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The Toll of an Expanding Treasure Island and Bay Area

For whom does the bell toll? For those looking to hit the shores of Treasure Island to go sailing after 2024, it may toll for thee.

For more than 10 years, city planners have been considering a toll to enter and leave TI as a way to “subsidize more transit options in preparation for an expected population boom over the next decade,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported, referring to the proposed 8,000 units set to be developed on the man-made island between San Francisco and Oakland. Planners say they hope to reduce traffic congestion by discouraging driving to the island, and pay for more public transit options as Treasure Island continues to grow. (When we wrote about the toll last year, we said that there were plans to subsidize some of the development itself with the tolls. That does not appear to be the case, but if you have evidence to the contrary, please let us know.)

Treasure Island, and the Bay Bridge sections, as seen from San Quentin.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim Henry

The proposed toll has caused an uproar in the sailing community, with fears that additional tolls could make sailing out of Treasure Island cost-prohibitive. There is a petition circulating, and sailing and access advocates are urging people to write the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to oppose the toll. (Links will be provided below.)

The proposal calls for a $5 toll each way onto and off Treasure Island at peak hours during the morning and afternoon commute; a one-way toll for off-peak hours on weekdays and weekends would cost $2.50. (Don’t forget that there’s already a $7 bridge toll westbound from Oakland, so someone from the East Bay going sailing at TI during peak hours could potentially pay $17 for a session.) Access to Treasure Island via car would be free between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekends, and 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays, the Chronicle said, adding that exemptions from the toll will abound. “Residents who’ve lived on the island since 2019 will be exempt from having to pay the tolls, though new residents would not. The tolling plan also includes discounted rates for ‘moderate-income’ and ‘low-income’ motorists. The tolls wouldn’t apply to motorists who make less than 55% of the region’s median income.”

And what about sailors?

“A toll of this magnitude would dismantle the community that we have worked hard to build over the past 20 years,” said Carisa Harris-Adamson, the chair of the board of directors at the Treasure Island Sailing Center. A nonprofit, TISC said that their mission is to provide access to the Bay and to sailing for people of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, and sociodemographic backgrounds. “We provide low-cost education and recreation opportunities to children and youth in our community. Between 50-100% of our families receive partial and full scholarships; many would not qualify for the toll subsidies. The current toll structure amounts to $10 per trip to visit TI, and $20 per day to drop off a child that is attending camp.”

TISC said that while they “support increasing access to safe public transportation on and off the island from both San Francisco and the East Bay, the implementation of a costly toll presents some real challenges that need discussion and problem solving before its approval and implementation.

“Therefore, we respectfully ask that the toll as proposed not be approved at this time.”

The two sections of the Bay Bridge meet at Yerba Buena Island, where the man-made Treasure Island was built in the 1930s for the World’s Fair, then used by the military before being claimed for housing.
© 2022 baynature.org

The change.org petition against the Treasure Island toll alleges that the proposed fee “violates the State Land Grant that gave TI to the city; it violates the Final [Environmental Impact Review] that specifies how TI can be developed; it violates the BCDC permit that clearly stipulates that recreational users have free and unrestricted access to the waters at TI; and it violates AB 981 [the Treasure Island Transportation Management Act] that requires clear benefits to those that pay the toll.”

According to The Frisc, the SF Board Sailing Association also said that charging recreational users violates a state law enforced by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. A BCDC staff member wrote a letter to toll planners explaining that they “may need a BCDC permit or permit amendment for the tolls.” We reached out to determine what permits were required, but have not heard back.

In our quick-and-dirty analysis, we are not prepared to say what is or isn’t legal, and we suspect that the answer will come after lengthy and expensive deliberation among lawyers.

It might be easy to feel an automatic, righteous outrage against the proposed TI toll. (That was our first knee-jerk reaction.) And when it comes to TISC, we are unequivocally in support of ensuring affordable, easy access to sailing. Surely there’s a way to exempt or greatly discount people going to and from the Treasure Island Sailing Center. (We’re thinking about instructors and employees, too.)

