After years of allegations of slimy deals, real action appears to be taking place to clean up city government — or, at least, a small part of it. Last week, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against Port Commissioner Mel Murphy, alleging that when Murphy was on the Building Inspection Commission, he flouted the very rules he was in charge of enforcing. A poll released Monday by No Wall on the Waterfront, a group focused on limiting high-rise waterfront developments, shows 80 percent of the 569 registered voters polled last week want Murphy fired from the Port Commission. The poll has a 4.3 percent margin of error. Mayor Ed Lee has also called for Murphy’s resignation (read Ed Lee's "resign please" letter to Murphy by clicking here). But why now? The City has known for years that Murphy is as crooked as Lombard Street.

Here’s the short version: Murphy is a former president of the Building Inspection Commission, and when he wanted to upgrade his numerous city properties he allegedly used his influence to bypass paying more than $168,000 in permit fees. Murphy is also accused of illegally quintupling the home where he lives, which in 2013 crumbled down Twin Peaks and rained debris on his neighbors. What makes this uniquely San Francisco sleaze is how well-known it was. The Board of Supervisors acknowledged it in March 2013, when Lee appointed Murphy to the Port Commission and the board approved it. “We need people who follow the rules and believe in the letter of the law,” Supervisor John Avalos said to the board just before the vote. “I don’t believe Mel Murphy has done that.”

Other supervisors came to Murphy’s defense. “I’m supporting him today because he’s genuine,” said Supervisor London Breed, who is now board president. “Unfortunately, we all make mistakes every now and then.” Supervisors Katy Tang, Scott Wiener, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Malia Cohen and Breed all voted to appoint Murphy to the Port Commission.  The appointment was significant because now a guy with a questionable track record is one of five commissioners in charge of approving lucrative multimillion-dollar waterfront developments.

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) -- City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed a lawsuit against Port commissioner Mel Murphy after an investigation spurred by the collapse of his hillside Twin Peaks home uncovered "a far-reaching pattern of unlawful business practices and rampant violations of building, housing and safety codes."  Murphy, who worked as a building inspection commissioner between 2006 and 2012 and was president of the Building Inspection Commission from late 2009 through early 2011, became a port commissioner in 2013.

The city attorney's office began an investigation into Murphy's actions after his vacant Twin Peaks house at 125 Crown Terrace partially collapsed in the midst of a massive renovation and expansion on Dec. 16, 2013.  Neighboring residents said the small home, which was built in the 1940s, fell about 50 feet down a hill and appeared to be a total loss.  The civil complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday alleges that Murphy disregarded the same state and local laws that he was charged with enforcing.

Murphy's wife, Nuannoi Murphy, who shares ownership and involvement in Murphy's developments, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.  The lawsuit alleges that Mel and Nuannoi Murphy flouted the laws at three development projects in San Francisco and repeatedly failed to disclose ownership of an illegally developed property on Alabama Street in the city's Mission District.

Herrera called Murphy's actions "an egregious betrayal of the public trust."  Murphy's positions required him to report income from real estate assets on his statements of economic interest on an annual basis with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

The investigation, led by the city attorney's Public Integrity Chief David Pfeifer, also identified numerous violations at Murphy's two development projects in the Mission District, including converting a two-unit property into a four-unit property against building codes. He is also alleged to have performed building, plumbing, and electrical work without inspections and approvals.  The city attorney's office said the illegal conversion suggests "a deliberate pattern of fraud," as there was documentation filed to "maintain the fiction of a two-unit project" and Murphy's failure to disclose income from the Alabama Street property.

Another of Murphy's development projects, on 26th Street in the Mission District, allegedly involved illegal installation of parking equipment and defiance of laws requiring parking facilities for residents with disabilities and the city attorney alleges that Murphy performed work without the required permits.  The lawsuit alleges that when Murphy did obtain permits, he failed to follow them and shorted permit fees by tens of thousands of dollars.

Herrera's civil suit seeks a court order requiring that all Murphy's residential properties be inspected and seeks civil penalties against Murphy to stop him from continuing to engage in unlawful and unfair practices.  Herrera said his office is aggressively moving to penalize Murphy's wrongdoing and aims to send a clear message to both private developers and public officials that disregarding the law in San Francisco has repercussions.

Officials at the Port Commission were not immediately available for comment on the case.

Murphy's term as port commissioner expires on May 1, 2016, but the waterfront watchdog group No Wall on the Waterfront is calling on San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to suspend Murphy from his position until the matter is resolved.

Jon Golinger, an activist with No Wall on the Waterfront, said in a statement that the revelations about Murphy "demonstrate a consistent pattern of violation of the public trust by a person who is responsible for incredibly important decisions that will shape San Francisco's unique and historic waterfront for generations."

Golinger urged Lee, and if necessary the Board of Supervisors' government oversight committee, to take actions "to protect the public trust from further abuses by Murphy" prior to the Port Commission's next meeting on April 14.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Monday asked a judge to toss the legal challenge that state officials have brought against San Francisco’s voter-approved ballot measure that restricts tall development along the city’s waterfront.

The move comes as the State Lands Commission, which oversees coastal and some other public land in the state, filed suit in July to invalidate San Francisco’s Proposition B, which requires voter approval for any new building on Port of San Francisco property to exceed existing height limits.  Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure in a very low-turnout election in June, but California officials maintain that Prop. B illegally infringes on the state’s authority over public waterfront land that is held in trust for all state residents.

Herrera, in a statement, said the state’s position “marks a radical departure in law and practice from land use decision-making in San Francisco” by giving that authority only to the city’s Port Commission, which is appointed by the mayor, and stripping it from voters, the Board of Supervisors and other city agencies.  After half a century of successful cooperation on San Francisco’s waterfront, the California State Lands Commission has decided that San Francisco’s waterfront planning process is illegal and that voters have no say about what can be built next to the bay,” Herrera said.  “That is wrong.”

Herrera is asking a San Francisco Superior Court judge to dismiss the state’s lawsuit.  A hearing on the matter is set for January 22.  Joseph Rusconi, the deputy attorney general representing the State Lands Commission, said he had not seen the city’s court filing and would not comment.  Jennifer Lucchesi, the commission’s executive director, could not be reached for comment.

