Warriors Arena proposal rouses supporters and opponents

Project opponents depict Bay views with and without the proposed Warriors Arena.
San Francisco Waterfront Alliance

UPDATED Rival teams have formed in the last week to support and oppose the proposed Warriors Arena at Piers 30-32 as the California Legislature considers a new bill to approve the project, a new design is about to be released, and a trio of San Francisco agencies prepares to hold informational hearings.

Fresh off the collapse of two of the city's biggest development deals, Mayor Ed Lee and his allies are pushing hard to lock in what he hopes will be his “legacy project.” A new group of local business leaders calling itself Warriors on the Waterfront held a rally on the steps of City Hall today, emphasizing the project's job creation, community partnerships, and revitalization of a dilapidated stretch of waterfront.

That launch event followed last week's creation of the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance, made up mostly of area residents and environmental organizations that oppose the project, including the Sierra Club and Save the Bay. The group today released a press release and artist's rendering of how the 13-story arena and two condo towers may block views of the bay.

Last week, SFWA put out a press release criticizing Assembly Bill 1273 by Assembly member Phil Ting, claiming it would allow the project to avoid scrutiny by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which oversees and issues permits for waterfront projects. “One of the primary reasons we have regulatory agencies like the BCDC is so that local jurisdictions don’t run roughshod over the Bay and the waterfront,” group President Gayle Cahill said in the release. “The San Francisco Waterfront Alliance strongly believes that BCDC should retain its jurisdiction in this project to ensure independent oversight for the Bay and for all of us.”

Yet Ting and supporters of the project say the legislation doesn't change BCDC's oversight of the project, pointing to language that explicitly acknowledges the agency's authority. While the legislation would remove the need for the three-member State Lands Commission to approve the project, proponents said approval by the full Legislature is a higher bar that ensures more public scrutiny and accountability.

“It does not waive BCDC. It goes through the same BCDC process,” Ting told us. “By going through the Legislature, you do have more hearings and public process. The idea was to make this more thoroughly vetted.”

The Port's Brad Benson told us that State Lands staff is also still actively scrutinizing the project. “We've been working closely with State Land and BCDC staff to incorporate their concerns,” Benson said. For example, the arena configuration has already been moved closer to shore than originally proposed because of BCDC concerns about maritime access to a deep-water berth at the site.

In addition to approval by the Legislature and BCDC, the project must also be approved by the Port Commission and Board of Supervisors. The latest design for the project is scheduled to be released on May 6 and will be discussed by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee that day, said Gloria Chan of the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The Planning Commission will then hold an informational hearing on the new design May 9, following by a May 14 hearing before the Port Commission. 

The project is proposed to include a 17,500-seat arena that would host more than 200 Warriors games, concerts, and other events per year, starting in 2017, on 13 acres of rebuilt piers. The adjacent, 2.3-acre Seawall Lot 330 would include up to 130 new condos, a hotel of up to 250 rooms, and 34,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space.

The whole project would include just 830-930 parking spaces, making its still-unfolding transportation plan key to the project's approval. Opponents of the project also criticize the project's height and its financing package and say this intensive development isn't consistent with city plans or state laws that protect waterfront lands for maritime and public uses.

"We told the mayor before it was even announced that it is not a legal use of the pier," Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis told the Guardian. "There's no reason that an arena has to be out on the water on a crumbling pier."

Yet proponents tout the project's economic benefits to the city and the need for an arena that size to host concerts and conventions, beyond the prestige of luring the Warriors away from Oakland and back to its original home city. “It will be privately financed and turn a crumbling pier and unsafe parking lot into a state-of-the-art venue that generates new revenue for the region and provides a spectacular new facility for the Bay Area’s NBA team.”Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council and an honorary co-chair of Warriors on the Waterfront, said in the press release.

UPDATE: Rudy Nothenberg, who served five SF mayors financing big civic projects and helped found SF Waterfront Alliance, disputes several assertions made by project proponents. "The first version of [AB 1273] unquestionably moved BCDC out of the way," he said, claiming that bill language was altered after input from BCDC and the consultant to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. BCDC has not yet returned a call from the Guardian on the issue. Nothenberg also says AB 1273 turns the deliberate fact-finding process required for the State Lands Commission to make its public trust determination into a political process that is a less thorough vetting of the project.

He also took issue with the statements by Wunderman and others that this is a privately funded project, noting that taxpayers will be paying $120 million to rebuild these piers and will give up future property taxes on the site, which will be diverted by a special tax district to help repay the bonds. Nothenberg told us, "Their continued assertion that there is no public money involved in blatantly untrue."