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The Deal With Treasure Island 

Tony Hall's firing casts the spotlight on a real estate mega-deal that slogs along under a veil of secrecy

Wednesday, Nov 9 2005
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Page 5 of 5

"If you're San Francisco, you don't want the Navy using its discretion, and the last thing you want is to have the Navy or any other branch of the military as a development partner," says former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who heads a bipartisan commission on base retention appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "The bureaucracy will just drown you."

The Navy has never issued a formal response to TIDA's no-cost request to procure the island, and despite the paradigm shift with regard to surrendering former bases, Navy officials, including Gilkey, have remained reluctant to say outright that getting the property for free is no longer in the cards. Asked about the matter, Gilkey says only that "the Navy remains committed to a fair and equitable transfer supporting redevelopment of Treasure Island."

Privately, however, Navy officials have let it be known for quite a while that the no-cost option is obsolete.

Long before Hall's trip to the Denver conference, the Navy's top official on base reuse, Wayne Arney, had made similar remarks suggesting a shift in terms with respect to surrendering Treasure Island. Michael Cohen, the mayor's base reuse office chief, recalls attending a military base conversion conference in Arizona in 2003 at which Arney openly stated that he "didn't like" no-cost conveyances, Cohen says.

In 2002, with the no-cost scenario having already faded, TIDA submitted a bid for an "early transfer" of Treasure Island, which would allow it to claim ownership while the Navy continues environmental cleanup and monitoring, which could last years. That application and the negotiations stemming from it have been kept in the strictest of secrecy. Asked by SF Weekly for a copy of the 2002 application, Gilkey, the Navy official, declined, saying that the documents "are still under sensitive business negotiations with TIDA, [and] we do not feel it would be appropriate to release them at this time," and added, "TIDA concurs."

Pressed to say who at TIDA he consulted, since, technically at least, Hall is still on the payroll as executive director until the middle of November, Gilkey said that he had meant to say "the TIDA board." Asked who on the board had not wanted the documents released, he conceded that it was Cohen, the mayor's base reuse office chief, who had concurred in not releasing them.

San Francisco's getting the island for free "is a thing of the past," concludes Eve Bach, the Arc Ecology urban planner and long-time island watchdog. "How much it costs and what role the Navy intends to play is just one more thing about Treasure Island that we don't know yet."

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Ron Russell

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