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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
About two weeks after his re-election as Mayor, Gavin Newsom started ramping up his impressive PR machine and started blowing about the enormous deficit that is to impact our City budget. This was a very clever and necessary political move for him and granted, somewhat risky, because in reality his statements ran counter to the windfalls of the day that should have been giving our treasury a surplus.
Let me explain. During Newsom’s first term, the Assessor’s office was consistently being inundated with one real estate tax “raise,” “gain” or “windfall,” whatever you choose to call it, after another, as real estate prices soared and the resultant sales resulted in unprecedented revenue to the City. This massive change of increased property tax income amounted to at least a $2 billion dollar increase to the City coffers. Now add this to the fact that Willie Brown left office providing annual budgetary surplus to the incoming regime in Rm. 200. That surplus was publicized to be near $65 million. For all his faults, Willie made some deals that were beneficial to the City, as did many of the Mayors before him, and that is because they took their responsibilities to the public seriously.
Newsom, the political empire builder, with little expertise in genuine government administration, and absolutely no concern for the “common good,” makes his move in order to prepare for the next higher office on his agenda. He hires hundreds of political assistants to fill newly invented administrative “middle management” positions, and thus installs his future “army of volunteers” when the run for governor comes around.
As a result, the annual City budget goes up from $4 billion to $6.6 billion as this gross overspending for personnel and, related benefits entwined with a multitude of bogus social programs, creates the small army that he needs to help in his governor’s campaign. As a result, we now end up with a budgetary deficit that exceeds $565 million dollars!
Never at a loss to exploit a current issue, concern or even people in his dedication to self promotion, (remember the homeless in care not cash, or the LGBT community in same sex marriage, etc etc. ad infinitem). He then inherits an easily supplied “blame” point to cite as the cause of the current budget deficit — the economic downturn! Never one to let an opportunity slip by, or reality and truth to get in the way, the very fact that the deficit that he created took place much earlier than the downturn is not even acknowledged or challenged, and his “PR spin machine” just keeps on rolling on!
Meanwhile, he is now cutting all the convenient scapegoat victims out of his misspent payroll scheme by laying off regular City maintenance, recreation, social service, and protective personnel while leaving his “volunteer army” untouched. Services that the public expects from local government are drastically cut in order for them to feel the “pinch” while his favored department heads and political appointments continue on with their empire building. Millions of dollars are squandered and unaccountable with meaningless social programs and development schemes that are only designed to attract media attention. Indeed, his “czar/business guru” for economic development, Mr. Michael Cohen of Hunters Point, Candlestick, Treasure Island and 49er fame, (just to mention a few), has yet to deliver on one single project for the City in eight years! It’s not about results, but the media attention that can be gained in preparation for his next political move. What he personally doesn’t cut in his budget, he then smirkingly forwards in his budget submission to a naïve and overzealous Board of Supervisors to do the rest of the dirty work.
Along with the “cutting” comes new methods of sucking more money out of an already strapped, trusting and yet apathetic public. Muni fares, parking meter rates, parking fines, recreational and licensing fees, and a whole array of new public charges soar to higher plateaus. All possible enforcement actions that could possibly produce new revenue are stepped up as our quality of life here in San Francisco deteriorates. All of this upsurge revenue activity is what one might call Newsom’s “volunteer army tax.” Police and fire services are cut, street and pavement conditions worsen and our recreational and public facilities deteriorate as bona fide civil servants and old school blue collar jobs are replaced with Gavin’s army of untouchable, make work neo-managers who run around engaged in meaningless and nonsensible mini-projects designed to attract attention. Quietly his army of political operatives posing as middle managers remain on the payroll while those who were truly dedicated to working for the public are laid off.
I am no stranger to how these City employed and funded political operatives take to the streets when a political campaign is shifted into gear, having had to fight them in several local campaigns. One only has to look at several of the recently elected Newsom lackeys and yes -men on the Board of Supervisors to understand how the least qualified and most duplicitous of characters can get elected. If you are willing to do his bidding, one can avail him or herself of unlimited campaign resources, and the sad fact is, they usually get elected. I can only imagine how “his army” will be mobilized for a statewide campaign. Thankfully these types of “volunteers” are usually just hacks doing a job for the boss and not heart-dedicated believers, so hopefully genuineness will prevail in the governor’s race.
To repeat, with the $2 billion windfall real estate tax surplus from the 2004-2007 years, and the $65 million surplus that this administration inherited from the former administration, this City today should be enjoying a fine surplus, and certainly be able to withstand the perils of the present economic downturn. Even If we just held our spending to what came in, or double that of Willie Brown’s last budget, plus the $2 billion dollar windfall, we would be in great shape. This of course would require some minor degree of integrity and moral responsibility, as opposed to political maneuvering. The $565 million deficit that we are faced with today was avoidable, is totally unnecessary, and directly attributable to Newsom’s political power needs. Hopefully, his city-funded army of political volunteers will be dismantled when his private army of wealthy backers comes to the inevitable realization that this guy cares about no one but himself.