How Chris Daly saved San Francisco from a bad America's Cup deal

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Port official Jonathan Stern talks as fast as he walks, and pocket-size Mayor Ed Lee struggled to keep up both verbally and physically. During a media show-and-tell late last month, Stern played the role of supercharged Realtor, explaining to the new mayor how a series of functional — at best — Port facilities will soon be transformed into the glistening center of the 34th America's Cup by 2013. Two phrases passed Stern's lips with regularity: "Our current vision" and "tear this down."

Lee was enthused. It'd be impossible not to be; a crisper and more beautiful morning to showcase San Francisco's northern waterfront could not be conceived. When it came to hosting the Cup, "not only did San Francisco make the right decision," said Lee, with the bay as his glistening backdrop, "the world made the right decision."

Former District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly was not among the scrum of elected officials and politicos assembled at Pier 27 to politely applaud Lee's words. It'd be unthinkable for the caustic former supervisor to be there. And yet, without him, no one else would be there, either.

It's hard to find anybody in this city with a neutral position on Daly. He is loved or he is hated: Were he to praise the use of water, a good portion of San Franciscans would reconsider bathing. His reputation as a black belt of boorishness was cemented in the waning days of his tenure last month, when he and other progressives were ambushed by the moderate political machinations that led to Lee's anointment as mayor. This inspired one last epic tirade from Daly — and it was volcanic by even his lofty standards. The termed-out supervisor lumbered across the board chamber to curse out his colleagues, capping the escapade by snarling, "It's on like Donkey Kong" at president David Chiu, a Lee ally. For a man who left public office on Jan. 8 after 10 years in the public eye, it was an unfortunate final act; one-upping T.S. Eliot, Daly went out with a bang and a whimper.

Yet Daly's true goodbye gift to this city — apart from inspiring a Donkey Kong revival — was countering former Mayor Gavin Newsom's Ahab-like drive to land the America's Cup and ram through a high-priced deal before decamping to his new job in Sacramento.

In doing so, Daly undermined an inferior pact centered on Pier 50, adjacent to AT&T Park on the central waterfront. Upfront city losses alone on that deal were subsequently pegged at some $58 million, with nearly that much again probably gone over the coming decades via land giveaways. The arrangement now in place, headquartered at Pier 27, lessens the land handed to Oracle CEO and yachting billionaire Larry Ellison from 35 to roughly 20 acres. Shrinking the Cup's footprint — largely by taking Pier 50 off the table — will save the city a considerable sum. Under the northern waterfront plan, San Francisco is expected to lose around $12 million in the near term — but that money could be made back, and then some, down the road.

Daly is best known for his tub-thumping bellicosity — and there was plenty of that, as he used the bully pulpit of his office to belittle the initial America's Cup deal to anyone who'd listen (and many who wouldn't). While his style often leaves much to be desired, the substance of Daly's arguments couldn't be ignored.

"I will give real credit to Chris Daly for raising the cost issues of the central waterfront option," says Chiu, the subject of Daly's ire. Chiu, who contends Daly "blew up that deal," continues: "The conversation Supervisor Daly started absolutely helped save the city money." Sans Daly, Supervisor John Avalos says, "I expect we would have had a really bad deal go through."

And yet Daly made the pertinent financial questions he raised about Pier 50 easier to brush aside — by being Chris Daly. "Threats, tantrums, angry outbursts against the mayor and his fellow supervisors — sadly, it's just another normal day with Chris Daly at the Board of Supervisors," mayoral spokesman Tony Winnicker opined after the supervisor questioned the initial deal. The misgivings Daly expressed publicly, however, were those a number of his colleagues harbored privately — or would come to, once the numbers were vetted. Crucially, it was Daly who tasked the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst to reveal those sums.

While numerous City Hall officials have told SF Weekly that Port of San Francisco staffers were appalled by the push to give away huge swaths of the central waterfront to Ellison, Port officials were publicly onboard with the initial plan. San Francisco, it turned out, needed someone who didn't give a damn about his political future. Someone unaffected by the pageantry of hosting a world-renowned sailing spectacle. Someone immune to the giddy contagion of America's Cup fever. Someone to serve as a civic party pooper who'd hammer the bottom line. In short, San Francisco needed an asshole — and one with clout.

