Pier 38: Bulkhead and Shed Buildings

It has been almost three years since the Port of San Francisco awarded TMG Partners the redevelopment rights for San Francisco’s Pier 38, with TMG winning over the Port with a pitch that emphasized the speed with which they planned to act and an “immediate revitalization” of the pier with a mix of public, office and maritime uses. But Pier 38, which has been shuttered since 2011, remains red tagged and inactive.

According to a Partner at TMG, while the firm had secured all the necessary permits and approvals to move forward with the project they pitched, their subsequent discovery of the poor seismic condition of the seawall, which runs directly under the bulkhead building, made the project “financially infeasible.” And as such, they are now moving forward with a new plan.

While the new plan still includes restaurant and/or retail space fronting the street, and new office space in the southern portion of the bulkhead building’s first floor and west portion of its mezzanine, the proposed partial use of the shed area behind the bulkhead building as a special events space has been dropped.

Instead, the entire shed area is now expected to be leased to an “unnamed company” that specializes in R&D for self-driving trucks and intends to place a machine shop, 20 trucks and 100 employees on the pier to design and test self-driving sensors.

While “unnamed,” we’d be willing to wager that the company which is in negotiations is Otto, a company which was founded by former members of Google’s self-driving car and maps teams, among others, and recently moved from Silicon Valley to San Francisco.

And in terms of timing, it’s now likely to be (at least) another few years until Pier 38 is fully redeveloped. Oh, and as the shed wouldn’t be large enough for full-scale testing, the self-driving trucks “[would] be test driven in the surrounding area,” so an early heads up along the Embarcadero.

Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by dullasdulldoes

    Who would have thunk it. Seismic what?!? Surprise surprise. Our plan to rent low cost space to fisherman, fish processing and artists…. that won’t work. Why not get top dollar from a tech start up? Now that’s the ticket!

    • Posted by Bobby Mucho

      Costs need to be met. Only certain people can afford it. Pretty simple.

      Don’t get me wrong though. A massive fish market (anywhere in this city) would be outstanding.

      • Posted by Ohmy

        Seattle’s pike place fish market is a great place and tourist attraction, however the whole structure feels as if it is about to collapse!! Perhaps we don’t need to upgrade 38 and just assume if it falls it’s only 15 feet to the water…

        Just kidding folks! Don’t flame me.

        • Posted by aerel

          We’d probably have an amazing, massive fish market somewhere on the waterfront if 19th-century miners hadn’t dumped all their slag into the Sacramento River, thus causing anything in the bay larger than a sardine to have elevated mercury and heavy metal levels.

          • Posted by Patrick

            Doesn’t stop the fishermen on the Broadway and Muncipal piers.

          • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

            Most of the bay’s mercury originates from the Almaden Quicksilver mines of south San Jose. But still it was driven by the gold rush.

  2. Posted by Notcom

    “20 trucks and 100 employees on the pier to design and test self-driving sensors.”

    Seems like this location will have a severe penalty for them not working…particularly if someone leaves a door open.

  3. Posted by Some Guy

    Maximum Overdrive.

  4. Posted by Just My Opinion

    There are 7 words in this post that everyone should focus on: “the poor seismic condition of the sea wall”. This is a critical issue in SF that does not get enough attention from the public.

    • Posted by Notcom

      Well, yeah, but taking care of your existing infrastructure never gets people all hot and bothered like building even more infrastructure – whose maintenance, in turn, will be ignored in the future (especially when the latter can be helped along w/ generous federal subsidies…although to be fair the seawall was, I believe, constructed by the state of California, so there’s some claim for them having at least a partial responsibility for it)

      • Posted by Brian M

        One of my favorite planning/engineering geek sites is Strong Towns. The site owner calls suburban growth a “Giant Ponzi Scheme” as the property taxes from low density development will never pay for maintenance over the long term.

        In a denser urban environment, of course, the issue is decades of underinvestment having to be made up for.

        • Posted by Notcom

          The big sinker in most municipal budgets isn’t maintenance, it’s school and emergency service (particularly police) costs. Suburbs are, of course, traditionally big on the former and small on the latter, unless you’re either a retirement community (low on both) or a high-crime suburb (just plain doomed).

          As for SF itself, a relatively small school district combined with a more-money-than-God (from not just high real estate prices but a host of other taxes/fees as well) revenue picture SHOULD mean the Millenium, but if you just throw it away on a perverse set of spending priorities it goes fast…real fast

    • Posted by Tim E

      Seattle is replacing its sea wall as part of its Anchorage Hwy Viaduct replacement/tunnel project. However its a fraction of the length of San Fran but still a big number. Believe San Fran Chronicle recently ran the story. The question is will the city ever get serious about it because the waterfront is a piecemeal of crumbling sheds and wharfs with some seeing minimal rebuilds, or conversion into park space but none of it that addresses the scale of what is needed to happen for the seawall…

      My bet is city leaders figure at some point a earthquake will knock some of it out and therefore and hopefully be part of a federal bail out. Think New Orleans getting a new multibillion levee and protection system compliments of Uncle Sam after Katrina or the significant amount of federal funds for NY/NJ after Sandy.

      • Posted by alberto rossi

        the key word here is “after”

        • Posted by Tim E

          Absolutely agree, “after” is key word.

          In the meantime Mayor Lee and developers are still day dreaming on how they are going to get monies from everyone else to knock down part of 280 and reroute Caltrain underground for several more miles into the new trans hub center in such a way to free up 4th street station land and surroundings for fees & development while rest of the bay wants to see another BART tube under the bay, or next BART extension in south bay & to Livermore and expanded ACE service… Anything to help congestion. The sea wall is last of anyone’s concerns

  5. Posted by jwb

    Bizarre location for this activity. Google tests their self-driving technology at an old airfield in Merced County.

    • Posted by BobN

      Maybe they’re focusing on stuck-in-traffic behavior.

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      Google also tests on the streets of Mt. View. The old airfield must be for the initial testing of brand new tech. You wouldn’t want to run alpha code on real city streets.

    • Posted by Tim E

      Believe some testing goes on in Concord at the old weapons depot and its deserted roads & bunkers dotting the hillside if not mistaken.

  6. Posted by Robot trucks rock

    Otto signed a lease somewhere else

    • Posted by Fishchum

      “Otto? Otto what, Otto parts??”

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  7. Posted by local boy

    “the self-driving trucks “[would] be test driven in the surrounding area” – I see an OTTO tractor heading southbound on 280 frequently during my morning commute into the City. It’s got an odd array of equipment around the cab and “OTTO” plastered on the side. Yet to see it pulling a trailer though.

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