But we recognize that there are tolls that need to be paid. It would be easy to be reactively anti-development and bemoan new housing that makes the Bay Area more crowded and more expensive. We know that we need housing, and that we need to manage the estimated increase of 1.1 million more automobiles by 2040, according to the Sierra Club. We think Treasure Island would would be a cool place to live. And we think traffic sucks, and that people should drive less.

Unless it’s windy, of course.

You may or may not know that there’s actually a kiting and windsurfing beach right next to the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Also, traffic. How much is too much?
© 2022 US Department of Transportation
Royce Beach, or Toll Plaza Beach, immediately adjacent to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. For years, I called this beach ‘Tollies’ in my head. I also call it the Fourth of July spot, when Berkeley Marina is closed for fireworks.
© 2022 San Francisco Board Sailing Association

This writer drives about 4,000 miles a year chasing wind, and crosses a bridge almost 100 times a year. Both those miles and that amount of toll money, are relatively low, but that’s still a lot of single-occupancy-vehicle miles to go sailing.

We also unequivocally support sailors of all stripes, especially ‘boarders’, and providing them with affordable access to the Bay. Is there an easy way to exempt sailors from excessive tolls — maybe a high-frequency pass? (Then we’d have to assume that every new resident of Treasure Island will take up windsurfing so that they qualify for the pass.)

Unless anyone wants to support strict population-control measures or a one-child policy, we have to recognize that every person, whether recreating or commuting to work, is part of the maddening crowd. Who is going to make sacrifices? Who is going to pay the toll?

Here’s a link to the change.org petition.

The Treasure Island Sailing Center is asking people to write their San Francisco Board of Supervisors representative and urge them to vote no on the proposed TI toll. TISC said they’re asking for “safe and economical public transportation for kids, reasonable accommodations for parents who have to drop off young children, and annual passes for staff and volunteers who use the island frequently.”

17 Comments

  1. nicesailorette 9 months ago

    I wonder exactly how they plan to determine someone is low-come? A special sticker on the windshield? No. Wait. That would be discriminatory. It would notify everyone the people in the car are low income.

    Since there is already a bill on the books that prohibits limiting access, to me a toll is a moot point. It can’t happen. Not to mention, the cost to staff a toll bridge often exceeds the funds collected.

    • Tim Henry 9 months ago

      Sailorette — Can you point me to the bill on the books that prohibits limiting access?

    • andrew sullivan 9 months ago

      I wish the author had read the documents more closely or contacted those most engaged in this process before publishing this article. Most of those opposing TIMMA’s proposal are not fundamentally against tolls–or ferries. We are against the complete lack of compliance with the agreements and regulatory framework that governs the terms by with San Francisco was granted the land by the state of California. Secondly, one of the many issues we have with TIMMA’s proposal is that they have NO WAY of implementing a dynamic, multivariable toll–they cannot charge tolls based on time and identify. Even if they could implement the tolling solution, these income-based models don’t work: the people such programs are intended to benefit generally don’t go through the bureaucratic process to receive the waver.

  2. Tom Gandesbery 9 months ago

    The City of SF has no system in place to give discounts and no model or example to point to. They said they will “work with” the Bay Area Fasttrak program to give discounts or implement their own system… And occasional visitors, from delivery drivers to recreational visitors, would not know about such a program in advance. 100% of the toll would go toward the new shuttle ferry and bus that benefits new residents and helps to sell condos. Basically, the plan is to tax now and figure out the details later.

  3. I Sargin 9 months ago

    I often hear the low income argument used to defend car facilities/access, but I do wonder if people with space and money for surfboards and cars to haul them generally qualify as low income? Myself, am generally at the lower end of the income scale, and I already pay $9 each way to go to Treasure Island on the bus and/or from Berkeley. When they start a new bus route from the East Bay I will save both money and time. Dare I suggest that people consider taking the bus to TI? Or maybe the new ferry?

