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SF Supes Vote on America's Cup, Plead to End Sailing's Elitist Image

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  • SF Supes Approve America's Cup Bid, Committee Pleads to End Sailing's Elitist Image

    Story by Paul Oliva

    The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today passed by a 9-2 vote Item 39 on the official agenda: the resolution endorsing the City's formal term sheet for hosting America's Cup 34 and supporting efforts to bring the AC34 to San Francisco.

    The term sheet acts as a detailed letter of intent. The city now officially has a formal bid in play once it is transmitted to BMW Oracle Racing, backed by a promise of $270 million in private sector funding, a lend-lease deal involving the piers and shorside facilities for the America's Cup Event Authority and teams, and assistance on a host of matters from immigration and foreign vessels to airspace and water traffic management. The bid faces competition not only from Valencia, Spain, and a port near Rome, but my sources very close to decisionmaking say also other locations in Italy and other countries (I'm willing to bet Ras al Kaimah is one).

    Supervisor John Avalos (of deep south central SF) and, unsurprisingly, Supervisor Chris Daly were opposed.

    There was quite a further squall from Chris Daly. For a rundown on the full Board of Supervisors meeting, see Kimball Livingston's must-read Blue Planet Times blogpost Supes Move on AC Bid.

    Debate and approval in Monday's committee hearing
    The resolution was approved yesterday in the three-person Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday, at which committee members Sophie Maxwell, Eric Mar, and David Chiu were joined by Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly. But it didn't proceed without an extended assault from Supervisor Chris Daly, some questions from the Supervisors about sailing's elitist image, and a disclosure from committee chair Supervisor Sophie Maxwell that she is "smitten" with sailing after taking lessons at one point due to a boyfriend.

    Strong showing by sailing community
    Walking up to committee room 263 was like going to the boat show. But with a heck of a lot more marble around. A few more suits and ties, too.

    There we were, standing in the hall or sitting in an overflow room, passing around yellow speaker cards to grab a spot to testify. There was Kimball Livingston, StFYC Rear Commodore Peter Stoneberg, a BAADS contingent, Larry White from the SF Marina, and a group from Latitude 38 led by John Arndt, Paul Kaplan of KKMI. The list goes on: South Beach YC (which I represented, together with several members), Treasure Island Sailing Center, Spinnaker Sailing SF, Master Mariners, Corinthian YC. Of course the sailing writers were there too, including Michelle Slade from the Marin IJ.

    An hour after the committee began and we were still in the hallway, someone quipped, "well, that's why they call it lobbying."

    The America's Cup resolution was Item 8.

    Daly opposition
    Chris Daly couldn't wait to pounce. Daly represents District 6, which covers the area of the southern waterfront at South Beach and China Basin where the Cup Village would be located. Though he had originally voted in support of hosting the America's Cup, he is now opposed. "I've got a bee in my bonnet," he declared, well into his rant. He was angry that as the elected representative for the so-called home district the City had not consulted with him. (The City says they offered a briefing to him and all Supervisors, he says his staff has no record.)

    His core substantive concern was fiscal. He was unclear whether all the costs had fully been considered and disclosed. He tried to raise a procedural concern that the City should produce a budget analyst report with a formal finding of fiscal feasibility and responsibility before approving the term sheet. He was also unclear how the State of California portion of the lend-lease financing would work.

    City staff, with the backing of the City attorney, responded that the term sheet was a basis for negotiation and not yet a fully formed project, so it did not yet require full fiscal review. Adding a requirement for that review was one of the amendments approved at the end of the meeting.

    The other supervisors pointed out that Daly's concerns were very much his responsibility to raise, but even the patient Maxwell grew impatient as Daly extended his list of detailed concerns and tried to bring his comments to a close. Daly pushed back: "I'm limited to 10 minutes in the Board of Supervisors [full meeting]. This is my only opportunity" to make all these points. In the end, he wasn't able to stay to hear the answers. He had to pick up his kids.

    The City presentation
    Then the parade began. First the City gave a presentation, led off by the new director of workforce and economic development Jennifer Matz. Then America's Cup project manager Kyri McClellan stepped the committee through the deal, calling a series of witnesses.

    Private architect Craig Hartman described the conceptual space plan for the Village, along with pedestrian and public transportation plans for the "greenest Cup ever."

    City event coordinator Martha Cohen addressed security logistics including Coast Guard vessel traffic routing ("this is something we can accomplish") and FAA airspace clearances for helicopter operations ("all very doable").

