A Brighter Future Ahead

it’s easy to be bogged down by the news of California going broke and jobs leaving the state; it suggests our best days are behind us. Lately, however, as I’ve been poking around the Bay Area I’ve come up with a different vision of the future.

I predict a Bay Area renaissance of sorts will peak on Labor Day of 2013, when the East Span of the Bay Bridge — with its elegant 525-foot-tall steel tower — opens to traffic. This 2.2-mile span, begun in 2003 and costing $6.3 billion, includes a graceful 1.2-mile vehicular Skyway and a biking/pedestrian path stretching from Oakland to Treasure Island.

Two days later, on September 7, the America’s Cup gets under way in San Francisco Bay. In a dramatic final race, the USA 17 — with its 225-foot-tall, aircraft-wing-like carbon-fiber sail and Oracle’s Larry Ellison at the helm — will whip Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s Allinghi. A worldwide television audience of nearly a billion will be watching while thousands of spectators are perched on Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and bayside along The Embarcadero, Marina Green, Sausalito, Strawberry and Tiburon. An America’s Cup dividend: the multimillion-dollar restoration of the dilapidated piers facing San Francisco Bay.

Also occurring on the waterfront in 2013 will be the relocation of the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s popular museum of science, art and human perception, now housed in the nearby Palace of Fine Arts. “The cost will be $300 million, and we’re tripling our exhibit space,” says Exploratorium spokesperson Leslie Patterson. “We’ll be adding a 200-seat auditorium, new indoor and outdoor interactive displays and a cafe and restaurant.”

Moving slightly inland, the Transbay Transit Center, heralded as “the Grand Central Station of the West,” is scheduled to be completed in 2017. Built to accommodate BART, Golden Gate Transit, Amtrak, Caltrain and the high-speed rail line to Southern California, this $4.2 billion project designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects also includes office and residential towers, a rooftop park and wide sidewalks extending from Second Avenue to The Embarcadero.

Another San Francisco project is Muni’s Central Subway, currently scheduled to be completed by 2016. This 1.7-mile light-rail system will run (mostly underground) from the Caltrain commuter rail depot near AT&T Park across Market Street to Union Square, then into Chinatown.
Additionally in the planning stage are major redevelopment projects in Bayview–Hunters Point, in Mission Bay and on Treasure Island. And let’s not forget the $1 billion Doyle Drive seismic reconstruction project that will be completed in 2014, making the lives and drives of Marin commuters easier.

Our county itself sees positive changes in the coming years. I forecast the contentiously debated 137,000-square-foot Target store in San Rafael will open in late 2014 — and the upshot will be a draw, with many Marin consumers shunning its supersize retailing while local shops step up their merchandising to meet the challenge. Meanwhile, by late 2012, businesses in West Marin will benefit from the repaving of and minor course adjustments to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it passes through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. This $6.2 million project — like Doyle Drive’s reconstruction — makes an arduous route safer and easier.

Governor Brown’s canceling of San Quentin’s $670 million new death row led Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey to declare: “The future is wide open.” This means an excellent transit village linking ferries, bikes, buses and the SMART train is again possible. “It may take a decade,” adds Kinsey, “but the planning starts soon.”

As for SMART’s future, I’m still a believer: People have got to get out of their cars. Expect the bonds for the project to be sold this year, construction to start next year, and a train from Santa Rosa to San Rafael to debut in late 2014. And formerly troubled Marin General Hospital has successfully emerged from its dark past. After forming alliances with Kaiser Permanente and a trio of Sonoma County hospitals, I predict MGH will appropriately become the Marin Medical Center by 2013. Then, in mid-2013, voters will approve a $300 million bond issue that enables the state-mandated seismic reconstruction of the hospital to meet its 2018 deadline.

Am I overly optimistic? Probably. Will all of the above happen? Probably not. Yet, it will be a better Bay Area if it does. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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