America's Cup downsized pier pact gives S.F. a better deal 

In just a few months, the America’s Cup will grace San Francisco Bay with its world-class sailing regatta. And as spectators line the waterfront to witness the boats race by, the piers around them won’t all be spiffed up with fancy new accommodations — yet that is good for San Francisco.

In December 2010, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a deal to host the America’s Cup sailing race, which is being staged by Oracle Racing and sponsored by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club. The arm of the race that puts on the event was to receive long-term development rights to waterfront property in San Francisco, in return for fronting the millions of dollars needed to fix several dilapidated piers.

Yet days after the board signed the agreement, Newport, R.I., suddenly emerged as a finalist to host the race, and America’s Cup officials seemed open to holding the event there instead of San Francisco. In a move to hang on to the race, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom unilaterally changed portions of the hosting agreement, making the deal a worse one for The City than the one approved by the board.

Nonetheless, for the next year or so, planning of the event seemed to sail along, with committees and subcommittees hearing the plans and mostly rubber-stamping the approvals in a deal that wasn’t heavily scrutinized by the public or media.

But lying just below the surface were voices of criticism, and rightly so. While the deal would have fixed portions of the waterfront that are badly in need of repair, the long-term costs to The City and its taxpayers did not make sense. So when Mayor Ed Lee announced Monday that two piers were being taken off the table, and the investment in waterfront rehab was scaled back from $111 million to a price tag of between $10 million to $18 million, everyone in San Francisco should have breathed a sigh of relief.

Developing prime waterfront real estate in San Francisco should not be taken lightly, nor proceed without proper public vetting. The City’s bayshore waterfront is some of the best real estate in the entire nation, and it does need to be redeveloped — possibly in a public-private deal like the one the America’s Cup Event Authority proposed. But doing so under the duress of losing a world-class event led the prior administration to agree to a shortsighted deal.

The America’s Cup is a boon for San Francisco, and city officials should do whatever is within their means to make it successful. The long-term status of San Francisco’s waterfront, however, need not be resolved so breezily.

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