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The Enduring Unpopularity of the Proposed S.F. Marina Expansion

There is a certain give and take in municipal matters facing cities. Want to build a new train station, boardwalk or park? Some people will love it, and some will hate it. Public meetings will be filled with angry commentary, but usually some compromise, however small and perfunctory, is made. Projects might grudgingly be green-lighted, but at least some of the people are happy, some of the time.

That does not seem to be the case with the proposed San Francisco Marina Expansion.

As we reported this summer, after the City of San Francisco and Pacific Gas & Electric finally agreed to a nearly $190 million settlement in 2021, where the utility company was obliged to clean up toxic waste in East Harbor, PG&E has been working with the S.F. Recreation and Park Department on plans for a new public marina.

The results, which include an expanded West Harbor, seem to appeal to absolutely no one. The San Francisco Examiner reported that residents have been in an “uproar.” Nearly 2,750 people have signed petitions complaining that the new harbor would change the Marina Green area without cleaning it up.

“Opponents of the project argue that the new harbor would obstruct the Marina Green and dredge only 15% of the toxic waste in the process,” the Examiner said, adding that the original settlement included the cleanup as well as “designing and implementing a project to improve the Marina Small Craft Harbor, including replacing failing docks in the East Harbor and increasing recreational access to the waterfront for all.”

Instead of rehabilitating East Harbor, Rec and Parks has proposed moving some of the East Harbor’s boats “right in front of the Marina Green, blocking parkgoers’ currently unobstructed view of the water and the Golden Gate Bridge.”

You’ve probably already seen these concept drawings of the proposed project quite a few times by now. It’s still unclear what might become of East Harbor once the toxic sludge is removed.
© 2023 San Francisco Recreation & Parks

In the give and take on municipal matters, competing interests often emerge at odds with each other. (That is certainly shaping up to be the case with the proposed pedestrian bridge that would span the Oakland Estuary, where sailors and cyclists’ interests sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.) But in the case of San Francisco Marina, sailors and non-sailors alike are displeased with the idea of an expanded West Harbor. “The proposed breakwater will be terrible for junior sailing, J/22s, Knarrs and Folkboats and race committee operations,” said Bruce Stone, the vice president of the S.F. Marina Harbor Association, a nonprofit representing berth holders and users of San Francisco Marina. Many fleets do not use motors, and must tack upwind when returning from racing and practice. An expanded harbor would only increase that distance.

“[Rec and Parks] told us they are willing to relocate these boats to slips near the new harbor entrance, but that makes a longer walk to the clubs,” Stone said, warning that the proposed project could “kill those legacy fleets of the Bay that give the city character and color.” (There are also serious concerns about moving the fuel dock currently in Gashouse Cove to West Harbor, which is neither “feasible or responsible,” according to the dock’s owner.)

Rec and Parks is currently in the planning and community-engagement phase. “The next phase would be to begin project permitting, environmental reviews, and going over the design next year,” the Examiner said. “A detailed design is then expected in 2024, with a four-year construction period beginning in 2026.”

Catherine Stefani, who represents District 2 on the Board of Supervisors, has recused herself from the municipal debate about San Francisco Marina “under the advice of the city attorney,” according to the Examiner. “Her office told [us] that ‘she and her husband have a conflict of interest arising from their boat slip in the harbor.'”

A Marina resident and grassroots organizer told the Examiner that the project seemed like a “done deal” during the handful of meetings since March. (The Oakland pedestrian bridge is starting to feel the same way.)

A Rec and Parks spokesperson told the Examiner that, “Back-and-forth [is] part of the process and something that the department is quite familiar with. ‘We hear from people with very strong opinions for and against projects often. It’s all feedback we consider … in fact, we solicit it.'”

What’s your feedback? Please comment below, or email us here.

Additional reading and background on San Francisco Marina project here and here



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