The State Lands Commission has three members Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco; state Controller John Chiang; and state Director of Finance Michael Cohen, a cabinet-level officer appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Newsom, along with Mayor Ed Lee, had been the public face for the campaign to build luxury condos near the Ferry Building in a development named 8 Washington. After that project was defeated at the ballot box in 2013, its backers, including limited-growth activists, put Prop. B on the ballot to give voters a direct say in waterfront development, including the Golden State Warriors’ now-scuttled plan to build an arena on Piers 30-32 and a nearby hotel and condo complex.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the validity of Proposition B, a measure passed in June that forces waterfront height-limit increases in San Francisco to go before voters.

The pre-trial brief, filed Monday by Herrera in San Francisco Superior Court, states that land-use decisions involving Port of San Francisco property have included voters for decades and therefore the lawsuit questioning the validity of Prop. B has no merit.

The lawsuit by the California State Lands Commission against The City was filed in July, and challenges whether voters can weigh in on development projects that exceed building height limits along a 7.5-mile span of the waterfront.

The commission, comprised of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Controller John Chiang and Finance Director Michael Cohen, asserts that while the waterfront is managed by The City's Port Commission, the state Legislature retains ultimate authority of the property, per the Burton Act of 1968.

But Herrera contends that the Burton Act actually calls for local control of the waterfront because the state granted authority of San Francisco's "tidelands and submerged lands" to The City through a harbor commission.

"After half a century of successful cooperation on San Francisco's waterfront, the California State Lands Commission has decided that San Francisco's waterfront planning process is illegal and that voters have no say about what can be built next to the Bay," Herrera said in a statement. "That is wrong."


SF Examiner:  Report - SF Waterfront Development Driven By Politics, Not Public
June 20, 2014

The oversight of San Francisco's waterfront is being called into question as Port officials, under the influence of the Mayor's Office, are increasingly negotiating private development along the prime real estate at the exclusion of robust public input, according to a civil grand jury report released Thursday. 

A battle over the 7.5-mile waterfront stretch has defined the political season with spirited debates over several waterfront projects such as the 8 Washington St. luxury condominium development and a former arena plan for the Warriors at Piers 30-32. The 8 Washington plan was rejected by voters in November, while the arena project has since been relocated to a parcel in Mission Bay.

In June, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure requiring any development that would exceed existing height limits on Port property to obtain voter approval.  According to the grand jury report, the management of the waterfront is being hampered by politics.

"The Port is making substantive progress in some areas, but is hamstrung by operational burdens placed by other City entities, primarily the Planning Department and the Mayor's office," the report said. "The Port also has not maintained the past level of outreach to the general public, instead relying more heavily on the city's officials to guide decisions."

KPIX CBS Ch. 5: SF Waterfront Caught Between Public Input and Power of Mayor's Office, Says Grand Jury Investigation
June 19, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A grand jury investigation in response to a citizen complaint about politically connected developers pulling the strings on San Francisco’s port development finds major concerns about public input and the power of the mayor’s office.  The title alone is concerning: “Caught Between Public Trust And Private Dollars”. 

“Planning for the waterfront has been extremely bad,” said Louise Renne, a former city attorney and now a prime critic of the way the waterfront is managed.  “The mayor and the Lee administration have treated the port like a cash cow… more than as a real stewardship responsibility,” said Joe Golinger, another critic.

KQED News:  S.F. Port - Too Much Private Money, Too Little Input, Grand Jury Finds
June 19, 2014

The title of the San Francisco civil grand jury’s latest report says it all: “The Port of San Francisco: Caught Between Public Trust and Private Dollars.”  The report, issued today, concluded that the port and mayor’s office “have been overly reliant on funds from major real estate developers.” It questioned whether there has been adequate public input on decisions involving port property. And it said that transportation along the waterfront does not meet current needs.

The 2013-14 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury began its six-month investigation of port operations — and how decisions are made — after a citizen complained that politically connected developers were trying to circumvent the Waterfront Land Use Plan so that they could make a profit.  Although the grand jury found that the port is making “substantive progress” in some areas, it’s constrained by political agendas and “operational burdens,” imposed mainly by the planning department and the mayor’s office. As a result, the report said, critical transportation and environmental impacts have been overlooked.

“Over the past years, the Port also has not maintained the past level of outreach to the general public, instead relying more heavily on the City’s officials to guide decisions,” the report said.  The lack of public review was partly responsible for some major port development failures, the grand jury found, including the 8 Washington condo project, the America’s Cup and the plan to use Piers 30-32 for a Golden State Warriors arena.

SF Bay Guardian:  Democratic Party Calls Against Prop B Did Not Have Desired Effect, Did Raise Questions
June 17, 2014

Chairperson Mary Jung of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, a highly influential political body that governs the San Francisco Democratic Party, has come under fire for “misuse of funds” after authorizing the use of DCCC dollars to make calls to voters just before the June 3 election. The funds in question, according to DCCC members who raised concerns, came out of a $25,000 check from billionaire venture capital investor Ron Conway, received by the DCCC May 30.

In a June 16 letter – signed by DCCC members Kelly Dwyer, Hene Kelly, Sup. Eric Mar, Sup. David Campos, Sup. John Avalos and Petra DeJesus – Jung is taken to task for directing $11,674.48 from this donation be used for phone calls placed to voters in opposition to Proposition B, which appeared on the June 3 ballot, just before the election. As previously reported, a complainant cried foul on this action in a filing with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, because callers seemed to be intentionally misleading voters by implying that the No Wall on the Waterfront Campaign, which backed the measure, was opposed to it.

When we phoned Jung for comment on that complaint, she said she did not have the call script and could not comment on the charge that the calls were misleading. She also said Conway’s contribution was not necessarily put toward the No on B calls. Instead, she told us, she could not link any single donation with any single expenditure, because the DCCC had been conducting broad fundraising efforts leading up to the election. In their letter to Jung, the dissenting DCCC members argued that her decision to authorize the use of funds for the No on B voter calls violated the organization’s bylaws, because “there was never a vote by the members to expend $11,674.48 to make calls for No on B.” 