    • Jeffrey Finn 9 months ago

      They city messed up with the developer for the new housing on TI. The deal does not cover enough of the cost of the new ferry service, so the city is going after everyone to make it seem affordable to ride the ferry. The developer should have bore more of the cost of the ferry. As for your argument for people with recreational gear using a vehicle, not everyone has the $. I do not consider a 14 year old car and some surfboards living it up. The city is violating State Laws and will be sued if they do this. reread the article to understand nuances of the regulations they want to violate.

  4. Jeffrey Finn 9 months ago

    The city is violating the conditions with the state lands commission giving clear title to treasure island as the FEIR and agreement said existing recreational users will not be charged a toll.

    • Tim Henry 9 months ago

      Jeffrey — Can you please point me to these documents/this legal language, etc. Are you saying that there’s a law on the books that says, specifically, “existing recreational users will not be charged a toll”?

      Regarding single-occupancy vehicles: Obviously, not everyone — especially 14 year olds — are driving to their favorite spot every day to go kiting/windsurfing/foiling. But can’t we agree that the majority of hardcore boardsailors are in fact in single occupancy cars? I know that I am, and I’m lucky enough to pass on sailing in gusty, choppy, inconsistent Marin and commute to the East Bay. Fortunately, the traffic on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge isn’t too bad.

      But it still comes at a cost.

    • andrew sullivan 9 months ago

      Summary of Legal and Regulatory Issues with the TIMMA Toll Proposal

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation should have never reached the board for a vote. It fails to meet the most basic standards and follow required procedures to deviate so widely from the legal settlement and regulatory framework governing the agreement. Rather than work through and with the governing state agencies and comply with regulations, TIMMA is attempting to bypass these requirements and realize a poorly considered plan with broad-reaching consequences for generations to come. A vote to approve this proposal will be arbitrary and capricious, as such, this will place the City and SFCTA in a precarious regulatory legal position for no reason. We urge the board to require TIMMA staff to meet the standards required by law and to work transparently with the State Lands Commission and BCDC to craft a compliant congestion management plan.

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the conditions by which the city was granted the Treasure Island and Yerba Buena. [TRUST EXCHANGE AGREEMENT FOR TREASURE ISLAND AND YERBA BUENA ISLAND: Page 3-5] 

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the conditions defined in the FEIR that define the terms of development of the land.  Final EIR for the Treasure Island Master Plan.  “Visitors to the Islands would not be charged a congestion pricing fee” [FEIR, page IV.E.45]. 

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the BCDC permit by which the city must abide in order to develop the land. BCDC informed TIMMA Deputy Director of Planning on November 15, 2021:” In other words, we believe a BCDC permit (or permit amendment) is required for implementation of the proposed congestion management program on the basis that the program may affect public access required under Permit No. 2016.005.00”

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation, according to the city’s own FEIR data (which was authorized and approved by the SFBOS), fails to address the very issue it is designed to affect: congestion management reduce only by less than 4% [2019 Treasure Island Demand Model Analysis Report page 43].

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation fails to meet standards in AB 981 that stipulated any congestion management program shall a) not impede access to Public trust lands AB 981 Section 1967.6(b) and b) must be supported by a rigorous economic impact and benefits analysis before any decision is made.AB981 Section 1967.5(b)(1)

      TIMMA’s affordability (for low/moderate income and workers) program as part toll recommendation is currently not technically possible to implement. SFCTA Deputy Director admitted as much see TIMMA Committee Nov 9, 2021 and quote from John Goodwin, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
         
      TIMMA has been made aware of these issues for years yet they have failed to make good-faith efforts to address them. There is no reason TIMMA staff cannot work within the legal and regulatory framework governing this land grant and development agreement. We urge the BOS to demand that TIMMA’s congestion management proposal comply not only with state governing bodies, but with the spirit and intent of the agreement. 

