California’s Public Trust doctrine has long been a key tool for protecting San Francisco’s shoreline. The doctrine reserves the shoreline for maritime uses, water-related activities, public access, and environmental protections (see “The best things in life deserve legal protection: the shoreline and the Public Trust” from September-October 2005, page 6). The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the State Lands Commission (SLC) were created largely to protect this public interest. In 1969 the Burton Act gave the Port of San Francisco jurisdiction over previously state-controlled tidal lands, specifically on the condition that they be administered in conformity with the Public Trust. AB 1273, however, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting to help ease the Warriors’ proposed project through the regulatory hoops, represents (among other mischief) a serious attack on the Public Trust doctrine, with potential consequences extending well beyond its stated purposes (see “Is SF getting ahead of itself on Warriors’ proposal?”).
When the mayor’s office and the Port endorsed conceptual plans for the Warriors’ proposal, they realized that it was not particularly waterfront-related, and was potentially in conflict with BCDC guidelines—which allow only projects with a waterfront-related and trust-compliant primary use. The Port and city then had two options. They could have set up a complex land-barter agreement like those which have already given private interests vast swaths of San Francisco’s shoreline. Or they could ask the legislature to decree Public Trust compliance by fiat.
The bill (as amended April 24) reads : “Any legislative or regulatory requirement for findings of consistency with the public trust doctrine or the Burton Act trust under the Special Area Plan, the Bay Plan, or any other applicable statute, regulation, or plan shall be deemed satisfied if the Port has made a finding that the Pier 30 – 32 development is consistent with the requirements of this act.” And what are those “requirements”? Here, the genesis of the bill becomes even more murky, the result of closed door-negotiations among the Warriors, the Port, the mayor’s office, and presumably representatives from BCDC and SLC. The bill purports to lay out minimum requirements for the project—including a deep-water-vessel berthing area, a relocated fire-boat station, and public access along the perimeter of the structure. It would also nip the 630-car pier-side garage down to 500 spaces (none of which are for trust uses). It would limit office space to 70,000 square feet (a slight restriction) and mandate at least 15 days of “Public Trust-consistent” programming a year (whatever that means).
The bill declares that if these minimal “requirements” are met, the primary purpose of the development does not have to be maritime-related, but the project would still be deemed compliant with the Public Trust. AB 1273 would thus neutralize the authority of the State Land Commission and greatly reduce the clout of BCDC over the project. While the bill’s purview is restricted to Seawall 330 and Piers 30 – 32, it establishes a dangerous precedent. If San Francisco can get its shoreline exempted from the oversight of the SLC and BCDC and the protections of the Public Trust, what’s to stop other municipalities from doing the same? Is this such a wonderful project that it deserves a blanket exemption from existing law?
The Public Trust Doctrine and the Modern Waterfront, introduction to the Public Trust Doctrine was developed by the staff of the California State Lands Commission in 2007
The Public Trust Doctrine–San Francisco’s waterfront, the November 1999 issue of the SPUR newsletter.
Warriors on the Waterfront, the Warriors’ own web site on the project
San Francisco Bay Plan of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission
“Warriors Arena Would Block Beauty of Bay” by Ann Killion in San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 15, 2013
Steven Chapman, Executive Committee, Sierra Club San Francisco Group