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The naval station was targeted for closure in 1993, during the first round of military base closings. The last naval personnel left the island in 1997. The following year, the state legislature created TIDA as the local agency for conversion of the island to civilian use. At one point, city leaders envisioned an amusement park on the island. Former Mayor Brown had wanted to see a casino there.
As with many military installations, there is considerable environmental pollution at Treasure Island. By law, the Navy is required to clean up the property before it is transferred to civilian ownership. Thus far, Gilkey says the Navy has spent $100 million on cleanup and intends to spend another $7 million. But there's likely to be disagreement between the Navy and state environmental regulators as to how much more cleanup will be needed before anything new is permitted to be built there -- especially something on the scale of the TICD project.
The cost of the cleanup, whatever it turns out to be, is of critical importance, since that cost is certain to become part of the equation as the Navy determines what its compensation should be in surrendering ownership of the island.
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Indeed, of all the issues surrounding the future of Treasure Island, the transfer of ownership is perhaps the murkiest and most misunderstood. Even though media reports have continued to routinely portray the anticipated transfer as "no cost," there is little, if any, reason to conclude that the Navy may still be considering giving Treasure Island away.
Over the years, news accounts have helped fuel the widespread perception that the delay in the handover was somehow related to satisfying the complexities of federal law mandating that the property be cleaned up before it could fall under civilian governance.
But that is only partly true.
In June 2000, the city, or more specifically, TIDA, submitted the application to have the Navy turn over Treasure Island at no cost. "No cost" transfers of military property originated in the Bill Clinton Administration. A 1999 change in the law governing base conversions decreed that such conveyances "shall be without consideration." But in 2001, after the Bush Administration came into office, the word "shall" was changed to "may," leaving the Armed Forces with discretion as to whether to seek remuneration.
"If you're San Francisco, you don't want the Navy using its discretion, and the last thing you want is to have the Navy or any other branch of the military as a development partner," says former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who heads a bipartisan commission on base retention appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "The bureaucracy will just drown you."
The Navy has never issued a formal response to TIDA's no-cost request to procure the island, and despite the paradigm shift with regard to surrendering former bases, Navy officials, including Gilkey, have remained reluctant to say outright that getting the property for free is no longer in the cards. Asked about the matter, Gilkey says only that "the Navy remains committed to a fair and equitable transfer supporting redevelopment of Treasure Island."
Privately, however, Navy officials have let it be known for quite a while that the no-cost option is obsolete.
Long before Hall's trip to the Denver conference, the Navy's top official on base reuse, Wayne Arney, had made similar remarks suggesting a shift in terms with respect to surrendering Treasure Island. Michael Cohen, the mayor's base reuse office chief, recalls attending a military base conversion conference in Arizona in 2003 at which Arney openly stated that he "didn't like" no-cost conveyances, Cohen says.
In 2002, with the no-cost scenario having already faded, TIDA submitted a bid for an "early transfer" of Treasure Island, which would allow it to claim ownership while the Navy continues environmental cleanup and monitoring, which could last years.That application and the negotiations stemming from it have been kept in the strictest of secrecy. Asked by SF Weekly for a copy of the 2002 application, Gilkey, the Navy official, declined, saying that the documents "are still under sensitive business negotiations with TIDA, [and] we do not feel it would be appropriate to release them at this time," and added, "TIDA concurs."
Pressed to say who at TIDA he consulted, since, technically at least, Hall is still on the payroll as executive director until the middle of November, Gilkey said that he had meant to say "the TIDA board." Asked who on the board had not wanted the documents released, he conceded that it was Cohen, the mayor's base reuse office chief, who had concurred in not releasing them.
San Francisco's getting the island for free "is a thing of the past," concludes Eve Bach, the Arc Ecology urban planner and long-time island watchdog. "How much it costs and what role the Navy intends to play is just one more thing about Treasure Island that we don't know yet."