As California’s first urban state park, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in southeast San Francisco offers city dwellers a rare slice of nature.
Flanked by a sea of asphalt and a hulking stadium, parts of it are not all that pretty. Even with the shortcomings, Candlestick brings panoramic views of San Bruno Mountain, the East Bay hills and San Francisco Bay and a tranquil open space to the low-income, ethnically diverse community of Bayview-Hunters Point.
Candlestick draws about 20,000 visits a year, and on a recent morning people were running, bicycling, walking their dogs and carrying fishing poles and buckets to one of the park’s piers. Despite a nearby toxic waste site undergoing remediation, waterfowl drifted with the tides and dived for their next meal.
“Candlestick Point gives the state park experience to people who might not otherwise have access to it,” said supervising state park ranger Ann Meneguzzi.
But State Park’s first foray into bringing nature to the city will soon end. On July 1, Candlestick is expected to close due to state budget cuts. While other state parks slated for closure have seen an outpouring of local support to keep them open, Candlestick’s best prospect for funding is a massive redevelopment project on the horizon for the neighboring community.
When the park closes, the trash will no longer be picked up and the water will be turned off. Officials are worried about vandalism. Photo by Christine Sculati.
In an April 9 report prepared at the request of state Sen. Joe Simitian, State Parks officials justified closing Candlestick because it’s not recognized as an “outstanding or representative” park, will save the park system an estimated $582,285 in annual operating expenses, would present minimal issues to physically close, and “has potential partnership opportunities.” Those partnership opportunities have yet to materialize.
Under a land-for-cash swap with the city, State Parks is supposed to receive $40 million for park enhancements and $10 million for operations and maintenance funds for Candlestick. In return, the state will cede 23 acres of the 151-acre park to the new development, a multi-use complex of more than 10,000 residences, retail space and office buildings that will be built by national homebuilder Lennar Homes. The earliest those developer funds are expected to arrive is 2013, long past this summer’s park closure date.
“The funds won’t flow until after the initial exchange of land,” said State Park’s chief planner Steve Musillami.
Musillami said they must wait for the developer and the city to initiate the land-for-cash transfer, timing that will depend on the state of the economy.
“It’s up to the developer and the city and not up to us. We are getting everything in place to make it possible by the end of the calendar year.” says Musillami. “We have heard concerns about the park closing, but no one is coming forward with funds.”
The first exchange will be 6 acres to accommodate a bridge that will connect the Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods across the park’s Yosemite Slough (also the site of a multi-million dollar wetlands restoration and environmental justice project). The state will later cede barren expanses of parking lots that serve as overflow parking for the San Francisco Forty-Niners football team, which is relocating to Santa Clara as soon as 2014. These lots, combined with group picnic fees at Candlestick, have generated $600,000 per year to support the state parks system, including Candlestick Point, said Musillami.
California State Parks officials view the exchange as a positive development for the park. Still not everyone is happy with the deal, even if the developer’s funds might be the only way to reopen Candlestick and help park staff tackle a long list of deferred maintenance projects.
“Every acre counts in a place like this,” said Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology, a public interest advocacy organization located in the Bayview neighborhood.
Bloom said he envisions a “Crissy Field of the South,” turning one of the city’s most blighted sections into a world-class natural area. That vision might not be possible with multi-story buildings wrapping the edge of the park.
At the moment, though, state officials are pressed to address the upcoming closure.
“We are working to find a partner, such as (the developer) Lennar, or another local entity that is willing to step forward with funds,” said Musillami.
Unless a deal is made, on July 1 visitors to Candlestick Point will find a closed sign and this warning: Enter at your own risk. There will be no restroom, no water and no trash pickup. “There’s always opportunity for a lot of vandalism,” said Musillami.
The cause for concern is warranted. Last weekend, vandals broke into the community garden at the state park and destroyed $15,000 worth of plants and equipment.