BCNA news: Civil Grand Jury report on the Port, part 2

For some time, the BCNA page on the Barbary Coast News has been carrying articles on the work of the outstanding 2013-2014 Civil Grand Jury.

The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury is a government panel of volunteers who serve for one year.  It makes findings and recommendations resulting from its investigations.

This is Part 2 concerning last year’s Grand Jury report, “The Port of San Francisco – Caught Between Public Trust and Private Dollars,” an issue of importance to community residents and waterfront fanciers all over the city.  What follows is a summary of key points raised in the report.


The Port’s jurisdiction consists of 7.5 miles along the Bay waterfront running from the Hyde Street Pier to India Basin in the southern part.

The State controlled and operated this historic waterfront before 1968.  In that year, management of the Port was transferred to the City by passage of the Burton Act, AB 2649, “in trust for the people of California.”

The Grand Jury report described that transfer as a “pig in a poke.”  The reason for that comment was “However, like many gifts, there were obligations attached.  The infrastructure was deteriorating, the historic structures were crumbling, and the primary source of revenue, cargo movement, had been steadily decreasing since World War II.”

“Now…very little has changed except that the cost of rehabilitation of the aging infrastructure has ballooned to $1.59 billion while oversight and restrictions on development have increased.”


“Visitor and commuter traffic along the waterfront create gridlock, necessitating improved transit solutions.  The cumulative effect of multiple projects requires close cooperation with SFMTA and the Planning Department.

“Projects that change the landscape of the waterfront have also presented challenges to measured growth.  This report looks at how some developments have had insufficient public input.”


“…The Port, although operating in a very difficult environment of budgetary constraints, regulatory oversight, and political influence, has in many instances successfully carried out its mission and greatly enhanced the area of its jurisdiction.”

.  All businesses operating on Port property have some form of rental agreement, which in addition to a  fixed rate, may include revenue sharing.  The Real Estate Division is doing an excellent job of managing the various terms and finding new tenants.

.  The Ferry Building is the heart of the waterfront…  It is now a vibrant destination in itself.  Expansion of the terminal from Pier 2 to Pier 14 will increase capacity beyond the current 130 daily ferry routes.

.  The Exploratorium relocation from the Palace of Fine Arts to Pier 15 is a welcome addition to the waterfront.  The Bay Observation Gallery focuses on the geography, history, and ecology of the SF Bay region.

. Pier 45 houses the largest commercial fish processing facility in the West Coast, keeping the fishing industry active at Fisherman’s Wharf.

. AT&T Park is recognized as the finest baseball park in the Major Leagues.

. Steamboat Point and Delancey Street add much needed affordable and supportive housing…

. Anchor Brewing, in business in San Francisco since 1896, is expanding its operation to Pier 48 to take advantage of water transport for its new materials and waste products.

  . The Illinois Street multi-modal bridge and the recently approved Quint Street spur are essential to the Port’s objective of increasing rail access for cargo movement in the Southern Waterfront.

.  The Port has developed or planned more than 20 parks, plazas, open space, and fishing piers, as well as links to the Bay Trail.

The Grand Jury’s acknowledgments of the Port’s achievements (listed above) all were included in the Jury’s Summary of its report.  (Three “notable failures” also were described by the Jury but are not included in this review.)


However, the Jury members also took notice of San Francisco’s maritime shipping declining in importance.  It was stated that “larger ships needed better access afforded by increased dredging, which they found in Oakland…”

The comment continued “Ship repair and drydock, the fishing industry, recreation and some remaining bulk cargo maintain a lessened maritime shipping role.

“Developers saw potential in the repurposing of Port structures and construction on Port lands.”


“San Francisco then sought and obtained approval to amend the definition of ‘maritime use’ to mean increased public activity on the waterfront.”

The city’s waterfront “emerged as a major destination for both residents and tourists.”

An important project to develop Pier 70 has obtained approvals for commercial, residential and open space.


The last category in the report’s Background is Funding Options, beginning with this statement:  “Most recently, the Port and the Mayor’s Office have been overly reliant on funds from major real estate developers.

“In return for a capital infusion, the developer receives long-term leases and tax benefits, as well as all the profit from the proposed development.

“The Port benefits from mitigation of its liability for rehabilitation. The Port and the City receive no revenue for decades.”

(A footnote states that “As an enterprise department, the Port is expected to be self-supporting but not necessarily turn a profit.”)

“This model for development is compatible with the priorities of the City and the Port.  Development benefits derived include affordable housing, small industry, historic reconstruction and open space.”


General Obligation Bonds, which require 2/3 voter approval, led the list.  “Recreation and Park bond funds are being used to develop Crane Cove Park, and a GO  Bond was passed to improve Pier 22-1/2 used  by the fireboats.”

“Revenue Bonds are currently used, including a $30M bond for the development of the new Cruise Ship Terminal.”

The report also listed as alternative possibilities–Federal funding and Infrastructure Finance Districts–and said that Entertainment Venues could be placed on vacant piers.  “Such tenants would not require permanent construction.”


Quoting the press release regarding the painstaking work of the 2013-2014 Civil Grand Jury:

     “The Jury’s report finds that the Port has made substantial progress in many areas but transportation and environmental impacts have been overlooked in favor of projects driven mainly by those who influence decisions at the Mayor’s Office.”


   This completes a look at the 2013-2014 SF Civil Grand Jury’s reports on the Port of San Francisco, and last year, on Sea Level Rise and Affordable Housing.

    Part 1 on the Port appeared  January 22, 2015:  “BCNA News:  Review of Civil Grand Jury Report on the Port of San Francisco.”

Copyright  © Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association 2015