The letter points to an article within the board’s bylaws, stating that “Disbursements of SFDCCC funds … shall be authorized by a majority vote of the voting members present and voting at a regular meeting.”  In the end, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. B, which requires voter approval before building heights may be increased above established limits for new waterfront development projects. However, the measure was not popular among real-estate development interests.

In addition to being chair of the DCCC, Jung is employed as a paid lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors, making her professionally positioned at the center of the San Francisco real-estate community.

“The power that comes with being the Chair does not mean that you can circumvent Bylaws and advocate and raise money for causes that you happen to also work for,” the authors of the letter stated bluntly. “There is a serious conflict of interest here.”

When the Bay Guardian phoned the DCCC to ask if there was an expert on the organization’s bylaws who might be able to comment on whether the rules had been violated, we were directed to Arlo Hale Smith, a 30-year DCCC member and parliamentarian with a deep understanding of the bylaws.

Smith offered an interesting twist on the matter: He said these funds were indeed “properly expended, under the emergency provision.” The emergency provision? Yes, Smith explained, the DCCC bylaws contain a provision allowing the DCCC chair and treasurer to authorize the use of funds without first calling a vote, “in the event of an emergency.” This provision has been used in the past, he said, to authorize last-minute expenditures when an election imposes a tight deadline.

Since the money arrived three days before the election, there was no time to call a meeting and vote on it, Smith clarified. That’s why it was perfectly legitimate for Jung to authorize the use of funds. He added that disagreement over the content of the calls warranted a separate conversation. “Because of when the check arrived – it constituted an emergency,” Smith noted, confirming that he was talking about the check from Conway.

That would be the same check from Conway that Jung told us had nothing to do with the No on B calls. Sounds like the DCCC is going to have lots to talk about on June 25, when the members who submitted the letter asked for a hearing on this matter.

SF Examiner:  SF Voters In All Neighborhoods Roundly Supported Prop B Waterfront Measure
June 9, 2014

All of San Francisco wanted a say on the waterfront.  Rich and poor, hilly and flat, Bay views and fog belt, every neighborhood and every supervisorial district in The City approved Proposition B by at least a simple majority in last week's election, according to results released last week.

Prop. B won by a nearly two-to-one margin, 62,727 to 43,444, according to the Department of Elections. About 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots, the lowest-ever turnout for a June primary in an even-numbered election year.  With its passage, any development project proposed on Port of San Francisco land along the waterfront - about a 7.5-mile strip stretching from Fisherman's Wharf to the Hunters Point shipyard - will require voter approval to exceed existing height limits, which vary from as low as 40 feet on piers to 105 feet on Seawall Lot 330 just south of the Bay Bridge.

Opponents of the measure tried to capitalize on The City's housing crisis, saying that more restrictions on development would drive astronomical real estate prices even higher and undermine efforts to build below-market-rate housing.  But adding more citizen review to The City's famously participatory planning process proved an easy sell.  The biggest margin of victory came among voters in the "Central City," Civic Center and the Tenderloin, with wide margins of victory in the Mission and Excelsior districts as well.  Slimmer margins of victory were seen in such disparate places as Bayview-Hunters Point and Seacliff - where Prop. B won by just a couple hundred votes in both instances.

The results show "we're all San Franciscans," said Jon Golinger, the Yes on B campaign manager.  "We came to this city and we stay in this city because it's a unique and special place," he added. "And we want it to stay this way."

SF Bay Guardian:  Ethics Complaint Says Chair of SF Democratic Party Mary Jung Deliberately Misled Voters
June 3, 2014

Right down to the wire, a complaint filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission today [Tue/3] – election day – alleges that Democratic County Central Committee elected chair Mary Jung authorized phone calls that were meant to deliberately confuse voters on Proposition B.  The ballot measure, which would require voter approval for waterfront height limit increases, is officially backed by a committee called “No Wall on the Waterfront, Yes on B.”

But according to the Ethics Commission complaint, opponents of Prop. B falsely portrayed No Wall on the Waterfront as being against Prop. B in a bid to confuse voters.

A transcript of the call included in the complaint notes that a live caller opened the communication by saying, “I’m calling about the No Wall on the Waterfront Campaign,” without saying they were calling in opposition to that campaign, and seemingly posing as being affiliated with it. Callers also made statements such as, “Prop B is about environmental loopholes, against affordable housing,” and “No on B endorsements — the Democratic Party, Alice Toklas democratic club, labor.”

“This act by Ms. Jung was a devious and deceptive plan to trick San Francisco voters,” complainant Geraldine Crowley, formerly a DCCC member herself, charged in the filing. “While I realize she employed as a highly paid lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors – who oppose Prop. B – it crosses the line for Ms. Jung to violate the ethical codes and San Francisco law in this manner.”

We reached Jung by leaving a message on her phone line, listed on the San Francisco Association of Realtors website, next to her job title: “Director of Government and Community Relations.” (Which is really a very convenient arrangement for the real-estate crowd, when you think about it. Who better to relate to the “community” and the “government” than the chair of one of the most politically influential organizations in town, which endorses candidates for elected office?)

When she called us back, Jung confirmed, “We were calling people to vote No on Prop. B.” But what about the allegation that those calls were intentionally deceptive, falsely painting No Wall on the Waterfront as being against Prop. B? “I have not seen the complaint,” Jung told us. She added, “I don’t have a copy of the script” used by callers when they contacted voters. To get a copy of the script, she said, we would have to call political consultant Eric Jaye, who is handling communications for the opposition to Prop. B. We tried calling Jaye but couldn't reach him.

What’s more, according to Crowley’s complaint, is that the paid phone calls to DCCC members appear to have originated with venture capitalist Ron Conway, who made a $25,000 donation to the DCCC on May 30. A few days later, Ethics Commission filings show, Jung authorized expenditures totaling $12,281.13 for “membership communication calls.”

Jung denied having had any conversation with Conway about it, and said “the Democratic Party has done a lot of fundraising in the past three months,” and that she could not link a specific donation with a specific DCCC expenditure. She then said she had to go.

