The attempted premature closure of Sinbad’s and the public interest 

click to enlarge Sinbad's - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
  • Sinbad's
The attempted premature closure of San Francisco’s iconic Sinbad’s bar and restaurant is a collateral consequence of changes to the San Francisco Waterfront Special Area Plan made to accommodate the private demands of billionaire Larry Ellison to allow the America’s Cup to be held in San Francisco.

San Francisco, its Port Commission and other governmental entities all went out of their way to secure the America’s Cup and, in the process, Sinbad’s became a bargaining chip despite the fact that it was eventually determined that the area in which Sinbad’s is located would not be a venue to view the race. History reveals that the premature closure of Sinbad’s is unnecessary and undermines the public interest.

In 1974, with the permission of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and pursuant to a five-year lease with the Port of San Francisco, the Stinson brothers converted an abandoned shed on Pier 2 previously used as a drafting studio for the BART tunnel project into a bar and restaurant. Sinbad’s operation is consistent with the area plan adopted in 1975.

In September 1980, Sinbad’s lease was extended for 20 years through Sept. 20, 2000, and Sinbad’s added a kitchen, an outdoor patio and public access. In fact, the BCDC specifically found that Sinbad’s would not adversely affect the Bay or public access to and enjoyment thereof. In September 2000, despite Sinbad’s desire to enter into a long-term lease, the Port converted the lease to a month-to-month tenancy. In the meantime, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority has been working on a project to expand San Francisco’s ferry terminal, which would require the removal of Pier 2 so that three new ferry gates can be constructed.

Then enter Ellison and the America’s Cup. In order to hold the race in San Francisco Bay, the area plan needed to be amended. Initially, the area of the Bay to be used for the regatta was to go all the way to the Bay Bridge. It was determined that the building housing Sinbad’s needed to be demolished to allow views of the race, but since the area of the racecourse was reduced, there was no need to view it from Sinbad’s.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the area plan as amended to accommodate the America’s Cup provided for the removal of Sinbad’s. In fact, the amended area plan reflects that because the event was smaller in scale and intensity than originally anticipated, “the public access required and provided for the AC34 [under the original authorization] was greater than what would have ordinarily been required.” Removal was to be completed by March 2015 in anticipation that WETA’s construction of the expanded ferry terminal would have commenced by then.

Despite the fact that Sinbad’s was a stakeholder, it was never informed or involved in the early America’s Cup planning or ferry expansion project. Clearly, Sinbad’s interests were not only ignored but also completely discounted.

The America’s Cup went forward in September 2013 and cost San Francisco more than $11.5 million — more than double the projected cost. In fact, the civil grand jury’s June 2014 report titled “The Port of San Francisco Caught Between Public Trust and Private Dollars” found that the Port and The City failed to protect The City’s interest with respect to the America’s Cup and built a cruise ship terminal that the regatta used without sharing any of the profits with the Port. While the economic benefit of the regatta to San Francisco was questionable at best, Ellison has refused to allow San Francisco to host the 2017 America’s Cup. Throughout this time, Sinbad’s continued to operate, servicing both tourists and its local clientele. It has paid the Port annual rent in the amount of $263,081, the third-highest rent paid by restaurants in the central and southern area of the Port.

The environmental impact report for WETA’s ferry expansion project was certified Oct. 2, and construction is to commence at the earliest in spring 2016. Based on past discussions and agreements, Sinbad’s assumed that it would be allowed to stay until the WETA project needed to have Pier 2 removed. Instead, unrepresented by counsel, heavily pressured by the Port and believing that it was not in anyone’s best interest to demolish Sinbad’s until it was necessary for the ferry expansion, Sinbad’s agreed to dates that appeared to be based on the needs of that project. Apparently, those dates were merely arbitrary.

Having taken the hit on the America’s Cup, the Port and the BCDC now seeks to prematurely and unnecessarily remove Sinbad’s before the WETA project’s construction commences. The BCDC has acknowledged the area plan requiring the removal of Sinbad’s can be amended at the request of the Port. The Port has refused to do so. Instead, the Port’s representatives have made false statements disparaging Sinbad’s, when in fact the Port acknowledged in late 2012 that Sinbad’s was in good standing and since that date it has made every required payment.

What’s at stake here? The cost to the public of constructing temporary public access (which is inferior to the existing public access) and the premature elimination of an iconic, 40-year-old San Francisco restaurant resulting in the loss of jobs, including those of UniteHere Local 2 members, and substantial rent revenue to the Port. Obviously Sinbad’s is no billionaire demanding to be appeased, but why would the Port force out an established small business under these conditions? The Port and BCDC can still act to allow Sinbad’s to remain until construction of the ferry terminal expansion commences. So what’s the rush?

Robert F. Kane and Alison Roades-Brown are San Francisco attorneys and Sinbad’s attorneys of record in both their lawsuit against The City and The City’s unlawful detainer action.

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