      Other points:

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with pre-existing congestion management and toll subsidy fees already in place – cite bay bridge fees with specific reference to subsidies in toll

      TIMMA’s toll recommendation will subsidize an inefficient, highly costly transportation solution.
      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with its mandate to ensure economic and social justice

  5. RovingJohn 9 months ago

    Interesting conundrum. Those connecting with the east shore are already paying the bridge toll on one leg of their trip, so should be left alone. However those connecting with the west shore are avoiding the toll entirely. So, why not set up a toll collection at the entry to the westbound bridge to even the game. Simple. The Bridge authority already uses revenues to support public transport, so if the present toll for all doesn’t provide enough then just adjust all tolls. No need to get into the details of who’s getting the best deal. If you want to create special rates for ‘special’ people, do it only with Fastrak.

  6. Tim Henry 9 months ago

    Readers — What exactly is the bill, FEIR and/or agreement that says you can’t put a toll to get on Treasure Island? Please point me in the right direction so that I can examine these laws and ask experts questions about their applications. Broadly, I’ve heard that “charging recreational users” violates state permits and agreements. So does that mean that if you’re going to recreate, then you cannot be charged any toll? Then wouldn’t all bridge tolls also be a violation of this agreement? And wouldn’t someone be able to make the completely fair argument that people commuting to work should not have to subsidize people commuting to have fun?

    If planners have been working on the toll for over a decade, then isn’t it reasonable to assume that they’ve had teams of lawyers consider the legal ramifications?

    I’m sorry to play Devil’s Advocate here. I think a $5-each-way toll is excessive, and that viable, affordable exceptions for frequent users have to be made — especially for all things TISC. I think that the deepest pockets — developers — should finance everything, especially the public-transportation component. (PS: Don’t forget to advocate for a green, wind-and-electric-powered ferry.)

    And what should we do about those estimated 1.1 ADDITIONAL cars expected to be on the road over the next 18 years? If not a toll, then what? Can traffic be allowed to swell unabated? What if we have no tolls, but it takes an hour and a half to get from Berkeley to TI? (Personally, I’d be happy for a 25-year moratorium on reproduction, but now this is starting to sound like a bad Sci-Fi novel.)

    Seriously though, who should have to make sacrifices to keep traffic at bay?

    • Jeffrey Finn 9 months ago

      Summary of Legal and Regulatory Issues with the TIMMA Toll Proposal
      TIMMA’s toll recommendation should have never reached the board for a vote. It fails to meet the
      most basic standards and follow required procedures to deviate so widely from the legal
      settlement and regulatory framework governing the agreement. Rather than work through and
      with the governing state agencies and comply with regulations, TIMMA is attempting to bypass
      these requirements and realize a poorly considered plan with broad-reaching consequences for
      generations to come. A vote to approve this proposal will be arbitrary and capricious, as
      such, this will place the City and SFCTA in a precarious regulatory legal position for no reason.
      We urge the board to require TIMMA staff to meet the standards required by law and to work
      transparently with the State Lands Commission and BCDC to craft a compliant congestion
      management plan.
      1) TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the conditions by which the city was
      granted the Treasure Island and Yerba Buena. [TRUST EXCHANGE AGREEMENT FOR
      TREASURE ISLAND AND YERBA BUENA ISLAND: Page 3-5] chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/viewer.html?pdfurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.slc.ca.gov%2FPrograms%2FGranted_Lands%2FG11_San_Francisco_County%2FG11-02_Treasure_Island_Development_Authority%2FAD599.pdf&clen=8555448&chunk=true
      2) TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the conditions defined in the FEIR
      that define the terms of development of the land. Final EIR for the Treasure Island Master Plan.
      “Visitors to the Islands would not be charged a congestion pricing fee” [FEIR, page IV.E.45]. https://sftreasureisland.org/FinalEIR
      3)TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with the BCDC permit by which the city
      must abide in order to develop the land. BCDC informed TIMMA Deputy Director of Planning on
      November 15, 2021:” In other words, we believe a BCDC permit (or permit amendment) is required for
      implementation of the proposed congestion management program on the basis that the program may
      affect public access required under Permit No. 2016.005.00”
      4) TIMMA’s toll recommendation, according to the city’s own FEIR data (which was authorized
      and approved by the SFBOS), fails to address the very issue it is designed to affect:
      congestion management reduce only by less than 4% [2019 Treasure Island Demand
      Model Analysis Report page 43].
      5) TIMMA’s toll recommendation fails to meet standards in AB 981 that stipulated any
      congestion management program shall a) not impede access to Public trust lands AB 981
      Section 1967.6(b) and b) must be supported by a rigorous economic impact and benefits
      analysis before any decision is made.AB981 Section 1967.5(b)(1) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=200720080AB981
      6) TIMMA’s affordability (for low/moderate income and workers) program as part toll
      recommendation is currently not technically possible to implement. SFCTA Deputy Director
      admitted as much see TIMMA Committee Nov 9, 2021 and quote from John Goodwin, a
      spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. https://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/player/clip/39815?view_id=179&redirect=true

