Tweeking the tidelands

Tweeking the tidelands: Migden's attempt to amend coastal law triggers a classic land-use battle

With the furor over her erratic driving incident still lingering and a primary challenge from Assemblymember Mark Leno starting to get nasty, state senator Carole Migden is now wading into another potentially pungent political pool.

This time around, the battle involves the state's laws governing coastal land use, the Port of San Francisco's revenue needs, and the competing interests of folks who live along, work near, or simply like to relax and recreate along the city's bayside waterfront.

Migden's Senate Bill 815 would make three major changes to the ancient and arcane laws that govern the use of the state's tidelands. It would allow the port to rent out 11 seawall-protected properties, currently used for surface parking lots, for development over 75 years, after which they would return to the public trust.

It would also permit the port to sell off "paper streets" — lots that serve as view corridors, public rights-of-way, and connections between the city and its waterfront, including portions of Texas, Custer, Ingalls, and Davidson streets developed with warehouses, as well as the recently closed Hunters Point Power Plant.

Last, Migden's bill would allow the transfer of the 36-acre, federally owned Jobs Corps parcel on Treasure Island to local control as part of an exchange of public trust and nontrust lands on Treasure and Yerba Buena islands.

Port special project manager Brad Benson told the Guardian that the local agency worked with the California State Lands Commission for two years on ways to help increase the port's revenue-generating capabilities, and this bill was the result.

"We cc'd the neighborhood organizations on the amendments that we sent to Migden's office on June 12, and we invited further discussion," Benson said of the proposal, which is intended to help cover the port's estimated $1.4 billion cost for seismic retrofits and restorations, hazardous-material remediation, storm-water management, and improved waterfront access by relaxing the land-use restriction of the 1969 Burton Act.

The Burton Act gave the port control of San Francisco's waterfront from Fisherman's Wharf to Candlestick Point, including 39 historic finger piers between Fisherman's Wharf and China Basin. But it also limited the port to leasing seawall lots for street purposes such as surface parking while giving it the financial responsibility of maintaining and restoring the historical waterfront.

Today just about everybody agrees that surface parking is a horrible use of the seawall lots — with the possible exception of the Giants, who want to retain 2,000 spaces on the 14-acre lot they lease next to Mission Creek.