The Port spent close to $200,000 last year controlling that traffic with signage and police officers. The addition of thousands more visitors streaming down the sidewalks seeking passage to Alcatraz could cause gridlock every time a cruise ship docks.
Monique Moyer, executive director of the port, sent repeated letters over the last year to MacRae asking for clarifications about his plans and expressing concern that the change in use of Pier 31 required a review of existing permits.
She wasn't alone. On July 31, Citizens to Save the Waterfront filed suit against Hornblower, claiming that the amount of activity at Pier 31 would increase twentyfold. "That represents a substantial change in the intensity of use," Jon Golinger, a representative from the group, told us.
A change in the intensity of use of a waterfront property triggers the need for a complete environmental impact review (EIR) from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency with jurisdiction over anything within 100 feet of the shoreline. As many city developers know, EIRs can take many months to consider all potential changes to the existing landscape that the applicant would cause. Delays of that sort could have hindered MacRae's ability to assume ferry service on the contracted date of Sept. 25.
MacRae said the litigation kept him from divulging to the city his proposed plans for upgrades to the pier.
Just days before the lawsuit was to be argued in San Francisco Superior Court on Sept. 6, BCDC executive director Will Travis sent a letter to Moyer stating that Hornblower's new service and alterations to Pier 31 did not require any new permits.
He cited a typo from Hornblower's current BCDC-issued permit as an allowance for the increase in passengers. The permit states that the pier may provide "access to the entire bay via vessel for 200,000 to 5000,000 [sic] people/year."
He footnoted the quote: "There is clearly a typographical error in the 5000,000 number, which is intended to state the maximum anticipated usage of the dock ... the correct number is probably either 500,000 or 5,000,000. While it seems reasonable to believe that the correct number is 500,000, the record contains nothing to substantiate this conclusion."
Travis also relayed that Hornblower plans to use temporary measures that include trailers with port-a-potties, a portable ticket booth, and hollow traffic barriers for guiding traffic and pedestrians on and off the boat.
Herrera told us that this was the first Moyer had heard of what was planned for the lot and there was concern about how other services in the area and traffic on the Embarcadero would be affected, as well as if any structures, signage, and other enhancements would require additional permits. "It certainly would have been nice if they had shared all these plans so the port could conduct the proper environmental review that we all agree is in order," he said.
In a strongly worded letter to Travis, Herrera wrote that to allow Hornblower to proceed without any environmental review could violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and urged the BCDC to "issue an immediate cease and desist order" to prevent the start of service. Herrera also made the salient point that "the later the environmental review process begins, the more bureaucratic and financial momentum there is behind a proposed project, thus providing a strong incentive to ignore environmental concerns that could be dealt with more easily at an early stage of the project."
On Sept. 7, BCDC commissioners met in closed session at the end of a four-hour meeting and voted to stand by Travis's argument.
David Owen, a former Peskin aide who's also a BCDC commissioner, was one of two abstentions to the otherwise unanimous vote. "It was really frustrating, because it seemed like Hornblower did everything in their power to avoid a permit review," Owen told us. "Now what?