Smooth sailing for developers - Page 2

America's Cup waterfront land giveaway has quietly expanded since the deal was approved — with Chiu's secret blessing

Green piers were part of the original Board of Supervisors agreement; those in yellow were added during closed-door negotiations

"There is no question that the president of the board, without the authorization of the majority of the Board of Supervisors, went behind closed doors, out of view of the public, and committed to [long-term development] for three piers," Peskin said, highlighting the fact that no other supervisors were copied on Chiu's letter. "That he has done this unilaterally, without the consent of a board's vote at a board meeting, is not good governance. If there's one body that's supposed to do all of its work for the public, it's the Board of Supervisors."

Chiu defended the letter by emphasizing the part that asked for a partnership with the community. "This was all within the broader framework of the Host City Agreement that we signed in the middle of December," he told the Guardian when presented with the letter during an interview and asked to comment. "They had questions about, well, can we develop on these other piers? And what I said was, 'Well, as I think the language here specifically says if mutually agreed upon ... you could possibly do this.' And we specifically said you'll need to invest in a strong partnership with the community."

He added that specific development plans would still have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. Proposals for each parcel will be made in separate Disposition and Development Agreements, subject to board approval.

On hearing Chiu's response, Peskin was still critical of the lack of transparency in this deal: "My position is, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

Meanwhile, an analysis prepared by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose in mid-March suggests that the final amendments did reflect new commitments for the city that go well beyond what was discussed publicly. "No city approval of the Event Authority's selection of Pier 29 for a long-term lease is required in the agreement, as modified by the Mayor's Office and other city officials," the Budget Analyst's report notes. "This entire provision ... was not included in the agreement of Dec. 14, 2010 as previously approved by the Board of Supervisors."

Brad Benson, special projects manager at the Port of San Francisco, explained the Pier 29 provision slightly differently. "The city would have to be acting in its reasonable discretion to say no," he said, emphasizing that ACEA would have to invest well above the $55 million threshold to obtain rights to Pier 29.

At a time when a new era of civility is being hailed at City Hall, two elements of the city family are essentially agreeing to disagree on the broader question of whether the 11th-hour modifications to the deal resulted in a greater hit to city coffers than supervisors approved. While Rose stated in public hearings that the modifications would deal a greater blow to city revenues, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a mayoral candidate, has stood with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development in his assessment that the changes did not significantly exceed the scope of what was approved by the board. Fred Brousseau of the Budget & Legislative Analyst chalked it up to "a difference in opinion," reflecting "the auditor's standard for materiality versus the city attorney's."

Legalese aside, it's clear that the race organizers stand to gain some highly desirable waterfront property in exchange for investing in the piers and bringing an event to the city that is expected to generate substantial economic activity. If ACEA invests a minimum threshold of $55 million for infrastructure improvements, it can likely secure long-term development rights for Piers 30-32, a 13-acre waterfront parking lot where Red's Java House is located, plus win the title to Seawall Lot 330, a two-acre triangular parcel along the Embarcadero that has been discussed as the site of a future luxury condo tower that has already cleared city approval for that use.