Last week, the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance
announced its opposition to the proposed Warriors arena at Piers 30 and 32. Claiming “core values that have guided San Francisco for decades are under attack,” the group argued, “without determined, cohesive action, our unique and iconic waterfront will be obliterated by high-rises and high-stress developments.” While the group includes the local Sierra Club and Save the Bay, its key founders include Rudy Nothenberg, who as the city’s CAO allowed tens of thousands of low income tenants to live without heat and in substandard housing. Other opponents include former Mayor Art Agnos and "Town Grouch" Quentin Kopp
, who Nothenberg brought together for this fight. Agnos strongly backed a stadium plan as mayor and is now a media go-to guy for quotes critical of Mayor Lee; Kopp has been on the wrong side of virtually every progressive issue for four decades. These three have no credibility on waterfront issues, and under their reasoning, the Giants beloved AT &T Park should not have been built on the water.
Rudy Nothenberg, Art Agnos and Quentin Kopp were once among San Francisco’s leading political players. Now they have leaped at the chance to regain the media spotlight by becoming high-profile opponents of the proposed Warriors arena.
Nothenberg’s Credibility Gap
Those trusting Nothenberg on any policy subject can only be explained by not knowing his deplorable record. This group appears to include the “progressive” Bay Guardian, which promoted him as having “served five SF mayors financing big civic projects
Not mentioned by the Guardian is Nothenberg’s refusal to enforce city housing codes while serving a the city’s Chief Administrative Officer in charge of the then Bureau of Building Inspection. Under Nothenberg, the city did not even have a Spanish-speaking housing inspector and Latino families routinely lived without heat and in substandard housing.
Nothenberg treated tenants and their advocates with contempt. A 1993 tenant protest against the city's lack of code enforcement led to the crowd pounding on Nothenberg's City Hall door demanding he respond to their concerns. They chanted "Rudy, Rudy, you can't hide," but this newly minted man of the people never came out.
When I authored an initiative (Prop G) for the November 1994 ballot that gave voters the opportunity to remove Nothenberg from supervising housing and building code enforcement, they did so. We learned in early 1995 that Nothenberg even allowed several cronies to serve on building inspection committees who were not city residents and were legally ineligible; he always was downtown’s guy and cared nothing about the neighborhoods.
Nothenberg began as a progressive, idealistic young activist associated with Phil Burton. But he gave up that role long ago, and has no credibility in his newly assumed role as protector of the city's interests.
Agnos’s New Life
Art Agnos has never gotten over his re-election defeat in 1991, for which he has long blamed Rose Pak, a Lee ally. Agnos sought the post of interim mayor that Ed Lee got, and after two decades of not speaking out much about city politics is now one of the most frequently quoted critics of the mayor.
But speaking against the Warriors arena’s is odd for a mayor that used every political chit at his disposal to get voter support to build a Giants stadium in 1989 at a location vastly inferior to the current site. Then, Agnos argued that a new stadium would dramatically increase city revenue and even help expand funding for AIDS programs. And while Agnos claims that he is not against a stadium but only opposes it on the waterfront, that sounds like the same type of site-based opposition he rejected as phony when made against his ballpark plan in 1989.
Agnos told the media
in March, "You can quote me. That arena will never be built - not there." My response is that you can quote me---yes it will.
The Town Grouch
Quentin Kopp is the third prominent opponent of the Warriors arena. This is completely understandable, as Kopp only supports projects where he is given primary control. The Warriors wisely did not turn their arena planning over to Kopp, effectively guaranteeing he would use his reputation for “tight fistedness” to oppose the project.
Kopp has an even smaller political base in San Francisco than Agnos, and the westside of the city that supported him in the 1970’s and 80’s has a very different demographic today. Both Mayor Lee and Phil Ting, the Assembly member from the Westside, are very popular there and both are strong arena supporters. Ting is sponsoring the state legislation facilitating the arena that the Waterfront Alliance strongly opposes.
The Success of AT&T Park
The Giants home is considered the nation’s first or second best baseball stadium, with its only rival, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, also on the water. The signature feature of AT&T Park is its waterfront location, and fans love it.
So I don’t agree with opponents’ notion that a Warriors arena on the waterfront is contrary to San Francisco’s “core values.” And considering that the Warriors have agreed to comply with San Francisco’s local hire law, and has a card-check neutrality deal with UNITEHERE Local 2, the project is actually promoting the city’s core values.
When the current owners bought the Warriors and expressed interest in returning to San Francisco, I was ambivalent due to the lost tax revenue for cash-starved Alameda County. But given the ownership’s desire to move, the new arena makes far more sense as proposed than anywhere else (Agnos claims it would fit better in the Civic Center, an obvious non-starter).
As for opposition from the local Sierra Club (led by another constant opponent of Mayor Lee) and Save the Bay, I certainly understand if some in these groups feel they were left out of the process. But hurt feelings should not kill a huge job-creating project. While these groups concerns should be heard, the Warriors arena is generating so much enthusiasm that opponents will not gain political traction.
I see the Board easily passing the arena plan, no doubt helped by the Warriors bright future.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron