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As a once-avid Bay sailboat racer who followed San Francisco’s Golden Gate Challenge to Australia in 1986, I am excited about the America’s Cup sailing races coming to San Francisco Bay.
As a once-avid Bay sailboat racer who followed San Francisco’s Golden Gate Challenge to Australia in 1986, I am excited about the America’s Cup sailing races coming to San Francisco Bay. But it’s not just a sailboat race anymore. It is a major sports marketing event involving waterfront development and including a new cruise ship terminal.
So as an environmentalist with SeaTurtles.org in West Marin, I’ve been worried about the air and water pollution that will be generated by the superyachts, cruise ships and spectator boats that will descend on the Bay and the associated marina construction and pier renovation. Some in the sailing and maritime community seem to think that advocating for a clean and green America’s Cup automatically pits me and all environmentalists against the sailboat races. As in, you’re either with us or against us.
It’s not that simple. My history with sailing and America’s Cup goes back to the 1980s, when I raced on San Francisco Bay out of Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon. When the late Tom Blackaller organized an America’s Cup team at St. Francis YC, I volunteered to help with local events and PR. Then I got lucky enough to lose my corporate job before the America’s Cup in Perth, Western Australia. I dropped everything, got a gig covering the races for a couple of sailing rags and flew to Fremantle.
Now 25 years later, the America’s Cup is here and promoting a sustainable event with “zero waste” and “no carbon footprint.” To help watchdog these commitments, I joined the coalition of 30 environmental, neighborhood, public health, civic organizations and swim clubs called the America’s Cup Environmental Council, formed to ensure that America’s Cup is a benefit for San Francisco Bay and its surrounding neighborhoods and historic resources, in both the short and long term. We represent the 99 percent, given the America’s Cup is clearly a 1 percent game.
After months of poring over environmental documents, writing comments, attending hearings and conducting direct negotiations with the City, the Port and the America’s Cup Event Authority, we’ve made huge strides toward ensuring an environmentally responsible event. I support the requirements for cleaner fuels, engines and shoreside power for race management vessels and commercial spectator boats. The new shoreside power project at Pier 70 for drydocked cruise ships and military vessels will offset the temporary shutdown of shore power for cruise ships at Pier 27. Clean boating programs will help prevent discharges of wastewater and marine debris into the Bay.
Even so, the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) recognizes that the project will still generate “significant and unavoidable impacts even with mitigation.” As a result, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, San Francisco Tomorrow, Waterfront Watch, and Golden Gate Audubon filed an appeal of the certification of the FEIR. They will press the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to intervene and resolve remaining issues including preservation of Crissy Field and shoreline habitat; protection of marine mammals and birds during races; how trash and plastic will be kept out the Bay or cleaned up if it ends up overboard; and traffic and crowd control in waterfront neighborhoods.
Ultimately, the buck literally stops with the America’s Cup Event Authority and the City of San Francisco, which have made very public commitments to sustainability. These are the terms of engagement on San Francisco Bay set by the America’s Cup and the City itself.
Program Director, SeaTurtles.org