Untangling the complexity of Pier 70 

click to enlarge A mixed-use development is planned for Pier 70, including about 2,000 residential units, 9 acres of waterfront parks and ground-level manufacturing and retail. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • A mixed-use development is planned for Pier 70, including about 2,000 residential units, 9 acres of waterfront parks and ground-level manufacturing and retail.

Come November, voters in The City will be asked whether a mixed-use development project at Pier 70, south of Mission Bay, that's been years in the making can expand its height limit from 40 to 90 feet.

It sounds like a simple enough question, and the project so far has garnered virtually zero controversy. But a level of uncertainty still lingers due to a recent lawsuit by the state that challenges whether city voters can approve height-limit measures along San Francisco's state-owned waterfront, as well as past contention over building along the waterfront.

Overall, Pier 70 as a property consists of nearly 70 acres. The site's use dates back to the 1800s, when ships were built and repaired there.

Today, Pier 70 operates the largest floating dry dock on the West Coast. The first phase of construction for a nine-acre park on the northern portion of the site is slated to begin in 2015.

Quiet pockets of civilization pop up around the seemingly isolated Pier 70. More than a dozen artists rent space in the Noonan Building that overlooks the Bay, and Honda parks cars in a lot along the waterfront. A self-storage facility remains open, and BAE Systems, Inc. continues to repair ships there.

On a recent Monday afternoon at Pier 70, little life emerged save for a lone cat that wandered past Building 12, one of the historic structures that developers intend to preserve.

But for the first time in Pier 70's history the public could have access to its waterfront should voters this November approve Proposition F, which asks voters whether the height limit for buildings at the 28-acre portion of Pier 70 slated for mixed-use development can be raised from 40 to 90 feet - the next step in moving forward with the project.

The initiative would also make it city policy to encourage parks, housing, cultural space and job creation for the site, and encourage The City to proceed with the public approval process.

"It is, really, a really important milestone for us," said Alexa Arena, senior vice president of Forest City, the development firm that won the bid to revive Pier 70 in 2011.

click to enlarge Alexa Arena, senior vice president of Forest City, said the Pier 70 section of the waterfront that her firm is planning to develop will become an asset to the surrounding community and The City for the first time. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Alexa Arena, senior vice president of Forest City, said the Pier 70 section of the waterfront that her firm is planning to develop will become an asset to the surrounding community and The City for the first time.

The measure will also mark a milestone for The City. The initiative is the first to exercise Proposition B, a measure passed in June requiring voter approval for all development projects that exceed building-height limits along The City's waterfront.

But the Pier 70 ballot measure is also named in a lawsuit against The City by the California State Lands Commission challenging the validity of Prop. B. The complaint contends San Francisco voters cannot vote on measures such as the Pier 70 initiative because California retains ultimate authority of The City's waterfront.

"This initiative, like Proposition B, subjugates statewide interests and concerns to the local initiative process which Public Resources Code section 6009(d) expressly prohibits," the July 15 complaint asserted.

Despite the lawsuit, however, Pier 70 project developers Forest City are moving forward with the initiative, Arena said. The measure's language for the ballot was finalized last month..

"From our perspective, of the law of the land, we have to bring this project to the voters and we're honoring that and respecting that," Arena said. "And that's how we're moving forward with the process."

And there couldn't be a better test case for Prop. B than the Pier 70 initiative, according to Arena. The years-long planning process and public outreach efforts have reached more than 10,000 residents, and gained the support of neighborhood groups including the Potrero Boosters, which keeps an eye on waterfront development projects.

"We voted to endorse [the initiative] because we would like to have access to the waterfront available throughout The City, and certainly in our neighborhood," said J.R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters. "We feel that the Pier 70 redevelopment plan is a responsible way to open up the waterfront."

In addition to increasing the height limit for the 28-acre portion to be developed at Pier 70 - previously set at 40 feet by The City in the 1970s - Proposition F would encourage The City to proceed with the public approval process for the project, including an environmental review, and make it City policy to encourage parks, housing, cultural space and job creation for this site.

Members of the Housing Action Coalition, which reviews major projects in The City, were "enthusiastic" about Forest City's development plans for Pier 70 during a presentation of the project last month, said Tim Colen, the coalition's director.

"We're entirely supportive of what we see now, but we know that there's work to do," Colen said. "It's gone through the most far-reaching, extensive community outreach we've ever seen on a project."

But Jon Golinger, co-chair of the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition that pushed for the passage of Prop. B in June, said projects such as 8 Washington St. - a plan to construct a luxury condominium complex along The Embarcadero that was rejected by San Francisco voters in November - and the 2013 America's Cup that cost taxpayers millions of dollars may have tainted waterfront development projects for residents.

"This will be a true test of how bad the backfiring and the backlash have been and whether the developer can honestly put a case out and have it heard," Golinger said of the Pier 70 initiative.

Developers remain optimistic that the public will continue to support the project, which will offer up to 2,000 residential units, the majority of which will be rentals and 30 percent below-market-rate housing, as well as nine acres of waterfront parks; space for artists; and ground-level manufacturing, retail and services.

"It's been inaccessible to the public for decades," Arena said. "For the first time, this part of the waterfront will become an asset to the surrounding community and The City."

The project will also strive to preserve historic buildings at the site, such as Building 12, which has been used for community events including movie screenings and open-air markets. In fact, it's such events that have already drawn in residents from all over The City to Pier 70, according to Arena.

"The difference between where it is today and the future of it is extraordinary," Arena said. "There's no access today, you can't even really see it from the adjacent neighborhood."

The project must still undergo an environmental review process as required by California Environmental Quality Act and additional reviews and approvals by the Port Commission, City Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors before construction can commence.

And the outcome of the lawsuit against Prop. B could have an impact on the Pier 70 initiative as well - but it remains to be seen what that might be.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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Sunday, Jul 24, 2016

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