Officially, “you can’t give to the party and officially say the donation is for some purpose, but anyone who’s worked in San Francisco politics knows … it’s designed to make something happen,” said Jon Golinger, who heads up the “No Wall on the Waterfront, Yes on B” committee.

He added, “They’re literally using our name to further an agenda that is the opposite” of what the Yes on B campaign has been organizing for.

Some members of the DCCC are reportedly seeking copies of that script, since there seems to have been little awareness of what was being told to voters in the Democratic committee’s name.

But the idea that Jung herself did not know what was being said in the calls, when she authorized the expenditure for membership calls and works in the same office as Prop. B opponents, raises questions about what sort of leadership she's actually providing.

In an office kitty-corner to the Transamerica building in San Francisco, volunteers doggedly made calls on Monday night, telling other residents that the future of a city gem is in their hands. “Yes on B,” they said, “means protecting the waterfront.” This was the frontline of a battle, set to be decided on June 3, between those who want to preserve the city as it is and those who want to let it grow—the latest struggle in a decades-long war.

The waterfront in question, about 7.5 miles of shoreline that wraps around the eastern side of the city from Fisherman’s Wharf past the Embarcadero, currently has strict limits about how tall new buildings can be, often capped at 40 ft. to 80 ft. But those limits can be waived during the planning process overseen by the city: Proposition B would instead require every such exemption to be approved by the voters.

The proposition is a follow-up to a vote last November, when city residents decidedly rejected a proposal to build a luxury high-rise on the waterfront at 8 Washington St. Allan Jacobs, a former city planning director and professor emeritus at the University of California–Berkeley, says that this is how San Francisco residents have long reacted when they feel something about their city is threatened. “You’re losing something. You don’t want to lose it. How do you not lose it? You make a law,” he says, noting that similar referendums not only saved cable cars that were being retired in previous decades but prohibited the city from changing the cable car schedules.

San Francisco has been grappling with an affordability crisis for months; as the influx of new residents has outstripped housing supply, rents have skyrocketed. Opponents of the measure argue that any new residential spaces, luxury or affordable, will help ease the strain that is pushing middle-class families out of the city. If the proposition passes, plans for some proposed buildings would be halted. “There are literally thousands of units of housing at stake,” says Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer of a local council that represents construction workers. “There are multiple opportunities for public hearings and input in the current process … Planning at the ballot box is never a good idea.”

Opponents like City Supervisor Scott Wiener point out that many of the piers along that stretch of waterfront are in disrepair and that without funding from private developers, the city doesn’t have enough funds to fix them—or even to tear them down. He believes that the prospect of going through a vote for every building project that exceeds height limits would discourage potential partners. “The San Francisco Bay waterfront is one of the crown jewels of the city and none of us wants to see it overdeveloped,” Wiener says. “We also have to keep in mind that parts of the waterfront are literally crumbling.”

Proponents of the measure see developers more as sharks than saviors. “The waterfront of San Francisco has become for developers the new gold coast,” says former Mayor Art Agnos. “If they were left to their own devices, they would create another Miami Beach or Hong Kong.” While voters could in theory push a referendum on every building that blocks a view, Agnos says that piecemeal action like that would require money and organizing efforts beyond the reach of most “ordinary” citizens. “The city’s okay with development,” he says, “in the right place, in the right proportion.”

Supporters of Proposition B point to the city’s general plan, a kind of mission statement for the planning department, which states that views must be preserved: “Views contribute immeasurably to the quality of the city and to the lives of its residents,” the plan states. “Protection should be given to major views whenever it is feasible, with special attention to the characteristic views of open space and water that reflect the natural setting of the city and give a colorful and refreshing contrast to man’s development.” Jacobs says that maintain the connection between the people and the water is crucial. “It’s why people are here,” he says. “It’s what made the place.”

Despite strong feelings on both sides, there are few contentious statewide legislative elections that would draw voters out on Tuesday, which is why supporters of Proposition B have sent volunteers to carefully selected intersections around the city—where they’ll urge San Franciscans to go to the polls. “For many, if not most, it’s about something that’s uniquely and specially San Francisco,” says campaign co-chair Jon Golinger.

SF Weekly:  Anti-Prop B "Community Advocate" Exposed As PG&E Executive And Oil Industry Consultant
May 27, 2014

San Francisco voters tend to be San Francisco something-elses come off-season, municipal elections. We have just such an election coming up on June 3 and, if history is a precedent, perhaps fewer than one in four members of the electorate will bother to cast a ballot. This year's election is highlighted by two contentious issues: The primary in the David vs. David Assembly battle and the ongoing War of the Waterfront.  A good deal of money and vitriol has been poured into both of these conflicts. The latter took a step into odd territory of late, however, with a campaign video featuring a "community advocate" claiming Proposition B would "open up loopholes developers can use to avoid environmental regulations."  That's an interesting argument. Also interesting: Prop. B is staunchly backed by the Sierra Club. The "community advocate" in this broadside against it is a longtime executive with PG&E and an energy industry consultant.  Our messages for Bruce Agid, the managing director for business development at Energy Experts, International have not yet been returned. But a quick perusal of his online C.V. reveals he's made a career at Pacific Gas & Electric and other consulting gigs in the energy industry.  Well, there's no shame working for energy companies or being an energy industry consultant. But it is a bit different than labeling oneself a "community advocate."

