SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – As the race for a State Assembly seat comes down to its final days, one of the most salient issues in the race is turning out to be a proposed toll for Treasure Island – technically, part of the City and County of San Francisco.

Treasure Island residents and businesses are up in arms fighting the proposal, which as it stands now would charge $5, with a reduced price of $2.50 for low- and moderate-income residents, for entering or leaving the island during the peak hours of 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. The toll would be $2.50, with a reduced price of $1.25 for low- and moderate-income residents, on weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on the weekday off-peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

There’d be no toll at all between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekends and 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays.

Residents of the island as of late 2019 would be exempt, as well as the lowest-income households (making 55% of the median income in the Bay Area), according to the proposal as it stands now.

Though it’s the 4th Street exit that’s billed the “Last S.F. Exit” before crossing over into Alameda County when driving eastbound from downtown San Francisco, that’s not technically accurate, and Treasure Island residents feel a toll will isolate them from the rest of their city.

This map outlines key transportation initiatives on Treasure Island and adjacent Yerba Buena Island scheduled to come on-line in the coming years. (Map courtesy of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority)

‘A shameful history’

One of the roughly 2,300 people who call Treasure Island home is Hope Williams. She said that it’s unfair to single out one of the city’s neighborhoods for a toll.

“The problem is there’s one grocery store and two restaurants and no other support,” Williams told KRON4. “The impact will be on our friends, our support systems, the impact on the restaurants – they may have to close. Everyone and everything we rely on will have to pay this toll.”

For its part, toll proponents say that the toll has to be implemented to mitigate traffic congestion. The proposal coincides with efforts to develop thousands of housing units on the island, which was itself built in the mid-1930s for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, and which served as a military base from 1941 to 1997, at which time it was incorporated into the city as a new neighborhood with residents spanning the socio-economic spectrum.

Williams wrote in an op-ed in the BayView newspaper, which she shared with KRON4, that the toll proposal is an affront to the city’s stated goal of being more equitable.

“The Board of Supervisors and city transportation staff seem to see the toll as about raising revenue to subsidize expensive ferries for commuters. We see it as moving us — and our dreams of raising our families in San Francisco — off the island so that it can become a gentrified, gated bedroom community,” she wrote. “San Francisco has a shameful history of moving out people of color — from the Fillmore and from Manilatown. Tell the Supervisors: We’ve been moved before. Don’t do it again!”

The money from the toll is intended to fund ferry service between downtown San Francisco and the island. The ferry opened last month, and operates 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Ferry service connecting Treasure Island to downtown San Francisco is a cornerstone of the development plan for the Island,” the city stated at the time. “The roll-out of an immediate robust public transit program is essential as the first 229 new housing units of the years-long development will be completed in 2022—including 105 units for formerly homeless veterans—along with more than 1,000 additional units expected to be completed by the end of 2024. At build-out, Treasure Island will transform into a diverse, transit-oriented community with 8,000 new homes, 300 acres of parks, trails, open space, new restaurants, destination spaces and shops, public art installations, and exciting events.”

‘Sweetheart deal’

Treasure Island, a neighborhood apart from the rest of San Francisco, seen from the air. (Photo courtesy Bay City News)

One restaurant owner who says he’d be impacted by a toll is Jim Mirowski, who owns Treasure Island Wines and is a founding member of the Treasure Island Organizing Committee, a coalition of island residents, nonprofits and businesses who are opposed to what they say is a disregard for transparency being employed to implement the toll.

“This is bigger than just a bunch of people who don’t want a toll,” he said. “The city and TIMMA [the Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency] have been going roughshod over transparency, and trying to ram it.”

Mirowski alleges that the toll is not just being proposed to mitigate traffic congestion, but to raise revenue because the city gave condo developers a “sweetheart deal.”

He claims that the toll was originally not going to cover residents at all, but had to be expanded because there wasn’t enough money unless it did.

