Near the southeastern edge of the city, a dusty stretch of land sits abandoned, sandwiched between the gray waters of the San Francisco Bay and several blocks of old warehouses. It’s India Basin, a sub-neighborhood of the Bayview just south of Islais Creek and east of Third Street. (If you’ve ever been to Speakeasy Ales’ taproom, you’ve been there.)
Developers have long eyed India Basin as a ripe business opportunity, and plans are in the works to construct 1,575 units of housing on the land in the next few years. But unlike other dense areas of the city where parks are an afterthought — looking at you, SoMa — India Basin’s pending transformation includes a massive renovation of that patch of bare dirt, turning 9.6 acres of shorefront from an illegal dumping site to a destination.
At present, there isn’t much to look at. Much of the park is covered in old concrete and scrubby grass, and remnants of old piers stick out of the water. Most people head to nearby Candlestick Park to walk their dogs or have barbecues, but the vision for India Basin could draw them back. Renderings from design firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol show a carefully landscaped space with sage and other plants leading down to the water’s edge. A long, curving path promenade could connect it to the adjacent Heron’s Head Park. Floating wooden docks would offer visitors a chance to get out on the water.
The renderings make the space like something that should have always been there — which is the point. Although long-abandoned, India Basin has a history as a boatyard, and it contains the 1875 Shipwright’s Cottage. And rather than transform the land into something it’s never been, the renovation would highlight its natural potential.
The project is a collaborative effort among the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and the Trust for Public Land. Having been in the works for four years, ground is expected to break in 2021, with the project wrapped up by 2025.
“The India Basin plan is about equity and environmental justice for the people who live in the southeastern neighborhoods,” says Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Everyone deserves a beautiful, safe place to exercise, explore nature and socialize. Community input has been the driving force behind the design of the park and we’re so excited to create something together that celebrates the neighborhood’s vibrant history.”
Uriel Hernandez, the southeast area manager for the Parks Alliance, says the process of renovating India Basin has been like high-intensity interval training — a lot will happen at once, then it’ll go quiet while it wends its way through permits and environmental impact reviews. But in the meantime, the neighboring community has been kept front and center in much of the decisions — including selecting Gustafson Guthrie Nichol as the architect. Based on surveys and meetings with Bayview residents, the new park will include new barbecue stands and picnic tables, basketball courts and fitness stations. Crucially, it will provide amenities to a neighborhood that has historically had little say about land use in its own community.
“These new and improved green spaces will be a step toward correcting the environmental injustices these communities have experienced in the past,” Hernandez explains. “It’s establishing a healthier community, for people to gather, play, and experience the waterfront.”
But what really sets this project apart is the commitment being made to getting people there. Unlike nearby Candlestick, which is under construction with potholed roads and few sidewalks, accessibility is an integral part of India Basin’s design. The plan is to increase nearby bus services and provide a free shuttle from Third Street, through the new housing developments, and to the park. Streets would be critically reviewed for pedestrian friendliness, and safe crossings would eventually be added in.
“If you live up the hill, you can see the plot from your house, but getting down there is difficult,” Hernandez says. “You have to drive or walk all the way down the hill.”
The $125 million renovation is being funded by a mixture of public and private money, with everyone from the California State Coastal Conservancy to BUILD Inc. to the Environmental Protection Agency chipping in. Amazingly, half of the funds are predicted to come from philanthropy. And it’s good the fundraising has begun, because it won’t be cheap. Due to toxic soil from the nearby Hunter’s Point Shipyard, experts recommend removing two feet of topsoil from all 9.6 acres. Other areas will need to be sealed and continually monitored for toxicity, and the whole area will need to be landscaped.
But the result will serve much more than the people living nearby: It’ll bring back native species that thrive in waterfront environments, and strengthen the city’s southeastern edge.
“This neighborhood is right on the Bay, sea levels are expected to rise,” Hernandez says. “The concrete won’t do much to soak up water, but marshland will act as a sponge to provide that resilience.”
The project is still more than a year away from breaking ground, but in the meantime, the Parks Alliance and Recreation and Parks Department are developing ideas for an interim use to begin drawing people out to the area. On Friday, June 7, at 5 p.m., Mayor London Breed and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton will unveil a new mural by artist Ira Watkins, with free food and music. It’s just one small step toward what India Basin could someday become.