Treasure Island: 11 ayes, no sight

The Board of Supervisors doesn't see that Treasure Island is a bloated project that will vastly exceed the region's capacity to support it.


On June 7, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to reject an appeal of the Treasure Island environmental impact report. The appeal was brought by Arc Ecology and our colleagues the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Equity, former Sup. Aaron Peskin, and Yerba Buena Island resident Ken Masters.

The board will tell you that the Department of City Planning and the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development found the appeal lacking in merit.

In the appeal, we claimed the EIR lacked the specificity to qualify as a project EIR, which means that after it passes, the city will have substantially limited the ability of any future Board of Supervisors to address the project's actual environmental impacts. But these impacts cannot and will not be known until actual development proposals, none of which presently exist, are made.

Sup. Jane Kim and city planning staffers argued that the EIR had almost too much specificity. For example, without showing a single confirming diagram, project sponsors claimed they could cut as many as 100 stories off the proposed skyscrapers — yet keep the same number of condos without increasing the bulk, height, or number of buildings in the overall project. How? Through the Harry Potter-like magic of "flex buildings and zones."

The board will tell you that this project presents a vision of a new community unrivaled in the Bay Area and nation — a new Athens. But the supervisors don't seem to realize that it's a development with a population larger than Emeryville, about the size of Albany. Indeed, the separate dedicated buildings of affordable homes truly make Treasure Island like Athens of old, with poorer people segregated from the rich.

They don't see that this is a self-reflecting vision blithely unconcerned about the impacts it will have on the greater Bay Area region, and that it's a bloated project that will vastly exceed the region's capacity to support it. It's a project whose impacts will enslave legions of people to longer commutes as more cars flood the bridge, pushing traffic like rising sea levels into the upper reaches of East Bay freeways. Nor are project proponents particularly concerned about the impacts of air pollution blowing from the bridge and the region's freeways into Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.

Finally, neither the supervisors, nor the city planners, nor the Office of Economic and Workforce Development seem to be aware that San Francisco currently has 30,000 vacant housing units. It will cost a projected $577,000 to build each Treasure Island unit. But more units could be built on San Francisco's mainland with almost no impact, simply by allowing rental units in the basements of some of our stock of 130,000 single-family homes.

That kind of housing isn't as luxurious as a 45-story view of the bay from Treasure Island perhaps — but at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per unit, more than half of those in-law apartments could be rented at or below market rate. Infill housing of that sort would also mean greater stability for established home owners, more jobs and business opportunities, and more riders for Muni.

Still, the appellants weren't trying to halt any project at Treasure Island. The appeal was about was fixing the deficiencies in the EIR and right-sizing the project so it can move forward with its benefits intact.

In the Tarot, the Five of Cups depicts an individual so besotted by that possibilities floating before his eyes that he stands mesmerized, believing they are at hand — of course, in reality he's fooling himself. In the case of Treasure Island, the supervisors and city officials are intoxicated by the visions floating in the bay — and are thus blinded to the better options of making this city and region more sustainable and affordable.