      TIMMA has been made aware of these issues for years yet they have failed to make good-faith
      efforts to address them. There is no reason TIMMA staff cannot work within the legal and
      regulatory framework governing this land grant and development agreement. We urge the BOS
      to demand that TIMMA’s congestion management proposal comply not only with state governing
      bodies, but with the spirit and intent of the agreement.
      Other points:
      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with pre-existing congestion management and
      toll subsidy fees already in place – cite bay bridge fees with specific reference to subsidies in toll
      TIMMA’s toll recommendation will subsidize an inefficient, highly costly transportation solution
      that has an enormous carbon footprint [They will cite their federal grant for electric ferry]
      TIMMA’s toll recommendation is in direct conflict with its mandate to ensure economic and social
      justice.

    • Daniel 9 months ago

      The transportation section of the FEIR is posted here: https://sftreasureisland.org/ftp/2011%20FEIR/Volume%201%20-%20Chapters%20I-IV.H/14%20-%20IV.E.%20Transportation%20FEIR.pdf
      Pertinent language in section IV.E.45: “Visitors to the Islands, high-occupancy vehicles, and Coast Guard-related vehicles would not be charged a congestion pricing fee. ”
      The transportation plan as it stands is in direct contradiction to this specific language in the FEIR. If the SFCTA and BoS go through with approving the plan, you can rest assured that somebody will sue. This is clear as day and a quick turnaround for any judge. In addition, it is illegal to “cross-finance” the ferry with a road toll. Tolls need to be for the benefit of the people who pay it. Actually, in the historical context, tolls should only be paid to help finance capital expenses of a project such as thw Golden Gate Bridge, not its operation.
      re: “If planners have been working on the toll for over a decade, then isn’t it reasonable to assume that they’ve had teams of lawyers consider the legal ramifications? ” Well, who knows what they were doing. That’s what we pay taxes for these days.

    • andrew sullivan 9 months ago

      Tim, it’s important to understand the context of this issue before equating the opposition to this toll proposal with an anti-development and pro-traffic agenda. As someone who values and is also dependent on access to our shoreline to recreate, it is critical to understand the regulatory bodies that have created and preserved our access and the threat to the authority of those bodies that this toll poses. The SFBA has written many letters (including this one: https://www.sfba.org/blog/proposed-access-tolls-for-treasure-island-_-sfba-comment-letter-to-treasure-island-mobility-management-agency) to the BCDC, SLC, TIMMA and others in an attempt to educate the city of SF of their duties as a Trustee of these lands, the governing terms of the land grant that gave the city the island and the legal and regulatory guidelines that must be followed to deviate from or fundamentally change the terms. Unless you don’t believe in contracts and laws, Tim, you should be concerned about the city’s behavior here. It’s about more than just a toll.

