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As Clipper Cove Remains Open to Boaters, the Treasure Island Toll Moves Full Steam Ahead

Last year, we heard the first murmurings of a Treasure Island toll of $5 to both enter and exit the island. Now set to take effect in 2025, the toll was met with no small degree of outrage, with opponents saying a levy at the gates of TI would reduce access to public shores, which have grown with the new development of housing in the middle of the Bay.

Policymakers have acknowledged the need for a slew of exemptions to be baked into the levy. “We’re assessing the TI toll and affordability program in response to public feedback and direction from our board,” a spokesperson for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) told us this week. “We do not have a date scheduled for the next discussion about the toll,” the spokesperson added.

When we reported on the toll last April, one source said that there’d been little mention of the toll as it was proposed last year. “It’s really poorly thought through, and no one can say who benefits or who pays,” a government official closely involved in the initial phases of the development told us. That same official told us that the toll doesn’t have “the required votes to bring it before the Board of Supervisors. The transit agencies are about to fall off a fiscal cliff once federal pandemic money is gone.”

In September last year, staff at the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) told us that they were still considering toll policies, the exact price of the levy, and hours it would be enforced. TIDA told us that the plan was moving ahead, and that a toll had always been part of the development of Treasure Island from a naval air station to a much-sought-after, 8,000-residence waterfront neighborhood.

It wouldn’t be a story about Treasure Island without a few concept drawings. We are pleased to see two sailboats in Clipper Cove in this artist’s rendering of the new TI.
© 2023 Treasure Island Development Authority

There is still disagreement about the toll’s scope and whom it was originally meant to target. There’s also been some confusion at the government level. In 2021, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wrote a letter to the SFCTA, saying that when developers applied for their permit in 2016, information about the toll as it was proposed “was not provided at the time the Commission approved [the permit].”

The government official who was involved in the initial stages at TI told us that the original toll was meant to be applied to new residents and new trips, not to existing activities. “This is what we all relied on: ‘Visitors to the Islands, high-occupancy vehicles, and Coast Guard-related vehicles would not be charged a congestion pricing fee,'” the source said, quoting the the Final Environmental Impact Report, or FEIR. (The SFCTA has said that people already living on TI will not have to pay the new toll — more on that in a bit.)

Bob Beck, the Director at TIDA, told us in an email this week that a toll was first discussed in 1996 in the base reuse plan. “Tolling would be required in conjunction with the development of the island,” Beck wrote us in an email, then quoted the reuse plan: “‘For residential development, a plan to limit auto usage on Treasure Island must be developed prior to granting entitlements for new development. Elements of the plan should include limits on parking measures such as road pricing/tolls for auto access to the island, and community design and land use planning.'”

Beck also said that when the Board of Supervisors approved the 2006 development plan for TI, they included “explicit direction that staff secure state legislation authorizing the assessment of tolls to/from the island. [The toll] is integral to the viability of the development of the island serving as both a means of discouraging automobile use and funding transportation services which provide essential alternatives to driving,” Beck wrote us, referring to ferry services, which the toll is meant to subsidize.

We asked Beck if the original intent of the toll was only to charge new residents on TI, and not visitors, but we did not hear back from him by press time.

The logic of development goes like this: You need new housing to build and maintain public spaces. In the case of Treasure Island, you need a toll and paid parking to discourage traffic congestion, thus relying on heavily subsidized public transit to bring the public to the new public spaces.
© 2023 SF Planning

“If the toll is enforced,” we asked Beck, “isn’t it fair to say that a fee to enter TI effectively reduces access to the public waterfront?”

“The construction of the 290 acres of public open space and their future maintenance are possible through the development of new homes on the island,” Beck told us. “However, that development is only possible with robust public transportation programs and other measures. Rather than reducing access to the public spaces on Treasure Island, the tolling program is an essential component of a larger plan.”

Exemptions to the Toll Abound

In 2019, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided that existing Treasure Island residents will not pay the toll. “Residents will be able to drive on or off the island any number of times, at any time of day, and they will not pay the toll,” reads a SFCTA webpage outlining exemptions. The webpage defined peak hours as Monday through Friday, 6 to 10 a.m and 3 to 6 p.m.

There are a number of options being considered for toll rates, and further carving out exemptions for new, low-income residents:

proposed fee graph
 
© 2023 SFCTA

 

These are the exemptions being considered for current businesses/workers, as copied and pasted from the SFCTA website:

  • Applies to all existing not-for-profit entities and existing food distribution and food service establishments
  • Employers are provided a quarterly subsidy based on number of employees
  • Employers should prioritize compensation for low-income employees
  • Remaining balance may be used to compensate deliveries, vendors, visitors, and/or customers
  • Employers may use the subsidy to add to a toll tag (FasTrak) balance or as cash payment
  • Program will be evaluated and adjusted after 12 months in consultation with eligible employer

Doug Paine, the executive director at the Treasure Island Sailing Center, was careful not to take sides regarding the toll, but said matter-of-factly: “Transportation is always a concern with respect to the inner-city youth we serve.”

Will parents who are dropping off and picking up their kids be discouraged by a toll?

The TISC Shuffle

On Wednesday, we mentioned that the good people at the Treasure Island Sailing Center have had to move their entire operation — including buildings — to accommodate the work being done to shore up TI against against liquefaction. Here’s a quick look at the extraordinary shuffle taking place at TISC. Hats off to the sailors who are keeping TISC’s doors open.

 
© 2023 Stuart Paine
Treasure Island Sailing Center buildings
 
© 2023 Stuart Paine
 
© 2023 Stuart Paine
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4 Comments

  1. Ben Shaw 1 year ago

    More great reporting from Tim Henry. Keep up the sleuthing my friend!

  2. Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

    Once any toll is imposed,it will never disappear.AKA the golden gate and other bridges .Toll’s are for the east coast and foreign countries! That’s what we pay taxes for !

  3. Tom Gandesbery 1 year ago

    What a mess. Beck’s comment about the development enhancing public access is hard to swallow given that there is zero planning around the north end of the island where folks currently do wind-sports, fish and recreate. Trickle -sideway economics? All the new infrastructure is being paid for by the developer passing that to the buyer of the new apartments…except…the ferry and bus service. Why not add this to the cost of living in this wonderful new neighborhood? Utilities like water, sewer, and power are not paid for by a toll so why transportation? Don’t tell me it’s to lessen the traffic on the bay bridge. oh please!

  4. ebbe roe yovino-smith 1 year ago

    Ouch. Without a vote, an imposed toll is going to hurt. SF has become such a playground for the rich, it’s disgusting. Sounds like a sneaky development plan to pass the buck to me. At first I heard they were looking to get 10$ I can’t wait to see them confuse visitors with Fastrak on the 15mph East bound exit.
    What about Marina tenants? People with boats are paying to use the island already.
    “the tolling program is an essential component of a larger plan.”
    When will we be clued in on the LARGER plan?

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