On October 19, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) Commission voted to move forward with an environmental impact review for its proposed “Marina Remediation and Improvement Project,” a name many San Franciscans find misleading. Residents argue that it neither remediates nor improves the Marina; instead, it transforms a beloved and historic city park into what some consider a yacht parking lot.
This was a setback for the grassroots community organization, Keep the Waterfront Open, that has been working tirelessly to raise awareness about RPD’s poorly communicated plan to build a new harbor directly in front of the Marina Green.
The city of San Francisco had engaged in a two-decade legal battle with PG&E to address toxic sediment remnants from the days when the Marina neighborhood housed a PG&E predecessor’s gas manufacturing operations, with Gashouse Cove serving as a toxic waste dump. In a 2021 settlement, PG&E agreed to contribute up to $190 million for the remediation and repair of the East Harbor/Gashouse Cove. However, RPD seized an opportunity to address an unrelated issue: the costly seasonal dredging of the West Harbor’s infrastructure, amounting to approximately half a million dollars annually. This combination of issues has led to a perplexing situation.
Marina residents were sidelined during the project’s feasibility phase and were not consulted about the four options considered by RPD. The community only learned of alternatives at a later meeting conducted by the Water Board after RPD’s initial presentation, where the harbor design was presented as a “done deal.” RPD chose the “Renovate” option, proposing to leave much of the toxic waste in place, essentially allowing it to “silt over” while relocating boats and the fuel dock. This plan would remove only 15 percent of the toxic waste, with the“Do Nothing” and “Maximum Removal” options considered unviable.
The alternative, “Rebuild,” which is favored by residents, was never presented to the community. It involved remediating East Harbor/Gashouse Cove to 42 percent, restoring failing docks, and retaining the fuel dock in its current location. RPD’s preferred option involves constructing a new breakwater and harbor, extending from the end of the existing West Harbor to the outer East Harbor, with PG&E covering a significant portion of the costs. However, this plan would obstruct the view along the entire Marina Green promenade, one of the last remnants from San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.
As a consolation, RPD plans to develop the East Marina’s triangle park, offering two public options: a naturescape or a shallow basin recreation area. However, the appeal of a shallow water recreation area is overshadowed by its location on a former toxic waste site and its proximity to the Laguna Street outfall, which occasionally discharges “combined” sewage into the bay.
Under RPD’s plan, Gashouse Cove is likely to become an unusable mudflat, similar to the one bordering the Bay Trail in the far west corner of the West Harbor. The Marina Green will be relegated to a mere accessory to the new harbor, with fences and gates restricting public access, and parking primarily reserved for berth holders. While the Marina Green triangle will feature two concrete “viewing platforms” for the public, it falls short of the current experience where one can leisurely enjoy the panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the Marin Headlands, and the entire East Bay from the seaside or the grassy area.
The RPD Commission allowed the project to advance to an environmental impact review (EIR) conducted by the city Planning Department, under the condition that this is not the final design. However, an EIR is comparable to obtaining building permits for significant projects, with the design determining the scope of work and the environmental impacts to be assessed. This EIR framing incorporates a new harbor and breakwater, and the only potential concession RPD might consider is reducing the new harbor’s capacity.
Keep The Waterfront Open, representing thousands of San Franciscans, has joined the Sierra Club, the St. Francis Yacht Club, the South End Rowing Club, the Coalition on Land Use, and many other organizations in opposing the plan in its current form. Fortunately, two city supervisors, Aaron Peskin (D3) and Ashah Safai (D11), have drafted a resolution for the Board of Supervisors that requires RPD to revise their plans to preserve the Marina Green or face funding constraints. The Board will vote on this resolution shortly.
The most direct avenue to halt the project is an appeal to Mayor London Breed. While the mayor has remained aloof thus far, the groundswell of criticism may prompt her to act. With one stroke of the pen, she could change everything, and the hope is that she will.
Erim Roach is a Marina resident and an organizer of Keep the Waterfront Open.