On the Waterfront

By Bob Cooper

The Bay is many things: a home to marine life, a port of call for ships, a playground for water-sports enthusiasts, a scenic treasure for those who live, work or walk on the waterfront. Representing or mediating among these groups whenever Bay issues arise — whether it’s a shoreline development proposal or a new ferry route — is an alphabet soup of agencies, boards, commissions and committees. Presiding over them is a group of public officials who wear more hats than Willie Brown owns ties.

Port of San Francisco’s Kimberly Brandon. (Tri Nguyen)

Kimberly Brandon Port of San Francisco

Her career in financial services has proved invaluable for Kimberly Brandon in her role as president of the San Francisco Port Commission, even though most new Bayfront projects aren’t only about the money. The biggest she’s currently shepherding into existence are housing developments, a homeless center and Embarcadero seawall improvements, which address the “people” issues of housing, homelessness and climate change. Still, money always plays a part.

Recently retired as a Morgan Stanley senior vice president, Brandon knows her way around contract and budget negotiations. “That serves me well in helping to steer the commission,” she acknowledges. She has steered that bureaucratic ship well enough to serve as president or vice president for most of the time since she was appointed to the commission in 1997.

The Forest City and Mission Rock developments will each see the creation of new neighborhoods and communities, adding thousands of new units of desperately needed housing,” she notes. “Those projects, theCentral Waterfront Navigation Center and seawall strengthening are also coming along nicely.”

The Port Commission manages 7 miles of waterfront, so it will also play a role in expanding ferry service to the new Warriors stadium. Looking back, Brandon says the biggest projects she’s had a hand in are the transformations of the Ferry Building, Pier 1, the Exploratorium and the Blue Greenway — the collection of parks, trails, beaches and vista points that now trace the neglected southeastern waterfront. “Decades ago, that was almost unimaginable,” she says.

The San Francisco (Golden Gate Heights) native — a Washington High and San Francisco State graduate — routinely walks on the waterfront. “I love the dynamic energy, the beautiful views and the quiet places for contemplation,” she says. And none of it costs a nickel.

Bay Restoration Authority’s Dave Pine. (Tri Nguyen)

Dave Pine Bay Restoration Authority

You might call Dave Pine the conscience of the San Mateo County shoreline for championing the Bay during his two terms as the county Board of Supervisors chair, Bay Restoration Authority chair, and a tenure with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. He is increasingly sounding the alarm that sea-level rise on the Peninsula must be dealt with.

“We are the state’s most exposed county because so much of it is on landfill,” he notes. SFO, Foster City and Redwood Shores are all landfill creations, threatened by levee breaches from storm surges in the short term and rising seas in the long term. In response, he’s pushed hard to establish the County Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency Agency, which will coordinate the efforts of all 20 of the county’s towns beginning next year.

Projects are already in the works. SFO has a plan in place, Foster City voters passed a $90 million bond to raise levees, and the five towns that straddle San Francisquito Creek — the boundary between San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties — are taking steps to minimize flooding. But Pine points out that these actions only occurred in the face of immediate threats. SFO has to strengthen levees or its runways become waterways. Foster City voters faced a steep jump in flood-insurance rates if they didn’t approve that bond. And the taming of San Francisquito Creek began only after 1998 El Niño storms damaged 2,800 properties on the creek and floodplain. He is advocating a more proactive approach.

Pine, 60, won a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives at age 19. Today his work combines his twin passions for public service and Bay protection.Whether cycling on the Bay Trailin Foster City and fishing with his older son off Candlestick Point, he can feel good about the contributions he’s made to the Bay’s health.

Oakland Port Commission President Cestra “Ces” Butner. (Photo courtesy of the Oakland Port Commission)

Cestra “Ces” Butner Oakland Port Commission

From his Jack London Square office, it’s easy for Oakland Port Commission President Cestra “Ces” Butner to be mesmerized by the shoreline view. If only it were easier to weigh the conflicting demands of developers, housing advocates and conservationists who wrangle daily over its fate.

Butner, 65, is a key decision-maker on Bayfront land-use matters because the Port Commission’s turf extends for nearly 20 miles, encompassing Oakland International Airport, all maritime uses at the port and all Oakland shoreline development. His recent negotiations with the Oakland A’s over the proposed stadium site at the port made headlines.

“The commission always looks at what is best for all concerned — the port, the city of Oakland and local residents,” he says. “I always strive for a win-win-win.” The imbroglio over the stadium site, just across a narrow channel from his office, was especially thorny for the longtime A’s fan because it pitted fans against port interests. The port is a major employer, and Butner is aiming to have West Coast ships make Oakland, rather than Long Beach, its first port of call.

“When meetings get heated, I ask people to hold their venom,” he says with a mischievous grin. “I try to be a problem solver.” He’s now in his second term as Port Commission president. Accomplishments include two major Bayfront projects that have already broken ground: a seaport logistics center on the old Oakland Army Base site and Brooklyn Basin, a 3,100-unit housing complex that will also feature retail, parks, marinas and restored wetlands. Win-win-win.

An Oakland resident since 1980 who once ran for mayor, Butner also wants kids to win. He has two daughters and has donated $1 million to a scholarship fund that’s sent 60 Oakland students to college.“Best money I’ve ever spent,”he says. “I’d always wanted to make a difference, so when I sold my business [Horizon Beverage Co.], I saw that I finally could.” Now he’s hoping those kids might return to Oakland to be Bay problem solvers.

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s Zack Wasserman. (Tri Nguyen)

Zack Wasserman Bay Conservation and Development Commission

Zack Wasserman, 71, will never be directly affected by rising Bay waters — not from his 24th-floor office at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean, where he’s a real estate and land use partner, and not in his lifetime. But he knows his granddaughter will.

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission chair is proudest of his role in developing an action plan to offset the effects of rising sea levels on the Bay and Bay cities.

“It’s moving along fairly well,” he says. “Nationally, only New York City has made more progress, and that’s only because [Hurricane] Sandy jolted them into action.”

As chair of the BCDC, a state commission formed in 1965 to put an end to runaway bayfill that threatened the Bay’s very existence, he ironically oversees efforts today to add bayfill in order to protect the shoreline. “Measures like elevating seawalls and levees are necessary now because the water level is expected to rise 2 to 3 feet by 2050,” he explains. That work is already underway at SFO and Oakland Airports and on the San Francisco waterfront.

Currently occupying the biggest chunks of the longtime Oakland resident’s time are three Bay-related projects: the proposed A’s stadium and housing complex at Howard Terminal, Treasure Island development plans and the protection of Redwood City’s Cargill saltponds — newly threatened with development due to a recent EPA ruling.

When Wasserman needs to take a break from board meetings — he’s also on the boards of several other planning agencies and nonprofits — he walks his golden retriever, Charley, at East Bay shoreline parks. He wants his granddaughter, Juniper Margaret, to be able to do the same when she’s his age. As he puts it, “We live in a special place, so we need to be regional stewards who protect it for future generations.”

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