The Friends of Golden Gateway (FOGG) is a voluntary association dedicated to retaining the open recreational space located at 370 Drumm Street and the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco. This recreational space is known as the Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club (GGTSC) and is part of the apartment complex known as the Golden Gateway Center. Golden Gateway Center in early 2009 renamed itself as ‘The Gateway.’
A short history of the Golden Gateway Center
The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in 1960 invoked its authority and eminent domain powers and took a large section of downtown property, a tract bounded by Washington, Broadway, Battery Streets and the Embarcadero for redevelopment. This area had been the San Francisco wholesale produce market. What permitted this taking of private land by a government agency was the widely held view that this no longer productive and largely run-down section of the City could be put to a use that would enhance the greater public good. In an international competition the Perini Corporation was chosen as developer from among five competitors. A significant factor in the choice was that the Perini design offset the density of over 1,200 rental units in four high-rise towers and the 155 low-rise condominiums by providing open space in the form of Walton Park and for recreational space that is now GGTSC.
In return for fulfilling the civic intent of the Redevelopment Agency by incorporation such community wide benefits, the original developer was given a steep discount on the purchase value of the land. The 30 year land-use controls of the Redevelopment Agency began expiring in 1992, and a new developer, the San Francisco Waterfront Partners, now seek to alter the original planned development by drastically curtailing GGTSC space.
The Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club in brief
Originally designed to be the main recreational space for Golden Gateway residents, the Club has evolved over the years to become a community facility that serves all of San Francisco, and the surrounding communities.
Dues are very modest and membership is open to all without restrictions of any kind. Of the 1,600 members, only a quarter currently are residents of the Golden Gateway complex. The rest come from every district in the City and include both young children as well as senior citizens, with most of the non-resident members being families, a situation rare in a metropolitan recreational facility.
The facilities are widely used by non-profit groups for fund raising events that benefit many different organizations:
- Kids Camp- A 10 week summer camp where over 400 youngsters ( a number on scholarship) spend a full day learning swim safety, tennis, theater, social activities under the supervision of trained instructors;
- Seniors- About one-third of the membership, are offered water aerobics, outdoor Jacuzzi, exercise programs, walking, stretching, dietary and health programs;
- Community Outreach- Many members and staff participate each year in the Breast Cancer Walk, raising thousands of dollars, an annual extreme makeover of a local City school facility through the joint efforts led by Rebuilding Together San Francisco, a non-profit community-based organization to assisting low-income homeowners; in-school reading programs at lower income schools;
- an Annual Wellness Open House for Older Adults (exercise-nutrition-community activities;)
- USTA Leagues- Many teams including Men’s, Women’s, Mixed, Senior, and Combo have been fielded by the Club since the 1980’s, Interclub tennis matches are held with other tennis facilities in the Bay Area, Club tennis tournaments and Club circuits are an ongoing part of the tennis programs, Tennis Tournaments with proceeds going to City-wide kids programs;
- Rehabilitation- A haven for the disabled and injured who use the pools, Jacuzzi, and exercise classes for recovery.
All these features make GGTSC distinctive among facilities in the City. The only facility in the City with two outdoor in-ground heated swimming pools opens year round, seven days a week.
What the current developer proposes
The San Francisco Waterfront Partners group is requesting permission to build 170 of the highest priced condominiums in the City in two 8 story buildings, and an underground parking facility for 400-500 cars that will occupy more than one-half the space currently used by the Club. As a consequence there will be a significant reduction in the number tennis courts (from the present 9 to 4) and a major relocation and alteration of the swim facilities, to an extent that virtually all the programs described will disappear. The Club (if it continues to exist at all) will likely become a far more private facility orientated principally toward serving the owners of these new condominiums. The welcoming semi-public nature of the present Club will likely be history. In one of the densest districts in the City, a uniquely open active recreational facility will be replaced by an assertive and bulky complex of buildings that encroach upon the hard-won spaciousness of the new Embarcadero. The loss of the tennis courts would have a devastating impact on the game of tennis in San Francisco, as fewer courts means less tennis. That is what FOGG is fighting.
In claiming their right to build on part of the recreational space set aside decades ago for the enjoyment of city residents, the developer has not only broken faith with the people of San Francisco but he will have reaped a huge windfall by obtaining a parcel of land granted originally at great discount for a specific quasi-public recreational purpose and using it for the building of private luxury condominiums and parking spaces. This action must not go unchallenged, for if the developer is successful in ignoring or reshaping history for his own profitable ends, then the City is not safe with any agreement made in the future for facilities that serve the public good.
