Bay Crossings Article

Opposing the Proposed Waterfront Basketball Arena

Deb Self
From the April 2013 edition of Bay Crossings

A 13-story basketball stadium on the San Francisco waterfront is not just a bad idea—it would be an illegal grab of property held in trust for you.

That’s one of many reasons to oppose the Golden State Warriors’ proposal to build an 18,000-seat arena on Pier 30/32, on San Francisco Bay’s shoreline, just south of the Bay Bridge. The behemoth arena would block precious open-water views that connect us all to San Francisco Bay.

By law, San Francisco’s piers are property held in trust as public assets for the people of California, which includes you and me. The piers can only be used for maritime purposes, water-related projects or public spaces such as parks.

The gorgeous Bay views along San Francisco’s waterfront are a public resource. It makes no difference whether we live nearby in San Francisco’s South Beach neighborhood, admire the waterfront from the Bay, or enjoy a lunchtime stroll along the Embarcadero. Legally, those sweeping vistas belong to all the people of California.

Currently, Pier 30/32 has no buildings on it, and the proposed arena would me a major, permanent obstruction. "There’s a 40-foot height limit for structures along the San Francisco waterfront. The Warriors arena would break that limit with a vengeance," said Jennifer Clary, president of San Francisco Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization opposing the arena.

A quarter-century ago, San Francisco’s waterfront was mostly closed to the public, blocked by the concrete and roar of the Embarcadero Freeway. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the freeway, it was torn down in favor of a promenade to celebrate the Bay views.

"The eastern part of San Francisco has few parks. The walkway along the Embarcadero, Herb Caen Way, is very important as open space for people who live in the neighborhood," said Clary.

Among several environmental permits that must be obtained, the Warriors arena project needs approval from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The Commission’s mandate includes safeguarding the Bay and its shoreline, and protecting the historic and maritime uses of San Francisco piers. The commission has a proud history of fulfilling these goals, which would be severely undermined by a hulking shoreline basketball arena.

Moreover, Pier 30/32 is in rotten shape and will have to be reconstructed to build an arena. Before Americas’ Cup organizers abandoned their plan to build a major facility at the same site, Baykeeper provided technical analysis showing that reconstructing the pier would pollute the Bay. It could also spread Undaria, an invasive seaweed that infests the pier below the waterline. Undaria fouls ship hulls and can drastically alter the Bay ecosystem.

Then there’s the problem of global climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise. Water already covers parts of the Embarcadero during the year’s highest tides. With scientists predicting up to a five-foot rise in Bay levels by 2100, building a giant sports complex along the Bay’s shore is simply unwise.

Clary reports that an unwarranted piece of legislation is being developed in the California Assembly to change the law so that the San Francisco waterfront will no longer be owned by the public. But as of today, the piers and views of the waterfront are held in public trust for you—as they have been since the state’s founding. As the Port of San Francisco marks its 150th anniversary, it’s time to celebrate the port’s maritime past. And it’s time to make sure this beautiful waterfront and the storied Bay views we enjoy in the present will be open to all in the future.