Why San Francisco Should Let the Niners Go

by Anonymous on February 5, 2007

(Ed note: The author is involved with the community and requested anonymity)

Not too long ago I ran across a May 2006 proposal by the environmental organization Arc Ecology and a number of other community partners for a 167-acre waterfront park on the southern shore of Hunters Point Shipyard. The proposal, which hinges on the removal of the Shipyard’s toxic radiological and industrial landfill, would transform the City’s far Southern shoreline into another Crissy Field.

At the recent 2007 Mayor’s Economic Breakfast, Gavin Newsom was asked about whether the San Francisco would be able to salvage its relationship with the Forty-Niners and keep the team in the City in new location at either Candlestick Park or Hunters Point Shipyard. Mayor Newsom responded wisely. After the perfunctory comments about doing everything reasonably possible to keep the team he said that billionaire sports franchise owners don’t need subsidies. The crowd applauded heartily and the conversation moved on to other topics.

The crowd was correct to applaud. Not just because Newsom was wise in his response, but also because letting the Niners go to build their new playground in Santa Clara provides San Francisco with an enormous opportunity to not just revitalize the City’s most Southeastern reaches, but also to build a regional attraction that will provide far more local benefits than the Niners and a new stadium could ever hope to do.

Unlike a new stadium that would be used no more that the equivalent of several weeks out of the year, the new park would literally put Bayview Hunters Point on the map – the neighborhood is largely absent from the City’s tourist maps. The wildly successful open space on the Presidio’s northern shore is a regional attraction that could serve as a model for bringing tourists and their disposable income to the Bayview. It would be a catalyst for residential and commercial development in the Candlestick area, support further cleanup and redevelopment at the Hunters Point Shipyard, and add momentum to the neighborhood’s overall revitalization and integration with the rest of the City.

The ascension of Nancy Pelosi to the Speaker’s chair and Senators Boxer and Feinstein into prominent positions in the Senate majority offers a chance to secure the cleanup dollars necessary to make this vision a reality. The new park could be incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a way to permanently support its operations without scarce dollars from our General Fund.

The stadium, on the other hand, would do little for the neighborhood or for the City. The publicly owned facility would sit idle except for the 10 to 20 times a year that it would be used for football games, concerts, and tractor pulls. The vast tracts of parking required to accommodate all the cars and tailgaters that football games bring would blight a shoreline that is one of the Bayview’s most priceless assets. Most of those cars will simply leave right after the event anyway. Worst of all, a new stadium will eat up money that could go to supporting affordable housing construction, open space acquisition, and other much needed infrastructure improvements in the Bayview.

The emotional desire to keep the Niners in town is understandable. They occupy a prominent position in the City’s sports history and are clearly identified with our great City. Yet there is no compelling reason that merits bending over backward for them. Whatever benefits that could come from keeping the team in town would remain. They would still be identified with the City, their out of town fans will still fly into SFO, and those fans will – for obvious reasons – still come into the City to eat in our restaurants and partake in our cultural amenities. They may even visit the new park.

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