SF Chronicle Op-Ed:  Voters Deserve A Say On S.F. Waterfront Development
May 21, 2014
by Becky Evans and Louise Renne

Despite spurious claims by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce that Proposition B on the June ballot creates some sort of environmental loophole, the Sierra Club, San Francisco Beautiful, San Francisco Tomorrow and environmental groups strongly support Prop. B because it strengthens public environmental review, protects the bay and is consistent with our community-based waterfront land use plan.  And, counter to the construction unions' equally spurious claims that Prop. B will somehow limit middle-class housing, Prop. B is endorsed by the Affordable Housing Alliance, Housing Rights Committee and state Sen. Mark Leno because it encourages developers who want to build on public land along the waterfront to create housing affordable to the middle class rather than just $10 million luxury condos like 8 Washington

SF Examiner Editorial:  Vote Yes on Prop B
May 8, 2014
It’s important that San Franciscans are involved in their city, be it when electing leaders, participating in the community or deciding what the future skyline might look like. At its core, the June ballot measure Proposition B seeks to give the people more tools in civil discourse.  The language of Prop. B, otherwise known as the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote act, is simple: “The existing maximum height limit on the San Francisco waterfront shall be preserved and shall not be increased unless a height limit is approved by the San Francisco voters.” Projects on Port of San Francisco land from Fisherman’s Wharf to Bayview-Hunters Point would fall under this provision . . . We are urging voters to stand behind the new Prop. B. Our waterfront is a place that needs careful and attentive stewardship, and if that means letting citizens be a more active part of the political process over its future, then that’s a good result.  Prop. B backers make the case that this extra level of protection — an “insurance policy,” as they call it — is needed because the waterfront is a public resource beyond compare. They contend that developers and politicians don’t always have the public’s best interest at heart.  We would like to think those concerns are unfounded, but it can’t hurt to make sure.

SF Examiner Op-Ed:  Pass Prop. B To Give Voters A Voice In The Future Of Our Waterfront

May 8, 2014

by Louise Renne
We only have one San Francisco waterfront, and once it’s gone it’s gone for good.  That’s the essential fact to consider when you cast your ballot on Proposition B in the June election.  Prop. B is called the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote initiative. It simply states that voters must be consulted in the event that a private developer seeks to increase the existing legal building height limits to build tall towers on the water’s edge along the Bay between Fisherman’s Wharf and Bayview-Hunters Point.  Right now, just a handful of political appointees and politicians alone have the power to decide whether to preserve or repeal the existing laws that established waterfront height limits. That’s a process that inevitably results in high-priced lobbyists and political contributions influencing the outcome. Instead, Prop. B would include in the very important decision about height limits on our waterfront the people who actually own the waterfront, but right now never really get consulted — the people of San Francisco.

SF Chronicle:  Giants drop Prop. B opposition

May 6, 2014

The San Francisco Giants will drop their opposition to a June ballot measure on waterfront height limits and present downsized development plans for their parking lot near AT&T Park by the summer.  Giants CEO Larry Baer made those promises to former Mayor Art Agnos in a meeting Friday at the ballpark, Agnos said.  Agnos is a main proponent of Proposition B, which would require that waterfront projects be approved by voters if they exceed zoned height limits. Agnos had pledged to fight what he called the baseball team's "Donald Trump-style" plans for high-rise development, but said Tuesday he has faith the Giants will come up with a new plan that meets with voter approval.  "He said they're revisiting the project, they're reconsidering the height limits, they're going to drop their opposition to Prop. B," Agnos said. "He said he's going to trust the people of San Francisco to make the best decision for the Giants and the city. I told him that's what Prop. B is all about."

The Golden State Warriors' announcement that its planned 18,000-seat basketball arena would be moved off the San Francisco waterfront was fresh in everyone's mind when former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos visited the Bay Guardian office on April 23, and he was electrified by the win.  "I resent anyone suggesting that this is not a genuine people-powered victory — again," Agnos said. "Because that's what it was, bottom line."  The former mayor has traveled up and down the city in recent months promoting Proposition B, an initiative on the June 3 ballot that may well have cleared the Warriors Arena from its proposed waterfront perch at Piers 30-32 had the team not announced that it would be taking that step independently.  If it passes, Prop. B will require voter approval for any development project along city-owned waterfront property that exceeds height limits set by the Waterfront Land Use Plan approved in 1997. Such a rule would have squarely targeted the Warriors' proposal.  The sports arena had been slated for a 13-acre parcel a stone's throw from the Bay Bridge that is now a parking lot, where it would have hovered above the water like a floating spacecraft. Across the street, at a site known as Seawall Lot 330, the Warriors had proposed installing shops, parking, a condo tower, and a hotel.  Agnos and the backers of Prop. B hadn't anticipated the Warriors' announcement that its waterfront venue would be moved to private property, a 12-acre lot in Mission Bay purchased from tech giant  "We thought, because people at the top of this city's government told us so, they would prevail," Agnos said of Mayor Ed Lee and others championing the waterfront arena. "They didn't."  Agnos and his allies say it was the prospect of voters having to sign off on a proposal that was hatched behind closed doors that caused the Warriors to choose a more appropriate location.  "We helped them go to a different place where we now support what they're doing — because it makes more sense for this city, and for our bay, as well as our waterfront. That's what the issue is," Agnos told us.

SF Chronicle:  Warriors Find They Can't Beat Bay

April 22, 2014
by columnist Ann Killion

The San Francisco Bay wins.

That's what Joe Lacob and the Warriors learned. Their plans for a waterfront arena foundered, despite endless bluster, almost from the start of planning and now apparently have been abandoned.  The Chronicle reported online Monday that the Warriors have purchased property from farther south, on Third Street in Mission Bay. They will own the property, rather than lease from the Port of San Francisco.  So the arena battle lines no longer will be drawn between pro-development types and environmentalists. Now the line is placed squarely between San Francisco and Oakland, which badly wants to hold onto the only NBA team in the Bay Area.

The Warriors might argue that red tape and intransigent politics foiled their plans for a showcase, showboat building plopped far out on two dilapidated piers in the bay. But, really, it was the bay itself that thwarted the Warriors.  San Francisco is a small and beautiful city, floating on a shimmering bay. That is its defining characteristic. And though the bay's views have been obstructed and its waters mistreated over the years, most people would pick the waterfront over just about anything else in San Francisco. They are loyal to it. And they will fight for it.

The Warriors, as it turned out, didn't have the appetite for that fight. With Proposition B - which would require a vote on proposed developments that exceed existing limits - steaming toward passage in June, the Warriors knew they would have to take their project to the ballot box. And all early signs were pointing to an election rejection.

In truth, though it doesn't have the showy views or location of the erstwhile vanity project, Mission Bay is a far better fit for an arena that could host hundreds of events every year. The area is a fast-growing part of the city, with easy access to public transportation and freeways, but far enough from the Embarcadero and downtown to avoid contributing further to the city's worst gridlock. As AT&T Park did 15 years ago, the proposed structure would extend San Francisco's business district farther south and help anchor the growing neighborhood.

