already exist downtown.”

“What can you do? Tell the Board to go back to the 2006 plan,” Arc advises.

The flier also lists a bunch of bullet points that outline some of the coalition’s objections.

“It’s unsustainable,” the flier states, claiming that under the new plan, there will be, “too many cars, too much traffic, too much air pollution.”

Under the new plan, there is also a seven percent reduction on the affordable housing set aside and a 17 percent reduction in overall affordable housing units, Arc notes. That’s another way of saying, “There is not enough affordable housing.”

And Arc claims the island will remain contaminated (see Bronstein’s rant about radionuclides and PCBs at the beginning of this post) even after the Navy completes its toxic and radiological cleanup. That the 40-story high-rise towers will obstruct views of San Francisco from the East Bay, and vice versa. And that the project financing plan will drive the city further into debt for at least another 15 years.

Arc’s flier concludes by asserting that the whole plan is undemocratic.
“Once approved, there will be no further environmental review of project plans—ever!” Arc claims. “Once approved the project will be implemented by an unelected nonprofit corporation. There has been no outreach or involvement of East Bay residents despite traffic and view impacts. The plan repays $55 million in additional developer costs to purchase this island with hundreds of millions of dollars of impacts on Bay Area residents.”

Now, I’m sure officials for the City and the developer will have plenty of counter arguments--and possibly busloads of low-income T.I. residents/unemployed SF workers, who will be shipped into the Board’s Chambers to argue that they need the Board to approve this plan so they can have new homes and jobs. Because that’s what happened last year, when Arc and the Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon expressed their concerns about plans to carve up the Candlestick State Park Recreation Area and build a bridge over the Yosemite Slough. And suddenly found themselves cast as the big bad villains, when it came to the city and Lennar’s wish to ram through the Candlestick/Shipyard plan.

But regardless of whether you believe in the project, oppose it, or don’t know much about it, make sure you show up at 5pm in Room 250 at City Hall on June 7, if you want to hear what actually goes down. Especially if you work in San Francisco, and live in the East Bay, because much of the Treasure Island traffic will directly impact the East Bay. 

Or as Arc puts it, “This new project is 25 percent larger than the prior one and like the difference between a 75 degree day and a 100 degree day – this increase in size makes all the difference. The new project will overdrive bridge capacity, create too much traffic, not enough transit, reduced levels of affordable housing, and vests enormous public power in an unaccountable, unelected development authority.  Please tell the Board they don’t have to go back to the drawing board – just to the 2006 plan and recirculate the EIR.”