Treasure Island resident: It’s test time for Matt Dorsey

Treasure-Island-architects-rendering-of-future-development-1400x788, Treasure Island resident: It’s test time for Matt Dorsey, Local News & Views
An architect’s 2020 rendering of future development on Treasure Island shows the highrises being built for the ultra-rich. Low income residents face eviction in a market that has nothing for them.

by Treasure Island resident

As the reader may or may not be aware, just beneath the Bay Bridge, about halfway to the East Bay coming from San Francisco – or vice versa if you prefer – there is a manmade island that was once a former naval base known somewhat ironically as Treasure Island. And if the reader is already aware of this, they still may or may not know that there are somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 people living on this island, as there have been for the last 25 or 30 years.

10-minute drive to the Third World

This is a low income neighborhood, as the cost of living here has – for those 25 or 30 years – been remarkably low due to its status as a former federal military base and due to the fact that it isn’t the most convenient place to live. There are various “quirks” that must be tolerated by those who live there, ranging from frequent power outages, even when the weather is just fine, to things like how you can’t dig in the soil because radiation and other pollutants have been found over the years. This is not surprising because the island itself is a Navy Superfund cleanup site.

There are many other grievances that the residents of Treasure Island would tell you about if you were willing to take a minute to listen. Bad cell phone reception. Scarce amenities and resources. Being 100% reliant on a solitary Muni bus line to get on and off the island at all times of day or night, since you can’t cross the Bay Bridge on foot without getting stopped by CHP.

You can always spend your every last dime on Uber rides. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a driver willing to stop on the island. It’s a whole 5 minutes out of the way if you are already crossing the bridge. But try telling that to the Uber drivers that often can’t be begged or even bribed to stop and pick up on the island. Many a resident has tried.

The last affordable neighborhood in San Francisco

All these things make living on the island less than ideal, and all have something to do with why it would be hard to justify charging market rate to live here, even if there hadn’t been federal legislature mandating that it remain affordable housing. Even now that the city has purchased it from the Federal government, it remains affordable. In fact, Treasure Island is the last affordable neighborhood in San Francisco. And as such, it has a very racially diverse population. In fact, it is the third most diverse neighborhood in the country, with exactly 25% White, 25% Black, 25% Latino, and 25% Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American/other races.

If you were told that it won’t be the last affordable neighborhood in San Francisco for long, would you think that it’s because the city is developing another affordable neighborhood, since it’s needed so badly, in an effort to get back some of the residents earning less than six figures who were priced out of the city over the last decade? Or, would you laugh hysterically about how unlikely that is to happen? Would you assume I was saying that the Island wouldn’t be the last affordable neighborhood in San Francisco for long because the city is in the process of demolishing every structure on the island in order to develop it into everyone’s favorite, more luxury condos? You can never have too many.

The Treasure Island Development Authority is planning to charge people $5 tolls to enter and exit the island

To catch you up to speed, the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), the agency that runs the island, in a effort to pay for transportation improvements for the wealthy residents who will be living in the luxury condos once the redevelopment is complete, is planning to put a $5 toll both coming to and leaving the island. They are planning these tolls while the low income residents currently living on the island still have a few years to go before they are displaced from the Island via an ill conceived eviction lottery.

Treasure-Island-community-as-seen-from-top-of-huge-soil-pile-now-deposited-on-islands-SF-side-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x785, Treasure Island resident: It’s test time for Matt Dorsey, Local News & Views
This peaceful Treasure Island scene belies the tensions and toxins that trouble the residents every day. – Photo: Carol Harvey

Both of these ideas are receiving pushback from the Island’s residents, who are at all times in a state of being misled, confused by, or outright lied to by TIDA. TIDA recently informed them of the eviction lottery, even though they have already built infrastructure for the toll, as well as a ferry, which has been offered to the residents as an alternative route to and from the island. It costs twice as much as the Muni bus line and departs at not even half as frequently.

Enter Matt Dorsey

Enter Matt Dorsey, appointed by Mayor Breed in May to replace Supervisor Matt Haney when Haney won a state legislative seat and now a candidate for election to a full term in the role of District 6 supervisor. Dorsey has made some effort in recent weeks to court the island’s residents for their votes. So far he spoke at a town hall meeting and also made a rather pathetic attempt at a virtual Q and A session in which the island was hardly mentioned.

Now he’s planning a “Coffee With Matt” meeting on the island at 7 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29, which is the best time to hold a meeting if you are looking to maximize turnout … wait, no it’s not. What the hell?

If Matt Dorsey would just state a clear position on the Treasure Island toll and even more importantly on the eviction lottery, he could save himself a few coffee dates with the Island’s residents because he would already have the loyal support of most of them. He has not done so and likewise hasn’t made much of an impression out here. If he can’t even pretend he cares about the residents to get their votes, what is he going to do when he’s in office already and doesn’t need the Island’s votes to move on to the next position?

