Shawn Paton could give a flip about sailing. He doesn’t know a thing about spinnakers or healing or which team won the last America’s Cup Yacht race.
But somehow, the manager of Red’s Java Hut on San Francisco Piers 30, 32, has landed in the middle of the ebb-and-flow negotiations that have plagued the prestigious yacht race’s inaugural run in San Francisco.
"I hope they settle this up so I can just continue on with my work," said Paton during a smoke break before Red’s crush of lunchtime crowds.
Piers 30 and 32, where Red’s is located, are a pockmarked moonscape of asphalt, masking crumbling piers below. When it was first announced the America’s Cup race was coming to San Francisco, renderings showed the piers re-born as a sleek racing village where competitors would stage and visitors could get up-close-and personal with the action. The plan called for the Amercia’s Cup Authority to pay some $80 million in repairs, in exchange for long-term development rights to several San Francisco piers.
But then came the howls of critics who accused the city of giving away the farm to a bunch of billionaires in captains’ hats and crested jackets. The deal was yanked. Under a new plan, the teams would stage at the industrial Pier 80, while 30 and 32 would languish as a crumbling parking lot.
Then the Port of San Francisco stepped in with a plan to restore the piers on its own -- with its own money. Piers 30, 32 were back in play.
Watching from the outdoor patio of the legendary burger joint, Paton has ridden the wave of negotiations like a stoic gull. Even as the crumbling parking lot buckles around his business, he seemed more interested in the coming Giant’s season than the promised coming of mega-yachts.
"That’s all I know, baseball starts in ten days and everything’s fine with me," Paton said.
Last Tuesday, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on the vast financial plans governing the city’s commitment to the America’s Cup race, giving the event some well-needed sure ground. But on Friday, the America’s Cup Authority announced it was laying off half of its 28-member staff, in response to the pared-down plans.
"The economy has changed, there has been some scaling back," said Sam Singer, spokesman for the America’s Cup organizers. "But I don’t think people are really going to notice it."
Critics blasted the city over plans to grant the authority long-term development rights to a number of piers, including pier 29. A coalition led by former San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin threatened to sue the city over the deal. Peskin said the new plans, although imperfect, are a big improvement.
"This started out as a real estate deal masquerading as a boat race,” said Peskin. “I think finally we’ve got a boat race."
But even as the deal headed toward the board, the behind-the-scenes wrangling continued – illustrating the tenuous nature of the negotiations.
A call late Monday afternoon to San Francisco’s negotiation team was answered with a text from the group’s spokeswoman saying “still up in the air re: tomorrow at board.” She later called with more detail, saying it looked like the supervisors would indeed vote on many of the financial plans, including the lease agreement.
As Paton walked the parking lot of Piers 30, 32, he pointed to the pits and waves in the structure. The sloping lot almost gave the appearance of blackened sand dunes cascading and diving over years of rot.
"I don’t even really care if they don’t put palm trees out here," said Paton, eying the landscape. "Just as long as they do some work and somebody fixes it."