Groups Worry About Environmental Footprint of America’s Cup on SF Bay

San Francisco – For a week next summer and nearly two months in 2013, the San Francisco Bay will become a natural amphitheater for the prestigious 34th America’s Cup regatta.

More than 1 million spectators are expected to turn out for trial races next summer, and more than 5 million could show up for the actual races in two years, trampling on park lands and historical sites along the city’s northern shoreline. The sailing “race track” will form a loop in the middle of the bay, skirting the city’s northern waterfront, the Marin Headlands, Angel Island and Treasure Island.

A coalition of 30 environmental groups has voiced concern on a wide range of potential environmental impacts to the bay that might occur during the races, including increased litter and waste in the water, air pollution from diesel-guzzling cruise ships, the impact of dredging to accommodate large yachts and the spread of invasive species carried into the bay by boats.

“[Planning for] America’s Cup is [happening] on a very short time frame. We wanted to work together [with the city] to identify the impacts that could happen,” said Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, a member of the coalition.

The sailing regatta is expected to transform the city’s northern waterfront — including the construction of a new cruise terminal — and pump $1 billion into the local economy. Since the city was chosen to host the event late last year, multiple agencies have moved at a rapid pace to study and draft plans to address a slew of issues.

“There’s a waste plan, a water traffic plan, a people (transportation) plan,” Self said.

The San Francisco Planning Commission released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in July, and heard public comment last Thursday on the draft report. The commission will accept comments in writing through Aug. 25.

Self said that the coalition had submitted a long list of recommendations on ways to address environmental impacts, which for the most part were not incorporated into the EIR.

“We took in their recommendations, incorporated what we found was adequate or needed to go into the environment document,” said Joy Navarette, environmental planner with the city commission. The key issues raised by environmentalists, she said, were “bio, water quality, transportation and historic preservation.”

Jennifer Clary, a program associate with Clean Water Action, said the city’s mitigation plans need scrutiny, because of the quick timeframe to get all of the permits before construction begins.

“So much was dictated by the agreement with America’s Cup race event authority, so much was laid out in that [document] that the city doesn’t really have as much authority…to do what they need to do in terms of planning for mitigating [impacts of] the event,” said Clary, adding that they plan to use a state law (California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) to ensure the city properly mitigates environmental impacts.

For example, she said, the city needs to plan for a spike in public transit demand during race days and ensure that neighborhoods throughout the city are not negatively impacted. She said that many of the buses and light rail that serve residents throughout the city, including low-income communities, also serve the waterfront, such as the 14-Mission, 8x-Bayshore, 29-Sunset and T-line.

“If you have those lines clogged up during the America’s Cup, if you don’t figure out how to mitigate the transportation effects, you have a ripple effect,” she said. “ A problem downtown goes back to neighborhoods.”

Marie Harrison, a resident of the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, said she was concerned about increased water pollution from leaking vessels and dredging that could unearth pollutants from industrial activities.

Harrison, who also directs Greenaction, a community-based environmental group, said her main concern is for the local community to benefit from the economic activity generated by the America’s Cup.

Harrison said she would like to see the development plans bring in jobs, “even temporary jobs,” to the neighborhood.

“Jobs would be the ticket for a whole bunch of our young folks,” she said.