This is San Francisco, so some people will be vocally unhappy. But not as unhappy as they would have been with years of construction as 125-foot-high arena walls rose along the Embarcadero. The proposed arena was problematic on so many levels: views, traffic, rising tides, earthquakes, landfill, entitlement, environmental impact. I'm sure that when Lacob proposed the arena, he didn't anticipate all the issues he would be dodging.  Three months ago, Warriors President Rick Welts told me that he had "the highest level of confidence this project will be done" and that the team was "100 percent focused on Piers 30/32 - the best possible site for this project."  Guess not.

You don't mess with the bay or with Herb Caen's legacy. The longtime Chronicle columnist helped block an office tower planned for the waterfront back in the 1960s, and wrote at the time that San Francisco was more than a real-estate opportunity, that it was "a precious, special, fragile place." Fifty years later, it still is. Maybe even more fragile.

Big-money big shots with big development plans need to remember Caen's words. When push comes to shove, San Francisco will defend its waterfront.  The Warriors might win their playoff series with the Clippers. They even might win an NBA championship soon.  But they were not going to win the waterfront game. The bay was always going to win.

KGO-ABC Ch. 7:  Warriors buy land for new San Francisco Arena
April 21, 2014

The Golden State Warriors have a new home to celebrate Monday night. The team originally planned to build an arena on Piers 30 and 32 on the waterfront, but faced serious opposition.  But now they've purchased land from for an arena in Mission Bay.

It was with much fanfare that the proposed San Francisco arena was unveiled. Mayor Ed Lee called it his legacy project.  Opposition in the neighborhood grew towards the 18,000 seat arena. Opponents gathered enough signatures to put height limits on the June ballot. Proposition B and the mounting price tag may have been the final straw for the waterfront project.

Prop. B supporters are elated.  "This moves [the arena project] off of the piers and away from the waterfront. And, yet, at the same time, still is a unique location that will allow the Warriors games and the events that go there to showcase a beautiful waterfront," said Prop. B supporter Jon Golinger.

Supervisor Jane Kim represents the district and says Warriors representatives have already been calling her constituents to talk about the change in arena plans.  "I do think that, that this will be a much easier process, and I think that will be a lot less complexities that are involved in it. That being said, there's still going to be issues that we're going to have to work our way through. But, I do think that this is going to be a great site for the Warriors' arena," she said.

SF Chronicle Op-Ed:  Time for the Giants to Play Ball on Prop. B
April 4, 2014
by Art Agnos and Quentin Kopp

Now that a judge has ruled Proposition B - the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Initiative - will remain on the June ballot, it's the right time for the San Francisco Giants to drop their opposition to this commonsense ballot measure.

In 1996, another ballot measure called Proposition B helped keep the Giants in San Francisco. That ballot measure was the result of many years of hard work by many people that resulted in a brilliant idea: To dedicate underutilized public land on the waterfront to build a new home for our local team that would showcase the beauty of our bay and great city while letting our ballplayers show their talents to the world. The Giants made their case to the voters as to why waterfront height limits should be raised in that location from 40 feet to 150 feet to build a waterfront ballpark. And the voters responded: The Giants' Proposition B was overwhelmingly passed by 66 percent of the voters in March 1996. We are proud to have supported the Giants' Prop. B because it kept our world-class team in our world-class city in a way that combined the best of private enterprise and public process. The rezoning required for the Giants' ballpark could not be accused of being a "backroom deal" because it was done in the light of day and brought before the people in a public vote. And that's exactly what this June's Proposition B would ensure is done for all future waterfront projects that seek to increase height limits for stadiums, hotels or towers.

Proposition B would simply require that, before the existing waterfront height limits along the 7 1/2 miles of Port of San Francisco property stretching from Fisherman's Wharf to Bayview Hunters Point can be increased, the voters must approve the changes. The rest of the city's planning process would stay the same. In exactly the same fashion as the Giants' ballpark was conceived, shaped and put before the people, Prop. B would encourage prospective waterfront developers, the Port Commission and politicians at City Hall to only propose tall buildings along the waterfront if those projects will make sense to the voters. Currently, the system is one that excludes the public and allows the kind of backroom deals and rubber-stamping that led to the City Hall approval of the 8 Washington luxury condo towers deal, only to be rejected by two-thirds of San Francisco voters last fall. We don't need more 8 Washington schemes.

We note that the Warriors and Forest City Development, which propose two waterfront projects requiring voter approval under Proposition B, publicly state that they are not opposed to Proposition B. The Giants should not fear San Francisco voters. Instead, they should join the Sierra Club, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and so many San Franciscans who will be voting Yes on Proposition B this June. Let's work together to win one for our waterfront.

48 Hills:  The other waterfront monstrosity - SF Giants get even sweeter deal than Warriors
March 24, 2014

The Warriors arena – that giant spaceship on the Bay – is getting most if the attention in the fight over the future of San Francisco’s waterfront. But there’s another project in the works, involving another local sports team. And it’s every bit as massive – and, by in some ways, even more of a giveaway of public assets.  The San Francisco Giants want to develop a 16-acre site known as Seawall Lot 337, across Mission Creek from AT&T Park, into a new center for offices and high-end housing that could include several towers 200 feet tall and one that could reach 400 feet.  The total office, residential, and retail space – 3.5 million square feet – would create another mini downtown on the edge of Mission Bay, putting increased stress on transit in a part of the city that’s already feeling the pressures of intensive development.  And while critics say the city is offering the Warriors a sweetheart deal, this one makes the basketball arena look like a public boon.  Among other thing, the city wants to guarantee the Giants a 20 percent return on the team’s investment in new infrastructure. In exchange for putting up $120 million for the build-out, the team will receive cash and land valued at $210 million.  And while other developments using public land have offered to build more than 20 percent affordable housing, the Giants will get away with the legal minimum of 15 percent.

The Giants are funding the lawsuit and will pour money into the campaign against the waterfront height limit measure.  The Warriors aren’t fighting Prop. B, in part because they know they’ll have to sell a waterfront arena to the voters anyway. The Giants, it appears, aren’t as interested in subjecting this deal to a citywide vote.  That, alone, is a powerful message.