Dorsey said at one point that he was going to live on the island for a week in order to better understand what life is like for the islanders, experiencing first hand the lack of transportation options, lack of amenities, ongoing construction etc. This suggestion was an obvious publicity stunt. But regardless, if he’s going to say something extraordinary like that, people are going to remember it. So he may want to actually consider it or, hell, do something to show he is really concerned about Treasure Island’s residents.

Publicity stunt?

Personally, this suggestion of living on the island for a week is such an obviously contrived stunt that it really put me off more than it made me want to vote for him. He should save the stunt and instead save the residents of Treasure Island – and I don’t just mean spare them the toll. 

Hundreds of residents of Treasure Island are going to be made homeless on his watch if he is elected – that is, as things stand right now. That’s no exaggeration. That is the only thing to be inferred, given the current contingencies. If that happens, I would think even TIDA won’t be able to avoid the bad publicity. 

It may not necessarily be something that follows Dorsey around for the rest of his career. But it will follow him to his grave if he has anything like a conscience. That is almost certainly expecting a little much from a garden variety San Francisco politician.

There’s a very obvious solution to this eviction lottery business. TIDA was mandated to build something like 1,000 affordable units on the redeveloped island, and that’s just what they are planning to do. So why is this even a problem? Simply house the people that you are displacing. That’s it. So what’s stopping them? I’m really asking. 

Geiger-counter-registers-million-times-human-tolerance-radiation-under-slab-1101B-Bigelow-Ct-Treasure-Island-by-US-Navy-on-NBC, Treasure Island resident: It’s test time for Matt Dorsey, Local News & Views
NBC News shows a geiger counter registering radiation that is a million times the amount humans can tolerate. Housing that had been built directly on top of that radiation, known as Halliburton Court, was demolished, but the neighbors only a few steps away were not evacuated, demonstrating a disdain for residents’ health and safety.

Can Dorsey explain that at the next Q and A? That explanation would be worth waking up for. TIDA certainly isn’t explaining it, probably because the answer would make them look like even bigger assholes. What do you think?

There’s one more thing I’d like to ask Matt, if I can just drag my ass out of bed next Thursday for his meeting. When TIDA was considering this toll, was there really no one at the table asking, “Are we really going to bleed the low income residents of Treasure Island and their families and friends? 

“Are we really going to cut off their access to supplies and hospitals and pharmacies and schools and Uber or taxi rides and charge them $10 to go to and from the island, so that when we displace them and replace them with wealthy techies, we can provide THEM with better transportation? Are we really even considering that? It just sounds so … terribly … wrong.”

The truth is there is now a proposed exemption to the toll for TI residents, but only on one car per household and not for island business employees, customers or residents’ visitors. When the toll was first proposed, they weren’t offering an exemption, and then after initial resistance they planned to only offer exemptions to island residents who moved to the island prior to 2011, veterans and residents of government subsidized housing. 

We’ve had to fight for every little scrap of concessions from TIDA. If it was up to them they would have denied all residents who moved in after 2011 relocation or compensation of any kind, then created arbitrary benchmarks to qualify for relocation housing or compensation – and that’s for the residents they didn’t find a way to summarily evict. I’m not making that up at all; that’s literally what they had every intention of doing, until residents pushed back.

It was part of the plan from the beginning to get rid of us. That’s why they didn’t leave even 10% of what it would cost to relocate us in their budget. I’m not making that up, either. Look into it. But they made sure to include the incoming cash flow from the toll, didn’t they? See how that works? That’s called, “Having your cake and evicting people of color and other low income residents, too.” 

TIDA would have liked to go on believing that they had this routine down to a science or an art form. Alas, these residents aren’t as stupid and lazy as they had assumed. They are pushing back, making an ass out of TIDA and – you know the old joke: ”Ass-U-Me.” What! Did you think it would be “U” and “ME”?

It’s test time for Matt Dorsey. He may not have done his homework, but he has the opportunity to do something decent and pass the test. This isn’t necessarily about his career, if he can think past that for a second. This is an old fashioned question of right or wrong. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. I know. That probably doesn’t matter, does it – right or wrong? What about empathy? Got empathy, Dorsey? Come on. Orangutans experience empathy. Are we sure Matt Dorsey doesn’t?

When he sees a thousand or more people being maligned by a group of powerful developers, their investors and the city officials they have in their pocket who enable them – real, actual living people literally about to be made homeless by something as arbitrary and callous as an eviction lottery, does he care? Does he find a way to keep it from happening, even if he can’t hold the developers and city officials behind it accountable for even thinking about doing something so shitty?

He may want to keep his name off of it, even if he doesn’t much care about it – if it starts happening while he’s in office. I mean if he’s elected, that is. If he needs to do it for his own benefit, I’m OK with that, too.

If I wake up at 7 a.m. to go to that meeting and he lets us down, I may have to ask him to leave.

“Matt. Door. See?”

To contact this Treasure Island resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, contact the Bay View at 415-671-0789 or