The Cup Runneth Over: S.F.'s America's Cup Decision Looms

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Illustration by Andrew J. Nilsen, based on The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai.


A century ago, Daniel Burnham, the preeminent architect of his day, presented San Franciscans with a glistening vision of their city's future: An ethereal stairway from the Castro to Twin Peaks; massive gardens covering five times the area of Golden Gate Park; and, triumphantly, a towering obelisk at Market and Van Ness marking the "great central Place" where 11 major streets would converge.

San Francisco had little patience for glistening visions in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. The city was rebuilt, expediently, atop the ruined foundation that existed before — and, largely, exists to this day. The Burnham Plan was consigned to the history books.

Today's glistening visions feature mockups of America's Cup venues complete with digitized, conspicuously attractive people gaping at catamarans the size of 13-story buildings ripping through the bay. Preliminary construction work on the scheduled 2013 regatta is already under way.

Yet the status of the boat race is not on solid ground. In the next two weeks, the city and race organizers will tussle over the long-term development ramifications tied to the America's Cup, culminating in a Board of Supervisors vote scheduled for the end of the month. The impact of that vote can't be overstated: San Francisco will decide whether the Cup will be tossed alongside the Burnham Plan in the "What if?" file, or whether it will impose a transformative impact along the city's waterfront for generations to come.

Nautical metaphors have been en vogue since Oracle CEO and yachting billionaire Larry Ellison in 2010 turned his eye to holding the America's Cup in this city. So here's one more: San Francisco has taken a long walk on a short pier, and has reached the point where it must decide whether to leap aboard the ship or let it sail off. The cost of this America's Cup voyage will only become truly clear once the pier is receding in the distance. But this much is sure: It's not going to be cheap.

In the last month, the city has quietly downgraded the anticipated number of visitors the event will draw and the tally of spectator boats that will line the waterfront. Millions in private fundraising the city had already assumed in its overall budget has not been delivered — and, last week, the city's budget analyst estimated the logistical costs of holding the event here are now 65 percent higher than previously assumed. Race officials, meanwhile, have denied reports that the number of participating teams will be barely enough to fill a medal stand.

The amount the Port of San Francisco now anticipates it will reimburse to the America's Cup Event Authority — the organization Ellison formed to oversee the race — is double the estimate used when calculating a roughly break-even proposal a year ago. And the anticipated costs of constructing a magnificent new cruise ship terminal on Pier 27 — which would also serve as the centerpiece of the America's Cup — have effectively doubled as well. These costs will either be reimbursed to Cup organizers by the port — or borne by the city and port alone.

The Pier 27 cruise ship terminal and the America's Cup are intertwined in a manner that city and race officials portray as serendipitous. Offering Pier 27 and the northern waterfront as the race's epicenter dislodged the Event Authority from its earlier preference for Pier 50, near AT&T Park — a surefire fiscal bath for the city. Accelerating the development of the pier also gave the city the impetus it needed to finally consummate its longtime dalliance with erecting a cruise ship terminal.

As with people, marrying two complex projects calls for sacrifices and commitments along the lines of "for richer or for poorer." In the case of the port, the proposition of ending up some $40 million poorer as a result of mandatory mitigation projects tied to the cruise terminal struck a nerve. In a January e-mail to staff obtained by SF Weekly, Port Director Monique Moyer laments about the prohibitive cost — which, she worries, may sink the port. "I just don't see how we can commit the Port to financial instability by committing to these obligations. Frankly, the cruise terminal isn't worth the risk," reads the e-mail. "Sorry to be the 'Debbie Downer' on this, but I spent a sleepless night and I came to the conclusion that I can't be the one who does this to the Port."

The city broke ground on the project on Jan. 31.

These are just a few of the issues that will be weighing upon the city, the Event Authority, and the Board of Supervisors in the frenetic two-week race leading up to the supes' vote on the binding "Development and Disposition Agreement." Either the terms of the deal can be massaged to meet both the board's and Event Authority's liking, or the supervisors will vote it down — and essentially bid the Cup adieu.

"This is the key turning point. I don't see how we step back once the development agreement is approved," notes Supervisor David Campos, who has said he's unwilling to support the deal as it stands. "We need to make sure we get this right, and not just for us. This is something that will have implications for people who will be living in this city for a long time."

