The San Francisco Port Commission on Tuesday deferred consideration of an agreement to wind down operations of a facility known as “Site F,” where 117 trailers on port land accommodate more than a hundred people experiencing homelessness.

The terms of the agreement with the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) were previewed at a commission meeting held April 11, and although staff informed the commission that it would return for final approval on April 25, the commission did not consider the agreement when it met.

Port representatives said the agreement would be discussed again May 9.

When the agreement was previewed, the commissioners did not indicate whether they would support the closure of the site, although Port Commissioner Gail Gilman questioned the necessity of “demobilizing” the shelter beds at a time of a severe shelter bed shortage in San Francisco.

Site F, located in an industrial area behind Pier 94, was originally set up during the pandemic and was to terminate at the end of the public health emergency. Although the emergency declaration ended on Feb. 28, the site continued in operation as the Port and HSH negotiated a formal agreement to extend the term.

Emails reviewed by Bay City News reflect that the city sought a two-year extension of the arrangement but was surprised when at a meeting on March 9, the port said that would not work.

The port then pushed HSH to present a detailed wind-down plan with specific milestones that would assure that the site was being closed to the port’s satisfaction.

Joanne Park, HSH’s negotiator, wrote, “I don’t understand what is driving the Port’s distrust of HSH’s ability to demobilize the site.”

Kimberley Beal, the port’s representative, responded, “I’m sorry that my requests are raising trust as an issue; they are definitely not meant that way, I am just anticipating questions we’ve gotten in the past and continue to receive.”

Beal went on to say that the port had received a letter of intent for a maritime-related use at the site. According to Beal, milestones “are needed so that there is accountability to make certain Port can fulfill its obligations as they pertain to the other use.”

The parties then negotiated the main terms of a 10-month wind down and closure of operations at the site, with new intake ending on Oct. 2, 2023. Under the proposed agreement, the city agreed to pay $90,000 per month in rent to the port during the wind down, nearly double the $52,000 base rent it had been paying.

Housing alternatives lacking

Closure of the site would have a number of negative impacts on the city and Site F’s residents.

The city is facing an acute shortage of shelter beds. A federal judge has enjoined the city from clearing tent encampments while there are not enough shelter beds available for the unsheltered. Testimony in that litigation showed that the city-wide shortage of shelter beds exceeds 4,000.

Site F, unlike many city shelters, offers its residents a measure of autonomy. Residents live in trailers that have electric service and their own kitchens and bathrooms. While the location at Pier 94 is distant from commercial areas and air quality has been a concern, the site has been in operation since April 13, 2020, and many residents have lived there for years.

Most of the trailers were provided to the city by the state. If the site is closed, the fate of those trailers is not currently known. Finding a location in the city that can and will accommodate such a use is likely to be difficult.

A hand-painted sign points the way to “Site F” at Pier 94 land owned by the San Francisco Port Commission on Feb. 22, 2023. It is estimated that creating 118 new shelter beds to replace those lost with the closure of Site F could cost the city more than $11 million. (Joe Dworetzky/Bay City News)

The city has had no luck finding a site for a second “vehicle triage center” (a safe parking site) despite searching for months. The existing triage center is capped at 49 vehicles by virtue of electric problems and its lease expires at the end of the year. The city is currently seeking to extend the lease but is facing opposition from its neighbors.

The city has spent millions of dollars — so far unsuccessfully — trying to bring electric service to that site. Ironically, Site F has electric service and city officials responsible for the triage center consulted with those who established service at Site F in the hope they could replicate that success.

In a recent report, Rescue SF, a city-wide coalition that advocates for solutions to homelessness, estimated that the city’s capital costs to establish the navigation center that opened in the Bayview District in 2021 were $95,000 per bed. If that estimate were to serve as a proxy for the cost of creating 118 new shelter beds to replace those lost with the closure of Site F, it would cost the city more than $11 million.

Closure of the site could also add pressure in the Bayview where the community has protested that it has long suffered from decisions that disproportionately burden the community with the social ills of the city. Most of the residents of Site F came from the Bayview, where some lived on the streets for 10 or more years.

While HSH hopes to find permanent housing for many or most of the displaced residents, Gilman from the Port Commission worried about the risk “of having these folks flood back into the southeast waterfront neighborhoods” adjacent to the port.

Marginalized would feel greatest impact

Finally, the impact of closure of the site will fall most harshly on the marginalized residents of the site. Demographic information presented to the commission by HSH showed that most residents were between 45 and 64 years of age and more than 70 percent of residents self-identified as African American or Black.

Notwithstanding the negative impacts to the city, the port desires to retake the land. At the April 11 meeting, port staff advised the commission that the city’s use of Site F was only intended to be temporary, and the land must be returned to the port for industrial uses.

Port staff did not identify any particular user that would lease the site, raising the question of whether the city could keep the site in place until a new user was identified and an actual lease was signed. The port’s waterfront plan recognizes that it can take years to lease locations and interim uses are in the port’s interest, especially when the interim user is paying market rate rent.

Public records obtained by Bay City News show that the port has been in negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, an association of shipping operations that hopes to erect a building on the site to use for training. PMA’s representative submitted a letter of intent to the port on March 1, 2023. The letter said that it would expire March 10 at 5 p.m.

Neither PMA’s representative nor the commission responded when asked if the letter of intent was signed by the commission and, if not, whether it has been formally extended. PMA also did not respond to the question of whether it would oppose Site F remaining open until a lease is executed and the term begins.

The likelihood of a near-term lease with PMA is unclear. The letter of intent says it is “only a proposal to negotiate and is neither an offer nor a contract.”

Several provisions of the letter deal with allocations of financial risk, including a requirement that the port cover PMA for any and all pre-existing environmental liability at the site. The port did not respond to questions of whether it would agree to cover PMA and whether it had ever done so in the past.

An email request directed to Mayor London Breed’s office as to whether she supports Site F remaining open was not returned.

While the port is run separately from the city, Breed appoints, and the Board of Supervisors confirms, the members of the commission.

Joe Dworetzky, Bay City News

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at