      There is NO discussion of a toll in the FEIR, and the BCDC specifically notes this in their warning to the city of SF regarding their proposal. What the FEIR does discuss is a traffic mitigation strategy–and it’s quite specific about where and when traffic to and from the island will impact the bridge: it’s between TI and SF during peek morning and evening commute hours. That’s it. There is NO other mention of congestion caused by TI traffic. So if there is any justification for discussion of a toll, the only direction and time is explicitly spelled out in the FEIR–which the SF BOS authorized. What happened is that the city let the developer off the hook for the cost of the ferry and, in an attempt to close the financial gap, they turned to charging ALL visitors from ALL directions during most times, except midnight hours. This in direct conflict with the terms under which the city was granted the right to develop the land.

      More fundamentally, the Land Grant and the FEIR make it clear that the real value of the land to the city is that it constitutes such an enormous increase in the ratio of open space per capita that it brings the city closer to the average ratio of other cities. The land grant goes much deeper, however, and spells out the financial terms of the grant: the state gave the city the right to develop the land on the condition that the tidelands and the vista of Yerba Buena remain freely accessible to the public. This access will be supported by the tax base and other revenues generated by developing the interior lands. So that was the deal, Tim, and A LOT of people agreed to it BECAUSE of the terms of the deal. The grant, the FEIR and the BCDC permit are crystal clear and consistent on this point.

      Then there’s AB 218 and 981. You can’t just say $10 to get on and off the island is the right number. You have to do an economic impact and benefits analysis that demonstrates why $10 and not $7, or $25 is the right number. And you have to show that the people paying that toll are benefiting from it. The city has not done this. They just made up the number without any good data to support it.

      You have the additional problem that people coming from the East Bay are already paying a congestion management fee and a ferry subsidy in the $7 bridge toll.

      You have yet another issue that’s hard to digest, and that’s that we’re being asked to subsidize a ferry that will transport (assuming it, like no other ferry in the bay area, reaches peek ridership) only 2,800 of the forecast 72,000 trips to and from the island every day (these are the city’s figures). Ferries are subsidized to the tune of about $4k/seat/year (thank Jim McGrath for figuring that out). And who rides ferries? People with money. Who benefits? The people who own expensive apartments and the developer who is able to sell them.

      One thing that we agree on is that congestion needs to be addressed, and this may involve rethinking both tolls and public transport. But the TIMMA toll, aside from being in conflict with the spirit and letter of the agreement, is a reckless attempt to address a very complex problem.

  7. Memo Gidley 9 months ago

    So many things will happen because of population increase! Just flying through Orlando airport now and what a zoo! Lines so long over 1 hour just to get through a rushed security! And a few other other examples…traffic, soaring house just to name a few… prices all mostly because of population increase! Unfortunately…if your family has more that two children…you are responsible.

  8. Jeff Hoffman 9 months ago

    I for one support a one-child-family policy. Reducing human population is the ONLY solution to the overpopulation problem. There is no shortage of housing in the Bay Area or anywhere else; there are just far too many people. The biggest problem with overpopulation is the great environmental/ecological harm it causes, but it also clearly makes life more unpleasant for humans.

    To be clear, there is an AFFORDABLE housing shortage in the Bay Area, and a big one at that. But developments don’t solve that problem for two reasons: first, the vast majority of the housing units built are not affordable; second, you can’t build your way out of the overpopulation problem, because you could never build enough housing units fast enough.

    We can choose selfish individualism or doing what’s good for the planet and the greater society. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. So we either greatly reduce human population, or we continue to destroy the planet and make life for humans ever more overcrowded.

  9. andrew sullivan 9 months ago

    Some recent media stories on the toll proposal that go into more detail:

    https://48hills.org/2022/03/the-treasure-island-toll-is-regressive-pointless-and-still-somehow-alive/

    https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2022/03/13/sf-treasure-island-residents-slam-proposed-toll-on-auto-traffic/

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/justinphillips/article/Even-with-exemptions-a-Treasure-Island-toll-16995497.php#photo-22182508

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