As an elected official, part of my job is reacting to potential issues that will affect the neighborhoods I represent. The National Park Service’s (NPS) intention to study Fort Mason as a possible location for its Alcatraz tour ferry service is one of those ideas with serious and long-lasting impacts that must immediately be put to rest.
The NPS is looking to secure a site on San Francisco’s northern waterfront for a long-term ferry embarkation facility for visitors traveling to Alcatraz Island. They list several reasons for seeking a new embarkation site, stating in part that their current facilities at Pier 31½ are inadequate and do not provide an opportunity for expanded ferry service to other GGNRA properties. The NPS just concluded a public comment process on the proposals to consider Piers 1, 2 and 3 at Fort Mason, and Port of San Francisco Piers 31½, 41 and 45 near Fisherman’s Wharf for Alcatraz service, with a possible ferry service extension to Fort Baker and Sausalito.
NPS Asked to Reconsider
I wrote a letter to the NPS asking that they reconsider even studying Fort Mason and indicating my belief that the Port of San Francisco sites are significantly more appropriate for Alcatraz embarkation than the piers located at Fort Mason. According to the NPS, more than 1.4 million people visit Alcatraz Island annually from the existing ferry site at Pier 31½ near Fisherman’s Wharf. This area is a bustling commercial district with restaurants, gift shops, and other tourist attractions that are well served by public transportation.
Contrast that to Fort Mason in the Marina: a beautiful park and adjacent arts and cultural center, surrounded by a predominantly residential neighborhood with a population of 23,000 residents. This is a very different landscape than what is currently in place at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Public sites adjacent to Fort Mason – including the Marina Green, Crissy Field, Upper Fort Mason’s Great Meadow, and the Palace of Fine Arts – already attract a significant number of visitors to the area. Can you imagine adding an estimated 1.5 million visitors to the Marina every year? This would mean adding an average of more than 4,000 visitors per day to Fort Mason, which would create extremely adverse impacts on parking and traffic in an already congested area. If ferry service was also established between Sausalito and Fort Baker, the number of visitors would grow even further. The NPS’s desire to create an on-land experience with a visitor center, store and/or museum could also increase these numbers.
In considering traffic and congestion impacts, Fort Mason lacks the public transportation options offered at Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the City’s most popular tourist destinations. Drastically altering a residential neighborhood and the businesses already established at Fort Mason is rather bold, especially considering that the Fort Mason Center and the Fort Mason merchants group are both opposed to this potential project. The Marina Green is already at capacity on the weekends with children’s athletic leagues and various festivals permitted through the Recreation and Park Department, all of which I fully support.
Environmental Review Concerns
What makes the idea even more distressing to residents and establishments in the Marina is the lack of local environmental review and input that would be available. The NPS stated that environmental review of the Fort Mason site would be conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and not under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), because Fort Mason is federal property. Without a CEQA process in place for Fort Mason, the enormous changes contemplated in the Marina will never be considered by our local government, and any NEPA appeal would have to take place in Washington through the federal courts.
In my letter to the NPS, I asked that since they are prepared to undergo a CEQA analysis for the sites located at the Port of San Francisco piers, they should do the same for the NPS-owned piers at Fort Mason, especially given the fact that the City will inevitably have to address the extensive impacts associated with such a proposal. Given the scope of this project and the drastic implications it would have on the Marina area for the next 50 years or more, the environmental impacts should be evaluated not only by the federal government, but also by our local government, including the planning department and ultimately the Board of Supervisors.
I understand that the recent public comment process is necessary to draw out questions and concerns about NPS proposals, but the idea to locate Alcatraz ferry service at Fort Mason is tenuous at best. Simply put, Fort Mason Center is not a suitable option for the project and should not be given further consideration.
I am working closely with the Marina Community Association and staff at the Fort Mason Center on this issue, because we all share the same common interests and point of view. I have also engaged our federal elected officials and alerted various City Hall departments about the massive impact this project could have on our city.
I will keep everyone updated as our meetings with officials from NPS, the Port of San Francisco, and Fort Mason continue. In the meantime, please feel free to contact my office with any questions. For more information on the National Park Service’s Alcatraz ferry project, visit www.parkplanning.nps.gov/alcatrazferry.