wave.jpgPlans for the America’s Cup sailing race and a new cruise terminal in San Francisco cleared a significant hurdle today when the city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously certified the final environmental impact report for the project.

The environmental review was certified in a 10-0 vote by the board, which rejected an appeal by groups who argued the report did not adequately address problems caused by the races in the Bay and race-related activity along the northern and eastern waterfront of the city.

America’s Cup World Series races are scheduled to start in San Francisco in August 2012, followed by the Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup Challenger Series in July 2013 and the America’s Cup Finals in August 2013.

San Francisco was named the host of the race after Oracle CEO Larry Ellison won the previous America’s Cup in 2010 on behalf of the city’s Golden Gate Yacht Club and got to choose the location of the next race.

Tom Lippe, an attorney whose firm is representing the appellant groups, which include the Sierra Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said the city had “a very short timeframe to do this environmental review” and left many issues inadequately addressed in its report.

More than two dozen people spoke on behalf of the appeal, including several who brought up the same issue–a proposed JumboTron screen to show the races in the city’s Aquatic Park, a cove frequented by open water swimmers.

The establishment of the screen in the cove would have required the placing of large cement blocks underwater, which could disturb the sediment and create possibly hazardous conditions for swimmers.

Jeff Russell, who said he frequently swims in Aquatic Park, said allowing the plans for the JumboTron to move forward would “spoil this venerable and long-standing San Francisco tradition.”

Board president David Chiu said he too was worried about the effects the JumboTron would have on swimmers, saying he used to swim in Aquatic Park as well when he was in his 30s and asked if there were any alternatives to put the screen on land.

But Mary Murphy, an attorney whose firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is representing the America’s Cup Event Authority, said the authority agreed tonight to eliminate its plan to put the JumboTron in the water and would explore land-based alternatives for the screen.

“We have heard the concerns of the community,” Murphy said, adding that the rest of the environmental impact report “is wholly deserving of your support.”

Before the board voted in favor of certifying the environmental report, several supervisors spoke in support of the America’s Cup project, including Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said it was “incredibly important to the city” and would show off “the most beautiful region in the world.”

Supervisor Christina Olague had to recuse herself from the board’s hearing today because she voted in favor of it last month as a member of the Planning Commission.
Olague was appointed to the Board of Supervisors by Mayor Ed Lee earlier this month after Ross Mirkarimi was sworn in as sheriff.

Lippe said following the vote that the appellant groups will wait until after Feb. 14 to decide on whether to take the city to court over the project.

That date is when the board will likely vote on the contract for the entire project.

The mayor issued a statement lauding the certification of the environmental review.

“I applaud the Board of Supervisors,” Lee said. “We can now begin the work of implementing these projects so that San Francisco can realize thousands of new jobs and more than a billion dollars in economic impact.

But Aaron Peskin, a former member of the Board of Supervisors who spoke in favor of the appeal, said the city still has a lot of work to do to make the project financially feasible.

“If they don’t make some serious changes, Larry Ellison and the America’s Cup is going to take San Francisco to the cleaners,” Peskin said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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