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San Francisco Chronicle

December 21, 2021

With a hilltop park and $5 ferry rides, Yerba Buena Island could soon be a destination

By John King

People heading west on the Bay Bridge in recent months have seen an unprecedented sight: a multistory condominium building wrapped in scaffolding, just yards away from where the bridge’s eastern span touches down on Yerba Buena Island.

Now the scaffolding is coming down — but that only marks the beginning of a paradigm-shifting remake of a rocky outcrop that until 1931 was named Goat Island. Within a year, a hilltop park could be the Bay Area’s newest scenic destination, above craggy slopes that will begin to be inhabited by people willing and able to spend upward of $4 million on spacious modern homes with drop-dead views.

“You’re going to see the unveiling of an area that people hadn’t explored before,” said Tim Slattery, a partner at the architecture firm Hart Howerton. “It’s a complex jigsaw puzzle, but things are starting to come together.”

Slattery and his firm have been working since 2016 on the architecture and layout of buildings on the slopes of a small island that could only be reached by boats before the completion of the Bay Bridge in 1936. Not long after that it was joined by Treasure Island, a 403-acre plateau summoned from the bay to serve as the home of the Golden Gate International Exposition that opened in 1939.

The idea back then was to turn Treasure Island into San Francisco’s municipal airport. Instead, the U.S. Navy took control of both islands during World War II for defense purposes, not closing them until the 1990s.

The current transition was approved in 2011 by the Board of Supervisors and has been in the works since 2003, when tentative development rights were awarded to a team that now includes Lennar Corp., Stockbridge Capital Group and Wilson Meany. The goal is a neighborhood like none in the region — with a 300-foot-wide shoreline park facing the Embarcadero and more than 8,000 housing units. Many of these will be clustered near a ferry terminal that is scheduled to open on Jan. 15, featuring a 49-seat vessel and $5 one-way fares.

Treasure Island’s makeover is by far the most dramatic. It has also stirred controversies, raising questions such as the adequacy of the cleanup of the former base and the wisdom of pursuing such an ambitious development as sea level rise looms. But in the year to come, Yerba Buena Island is where the grand plans will come into focus first.

That’s particularly obvious with the project nearing completion alongside the Bay Bridge — the Bristol, a six-story building that will hold 124 of the island’s 266 condominiums.

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