KRON 4 News:  Proponents of Waterfront Height Limit Initiative Celebrate After Lawsuit Rejected
March 19, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — Supporters of a San Francisco June ballot measure this morning celebrated the dismissal of a lawsuit questioning the viability of the initiative, which would require voter approval for waterfront developments that increase existing height limits.  Gathered in front of the Polk Street steps of City Hall this morning, members of the coalition behind the “Yes on B” campaign and other proponents hailed a decision made in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday that rejected a lawsuit against the measure.  Prop B was placed the ballot through the joint efforts of the local chapter of the Sierra Club and a community coalition known as “No Wall on the Waterfront.” Last fall, their campaign used the city’s referendum process to defeat a proposed building project at 8 Washington St.  In the beginning of February, the coalition and other supporters of the initiative submitted 21,067 signatures to the city’s Department of Elections.  The initiative was approved for the June ballot with more than twice the required number of signatures.  In a lawsuit filed against the elections department and the city in mid-February, opponents had claimed that the rights over the land on the waterfront and its management belong to the state and the Port Commission. The suit claimed that the state and Port “retains oversight authority over waterfront lands and has expressly prohibited these lands from being subject to local initiatives." The plaintiffs, real estate-backed advocates and community members Corinne Woods, Tim Colen and Michael Theriault, a building trades official, also claimed the initiative is invalid and said in the suit it is “beyond the power of the voters to place on the ballot.” The plaintiffs were represented by Robin Johansen and Thomas Willis from the Sacramento-based law firm Remcho, Johansen & Purcell. However San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller rejected the opponents’ arguments and determined the measure could remain on the ballot. There is still the possibility of legal opposition after the election. Prop B, which needs a majority approval to pass on June 3, would require any height increases on current limits set for development projects on city or Port of San Francisco property be approved through a vote. This could impact several projects in the pipeline, including a planned development by the SF Giants near the ballpark at Mission Rock, a proposed 18,000-seat arena for the Golden State Warriors at Piers 30-32, and a plan from SF-based real estate company Forest City to build a mixed-use housing complex at Pier 70. Retired judge Quentin Kopp said at this morning’s gathering that Prop B is a “simple notion” that leaves the decision about these projects and others to the voters. Former City Attorney Louise Renne said the proposition is about protecting the waterfront and letting the people have a say in development choices. “I don’t know why opponents of Prop B fear democracy,” she said. She said voters should be able to decide what they want built, something Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos also touted. “I think the people deserve to be in the room,” he said, referring to Room 200 at City Hall where the mayor makes decisions and meets with developers and other officials.

SF Chronicle:  Judge Rejects Developers' Lawsuit and Lets Waterfront Initiative Go To Voters
March 19, 2014

San Francisco voters are in line to decide in June whether they should have the power to approve high-rise buildings along the waterfront after a judge Wednesday rejected an effort to strike the measure from the ballot.  San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller didn't rule on the merits of the legal challenge, though, leaving open the option for a court to invalidate the initiative after the election. Opponents of the measure have said they may appeal if the judge ruled against them.  A trio of individuals, some with ties to developers, sued in February to get Proposition B removed from the ballot, saying the initiative intrudes on the state's jurisdiction over the shoreline and the Port Commission's authority to manage the waterfront.  Their legal challenge was underwritten in part by the San Francisco Giants, who are proposing a major development on their main parking lot with towers up to 380 feet high.  "It's obviously a disappointment for us, and I don't think it bodes well for the city," said Tim Colen, one of the Prop. B opponents who filed the lawsuit and the executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, a pro-growth advocacy group whose funders include real estate interests.  The initiative, sponsored by the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter and other supporters of limited growth, would require voter approval for any new development on Port of San Francisco property that would exceed existing limits.  In court filings, the named opponents - Colen, building trades official Michael Theriault, and Mission Bay neighborhood activist Corinne Woods - had argued that the measure seeks to regulate "state lands that are held in trust for all the people of the state, not just San Franciscans" and the state had "expressly prohibited those lands from being subject to local initiatives."  Prop. B's supporters contend that's a "smokescreen," pointing to 18 different ballot measures impacting port management that San Francisco voters have decided since the state turned over management of bayfront property to the port under the Burton Act in 1968. Miller, in a seven-page ruling, said the issue involved "the complex interplay" between the state Legislature, San Francisco residents, and the city's legislative and administrative entities. She noted the "numerous other initiatives and referenda that have been proposed in prior elections to control uses of San Francisco waterfront lands," and found that Prop. B's opponents "have not clearly established that the challenge is meritorious such that it justifies the 'dramatic step' of withholding the measure from voters." Rather, it was appropriate for the case to have a "full, unhurried briefing," legal arguments and deliberation after the election. Jon Golinger, one of the Prop. B campaign co-chairs, called the ruling "a fantastic victory for the right of voters to protect the waterfront." "Now the people get to exercise that right ... to keep waterfront height limits intact and prevent San Francisco's waterfront from becoming a giant wall of skyscrapers like Miami Beach," Golinger said.

SF Chronicle:  CA Democratic Party Chairman John Burton Endorses Proposition B to Protect the Waterfront
March 12, 2014

Down to size: Add California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton to the Mount Rushmore of San Francisco politicos favoring a June ballot measure requiring voters' OK for tall buildings along the waterfront.  Burton joins former Mayor Art Agnos, former state Sen. Quentin Kopp and former city Chief Administrative Officer Rudy Nothenberg in backing the measure, which would force any waterfront development taller than current height limits onto the citywide ballot.  The measure would effectively end City Hall's ability to green-light big projects like the proposed Warriors arena or the Giants' high-rise development plans.

It faces a legal challenge from the Giants, who claim it would intrude on the state's jurisdiction over the shoreline. Burton, a former state Senate president pro tem, doesn't think much of that argument.  "I'm the guy who passed the original bill back in the '60s that turned the port over to the city, and it was never our intention to turn the waterfront into a goddamn real estate development," Burton said.  "If someone has something they think is worthwhile, then let the people vote on it," Burton said.

