Many readers may know that Supervisor Catherine Stefani is a seasoned triathlete, but you may not know that she sometimes joins me for an early morning swim and brainstorming session at Aquatic Park. It was during one of these Districts 2 and 3 floating meetings that we began to map out a renewed effort to save one of San Francisco’s most historic maritime resources — and the city waterfront’s first line of defense against sea-level rise and wave action — the Aquatic Park Pier (Muni Pier).
Just as this tendril of a pier was once in District 3 but then became part of District 2 after the 2010 census redistricting, this part of San Francisco’s urban form has continued to be somewhat of a jurisdictional orphan, with every entity from the National Park Service to the Port of San Francisco to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission all playing vital roles in the Pier’s continued existence. After a meeting last month convened by Save Aquatic Park Pier, Supervisor Stefani and I, we hope all of these agencies will have clear roles in addressing the pier’s escalating deterioration and in ultimately saving this vital gateway to the waterfront.
Built by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1933, the pier has served as a public spectator podium for some of the most breathtaking views of the city’s iconic skyline over the last 85 years, bringing a mix of tourists (Ghirardelli Square and The Buena Vista loom nearby) to workers (Williams-Sonoma has office space adjacent and fisherfolk depend on access to the bay) to history buffs (the Maritime Museum houses approximately 35,000 historic assets in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building) and the swimming and boating community (the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club both enjoy proud legacies nearby). Recent National Park Service safety risk assessments (previously done every five years and now bumped up to every two given the exacerbated conditions at the pier) have shown significant deterioration of the more than 600 pilings and deck, and a foreboding black fence has kept sightseers and photographers at bay from accessing the views from the 1,600-foot pier. A beautiful roundhouse graces the curvy 60-foot-wide pier, while the grand historic ships moored nearby bob with trepidation at the potential destruction that will be wrought when the Pier ultimately deteriorates all together. Nearby proposed public transit and pedestrian/cyclist connections have real potential (coupled with the upcoming completion of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project) to vastly improve public access to the area.
At a meeting at the Maritime Museum last month complete with color maps and butcher paper to-do lists, everyone from our city agencies to congressional representatives and the National Park Service agreed that saving the pier must be an immediate priority, not only because it’s a vital historic element anchoring the Aquatic Park Historic Landmark District and an immersive visitor experience with untapped potential, but also because it is a key safety buffer protecting swimmers, boaters, and ultimately the rest of the waterfront. Supervisor Stefani and I have assembled a regional working group, and we’re moving forward with an updated risk assessment and vision study for the Pier, leveraging our local, regional, and federal resources.
We know we need to act quickly, though, and will need the entire city’s support. The longer we wait to begin the rehab effort, the more costly the construction becomes (original projections in 2008 put the cost at $65 million, which has now grown to more than $100 million in reconstruction costs). And the more we risk losing critical historic and economic resources along the waterfront, which drive tourism from the northeast side of the city. Additionally, we attrite critical institutional knowledge, like the National Park Service’s superintendent, Kevin Hendricks, who retired last month after shepherding the daily life of Aquatic Park for 40 years.
I am delighted to be working with my colleague from District 2 on this important venture, and know that we have assembled a dream team of committed experts to fully realize the future for the northeastern waterfront so that generations of San Franciscans and visitors alike can enjoy this public treasure.