America’s Cup moves forward, but economic concerns remain

View from Aquatic Park, site of the rejected jumbotron proposal

In past weeks, several environmental and community organizations filed two appeals of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the America's Cup yacht race in 2013.

Jan. 24, the Board of Supervisors rejected the appeal, allowing for construction on the several major projects contained in the America's Cup proposal to move forward.

But some supervisors say that the many groups with environmental concerns about the America's Cup brought up important issues, including economic issues that will still need to be addressed.

Organizations involved in the appeals include San Francisco Tomorrow, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

The biggest concession regards the jumbotron, a giant TV screen that was planned to project the race’s events. The America's Cup event authority planned to float the jumbotron’s 44-foot wide screen on a 140-foot barge, and anchor it with large concrete blocks, dropped in Aquatic Park. Opponents said that the blocks would stir up potentially toxic sediments and that the whole plan put Aquatic Park, a preferred beach of bay swimmers, at risk of a diesel spill that would have long-term implications for the safety of its swimmers.

After a heated back-and-forth, attorney for the The America's Cup event authority Mary G. Murphy stated that the Authority would ditch plans for the water-born jumbotron and look into landside options.

President of the Dolphin Club Reuben Hechanova said that the decision on the jumbotron was a clear victory. The club, whose members have been swimming in the cold waters of Aquatic Park since 1877, was vocal in its opposition for plans for the floating TV. Members of the Dolphin Club and their allies had been meeting with city officials for over a year, campaigning against the jumbotron.

Hechanova denied that Dolphin Club members had planned to disrupt the America's Cup in a swim-in called “Occupy the Bay” if plans for the floating jumbotron proceeded.

“We were always going to continue to work with the governing agencies…we were not going to occupy the bay. The only official spokespersons of the club are the board members,” Hechanova told the Guardian.

Appellants were also concerned about effects on air quality from cruise ship emissions.

The EIR claimed that these air quality issues would be mitigated with a shore-side power source on Pier 70, but appellants questioned the feasibility of these mitigating measures. Michael Martin of the Mayor’s Office on Economic and Workforce Development commented on the issue, stating that since issuing the report the port, along with its shipyard partner, BAE San Francisco Ship Repair, had in fact secured the 5.7 million necessary for the shore-side power project.

Still, several supervisors remained skeptical about the feasibility of paying for all of the mitigating measures crucial to the adequacy and accuracy of the EIR. Supervisors will vote on these and other financial matters associated with the Cup at a Feb. 14 hearing.

“I have questions remaining about finances, about union jobs that will be created for San Franciscans in this project…as well as assuring that there would be no hit to the general fund,” said Supervisor John Avalos at the meeting's end.

Other environmental concerns, such as impact on sea and shore birds and on neighborhoods adjacent the America’s Cup area, went largely unresolved.

However, in an amendment proposed by Supervisor David Chiu, the Board made clear that they would require additional environmental reviews, including, potentially, more EIRs, for subsequent projects.

Aaron Peskin, former President of the Board of Supervisors and longtime water rights advocate, has been a vocal opponent of many aspects of the America's Cup. He said these agreements are a step in the right direction.

“I wouldn’t call it a victory, I’d call it a step. It’s a good step,” said Peskin.

After the appeals had been rejected, Campos thanks all parties involved, including the appellants.

“I do believe that the two appeals that have been filed have clearly made this project better, and not only on the environmental piece. I think the appeals have also raised some very important issues about financial terms of this deal,” said Campos.

Also from this author

  • Privatization of public housing

    Many residents feel they're moving from the frying pan of Housing Authority control into the fire of developer and nonprofit management

  • Homeless for the holidays

    Changing demographics in the Bayview complicate city efforts to open a shelter there

  • Betting on Graton

    Newest casino targeting Bay Area residents promises to share the wealth with workers and people of color