Sunday, December 12, 2010

America's Cup Controversy, Round One

In San Francisco City Hall, there was a Budget and Finance Committee meeting of the Board of supervisors on Wednesday morning that stretched into the early evening.

The reason for the length of the meeting was because they were considering a take-it-or-leave-it presentation from the Mayor's Office on Workforce Development and the Port Commission which has been negotiating furiously for the last three months with the BMW Oracle event team on conditions for hosting the 34th America's Cup sailboat race in San Francisco.

The Mayor's people were armed with binders so thick they looked comical (above).

The America's Cup yachting race started in 1857, and was won continuously by the New York Yacht Club until 1983, when the Royal Perth Yacht Club finally snatched it away after more than a century, and it's been bouncing around the world ever since. After Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison successfully sued the organizers in Valencia, Spain concerning the rules governing the 33rd America's Cup, he and the Golden Gate Yacht Club beat the defending team from Geneva in February of this year. Since that time, Ellison and his BMW Oracle team have been dangling glittering promises of overwhelming economic prosperity if San Francisco would just give them a few concessions. The Mayor's office and most of the Board of Supervisors, including Board President David Chiu and Supervisor Elsbernd, above, have gone on record that this would be a fantastic opportunity for the city and they will do just about anything to lure the America's Cup to town.

There are just a few problems, such as Ellison's demands that he be given development rights for free along the newly opened up waterfront that used to be blocked by the double-decker freeway, from approximately the Ferry Building all the way past the Giants ballpark. He is also demanding that these rights be applicable for 75 years, which is where the proposed deal leaves the realm of arrogant to just plain insane.

Unfortunately, we have "moderate" Supervisor Elsbernd (above) on the committee, and though his reputation is as a hawk-eyed fiscal conservative, in truth I have never seen him vote against public land being turned over to private management. See Harding Park Golf Course, with its $25 million of state funds that were supposed to go for open space being used on a municipal course that has just been handed over to the PGA Tournament.

Brad Benson (above) was speaking for the San Francisco Port Commission, and he was part of the curveball the Port has thrown into the works by their suggestion for a less expensive, "Northern Waterfront Alternative" for the race and its facilities and its real estate giveaways. However, the latest news that arrived this weekend is that the Northern Waterfront Alternative is not acceptable to the BMW Oracle team, and they want their original $128 million giveaway, and their deadline is this Friday.

For a great series of articles by John Upton at the Bay Citizen on this evolving story, click here. Upton ends his last post with these words:
"The team's credibility in negotiations with San Francisco is questionable. [Photo above is of Jennifer Matz who is on the city's negotiating team.] It previously told city leaders that cities or ports in two other nations had offered hundreds of millions of euros in a bid to secure rights to host the event. With less than a week before San Francisco's newly imposed deadline passes, neither of those bids appear to have been submitted, although Barclay in his letter said the team had shown city officials documents proving other bids existed."

The millionaire real estate developer Mark Buell (above), who is president of San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department, gave a presentation where he promised that fellow rich private citizens had promised to raise $32 million in the next three years to pay for city expenses associated with the event, which doesn't include the lost rent from businesses along the waterfront evicted by Ellison's lightly regulated developments.

Senator Bernie Sanders on Friday talked about greed as an addiction, as pitiable and destructive and ugly as any other form of substance abuse, and Larry Ellison is a perfect example of the greedy gangster for whom there is never enough. He's the sixth richest person in the world, in fact, and could easily pay for all the infrastructure for this race out of his change pocket if he really wanted to, but he's using the America's Cup as another chance to grab even more from the world. Has nobody seen "The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao" where Arthur O'Connell (above) is buying up a whole town cheap so he can turn around and sell it to the railroad company?

Supervisor David Campos (above) was the only person in the Supervisors' chambers asking the tough questions about legal ramifications and financial ramifications. The rest of the committee, joined by Supervisors Dufty and Chiu, sounded more like cheerleaders than guardians of the public trust. When it turned out that Harvey Rose, the Budget Analyst, hadn't even been told about the last minute change to the Northern Alternative until the meeting, the Budget committee decided to adjourn until a special meeting this Monday where they will hear his hastily assembled numbers.

The robber barons of the 19th and early 20th century conducted this race in Newport, Rhode Island where their estates were situated. One of the more interesting details in the Wikipedia biography of Ellison (above) is the following:
"In early 2010 Ellison purchased the Astor's Beechwood Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island for $10.5 million. The property was the former summer home of the prominent Astor family."
Talk about a win-win situation. Either San Francisco gives the 66-year-old Ellison development rights for its waterfront to extend for decades after he's dead, or he'll take his race elsewhere, namely Rhode Island where he has just moved in with Serious Old Money.


mary ann said...

Great reporting. That top photo inside City Hall is amazingly beautiful. Thanks...

janinsanfran said...

Hang with this. It is indeed one monumental giveaway. Thanks.

Nancy Ewart said...

I feel like we are living through a reprise of what Mark Twain (among others) called "The Gilded Age." That age gave rise to the Progressive Party and a whole host of progressive legislation, but not enough as the Great Depression showed. Let's hope that we have our version of the progressive party and SOON for the consequences for us, the state, country and the planet would be lethal this time around.