Indeed, if the developer succeeds in his effort to build these luxury condominiums on one-half of the current recreational space, nothing prevents him from building additional luxury condominiums on the remaining land and completely eliminating the Club facilities now that the last remaining parcels were turned over by the Redevelopment Agency. Thus the issues brought up by the attempt of the developer to take over these parcels of land have implications for public policy that go far beyond that of just saving a small piece of recreational space in San Francisco.
What FOGG is doing – strategies, methods and goals; Current Events
A number of FOGG members representing a broadly diversified group that includes lawyers, architects, retired university teachers, neighborhood activists, and housing advocates, among others have been meeting regularly since August 2003 working on strategy to save GGTSC and planning for fund raising to meet legal and research costs.
An experienced land-use attorney has been retained, a web site set up, position papers composed, and letters to Supervisors and Planning Commissioners written. Over ‘6 figures’ has been raised since 2003 – so far through personal as well as direct mail solicitations, and by a successful fund raising event held a few years ago. It has been dispersed judiciously. A database of over 2,600 supporters has been established, enabling FOOG to communicate regularly with its membership. In addition FOGG has joined and worked with other active groups in the city who have an interest in saving recreational space: The Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, the Golden Gateway Tenants Association, San Francisco Tomorrow, the San Francisco Tennis Club, the San Francisco Tennis Coalition and the Youth Tennis Alliance, among others. The joint efforts of this coalition resulted in a dramatic victory for recreational facilities in San Francisco when the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously (11-0) on December 12, 2006 for an 18 month moratorium (Recreational Resolution-File #061493) on any development that eliminates recreational space, without replacing on site all facilities on an one to one basis. This gives us a window of opportunity to develop permanent legislation that will protect recreational space in perpetuity from development throughout the City. The Board reaffrimed this vote in December 2008 for a six month extension to June 2009. Permanent legislation is being drafted.
Although FOGG and its allies have won the initial battle, the war is far from over. The developer is planning to continue with his project and in February 2009 has obtained an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with the SF Port for developing Seawall Lot 351 and the Club site. The plans submitted do not comply with the Resolution. FOGG must help in the writing of legislation that will make permanent the protection of recreational space, and for that we need the assistance of experienced city planners as well as our own land use attorney. We plan to continue to publicize our case widely and to persuade the Planning Commission, the Redevelopment Agency, and the City Supervisors that our cause is just.
The San Francisco Planning Department, at the request of District 3 Supervisor David Chiu, is conducting a Northeast Embarcadero Planning Study during the summer and fall of 2009. The Preliminary Recommendations submitted give a clear indication of their position. We believe they fully support development on the Club site and have crafted their recommendations in this manner. FOGG challenged them and is dismayed at the bias being shown by City officials.
Other neighborhood organizations have now joined the fight to preserve our Community Recreation Center. The Planning Department issued their final NES Report in June 2010. They stated that no concensus could be reached on what development should occur. They chose to issue guidelines calling for condominiums nearly 150 feet in height on the existing Club courts 2 and 3. The SF Planning Commission approved the Study and passed it to the SF Port Commission who endorsed it. The developer submitted a revised plan following the guidelines.
Several neighborhood groups, feeling that the planning process is just a sham, have started to develop an alternative Plan which will truly reflect the concensus of the people who live in the neighborhood.
Also, several neighborhood groups sued the City. The essence of the lawsuit is that the Planning Department and the Port Commission have violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by advancing the 8 Washington Street project without environmental review.
The lawsuit seeks to recind the Planning Department Study.
The SF Port Commission has received a ‘term sheet’ from the developer concerning the finances for the 8 Washington Street project. The Commissioners voted unanimously to forward the term sheet to the SF Board of Supervisors over the strong objections of the residents in the neighborhood.
Both the lawsuit and the term sheet are being opposed rigorously by the neighborhood.
There is no date yet established when these issues will be resolved. It is likely that the lawsuit will be in court some time in April or May 2011. A hearing on the term sheet has not been set.
A new issue has surfaced which will have a dramatic impact on the NE waterfront and FOGG’s efforts to save the GGTSC. The America’s Cup Races are coming to San Francisco. The Races are scheduled for the summer of 2013. Planning for the Races began early in 2011 and are continuing at a rapid pace. More information will be available in the next several months.
Our goal is straightforward: we seek permanent protection of this and similar recreational space from proposals of the kind being put forward by this developer and others who wish to deny San Franciscans the kind of neighborhood facilities that make the city a rich and vibrant place for people of all ages and all walks of life.
Bill Benkavitch – FOGG Secretary