Yachts could soon obstruct the iconic view from the Marina Green waterfront in San Francisco, California. The City plans a controversial redesign of the 74 acre greens pace, where visitors and residents enjoy breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Marin Headlands, and Angel Island. Included in the plan, is a yacht harbor running across the whole Marina Green area. Proponents maintain the plans will clean up a century old toxic pollution problem and provide new recreation opportunities along the waterfront. Outraged residents on the other hand, claim the plans will ruin the waterfront’s natural beauty and provide leisure only for the extremely wealthy. 

In this article we’ll take a look at the plans, intentions, and potential consequences of this controversial redesign.

Why Change the Waterfront? Century Old Pollution Problem

The project, known as the “Marina Improvement and Remediation Project,”  is due in large part to a settlement plan with Pacific Gas & Electric Company over pollution that still threatens the area. On the east end of the waterfront near Fort Mason, is a small marina called “Gashouse Cove.” This area, now home to decaying wooden docks and various marine life, was once a 19th century plant that made gas to light and heat nearby homes. The unfortunate legacy of this coal gasification plant, which ceased operations after the 1906 earthquake, is harmful pollutants that remain in the soil to this day. These pollutants, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are tied to birth defects and cancer. Unfortunately, they sometimes bubble up in and around Gashouse Cove threatening human and animal life.

In 2021, City Attorney Announced $190 Million Settlement with PG&E Over the Pollutants

In 2021, the City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced the end to a two-decade long stalemate between the City of San Francisco and Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The $190 million settlement leaves PG&E responsible for much of the funding for the cleanup and reconstruction of the East Marina. The city wrote at the time of the settlement that the cleanup of the site will allow the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to design and implement a project to improve the Marina Small Craft Harbor, including replacing failing docks in the East Harbor and increasing recreational access to the waterfront for all.” and that input from the community will shape the design of these plans.

However, now that the city has released the plans, many residents feel that the new waterfront would strip the area of its natural beauty and provide recreation only for wealthy yacht owners. 

The Plans

Clean Up

The city plans to clean up Gashouse Cove AKA East Harbor starting in 2026. The cleanup “will involve dredging and capping, along with removal of the riprap along the shoreline.” The city will remove all of the old boats as well as the decaying wooden docks from the area as well. The cleanup phase should take around two years to complete and may cost up to $100 million dollars.

Gashouse Cove New Recreation Area

After the cleanup is complete, the city plans to convert Gashouse cove into an electricity-free recreation area. In this area, residents and visitors will be able to use and rent kayaks,  canoes, small sailboats and paddleboards. The city also plans to install new pedestrian access to fishing areas as well as a walkable path over the water, and an interactive water exhibit.   

Marina Green Triangle Area

Just west of Gashouse cove is a 2 acre area known as the Marina Green Triangle. This area is currently home to a grassy area as well as old outdoor exercise equipment. Soon, however, it could get a makeover by James Corner Field Operations, which worked on the Tunnel Tops park and playground in the Presidio. 

Relocated East Harbor Boats Will Block Waterfront Views 

 

By far the most controversial aspect of the project is the plan to relocate the East Harbor (Gashouse Cove) boats and slips to the West Harbor along the Marina Green. This will change the view from along the walking path in front of the Marina Green drastically. Because of this, yachts may soon obstruct what is now open water with fantastic views of Alcatraz Island, The Golden Gate Bridge and the beautiful areas across the bay.

Local Reactions

While locals are eager for PG&E and the city to clean up the toxic waste that has plagued the area for so long, many feel that it comes with a lofty, unexpected price: obstructing the iconic view along the waterfront. Many residents worry that the plans will ruin the natural beauty of the area and that only wealthy yacht owners will get to experience the harbor as it once was. 

In an interview with NBC Bay Area, resident Erin Roach said “When I heard that they want to put a new harbor in front of the Marina Green, it kind of broke my heart.” and that “…San Francisco’s not the most popular city in the country right now — and this is a really beloved spot… it’s a bad time for us to be giving something away that San Franciscans actually really care about and love.’’

Similarly, a longtime San Francisco resident Bill Clarke told NBC Bay Area reporters that the area is  “…such a treasure,”  and that he  “…can’t imagine them taking it away.”

Many more residents have organized opposition events and protested the plans at board meetings, even going so far as to say that the plans should be completely scrapped and sent back to the drawing board. 

The Future is Uncertain for the Waterfront

For now the future of the Marina Green waterfront is uncertain. In October, 2023, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously to go ahead with the project.  However, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, just yesterday, January 25, 2024, new legislation aimed at preventing the relocation of the boat slips is set to pass on Monday January 29, 2024. 

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