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13 comments
supertamsf
supertamsf

I love the graphic of the Japanese great wave woodblock print & boat. Love it.

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

Or, it could be that many Occupants are just going to act without warning . ... I would have fun pirating those yachtholes!

dvd
dvd

San Francisco giving away millions to billionaires: they must be laughing their heads off!

Congratulations, really, the America's Cup has been a joke for decades: boring racing between two boats followed by never ending law-suits between the sailing teams. It is mostly an occasion to boast the ego of billionaires. Now it is also a way for the same people to make huge amount of money at our expenses.

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

Oh, come on now, it was SenateWhore FineSwine, as Mayorette, who ran amok with the tear down SF and economically cleanse the City . ... no good jobs, no affordable rents, because all she and her minions want is a lot of desperate white young folks ripping each other for sinecure jobs in corporateland who do nothing useful . .. as a tourist destination, this ain't even Disneyworld . .. we lost the 49ers but got this? And putting up buildings where FEMA says is suicide, such as the waterfront, Mission Bay .. I guess they feel that since the next generation will have to pay to deal with this mess we've got, overbuilt on the worst landfill at a time when the ocean is rising . ..let the Public pay for the infrastructure, the sea walls ... private profit, public liability. Too bad no one checked FineSwine for gunshot residue that day. She had to have Harvey out of the way because he never would have stood for what she did. Too bad no one wants to bother with history and its inevitability. Causality is a casualty of modern life.

Pdw
Pdw

If it's any consolation//interest to those concerned about attendance at the America's Cup, here's some info. I'm a sailor who's actively following all the America's Cup action. My wife and I have already made plans to travel to SF for the AC Finals. We're renting a condo for 2 weeks in the city or in Marin. We'll have a rental car (paying taxes on it.) We'll eat in restaurants at least 2-3 times per week, probably more. We'll buy souvenirs (sales tax.) We'll travel to Wine Country (fuel taxes.) Thus, I expect our America's Cup trip will run in the neighborhood of $10,000. Also, it's possible that we'll have another couple joining us, so the numbers could double, just for us.

Multiply that by thousands of visitors for the America's Cup (especially, over a 3 month period) and you'll be getting some SERIOUS influx of $$ to the local economy -- exactly the premise of the ACEA in its negotiations with the City.

I hope that neither side gets greedy in this or gets so dogmatic that there's no flexibility for compromise. If everyone works together for the "greater good" of San Francisco, the America's Cup can be a truly positive influence on the City. I hope my plans for 2013 come to fruition.

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

So, if there are only a few million more like you, but fact is, even if you are telling the truth, it still won't pay for all the damages, esp the collateral damages this mess will create. As for greed, that's been the main motivator in this City and with corporations for decades. Hey, why don't you ask YOUR town to host this mess? Heck, why not give this to Santa Clara and keep the 49ers?

Serenslover
Serenslover

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Guest
Guest

No, NO, No...

Any time they start talking about using General Fund Revenue, you know it is going blow-up big-time!

Let the 1%ers pay the whole bill for this boat race, if they really want it, I think the real grab is Ellison wants the Port real estate...

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

Not only that, but we, the people, will end up paying for the infrastructure and the plain fact is we shouldn't build ANYTHING on that landfill. And when it collapses, it makes evacuation of casualties and egress of rescue workers impossible. Since we dumped the Army and Navy, which WAS our plan for disasters, we've cut back on ALL EMERGENCY SERVICES and what little National Guard we have left are miles away.

pacocornholio
pacocornholio

Then bring in some more races to make the attendance numbers. Don't just give up because the Cup might flop on its own. Put the pedal down and let's have a good event.

njudah
njudah

It's a pity that "Occupy SF" is so posessed with the idea of camp sites in SF at public parks. I suppose if they gave a damn about their whole 99% and would realize that we're literally subsidizing a billionaire for his stupid race with no guarantees about ANYTHING, they might mobilize.

Instead, they're just a pack of hippies smelling up the joint and worried more about where they can cook their s'mores. #epic2012failbytheyouth

Fuckers.

 
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