The Good Ship Lollipop Marooned on Treasure Island!

I truly wish for the sake of all San Franciscans that there were a good, honest, realistic and forthright development project forthcoming for Treasure Island, but unfortunately this is not the case.

On December 16th, the mayor’s office held a much-ballyhooed press conference to announce that finally, San Francisco had reached an agreement with the Navy to purchase Treasure Island for the sum of $105 million. The City will pay this amount over an unspecified period of time according to the Chronicle, for what Mayor Newsom termed a “Grand Vision” for the Island, replete with 3 residential high-rises for 6000 new homes, a 60 story hotel, commercial complex, marina, and believe it or not, a 40 acre organic farm! Never one to miss an opportunity to spin a new idea, Newsom was most excited about the 8000 new jobs that would be created, in fact so much so that he mistakenly stated that the jobs had already been created in his latest “State of The City” address along with some 70,000 more jobs for the Bay View Hunters Point project!

Following the Dec. 16th “fantasy press release” issued by the mayor’s office, several newspapers and television stations solicited my response. As the former Executive Director for Treasure Island, I was exposed to the intricacies and complexities of any development relating to that Island. I will share a few of my concerns with you here:

1. With a current City budget deficit approaching $600 million dollars, thanks to the mismanagement of this administration and this Board of Supervisors, where is the supposed $105 million dollars going to come from to pay for the project?

2. Even if the true cost were only $105 million dollars, why are we now paying that amount for only 450 acres of the total 550 available acres? Those 550 acres we could have had for nothing five years ago when the Navy wanted to give it to us if the City did the environmental clean up, at a time when there was a much stronger and more expensive real estate market? (And surprise — who benefits from the control and development of the remaining 100 acres that the City does not buy?)

3. The Mayor’s office claims the Navy has agreed to do the toxic cleanup. Any novice base re-use developer knows that the Navy will only comply with federal standards, not more stringent and expensive State or local requirements. This alone will add hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to SF taxpayers.

4. Treasure Island is man-made of seismically unsafe toxic landfill 8 to 15 feet deep and sits on top of one of the strongest quake fault lines in the State. The cost to taxpayers to stabilize the perimeter of the Island and to eliminate the present rate of “sinking” will also be in the hundreds of millions of dollars which has been documented in multiple in-depth studies commissioned by the Treasure Island Development Authority. Without the proper seismic stabilization that encompasses anchoring the entire Island at least 150 feet down to bed rock, and the proper soil remediation and toxic clean up, how is the Island going to support the three 60 story high rises, 6000 new homes and commercial center, or the 40 acre organic garden that this mayor is dreaming of?

5. The financial partners in the development scheme are Wilson Meany Sullivan, a firm that, I assume, will want to get paid for their work, and Lennar Corp. and Kenwood Investments, two corporations that are experiencing solvency problems of late.

6. Most importantly, there is no public or private lender that will loan money or insure a development of this nature in today’s real estate market, without the positive results of all phases of a properly completed Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?

My reponses were published in the Fog City Journal on Dec. 19th, (Somalia By The Bay), the Examiner on Dec. 22nd, (Nothing But Smoke and Mirrors on T.I.) and the Chronicle on Dec.28th, in a featured article titled Treasure Island Gets a reality check, in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 9th, (Treasure Hunt in S.F. Bay), and in several other publications as well as broadcasts on local TV stations.

Responding to questions in another article (Chronicle, Jan. 15th) Shortfall Could Scale Back Treasure Island Plans, Michael Cohen, the author of this latest fantasy plan, and the mayor’s so-called economic guru, revised the story. Now the developers will pay the $105 million for the Island. This is wonderful news, except at the time of printing, the developers, namely Lennar and Kenwood would not confirm that any such financial arrangement exists. Cohen, in a last ditch effort to portray himself as a grown-up player in the real developers world, adds that “the revenue to build out the infrastructure for the project would come from taxes and fees that the project will generate.” My question to Mr. Cohen: How can we collect taxes and fees before the project is built? I’m sure his answer will involve some convoluted form of “bonding” that will inevitably be in conflict with my response #6 listed above. The Chronicle postulates that an admitted shortfall of funds could unravel the entire Treasure Island scheme and the Navy is reluctant to sign the Island over without a real deal being consummated!

Why is all of this happening? What interest would the mayor’s office have in promoting this Treasure Island scheme? The answer is simple: smoke and mirrors. A quick-fix poster board attempt to polish his image. It looks good. That is, before actual analysis.

What we have here is Newsom “exploiting” another issue that people are concerned about to boost his rapidly declining poll numbers. Lets call this one “care not jobs.”

Here is the play to come: The Treasure Island scheme will have to go before the Supervisors. Some of the board members, in their bumbling self-serving way, will question the validity of such a strategy, and rightfully, vote against it. At this point, the Mayor, knowing full-well that the project was a loser all along, designed to appear as if he were “trying” to create jobs, has the perfect platform to blame the Board for stopping him from creating jobs. This isn’t the first time he has pulled such a maneuver.

The only one that makes out under this scheme is the Navy which has nothing to lose. Mr. Mayor stop trying to fool the people you represent. If perhaps you are not willing to do that at this point in your political career, then look around and see if you have any political donors left that you can coerce into a “sweetheart deal” so that you can continue to keep the “Treasure Island Fantasy” alive until you are finally out of office.

OBSERVATIONS and PREDICTIONS:

1. Treasure Island will never be developed in any form under this administration.

2. Jobs will be central to a multitude of schemes put forth in attention grabbing press releases in upcoming months, but will they really be created?

3. San Francisco will be ready for a welcome makeover in about 6 months to a year, as the real natives are getting restless.

4. David Canepa, Daly City Councilman is the officeholder to watch in local politics. His commitment to his constituents as opposed to special interests is a rarity on this side of the City and into the peninsula, where he is being touted for higher office.

If you are interested my blog is tonyhallsf.wordpress.com and twitter.com/TonyHallSF

February 2010

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