Gameplan: San Francisco

Walter O’Malley famously moved the Dodgers out of Brooklyn because Ebbets Field was too small, and there was little parking immediately around it. The former is easy to explain. The latter, back in the 50′s, was a matter of pulling in the more affluent suburban customer. Typically that customer was white, and followed Robert Moses’s new network of highways and expressways out to Long Island. While Ebbets Field was close to NYC subway lines, it was over a mile from the nearest Long Island Rail Road station. Attracted by free land on which to build a legacy ballpark, O’Malley headed west to Los Angeles with Horace Stoneham going to San Francisco.

The ever continuing trend of ballparks moving from the suburbs to downtown has been aped by arena development. No NBA arena in the last 30 years has been built outside a downtown area or urban core, as it makes sense to take advantage of existing transit and parking infrastructure. True to form, the Warriors’ planned arena is in downtown San Francisco, steps from Muni and within walking distance of both BART and Caltrain. There’s still worry about the amount of traffic the South Beach area will see due to the annually expected 2 million additional visitors. While the W’s will take care of the high-roller types (suite holders, VIPs), all other fans will be largely left to look for parking several minutes away, or more smartly, use transit. That will cause transit use to increase (good) while potentially negatively affecting service (bad).

And while the Giants and NIMBYs exercise a lot of concern over the impact of the arena, the City of San Francisco and the Warriors would do wise to take a page from what the City of San Jose did to get their EIR approved and certified. The solution is simple: Don’t approve any* new parking in the area and expand neighborhood parking policies to include arena events. When the traffic studies come out, they will envision multiple scenarios, including one in which practically no new general parking is built. That makes sense, because there is no land on which to build a large new garage (Seawall Lot 330 is too small). With no place to park, fans will be forced to use parking garages in the Financial District or the garages used throughout SOMA for Giants games. Most arenas would require 7,000 spaces to fulfill requirements. In the SF arena’s case, given the existing transit splits, that requirement could be easily cut in half. 3,500 spaces can be covered by existing garages within a half-mile or so.

This is a proven model in San Jose. which built a 1,600-space lot next to HP Pavilion, but depends on thousands of spaces elsewhere in Downtown which as much as 2/3 mile away. Piggybacking on this idea, the City approved the latest supplemental EIR for the Diridon ballpark by stipulating that there would be minimal parking around it. Existing neighborhood parking policy enforcement would continue, and in some cases, would have to be more strictly enforced. The onus would be on SF to ensure that enforcement is rigid. That’s been an issue in the past at HP Pavilion.

A two year gap exists between the planned openings of the Warriors arena (2017) and the Central Subway (2019). It’s expected that the Central Subway will take some of the commuters from north of Market Street and parts north off the congested Embarcadero line, which takes a roundabout 10-minute path to Caltrain. The T-Third line on the Central Subway is too far away from the arena site to shuttle Warriors and concert fans, but the reduction in commuters on the Embarcadero should free things up for those fans. And remember – the arena crowd is about 40% the size of a sold-out AT&T Park. The area can handle it.

The advice to SF, then, is: Don’t bend over backwards for anyone on this. Be patient, let the process move forward, take the necessary planning and mitigation steps, broker with the numerous governmental groups, and get it done. This isn’t your first rodeo.

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