Daly was qualified for that.


When you mention how remarkably well the America's Cup ordeal has ostensibly turned out, city officials involuntarily reach for a section of wood to knock. Rather than the initial cost-heavy arrangement centered on Mission Bay — a bleak neighborhood pockmarked by iterations of the structure on the Stolichnaya bottle — the city is sitting pretty along the northern waterfront.

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15 comments
kellog64
kellog64

A deal is a deal when it is done......kind of a stretch to credit Daly with anything in this context.

M Barcadero
M Barcadero

Joe's editor ripped off the "Captain Outrageous" title from the Sports Illustrated cover story about another America's Cup asshole, Ted Turner. But there is a difference between a mere asshole like Turner and and a douche-nozzle like Daley. He's referred to at our hangout as "The Nozz". He ought to keep that skipper's cap, however. Ahoy, Polloi

jorgenoe
jorgenoe

In short, San Francisco needed an asshole — and one with clout.

There seems to be no shortage.

Capn_jack
Capn_jack

The nonsense about the breakwaters is horseshit. That area had dozens of sailing ships a hundred years ago that were smaller than the Cup boats. People just pulled that out their asses to save face.

Matteo
Matteo

Any article that calls Chris Daly an "asshole" is OK with me!

marcos
marcos

Joe, this is a great article. I especially like the "Stolichnaya structures" line.

But this is of concern to me: "San Francisco regularly seals bad deals, and it could have done so again with the America's Cup — or made no deal, and lost the Cup."

If San Francisco regularly seals bad deals, then is that just a "dog bites man" story? I would assume so because SF Weekly seems to have ignored every other instance where Daly successfully went toe to toe with powerful interests, such as Rincon towers and Trinity Plaza, not to mention the countless other instances where city finances are pilfered by the already wealthy.

The piling on Daly for negotiating these deals with his constituents' best interests put first was universal. That politicians rarely do this should be front page news every day.

Will this piece and Matt Smith's passable piece on mayoral succession indicate now that Daly is termed out and the David Chiu/Willie Brown/Rose Pak nexus has decapitated progressives, that journalists feel safe to put the progressive case in a positive light? Might SFWeekly will do what the Guardian has not been able to, critically cover the machinations behind city politics that drain public resources so the wildly rich can have a good time, leaving the rest of us to hold the deteriorating bag?

-marc

Kimball Livingston
Kimball Livingston

You were doing fine until you got almost to the bottom, then turned to sweeping assumptions:

"The city, Daly notes, "may have entered into a shitty deal anyway." But the prior plan "was a shittier deal. A much shittier deal."

With Daly relegated to pouring drinks, the board will, by default, be a more harmonious place. But whether congeniality is enough to put the kibosh on a bad deal riding on greased skids remains to be seen.

Kinda jumped the rails here, eh?

phil
phil

Great article. Why am I not surprised that I'm reading this in the SFWeekly instead of the Chronicle or SFBG?

PatMonk
PatMonk

@Chris. Thanks for all you've done, and will continue to do.@Joe. Thanks for the addition to my vocabulary, "Manichean".Go Giants !

yahoo-EZ74DSBFLYRWI337PWLM7WX4ME
yahoo-EZ74DSBFLYRWI337PWLM7WX4ME

There is so much unknown about how the piers with be developed for the Cup and redeveloped afterwards that it's impossible to know if either deal is good or bad for San Francisco. Everybody is focusing on the potential $1.4B brought to the city by 2013; nobody is commenting on what happens to this prime real estate and its fiscal effects through 2085.

David Elliott Lewis
David Elliott Lewis

Like with many of Chris Daly's accomplishments, their true values can only be appreciated later on over time.

h. brown
h. brown

Joe,

Great piece. Once again the Weekly scoops the Guardian in Bruce's own back yard.

See you at Daly's Dive for Giants' games?

h.

sf citizen
sf citizen

Good first step, Sounds good that what is in writing is a better deal for SF - but one has to worry that it will actually be enforced by SF at the end of the day.

jamiewhitaker
jamiewhitaker

I am so happy that wise ass Tony Winnicker is no longer the Mayor's spokesman. Good riddance!

 

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