By Bettina Cohen
Corinne Woods passed away last week, way too soon, at 72.
Corinne loved the creek. In fact, she lived on the creek, in one of Mission Creek Harbor Association’s houseboats, or as she called them, floating homes.
I’m not aware of anyone having called Corinne
the Godmother of the Waterfront,
but that’s a pretty accurate way to describe her dedication to making the waterfront the special place it is to live, work and recreate.
Of course, Corinne would probably have rolled her eyes at such an exalted accolade.
Corinne would have shrugged off the fuss her leaving is receiving.
Newspaper columns quoted civic leaders, environmental activists, and friends of the waterfront who extolled her fierceness as an advocate or occasional adversary, depending on the issue of the moment. Her image was displayed on the jumbotron at newly renamed Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, at the start of the 2019 season opening game on April 5. Next to her familiar crinkled smile were the words, “a neighborhood icon who helped shape plans for the waterfront, ballpark, and surrounding community.” All of which is true, though “icon” would have evinced a sardonic grin and she probably would have scoffed, “Aren’t you laying it on a bit thick?”
Corinne was selfless and tireless in her advocacy on behalf of all residents of Mission Bay. Understand that a phrase like “all residents of Mission Bay” meant future residents for a couple of decades during which a neighborhood that required planning – lots of planning — existed mainly as a concept, aka, The Master Plan. This was the last mega tract — 303 acres — of undeveloped land (fill, to be precise), in a city that had pretty much run out of large tracts of undeveloped real estate by the late 1990s. The majority of people who live here today probably never met Corinne, after moving in where earth movers and construction cranes broke ground and drove steel piles deep into all those acres of a wilderness occupied predominantly by wild fennel and wildflowers.
The Mission Bay that Corinne poured her heart and soul into is a neighborhood that houses people of diverse income levels, with nearly 30 percent of the housing here dedicated to moderate to very low-income households. An entire building that’s still to be built will house formerly homeless people, adding to other 100 percent affordable buildings that are newly occupied by low-income and formerly homeless families or individuals in this otherwise affluent slice of the City.
I met Corinne three months after I moved into Mission Bay a little over eight years ago, when I attended my first Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting. For me, she’ll always be indelibly linked to the planning of every little detail here, from the planting of trees to the question of vehicles crossing sidewalks at driveways into garages. Or whether there was room in the furniture zone outside the Mission Bay Branch Library for a food cart to operate without impeding pedestrian traffic as crowds of residents and employees head in both directions on Fourth Street on busy weekdays.
She served on a number of advisory committees throughout the years, in addition to chairing the MB CAC. My last memory of her is in the Creek Room of Mission Creek Senior Community at the February MB CAC meeting. The announcement that she wouldn’t be attending the March meeting as it was called to order seemed odd. I couldn’t recall an MB CAC meeting that Corinne hadn’t chaired.
Corinne served in roles on behalf of the Eastern neighborhoods plan, future developments at Mission Rock and Pier 70, the ballpark, and the not-yet opened Warriors Arena. She advocated for the Blue Greenway scenic recreational walking trail along the waterfront, and was part of the San Francisco Blues Festival family. I attended a District 6 pedestrian safety task force meeting one day at City Hall a few years ago, and Corinne was there because of items on the agenda that affected Mission Bay. She greeted guests to the annual Fourth of July shindig in Huffaker Park. Like the MB CAC meetings, it’s hard to imagine what that summer bash will be like without her.
Corinne wasn’t an advocate because she sought notoriety. She didn’t do it for power or political standing of any kind – though she did urge people to vote at every Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting that preceded a municipal election. She believed strongly in people exercising their precious right to vote. She urged people to vote in local elections most of all, not just in races for local representative offices, but also for the alphabet soup ballot measures that apply to the City and County of San Francisco. Last November’s Prop A was a ballot measure for the City to issue $425,000,000 in bonds to repair and reinforce the 100-year-old Embarcadero Seawall that protects three miles of the waterfront, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the ballpark on the north bank of Mission Creek, against the ocean and earthquake damage. Corinne closed the October 2018 meeting by urging people to pass Prop A; it was a charter amendment that required a two-thirds supermajority to pass, and it was really important for protecting the waterfront she loved. (Prop A passed by 82.7%.)
Although Corinne probably would have protested naming something here in her honor, I hear I’m not the only one who has had the idea. But what?
The Fourth Street Bridge? I recall her barbed comments when the City renamed the western span of the Bay Bridge after former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Besides, the Corinne Woods Bridge doesn’t roll off the tongue the way the Lefty O’Doul Bridge does, so nah.
How about a portion of the Blue Greenway, the 13-mile network of parks, trails, beaches and bay access points along the southeastern waterfront which Corinne had input in planning! The Blue Greenway will start at China Basin across from the ballpark and link established open spaces, create new recreational opportunities and green infrastructure, and provide public access through the implementation of the San Francisco Bay Trail, Bay Water Trail, and green corridors to surrounding neighborhoods. These picturesque trails will extend all the way to the City’s southern border. Not the entire Blue Greenway, but perhaps the first portion of it that will run from China Basin to Agua Vista Park, past the Bayview Boat Club, could be called the Corinne Woods Walkway on the Blue Greenway.
Then I thought — the Corinne Woods Mission Creek Room, for the room in Mission Creek Senior Community where she chaired countless MB CAC meetings.
Why not name them both after her?
I learned of Corinne’s passing on the Facebook page of friend and neighbor Sarah Davis, who was raised on a houseboat on Mission Creek and knew Corinne most of her life.
Matt Springer, a friend who now lives in another part of the City, commented on Sarah’s post that Corinne was, “Truly an epitome of civic service: no agenda other than to make things better and advocate for responsible growth of a brand-new part of SF without stomping on the organic long-standing part that was already there; no power trip, no positioning for official political ladder climbing; just pure service. So many of us know how much we owe her, and so many of the newer people in that community will never truly understand how much they owe her but I’m sure that this would not have bothered Corinne.”
Yes, many will never understand how much they owe her. I know I’m living in a nice home in Mission Bay and that she’s one of those who influenced the decision-makers to make it possible.
And I’m looking forward to walking the Blue Greenway.
Below a photo Sarah shared, Peter Snider, Corinne’s husband, is tagged in a comment that reads:
“A rainbow starts in mission creek and stretches over mission bay on this solemn day.”
To which a friend named Helen Wheels replied:
“And there goes Corinne, somewhere over that rainbow!”
Corinne Woods left the world a better place. Her good work made it possible for thousands of people to call this new neighborhood home, and ensured a fine quality of life for future generations to enjoy. What better can be said of someone than that.