Prosperity is the sound of jackhammers and pile drivers in the morning.
Across San Francisco, cranes loom and the noise from construction sites can sound “like the city is being bombed,” as one manager of a senior center near downtown put it recently, or like the amplified cork-popping of a decade-long party.
Since 2000, median home prices in the city have nearly quadrupled; city coffers have doubled. Tech workers from the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter line up at high-end restaurants and seek out trendy ice cream shops for a scoop of Balsamic Caramel.
And the cherry on top? That would be a giant sports and entertainment complex, surrounded by public parks and plazas, on 12 acres of abandoned port land. It is a proposal that has city officials salivating partly because, unlike most such arenas, taxpayers are not funding it. San Francisco did not plead with stadium developers by offering public lands or yearslong tax abatements. Some rich people were willing to take all the risk.
Namely, the owners of the Golden State Warriors, a team currently based in Oakland and fresh off an N.B.A. championship. They have purchased the land rights, plan to privately finance the arena and two adjoining office towers — an estimated $1.4 billion investment — and bring San Francisco one of the few things it lacks: a major indoor entertainment complex.
What’s not to like?
Well, this is San Francisco. So plenty.
At least to a hard-core group of well-financed opponents. The stadium, they say, wastes a chunk of one of the last stretches of undeveloped land in the city. They have loftier aims than mere entertainment: They would like the land used for biotechnology, a health care company or another enterprise consistent with the Mission Bay neighborhood, which already has a health care hub at the University of California, San Francisco.
Just across the street from the proposed 18,000-seat arena is a new children’s hospital, which is invoked by opponents in their more agitated moments. Arena traffic, could lead to “deaths of people stuck in ambulances,” said Bruce Spaulding, a former senior vice chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, who helped create the medical hub and now leads the opposition. “Entertainment doesn’t trump health care and patient lives,” he said.
To stop the project, opponents have hired David Boies, the superstar litigator who brought the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft in 1998, represented Vice President Al Gore at the Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election, and with Theodore B. Olson, brought an important same-sex-marriage case to the courts.
A basketball arena’s rising in San Francisco is no constitutional crisis, but the dispute taps into a growing anxiety that the city’s increasing affluence is displacing enterprises more consistent with its heritage.
Recent local newspaper articles have chronicled, for instance, how medical research groups, arts groups and working-class families have been priced out of the city by exorbitant rents. More generally, there is the constanttension over gentrification — for example, the protests over Google buses.
“San Francisco has always been that other city with a different set of values,” said Jeff Sheehy, a governing board member of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the largest stem cell funding agency in the world. The institute is moving to Oakland after the expiration of a free-rent deal on its space near the proposed complex; it discovered that office rents in San Francisco were prohibitively high. He sees the arena, which he opposes (he would like affordable housing on the land), as suggestive that San Francisco secretly wanted mainstream credibility all along.