It was good news for San Francisco when the Golden State Warriors withdrew a proposal to build a new arena on Piers 30-32 and to instead build it on private land in Mission Bay, sparing city residents a costly and divisive fight sullied by millions of dollars in political advocacy and propaganda.
The new location near the intersection of 16th and Third streets is still close enough to the water to provide picturesque images for network television, but without sparking concerns about the city’s stewardship of coastal land held in trust for the people of California. The new site will have better public access once the Central Subway is completed, and it could help encourage the teardown of Interstate 280 and its conversion into a multi-modal boulevard like Octavia, a good idea the city is now studying.
Best of all, this provides a golden opportunity for the city and the Port of San Francisco to launch a truly public process for how to use Pier 30-32, the largest remaining open stretch of the central waterfront, as well as the adjacent Seawall Lot 330. Rather than simply reacting to big ideas hatched behind closed doors, the public could take part in a truly democratic process to proactively shape this high-profile public property.
Admittedly, there are challenges to overcome, starting with the high cost of demolishing these aging piers, so it’s likely that the valuable Seawall Lot 330 will be part of the equation, with its pure profit potential used to help pay for whatever happens to the piers. But how that balancing act is done would be for the public to decide.
Should we open up that stretch of waterfront by not replacing the piers, or replacing it with a much smaller pier? Could it become an artificial wetland that is both pretty and ecologically beneficial in an era of rising seas? Would we accept a luxury condo tower on the seawall lot to help pay for this new open space? Or maybe the city would want to float a bond and seek grants to help remove this bay fill and keep the seawall lot to a more limited and public-interest use?
These are the kinds of honest and direct questions San Francisco should be asking its citizens. The waterfront is an invaluable resource, and it shouldn’t be treated as merely a liability because the Port needs money. The same goes for Seawall Lot 351 that was part of the 8 Washington project that voters rejected, as well as Seawall Lot 337 that is part of the Giants proposal at Pier 48.
The views of the people of San Francisco shouldn’t be afterthought to be avoided, as opponents of Proposition B seem to believe, but a creative resource that could help shape the San Francisco of tomorrow.