Luxury yachts — or 5,000 school kids learning to sail?

The Treasure Island Development Authority wants to turn Clipper Cove -- now used for youth sailing programs -- over to 313 millionaires and their fancy boats

Have you ever wondered what happened to the San Francisco Dragon Boat Festival?

The short story is that city staff evicted the Festival from Treasure Island in order to help clear the way for real estate developers who wanted to build a luxury marina across Clipper Cove where the Festival ran the dragon boat races. The San Francisco Dragon Boat Festival moved to Oakland and the crowds of 60,000 spectators disappeared from Treasure Island.


Dragon boats used to race out of Treasure Island. Now they have been forced to move — evicted to make way for a luxury marina

The back-story came to light when the Treasure Island Citizens Advisory Board questioned city staff for the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA). Island Director Bob Beck admitted that the departure of the Festival was a “TIDA decision,”but defended the eviction by saying that the Festival was a temporary/interim use that was able to be accommodated for a number of years, but it’s a TIDA decision about what programs go on there.”  In this case “temporary” meant ten years.

The “interim use” of Clipper Cove by the Dragon Boat Festival began back in 2005. And by 2011, the Festival was drawing crowds of 50,000.  That year Island Director Mirian Saez congratulated the San Francisco Dragon Boat Festival writing:

“Treasure Island is a unique place for the festival because of its regional access, spectacular views and the ability for participants to race in the Bay in protected waters. I would like to thank the California Dragon Boat Association for helping to make Treasure Island the Bay Area’s recreation destination.” [emphasis in original]

By 2015 the Festival was marking its tenth year at Clipper Cove, and drawing a crowd of 60,000.  But 2015 was to be the last year for the Dragon Boat Festival in San Francisco. TIDA staff quietly informed the Festival organizers that the event would not be welcome back in 2016.

So, what happened between 2011 and 2015? What happened was the re-emergence of a dormant 2003 proposal by real estate developers to build a private luxury marina, right across the heart of Clipper Cove, dedicated exclusively to million-dollar yachts, 313 of them to be exact.

During the Navy’s tenure at Treasure Island, Clipper Cove was closed to the public. But after the Navy left, the Cove was opened up. And over the last 15 years, the public has started flooding in. The Treasure Island Sailing Center, the city’s only community sailing center, was established and grew in parallel to the Festival. Currently the Sailing Center programs bring thousands of youth and families onto the San Francisco Bay each year at Clipper Cove, including a science/sailing STEM program that each year now provides classes to 1,500 fourth and fifth graders from San Francisco public schools, more than 5,000 of the over the past several years

The unique geography of the Cove, cited by former Island Director Saez, is what makes the Cove so special. The Cove is protected on three sides, with a low-slung land bridge on the western end that blocks the Bay’s infamous chop and moderates the afternoon winds that whip across the Bay. As a result, Clipper Cove offers a rare combination of moderate wind and flat water protected from the Bay’s notorious tidal currents.

Of course, those are the same qualities that drew back the developers who wanted to revive their proposal to take Clipper Cove for a private marina. And in the spring of 2015 they presented a new plan for marina development to the Treasure Island Development Authority.

However, the new proposal soon ran into a wave of intense public opposition. And to date the project has failed to move beyond TIDA. However, the San Francisco Dragon Boat Festival has already left for Oakland and may never return.

While one horrible planning decision by the Treasure Island Development Authority has cost the city dearly, we don’t have to repeat that mistake. The new plan needs the approval of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and host of other agencies. We would never give one-third of Golden Gate Park to a private luxury resort, and we shouldn’t give away Clipper Cove.

On Monday, April 30, the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee held  a hearing on a resolution introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim to protect Clipper Cove, and passed the resolution on to the full board without objection. Now the supervisors will get to answer a question that might help define this city: who is more important, 313 millionaires or 5,000 Fourth graders?

Hunter Cutting is a parent volunteer working to save Clipper Cove.  His son Cazzie Cutting learned to sail through the programs of the Treasure Island Sailing Center on Clipper Cove. Cazzie went on to form a sailing team at his high school, Mission High, and now sails for his college team, St. Mary’s College of Maryland.


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