    Under extended questions from the supervisors, Port of San Francisco director Monique Moyer explained the property valuation questions and emphasized that there were no other options identified that could pay for rebuilding particularly Piers 30-32 and dealing with Pier 28, or for gaining an ongoing commercial return. Piers "30-32 has a negative value" and after the cruise ship terminal "didn't pencil out" the Port recommends the America's Cup use as the most commercially viable and productive option for the city. As for why the piers are in such poor condition, an exchange between Maxwell and Moyer pointed out that the State of California's inability to keep up the piers had been a key reason they were transferred to local management and why the lend-lease financing is exciting for everyone concerned.

    Rec & Park manager Phil Ginsberb was then called up about whether the plan would benefit residents from a recreational perspective. "We are looking to develop waterfront recreation," he said, in one of the clearest public statements yet from the city about sailing among its priorities. He noted how big events make a city special, and how the much-heralded President's Cup golf tournament was a drop in the bucket compared to the America's Cup. He pointed out that the much smaller and shorter President's Cup had an $80 million impact, was carried over 225 television stations worldwide, and stimulated interest in golf and usage of Harding Park by residents. "Things like this have a lasting impact."

    Mirkarimi riffed off that subject later in the meeting. He noted that the 1994 World Cup was directly tied to growth of soccer in San Francisco, and how the '94 World Cup's Legacy Tour led to installation of a number of the soccer fields installed today.

    Other than the city attorney's office responding to the Daly procedural question, the final official witness was America's Cup Organizing Committee chairman Mark Buell, long a fixture in economic development politics as both a top staffer and as a private developer. He laid out the way corporate contributions will build toward the overall funding package. The proper way to pronounce the abbreviation, by the way, is Ay-See-Oh-See. Not A-Cock. I'm glad we're getting away from calling the event A-Cup, too, though I digress.

    A parade of sailors...
    Then came the rest of us. A long line of support testimony running until after 5 p.m. Paul Kaplan led off talking about his many hats and then donning one that said JOBS. The rest of us said what you'd think. Waterfront infrastructure, kid access, disabled access, economic impact, excitement, what we get out of sailing.

    ...and issues with elitism
    However, the biggest lesson for the sailors present was the image problem that continues to plague the sport. And though most of the sailors in that room range from earning earning barely six figures to the equivalent of a school teacher, most people can't see a room of predominantly older white men talking about sailing without the adjective "rich" rising to mind.

    There was only one citizen voice of strong opposition, a black man speaking about the outmigration of African Americans from the city saying the lack of opportunity America's Cup presented to him made him "apalled, and angry... and broke."

    It was a far more uneasy moment when Maxwell, said "Turn around and look at this audience. Clearly this is not as diverse as we would like, and is not representative of San Francisco as a whole."

    Several sailors directly responded to the accessibility issue. The testimony from BAADS -- featuring blind sailor Joy Oganeku, wheelchair-bound Cristina Rubke, and long-time volunteer Jeff Breen -- was an important moment. In fact, you may see BAADS represented on the ACOC.

    But the supervisors were even more concerned with financial and ethnic accessibility. The excellent testimony by Carissa Harris on the good work of Treasure Island Sailing Center contrasted with her responding that her early involvement in sailing at a yacht club was through privilege and that she wasn't proud of that. In many ways the strongest testimony on the elitist point came from a South Beach resident who pointed out some of our boats cost less than many of the bicycles people ride around the city.

    That meant there was a silent cheer when Mar, who was web-surfing the sailing-is-elite issue during the meeting, chimed in that he found gosailingsf.com, specifically launched to help people get access to sailing. That initiative of the John Arndt-led Sailing Renaissance group and Latitude 38 multiplied its value in that moment.

    The term sheet will pass the Board of Supervisors today. And it's easy to dismiss political questions about sailing elitism as simply being out of touch. I believe the word "idiots" was used in talking about at the hearing at another sailing website.

    But let's not shoot the messenger. The Supervisors are simply representing the vast number of citizens who see sailing as something that excludes them and can take money and attention away from funding things like schools, roads, and parks.

    We as a sailing community need to consider well how we reach out to disadvantaged and disaffected Bay Area residents. I think we can agree with Supervisor Maxwell, who said "everyone should have the chance to see the bay from the water." That is a vision that San Francisco's America's Cup plan can advance... but is also something that should concern us whether or not San Francisco wins its AC34 bid.

    Other links:
    Board of Supervisors agenda
    Board of Supervisors Replay http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/Vie...php?view_id=10 (click in and then choose the video for 10/5/2010)
    Video archive of 10/4/2010 Land Use and Economic Development Committee Meeting
    City of San Francisco official America's Cup documents
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