New Treasure Island plan's green and affordable components greeted with cautious optimism, but many hurdles remain
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Despite the fast-moving urban centers that surround it on each side of the San Francisco Bay, not much about Treasure Island has changed since it was shut down as a United States naval station 10 years ago.
After the feds ceased operations on the island and at several other military installations in the mid-’90s, the idea was to give the land to local governments for redevelopment to fill the economic void of losing active bases. Since then, several plans for Treasure Island have been floated with great fanfare in the press, but all have become mired in the infamously contentious development politics of San Francisco.
Late last month, after three years of deadline extensions, the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) finally received a full-blown plan from the developer — a partnership between Lennar Corp., Wilson Meany Sullivan, and Treasure Island Community Development — that was given exclusive negotiating rights over the land three years ago.
The $1.2 billion redevelopment plan must now run a gauntlet of state and local approval, including consideration from the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to hold hearings and debate the plan by the end of the year. It isn't likely that construction will begin on the island for at least a couple more years.
The latest proposal anticipates about 6,000 new homes, 1,800 of which will be targeted to low-income residents, including 750 units for households earning no more than 60 percent of San Francisco's median income and 440 built as part of a program for the homeless. Plans include town houses, single-family homes, and high-rise residential towers, although at least half the properties will be limited to 65 feet in height.
Right now the island contains about 800 occupied units, over half of which are market-rate leases with the John Stewart Co., while about 200 are operated under the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative. By the time the project is done, according to the newest plan, the island's population is expected to balloon to around 10,000 residents, plus around 3,000 new workers necessary to maintain the minicity.
Some of the existing housing stock will be demolished, or as the plan calls it, "reconstructed." Current residents will have an option to move into the new units or be placed in a lottery if demand for certain types of units outstrips the supply. The plan calls for about 27 percent of the overall planned housing units to be rentals.
Private automobile use would be regulated by metering ramp access to the island during peak commute hours; assessing possible congestion fees for driving on the island; limiting residential parking; and emphasizing thruways that promote walking, bicycling, and public transit.
Much of the development is slated for the west side of the island — with its breathtaking and profitable views of the city — near an existing ferry terminal that would provide access to the city all day long.
Treading lightly, Sup. Chris Daly, whose District 6 includes the island, said he supports the environmental and housing components so far, but if existing island residents mount significant opposition for any reason, he'd consider opposing the plan.
"You don't know how clean something is until you take it out of the wash, and they're just now starting to throw it in," Daly told the Guardian.
Rob Black, Daly's main challenger in the upcoming election, lives on Treasure Island. He was similarly cautious. "I think people have finally begun to think in a more progressive way about making this a more sustainable neighborhood," Black told us. "Past plans have been so poorly put together."
On the local level, the plan must be approved in the coming months by both the TIDA board and the Board of Supervisors. After that, it will undergo an extensive environmental impact review by the city's planning department before returning to the board for final local approval.
The developer and the TIDA board — which is composed entirely of mayoral appointees, three of whom work directly for Mayor Gavin Newsom — must still overcome other major hurdles as well, including the fact that the Navy hasn't turned over any of the land yet and likely won't without major concessions.
The Bush administration has stalled the transfer, pushing for some payment before giving up valuable federal land. One tentative option is to relieve the Navy of about $45 million in environmental cleanup costs for which it is currently responsible. Those costs would then be borne by the redevelopment plan and the developer, which has already pledged $26 million for remediation. The land became contaminated in part after decades of military activity that included emergency drills with radioactive materials.
David Rist, a project manager for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the cleanup, said that while there is some contamination where residents are living today, it doesn't pose an immediate threat to human health. Identified contaminants include dioxin, lead, and PCBs. Rist told us the cleanup, regardless of who ends up paying for it, will be "significantly done in the next two and a half years."
After mulling over ideas, TIDA finally brokered an exclusive deal in 2003 with a company incorporated as Treasure Island Community Development, a group of Democratic Party heavyweights with deep links to the current and former mayoral administrations and other top elected Democrats.
Jay Wallace, a project planner for Treasure Island Community Development, said the plan's mammoth size and uniqueness have required considerable and time-consuming attention to specifics. Investors anticipate spending $500 million of their own money, but they're looking to earn upward of $125 million in profits, according to the plan.
The remaining cost of about $760 million for infrastructure, open space, and transportation system improvements could be covered largely by tax increment financing from the redevelopment area and Mello Roos bonds, both of which would essentially be funded by future property taxes, according to the latest term sheet.
Wallace told the Guardian that his group "has worked in good faith and transparency throughout this project, with over 150 public meetings before reaching this milestone and presenting this plan to the city."
Daly said that while "there are going to be a hundred issues that need to be worked out," the green-meets-affordable-housing theme "is the right proposal for San Francisco."
"Political connections to the Newsom juggernaut notwithstanding, these guys are politically savvy enough to know what's wise and what isn't," he said. "On the actual merits of the proposal, it's palatable if you're OK with the concept of high-rises in the middle of the bay." SFBG