Mills’ Project Faces Activists and Legislation

by Alison Stevens Rodrigues on September 12, 2005

More than four years after San Francisco’s Port Commission awarded the Virginia-based Mills Corp. exclusive rights to develop a 19-acre, mixed use recreation project on Piers 27-31, Mills has an opportunity to make headway with the release of its Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Yet the corporation might fall two steps back before taking one step forward if it fails to produce a Fiscal Feasibility report that is up to snuff.

Both Mills and the Commission are working with the San Francisco Planning Department to complete the EIR by the first week of October 2005, at which point the public would have either 60 or 90 days to submit any questions, comments or concerns, said Jon Golinger, project director of Citizens to Save the Waterfront. According to him, there has been very little opportunity for public review of the project.

However, the point for public comment might be made mute if Mills does not give to the Board of Supervisors a Fiscal Feasibility report, or if the Board does not accept the report once it has been given.

The requirement for such a report comes after the signing of the Fiscal Feasibility Ordinance in 2004. Proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the Ordinance “requires additional information from applicants for environmental review, suspends application to certain projects undergoing environmental review, and bars City departments from extending current Exclusive Right to Negotiate agreements until fiscal feasibility review has been successfully completed.”

In other words, for projects of a certain size, even before developers submit an EIR, they must submit a report proving that the project is worth the monies that an EIR requires.
“It’s just common sense,” said Peskin of the Ordinance. “It ensures that before someone embarks on a large project necessitating capital funds, they are fully aware of how it will be operated and maintained.”

While Mills does not have to halt progress on its EIR, the EIR will not be considered until Mills submits a Fiscal Feasibility report that the Board approves. In addition, Mills could lose its exclusive negotiating rights to the project if the report is not approved by the time their current rights expire.

Still, Golinger said he and other activists believe the need for review and scrutiny remains. According to an article in the Sierra Club Yodeler, newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter, the Mills project would create numerous environmental problems, including threatening Bay Area wildlife, blocking bicyclists and pedestrians, and exposing people to sewage.

That last point was the subject of a letter that John Rizzo, executive director of the Bay Chapter, and Jennifer Clary, president of San Francisco Tomorrow, wrote to the Port Commission’s executive director in April 2005. In it they noted that the Mills’ project calls for the construction of a Marine Sports Basin, which would feature kayaking, rowing and sailing.

“It has come to our attention that one of San Francisco’s 43 Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) Structures – CSO # 15 – is located.adjacent to Piers 29 and 31,” wrote Rizzo and Clay.
According to the letter, when heavy rainfall occurs and sewer flow exceeds treatment and storage capacity of the North Point Wet Weather Facility, the overflow, a combination of raw sewage and rainwater, is diverted through the CSO pipes, with # 15 emptying directly into the would-be Basin.

“Available data indicates that such sewage overflow events occur at this location several times a year, discharging millions of gallons of effluent into the Bay annually,” Rizzo and Clay wrote.

Moreover, they noted that while regular water monitoring is not done at the proposed Basin location, monitoring is done at a comparable site in Crissy Field Beach East, and levels of E. Coli, Enterococcus, and/or Coliform bacteria have exceeded State of California Bacteria Standards for Water Contact Recreation on 8 out of 21 testings.

“They could pay to divert the sewage flow so it doesn’t have to come out of that pipe,” said Golinger, which is something that Rizzo and Clay suggested in their letter.

Environmental activists are not the only ones who are expressing concerns. In July 2005, after they adopted a resolution not to approve the Mills’ project, the San Francisco Democratic Party wrote a letter urging the Board of Supervisors not to approve it, or “any waterfront development project that is not appropriate for our unique and historic San Francisco Waterfront and that does not comply with the spirit of proposition H.”

In 1990 voters approved Proposition H, which asked that the priority for the waterfront be for maritime and other water-essential activities. Mills on the other hand, would dedicate only one third of its Piers 27-31 project to active recreation, said Golinger.

“If this developer went more recreation and less mall, we might consider supporting it,” Golinger said “But Mills has already shown it’s not willing to do that.”

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