dolphin safe cup
Jeremy from Surf City Racing checks in with the latest from the San Francisco AC song-and-dance. Photo also from Jeremy.
The San Francisco City Council yesterday voted unanimously to approve the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the biggest regulatory hurdle remaining on the way to hosting the 34th America’s Cup. I sat among a packed crowd of concerned citizens from both sides of the issue on a well-run meeting, with thoughtful comments from many people. Tom Lippe, an attorney representing several environmental organizations including the Sierra Club and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, began the dialog: “The draft EIR and EIR were rushed through…it’s clear that these issues haven’t been studied enough.”
During his opening statement, attorney Lippe made reference several times to an 80% reduction between the draft EIR and final EIR in the ‘projected spectators’ figure. The crowd would murmur in disbelief amongst themselves every time he made the reference. As it turns out, Attorney Lippe was referring to a reduction the estimated number of spectator vessels. Data for the number in the EIR were based on a count taken at Fleet Week 2011, whereas the number in the draft was pure speculation, and wildly optimistic to boot. Attorney Lippe set the record straight when he addressed the council later in the evening. It wasn’t a very good move for the attorney to make such an obvious error, since one of his main arguments was that since spectator numbers were down, then so too would be the revenue required to offset the costs of the various tools available to mitigate environmental impacts by the event and spectators.
One of the major sticking points for the EIR’s approval was ACEA’s plan to erect an enormous JumboTron, a giant screen that would broadcast the America’s Cup live, in Aquatic Park. The plan was to sink a number of five-foot cube concrete blocks on the Bay floor to anchor the JumboTron just off the shoreline. For power, the screen would house several diesel generators inside the frame.
A handful of community members spoke about, “the consistent 30-mile-an-hour winds,” that would buffet the giant screen every afternoon, and potentially knock it over and create a hazard. I’m guessing they weren’t engineers.
The Dolphin Swim Club, a Bay Area fixture since 1877, whose members use Aquatic Park for their swimming activities, were concerned about the concrete blocks creating a physical hazard and disturbing toxic sediment. The club is well organized, and they’ve been mobilizing their members on the JumboTron issue for months. They recently posted on their own site that they “support the America’s Cup racing program, but have strong concerns over the unclear, open-ended collateral aspects proposed for Aquatic Park, such as the mooring of a 12-barge, 12 stories long with a 22 feet high by 44 feet long, JumboTron video screen 3-4 feet above the water in the muddy bottom of the shallow cove of Aquatic Park.” Board Member David Chiu said he also uses Aquatic Park for swimming, and had concerns about the barge as well. He alluded to the fact that he wouldn’t vote to approve the EIR if the JumboTron issue wasn’t adequately solved. Mary Murphy, a super-sharp and quick-witted lawyer for ACEA, quickly conceded that if the JumboTron were an issue, they would forgo the barge idea and look for a land-based alternative, to which there was major applause. Minutes later, the Dolphin Swim Club website read, “Great News (1/24): No JumboTron in the Cove! Congratulations to all who participated in getting this done! Go AC34!!!”
The line of pro-AC public commentators was in comparison to those looking to appeal the EIS. The Bay Area Marine industry was out in force, and after proponents of the appeal and Attorney Lippe addressed the Council, it was time for the pro AC 34 crowd to step up to the microphone and speak. First up was Peter Stoneberg, Commodore of the StFYC, followed by several other members of different Bay Area YCs, including my friend and long-time Bay sailor John Super. All touched on how the AC has created interest in their clubs, and that they have seen an upsurge in membership. John Arndt from Latitude 38, Paul Kaplan from KKMI, and a rep from Port Supply all articulated how they have already seen an increase in business from the developing AC. Several members of the Longshoreman Union addressed the need for jobs within their industry, and that the AC would satisfy that need. A number of small business owners rounded out the mix, and it was set up for a vote. The vote was 10-0 in favor of approving the EIR, and the crowd applauded.
It’s really amazing that in a city such as San Francisco, stereotyped as it is, that the eco-groovy faction wasn’t more vocal and that the appeal was allowed to sink into the muck. Of course in closing, Attorney Lippe stated that his clients would make the decision whether or not to sue the city by Feb 14, so there’s still time to royally screw things up. But for now, things are a go! I spoke with several business folks outside after the vote, and they were excitedly making plans to open the doors to their new business tomorrow, a decision that hinged on this EIR decision. Sure, a lot of us are winners tonight. We’ll be working for the AC, our businesses will grow due the AC being held here, a lot of revenue will be generated, and so on, but there’s a David vs. Goliath highlight here that I don’t want to pass up.
The podunk swimming club (no offence) was able to thwart Mr. Ellison’s giant JumboTron. Onward! We’ll see what happens next.