Fifteen years into San Francisco’s effort to acquire Treasure Island, there has been no shortage of public discussion – in the press, in public hearings, in community sessions on Treasure Island itself.
And it all amounts to the kind of coverage one would expect from a small town newspaper heralding the opening of a new shopping center. All that is missing is a photo of the current year’s Watermelon Queen.
When the city’s Planning Commission meets Thursday evening to hear yet more public comment, it will have to do so without answers to some of the critical questions that actually do determine the future of Treasure Island and its Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA)
One would think that, with a two-volume study updated with public comments, that there couldn’t be many questions left.
After all, the latest document includes plans to require that all residents, business offices and even hotels be informed of the danger of distracting migratory birds during the peak Spring and Fall season. Please turn out unnecessary lights and close the curtains to avoid throwing the migratory flocks off course.
The birds will have better luck under the proposed plan than any resident that faces a medical emergency.
The proposal states there will be no plans to add medical services, including so much as a health clinic. Instead those in serious distress will be taken off-island in an ambulance that first has to make its way to the island, then beat its way back through traffic to get to San Francisco General seven miles away.
Never mind the mother or father who needs to take a child to get vaccinated in order to enroll in school, taking along the younger children, where inevitably one will have a slight fever or cold, and the entire family will be turned away as a result.
Or the frail senior citizen who has to go to the doctor or dentist, or anyone diagnosed with a condition that requires regular treatments.
In a city of almost 20,000 people, one might expect to find such services are available. Not if that community is Treasure Island.
Then there is the Treasure Island Library, where families know their kids can go after school, or attend Saturday morning story telling time, or do homework research, as happens in all the other city branch libraries.
Only there won’t be one on Treasure Island. The proposal says one isn’t needed because residents can go off-island back to the city for library services.
There will be a school for elementary and middle school students, but high school students will have to hit the bus line, wherever it might be. So much for joining the school football team or trying out for the school play.
Children are expected, since the proposal calls for 20 percent of the housing to be “family-sized” although what that means is not clear.
It also is not clear whether homebuyers on the island will have the flexibility to add an inlaw or secondary unit for extended family or even renters. San Francisco’s population mix is shifting in the direction of newcomers from nations where it is expected that extended families will live together. Whether Treasure Island’s policies will have an unintended consequence of favoring traditional family relationships simply because of the housing options also is unclear.
The proposed plan calls for public transit points for Muni and a frequent ferry system, but when the plan was reconfigured, it meant that some 30 percent of the housing will be further than a ten minute walk to public transit.
That’s got to be tough if you use a walker or are pushing a stroller with another five year-old in tow.
Going back to the city isn’t going to be easy, not with Bay Bridge traffic already at its maximum, and it is not going to be cheap.
Treasure Island planners recognize that there could be serious traffic problems, so to create a disincentive – a favorite word among planners – they contemplate a $5 charge every time one uses a car to go off or onto the island. That includes driving to work.
That’s got to pinch a few budgets, but not as many as first planned. That’s because, costs being what they are, the Treasure Island poobahs have reduced the number of affordable housing units, cutting out 400 units so that they can afford to keep the developers’ profits secure at a 25 percent return.
Left to chance, or the vagaries of the marketplace, are such considerations as a grocery store, a dry cleaners, a movie theater, a repair shop or any of the other neighborhood services that would raise this from being a bedroom community to an actual neighborhood.
In other areas, there would be a guaranteed preference for such businesses, including lower rents. Perhaps it could be something like the incentives given to Twitter and other mid-Market businesses.
San Francisco’s Turducken
The Treasure Island Development Authority is the turducken of San Francisco. It is neither a state agency, nor a city agency, nor a nonprofit but it is all three – just like the turkey, duck and chicken that make up the turducken.
Set up under a state law authored by Carole Migden in 1997, it was a nonprofit corporation. The person who incorporated it was Willie L. Brown, Jr. and it was to operate like a 501(c) 3. But search the Secretary of State or the IRS records and you won’t find any filings, including the annual filings.
By 2004, when Gavin Newsom faced a $400,000 debt from his successful campaign for mayor, one of the principals in a contract bid for Treasure Island hosted a fundraiser for the winner. That appeared to violate the city law that bans contributions from those seeking city contracts. Not to worry, said Newsom’s attorney James Sutton, Treasure Island is a state agency.
Tonight, at the Planning Commission, the Treasure Island submission will state that TIDA “would continue to be an agency of the City and County.”
In this case, a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. The status of TIDA determines what legal requirements must be met, what avenues of appeal exist, and who monitors them.
Those issues have been on the table for almost as long as the city has been seeking a conjugal relationship with Treasure Island.
In June 1998, voters were asked to clarify the status of Treasure Island by putting it under shared control between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, adopting conflict of interest standards, and other requirements.
Voters, unimpressed with then-Mayor Willie Brown’s penchant for throwing city contracts toward his friends, overwhelmingly voted for the reform version by 105,382 to 75,595.
This did not decide the issue because the Board of Supervisors decided that, lacking any specific implementation language, it was a Board decision on whether to then follow the voters’ instructions and create the reforms. With just a few months before the November election when a number were on the ballot (and were beholden to Brown for their appointment to the Board), they let the matter die.
So far, questions posed to the City Attorney’s office regarding the official status of TIDA have resulted in citations of various legislative history, none of which was related to the issue of TIDA’s legal standing.
If an answer is forthcoming, it likely will have to come as the result of a supervisor asking for a formal opinion or, better, a state legislator seeking the opinion of state officials.
All of this is not past history.
The San Francisco Ethics Commission has forwarded to the Board of Supervisors a proposal to rewrite the city’s ban on contributions from those seeking contracts to specifically allow them from “state agencies” and referencing Treasure Island.
If passed, this could be a strong contender for the “Just In Time” award as contracts are opened for bid for the next phase of Treasure Island and candidates for mayor as well as next year’s supervisor races (in redrawn districts) will be hustling money.
Meanwhile, the answer to the question of whether Treasure Island is paradise or purgatory depends on the answer to another question: are you the developer, or a potential resident?
The answer lies with the Planning Commission and others who are asked to approve a plan that looks out for migratory birds but not for children, seniors, or someone whose budget depends on a job and not investments.