“The TIOC [Treasure Island Organizing Committee] are opposed to the toll because it will charge everyone visiting Treasure Island so a few wealthy who will be purchasing expensive condos and town-homes on Treasure Island can take a highly subsidized ferry to work in San Francisco,” Mirowski stated to KRON4.

Mirowski stated in a letter attributed to the organizing committee that “even acknowledging the importance of transportation, no real financial data on what money the toll will raise and how much will be needed to cover the costs of the transportation program has been presented to the public.”

The letter said that public transit officials’ dreams don’t translate into hard realities.

“While the ferry is a fun and relaxing way of crossing the Bay if you are a commuter going into the City carrying only a coat and a briefcase, if you are a mother of several children taking them into the City every morning for school — TI has no schools — that is a very different trip,” the letter stated. “All the urban eco-idealism in the world doesn’t translate in your world.”

Supervisor Matt Haney speaks at the press conference outside Boeddeker Park in Tenderloin, San Francisco, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Toll on hold for now

The toll proposal was going to be voted on back on February 15 by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (an agency in charge of transportation planning whose members are coterminous with the city’s Board of Supervisors). It was pushed to March, then canceled.

Subsequently, County Transportation officials told KRON4 that the vote is on hold until Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency staff can finish “further analysis on additional elements that could be added to the toll and affordability program proposal.”

Spokesman Eric Young stated that “we expect to provide an informational update on the overall TI mobility management program, including the toll and affordability program, to the TIMMA Board in May.”

Young did not respond to a request for comment asking the board’s response to Mirowski’s allegations about a sweetheart deal.

Matt Haney represents District 6 on the Board of Supervisors, which includes Treasure Island.

As a supervisor, Haney sits on the County Transportation Authority board. He said he supports the economic analysis and “asked for it [the toll] not to be considered until that analysis is done.”

“Until that is done, I have not taken a position on the toll proposal,” Haney told KRON4. “I’ve been very clear that I could never support a toll that did not entirely exempt current residents.”

Haney said that the toll “is legally required if the housing development plan is to move forward.”

David Campos (Photo courtesy of the office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin)

‘A very powerful visit’

Haney is also running for state Assembly for a seat representing San Francisco’s eastside. His rival is David Campos, a former San Francisco supervisor who subsequently served as chair of the city’s Democratic Party, deputy executive of Santa Clara County, and chief of staff to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The election is Tuesday.

Campos visited Treasure Island residents Sunday. He told KRON4 that Haney betrayed them.

“I thought it was a very powerful visit,” Campos said. “It was really important to hear from residents about the struggles they face making ends meet. Residents of this island have a history of being among the most vulnerable in the city. The idea we would impose a toll on them – in the middle of a pandemic – makes no sense. That we would go down that path is unconscionable.”

Campos said that Haney said he’d opposed a toll and changed his mind.

“That’s a choice he is making,” Campos said. “He is flip-flopping.”

For his part, Haney said Campos supported a toll.

“Campos served on the Board of Supervisors when that decision was made and he voted for it. He voted on a development agreement that required a toll in 2011,” Haney told KRON4. “I’m not aware of David Campos ever being involved in issues related to Treasure Island or demonstrating any concern for people there. He was working in Santa Clara when I was fighting every day to make sure residents on Treasure Island had access to vaccines, tests, food and resources throughout the pandemic. David Campos trying to make this a political issue for his flailing campaign is desperate and cynical.”

Campos said he never supported a toll.

“There was a project development, but never did we vote for a toll at that particular time,” Campos said.

Haney said he is not making a decision to support the toll.

“He’s just desperately making things up,” Haney said of Campos. “He has never been involved with this issue and has no idea what he’s talking about. I’ve always opposed any toll that applies in any way to current residents, and I still do. … A future toll of some kind is required by state law and the development agreement that David voted for. I’ve fought to ensure any potential toll will exempt all current residents as well as future low-income residents and that fight is ongoing.”

Campos said the developers, rather than the residents, should have to pay.

“In this case, developers got a sweetheart deal and they should be the ones with added transportation costs,” Campos said.