Yerba Buena Island Residents Fight Against Evictions Prompted by Development

Residents of Yerba Buena Island faced with eviction by the city of San Francisco to make room for new development are refusing to leave without a fight.

The 40 households on Yerba Buena Island, comprising about 100 people, have been given an option: either take roughly $5,000 and move off the island or move into an apartment on Treasure Island, accessible from Yerba Buena Island via a small road.

Many of the residents who showed up at San Francisco City Hall today to protest the eviction said they don’t like either option and want Mayor Ed Lee to allow them to stay in their homes.

The city has given them until September to decide, but residents said they want relocation assistance until development is complete and the right to return to the island.

But with 95 percent of the housing on the island expected to be market rate, there won’t be enough affordable housing for all the original residents.

Betty Mackey, who has lived on Yerba Buena Island for 11 years and considers the island home, said the community is so close that many have keys to each other’s homes.

She said the community that has been built on the island since the U.S. Navy handed it over to San Francisco in 2007 will be demolished to make way for “exclusive luxury homes for the ultra-rich.”

The city has always planned to develop both Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island and in 2011 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the 20-year development of the site.

The discovery of contaminated soil and a subsequent environmental analysis have postponed development.

But the incredible housing demand in the Bay Area and islands’ sweeping views of both San Francisco and the East Bay have developers eager to move forward on the project.

The development is a joint venture between Lennar Corporation, Kenwood Investments, Wilson Meany and Stockbridge Investments and is expected to cost roughly $1.5 billion.

According to Wilson Meany’s website, the former naval site will be transformed into two neighborhoods with up to 8,000 residences, with 25 percent designated for affordable housing.

But Mackey said the land belongs to the public and that the plan should include additional units of affordable housing.

Most of the project’s affordable units will be on Treasure Island and few will be located on Yerba Buena Island.

The Treasure Island Development Authority, the non-profit, public benefit agency dedicated to the economic development of the former naval station, approved the first of four phases of development on Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island in May and accepted transfer from the U.S. Navy of 290 acres of property. Additional, smaller land transfers will be made over the
next seven years.

Protesters shared stories about raising their children within the island’s small, tight knit community.

They maintained that they are being displaced to make room for luxury development and said they don’t dare move to Treasure Island because of the health hazards associated with the high levels of toxins detected in the ground, stemming from the years when the island was a naval base.

Yerba Buena Island residents and others advocating against displacement of residents to make way for luxury housing, held signs at the protest today that read “No Luxury Island For The Rich,” “Public Land for Public Hands” and “Forced Relocation to Treasure Island.”

Other residents dressed up in white hazmat suits to represent the wardrobes they feel are appropriate for anyone living on Treasure Island, due to the hazardous materials detected in the soil.

Treasure Island residents are prohibited from planting gardens in their soil or letting children dig in the dirt in their lawns.

Certain areas of Treasure Island remain off-limits to the public due to ongoing U.S. Navy environmental analysis activity, according to the Treasure Island Development Authority.

The plans for the new project include 300 acres of public parks and open space and aim to create one of the “most transit-oriented sustainable developments in the country” with a new ferry terminal providing access to San Francisco, according to the developer’s website.

Residents today said that they don’t want to stand in the way of change, but that they don’t feel included in the process. They said they want their concerns to be heard before the Board of Supervisors at a public hearing.

The Board of Supervisors, however, goes on recess during August and members of the Yerba Buena Island community have only until September to vacate their homes.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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