Selling the park

Environmentalists oppose Lennar's effort to build condos on Candlestick Point parkland

GREEN CITY Considering that it exists just a short hop from the industrial grind of Third Street, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area is a surprisingly wild and peaceful 150-acre bayshore park.

On a recent afternoon, a man practiced his golf swings, a group fished off a pier, and a lizard darted across a trail and into a clump of wildflowers, all apparently unaware of the storm gathering around the future of this waterfront habitat.

State Sen. Mark Leno's Senate Bill 792 would give the State Lands Commission and State Parks Department the authority to negotiate an exchange of 42 acres in the park for patches of land on the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, allowing Lennar Corp. to build condos in the state park and reducing Bayview's only major open space by 25 percent.

Leno claims that SB 792 "will help realize one of the few remaining opportunities for large-scale affordable housing, parks, open space, and economic development in San Francisco by authorizing a key public-private land exchange necessary for the development of Hunters Point/Candlestick Park."

"A lot of this property is dirt, and much of it is used by the 49ers for parking. It's not high quality park land," Leno told the Guardian.

In addition to adding some amendments suggested by the Sierra Club, Leno said state and federal agencies must approve the deal, which would also require a full environmental impact report. "There will be no environmental shortcutting," Leno said.

But environmental advocates are outraged that Mayor Gavin Newsom and his chief economic advisor, Michael Cohen, are trying to get state legislators to facilitate an unpopular land swap that allows an out-of-state developer to build thousands of condos on state tidelands in exchange for strips and pockets of the toxic shipyard (see "Eliminating dissent," 6/17).

"When Michael Cohen asked us to endorse what they were calling a conceptual framework, he called it a rush to the starting line and promised us a full and robust discussion of the actual proposal," Kristine Enea, who works for the India Basin Neighborhood Association, said of last year's Proposition G. "We're not trying to stop the development, but we want a discussion. And we're raising questions that otherwise won't be raised until after the environmental impact report is completed."

In April, Newsom wrote to Sen. Fran Pavley, who chairs the state's Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, claiming that plans for the shipyard and Candlestick Point had already been endorsed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and overwhelmingly approved by voters in June 2008.

"By utilizing a true public-private partnership, this [SB 792] will cause tens of millions of dollars of public open space investment to state park lands and public trust lands, at no cost to the state or the city's general fund, providing a significant benefit to the state as well as to the citizens of San Francisco," Newsom wrote.

As part of the land swap, Lennar would pay fair market value for much of the parkland, with estimates of about $40 million that would go to the state for managing the remaining acreage. Lennar proposes to build 7,850 housing units on Candlestick Point, and it's unclear how many of those will go into what is now a state park.

Critics say Newsom is trying to use Prop. G like a hammer to force through legislation that wouldn't pass locally and would destroy the park's current functions and wildlife habitat, forever changing life in Bayview Hunters Point, due to the scale and socioeconomic and environmental impacts of Lennar's proposed redevelopment.

Created by the legislature in 1977, CPSRA is the state's first urban park. It offers panoramic views of the wind-whipped bay, San Bruno Mountain, and Yosemite Slough, the only unbridged waterway in the city's southeast sector.