Proposal to move Alcatraz Ferry service angers neighbors

SAN FRANCISCO, (KTVU) - Alcatraz is a tourist destination more than 1.6 million people flock to every year.

All of those visitors take the ferries provided by Alcatraz Cruises to and from the island, but the company's contract with the National Park's Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) expires in May 2016.

GGNRA representatives have said they would like more space and a more permanent location for their ferry service in the future.

In their draft Environmental Impact Statement on the search for a new home for ferry service, GGNRA representatives said Fort Mason is a "viable option". The idea has residents there very concerned.

"Where are they going to park?" asked Marina District resident Rebecca Farguson. "It's already pretty crazy down here in the mornings, with everyone driving to work."

"I understand the need to have attractions for people who come here and the importance of tourism, but you gotta look at neighborhoods. There's some relative tranquility built into every neighborhood, and that's ours," said Marina resident Tom Sinkovitz.

For visitors coming to San Francisco, Alcatraz is almost always on the bucket list.

"Absolutely, that and the bridge, yes," said Amy Diaz, visiting Alcatraz with her son, John.

"You can see why. It's such a history tour, and a pretty cool place," said Nick Smith, visiting from Auckland, New Zealand.

More than 5,000 people a day lineup, snap photos and board the ferries that shuttle visitors to and from the island known as ‘The Rock.'

The thought of transplanting all those people - and traffic - two miles west to the Marina district -makes the neighbors there cringe.

The GGNRA wants the Port of San Francisco to agree to a 50 year lease for future Alcatraz ferry service on one of its piers.

"We've been in discussion with the port for well over two years, and [those discussions] have been productive," said Howard Levitt, Communications Director for Golden Gate National Parks.

But if no agreement is reached, "Fort Mason is a viable alternative," Levitt said.

Fort Mason is already owned by the National Park Service, so no negotiation with the Port of San Francisco would be necessary. According to the Draft EIS, the GGNRA would retrofit the buildings at Fort Mason and build a new berth at Pier 3.

"There are certainly many, many issues that would need to be resolved," Levitt said. "We would have to look very carefully at how we could mitigate things like traffic and congestion."

"If you think of that little area, across from the Safeway in the Marina, to try and jam one and a half million visitors into that funnel - the idea is ludicrous!" said San Francisco Supervisor, Mark Farrell, whose district includes the Marina.

Farrell said a move to Fort Mason should be avoided at all costs, even it if means taking Alcatraz Ferry Service out of the National Park Service's hands, and having the City of San Francisco run it, instead.

It would take an act of Congress to transfer control of Alcatraz Ferry Service contracts to San Francisco, so that's not likely to happen anytime soon. But Farrell said he has reached out Representative Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Diane Feinstein's office about the issue.

Levitt said there is still plenty of time for the GGNRA to come to an agreement with the Port of San Francisco, and keep Alcatraz Ferry service at one of the Port-owned piers.

They will continue their discussions until August. In the meantime, residents, tourists, and park-users have 72 days to provide their input and comment on the idea on the National Park's Website.