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Chasing the Cup Out of Town

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Friday afternoon the word went out about the lawsuit filed to stop the America's Cup. And let's be perfectly clear, chasing the Cup out of town was the exact purpose of that effort, because the requests to satisfy that lawsuit would have blown the Cup deadlines to pieces. By Monday afternoon however, the lawsuit had almost become moot, because the America's Cup organizers dropped the news on our unsuspecting mayor that they were pulling out of almost all the development anticipated around the races.

The first wave of tweets announcing the lawsuit did not come from San Francisco; instead the first barrage of tweets came from San Diego. This is not terribly surprising because if we do manage to screw this up, San Diego is going to roar in and take our event away from us, given that they already have shore facilities they have been expanding since they hosted the Cup in 1988.

It would not be the first time. After all, we lost out to New York City for the right to bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. And then we followed that up by enthusiastically coming up short by a country mile for the right to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. This performance mirrored our still unexplained belly flop on the bid to host the World Cup, where people still don't know whether we actually submitted our bid or not.

Right in the middle of all this we also managed to chase the San Francisco Grand Prix bicycle race out of town. So it's not like we don't have a track record at screwing this sort of thing up. And at this point it has gone past just your garden variety NIMBY-ism to become a genuine threat to the growth of our city.

Which brings us back to the Cup. Three things have to be made clear here. First off, enough of the "we hate Larry Ellison" blather. We can't negotiate with the America's Cup because they are backed by a billionaire? Newsflash for the irretrievably clueless: with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, every sports team in the country is owned by a bazillionaire. It's odd, isn't it? When we hear about the city negotiating with the 49ers, the Giants, or even the Warriors, the net worth of their owners never enters the conversation. But when it's Ellison, people head to the barricades. This is just another sports team, one where none of the sailors racing in the cup make as much as your average football player makes on one Sunday. Yes it's Larry, yes everyone seems to hate him, but it should have no bearing on this.

Second, let's talk about the development deal that just went off the table. People seem to be all bent out of shape about what we were giving up, but here is the thing: We actually didn't give up anything, as those piers are unusable today. One Supervisor gave me the actual price tag to fix up all the piers on the waterfront, and it's enough to make your hair stand on end (hint, it's over $2 billion). The city does not have the money to fix them, and it probably never will. Someone is going to wind up developing those piers for profit instead of the city, and that's just the sad truth.

Third, in current San Francisco fashion, we are only looking at the short-term. Having Ellison's group lay in some serious investment, including development deals, means greater incentive for them to stay in San Francisco if they successfully defend the Cup. All this development is for this Cup. If we get another Cup, or even two down the road, then the city makes out like a bandit. But by pulling all their development off the table, the Cup organizers have shaken the hook out of their mouth. Once again, San Diego is grinning and rubbing their hands in anticipation.

We have arrived at the point where today the only development deal that has a chance of being approved is one that is utterly perfect in every way. Zero emission. Local hiring. Affordable housing. Bicycle racks and LEED-certified and non-radiating cell phones and whatever else our elected officials can think of tossing in. It's ridiculous. And it's also not coincidental that the same day we get the news about the Cup, Salesforce.com announces they are halting their new development in Mission Bay.

At some point it has to stop. To never change anything, to never create new development with a new tax base and new jobs and new residents is to risk us becoming the Detroit of the West, with the Hibernia Bank Building as our Parthenon of Passivity. What, you don't know that building? You should, as it stands as another icon of our inability to get rational development completed in this town.

Even worse, at some point our reputation for being impossible to work with will make all of this a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don't think that's likely? When we were shot down for the 2016 Olympics, one of the reasons cited by the bid committee was a "damaged reputation" due to failed negotiations surrounding the 49ers' stadium. In other words, if you can't even get a stadium figured out with own team, how are you going to figure out an Olympics? Then again, we never did figure out the stadium either, did we?

A boat race is a strange place to draw the line. But the Cup really does represent all the political insanity that we seem to trade in these days. Don't do business with the 1%. Fight anything that smacks of gentrification. Make decisions that are more policy statements than legislation. Get a bunch of piers fixed that we can't afford to repair? That sounds like a horrible idea. All those construction jobs you just wiped out? Not a big deal either, because we showed Larry. At night we can return to our homes, and smugly watch as our piers collapse into the bay one after another. On the other hand, it will give us something to do before the Cup comes on television.

Live from San Diego.

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