SF Bay Guardian:  Wiener's Resolution to Study Waterfront Initiative Written By Its Opponents
Feb. 24, 2014
Developers and activists are once again at odds over San Francisco’s waterfront, arguably the most valuable bit of land in one of America’s most expensive cities. Ahead of a June ballot initiative that would require voter approval for proposed waterfront buildings that exceed current height limits, development groups are already reaching out to politicians to tip the scales in their favor.  E-mail and text exchanges obtained by initiative proponent Jon Golinger via a public records request show that Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR; and Jack Bair, senior vice president and general counsel for the San Francisco Giants, urged Sup. Scott Wiener to use his authority to direct city agencies to report on the Waterfront initiative. Wiener introduced a resolution calling for this report, which will be considered at tomorrow’s [Tues/25] Board of Supervisors meeting.  City law normally prohibits the use of public resources for political activity that could sway the results of an election. “There’s a law that once a petition qualifies for the ballot, there’s a very bright line that separates government resources from being used [to defend or oppose it],” explained Golinger, who is managing the campaign for the Waterfront initiative. “These emails demonstrate that there are more political maneuvers than genuine intent to inform the public.”

SF Weekly:  Foes of Waterfront Height Limit Initiative Suggested, Drafted "Impartial" Resolution Analyzing It

Feb. 24, 2014
A series of e-mails and text messages indicate Supervisor Scott Wiener's pending resolution calling for "impartial analysis" of the "Waterfront Height Limit Right-to-Vote Act" was conceived and drafted by foes of the initiative, whom the supervisor entreated to lobby for his resolution.  Earlier this month, the Department of Elections certified a measure for the June ballot penned by waterfront development critics, which would require a vote of the people for any waterfront development exceeding the 40-to-105-foot height limits blanketing most of the area.  Last week, Wiener introduced a resolution calling for "an impartial, multi-departmental study" of the waterfront initiative's potential impact. E-mails obtained via a public records request reveal, however, this resolution was pitched to Wiener by Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the moderate think-tank SPUR, who was then recruited by Wiener's office to draft the measure.  This he did.  (He did, however, ask to "stay unmentioned for now. Till my board takes its vote.").

SF Weekly:  Should the people control the fate of the waterfront?

Feb. 17, 2014

Backers last week turned in 21,067 signatures to place the matter on the ballot in June — far exceeding a goal of 15,000 to secure 9,702 valid ones. The Department of Elections quickly certified the initiative, presenting voters with the opportunity to ensure they determine the fate of every future waterfront development exceeding existing height limits. These range from zero feet in open space to 40 feet along much of the strip, topping out at just 105 feet.  Luxury condos towers and major arenas tend to be a shade taller than that.

SF Chronicle:  Developers suit challenges measure on waterfront height limits
Feb. 15, 2014

Developers and their supporters, including the San Francisco Giants, filed suit Friday to remove a waterfront height-limit initiative from the city's June 3 ballot, arguing that it would intrude on the state's jurisdiction over the shoreline and the Port Commission's authority to manage the waterfront. The initiative, sponsored by the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter and other limited-growth advocates, would require voter approval for any new development on the city's waterfront that exceeded existing limits on the height of new buildings. The same groups successfully opposed a November ballot measure that would have cleared the way for a luxury condominium complex near the Ferry Building. Supporters submitted 21,000 petition signatures for the new initiative Feb. 4, more than twice the number of valid signatures required, and election officials have certified the measure for the ballot. But opponents, in a lawsuit filed in Superior Court, said the initiative violates both state and local law and should be invalidated before the election. The ballot measure seeks to regulate "state lands that are held in trust for all the people of the state, not just San Franciscans," attorney Robin Johansen said in the suit. Those lands, she said, include all shorefront property that was "tidelands" when California adopted its Constitution in 1879. The state "has expressly prohibited those lands from being subject to local initiatives," Johansen wrote. When the state transferred the waterfront land to the city, she said, a 1968 law specified that the Port Commission - not the Board of Supervisors or the voters - would have exclusive authority over waterfront planning. The City Charter also confers planning authority on the commission, Johansen said, noting that the height-limit initiative was drafted as an ordinance rather than a Charter amendment, which requires more signatures. Unless the courts remove the initiative from the ballot, the suit said, "planning on the waterfront will be frozen through the June election, then likely for years thereafter if the measure passes." In response, Jon Golinger, director of the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign for the ballot measure, said the developers had no such qualms over city voters making decisions about shoreline height limits when they sought voter approval of the November ballot measure addressing the 8 Washington condos. "They're trying to keep the voters of San Francisco from weighing in on the future of the waterfront that belongs to all of us," he said.

SF Examiner:  SF waterfront height limits measure qualifies for June ballot
Feb. 9, 2014
The Department of Elections on Friday signed off on the signatures gathered for a June ballot measure by supporters of height-limit restrictions on waterfront developments.  Early last week, environmental and neighborhood groups submitted more than 21,000 signatures in support of the measure. They needed only 9,702 to qualify for the ballot. If the measure is approved, proposed developments that exceed current Port of San Francisco height regulations would be forced to receive voter approval. Waterfront height limits generally range from 40 to 105 feet. Some 400 paid or volunteer workers had spent three weeks gathering the signatures. The Elections Department had 30 days to certify them, but did so by Friday.  The ballot measure comes on the heels of voters soundly defeating in November the 8 Washington St. luxury condo waterfront development, which the Board of Supervisors had approved.

SF Chronicle:  21,000 Petition Signatures Submitted for Waterfront Height Limits Measure

Feb. 4, 2014
Activists on Monday turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the June 3 ballot that would require voter approval for any development on the San Francisco waterfront to exceed existing height limits. If passed, the measure would put a check on high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay and require voter approval for height increases for three major waterfront development plans: the Golden State Warriors' proposal for an 18,000-seat arena complex, the San Francisco Giants' plan for an urban neighborhood on what is their main parking lot, and the development of the industrial Pier 70 area. Proponents, including the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club and limited-growth activists who in November helped defeat a luxury condo development planned near the Ferry Building, say the measure is about protecting the waterfront from politically connected developers trying to skirt rules that voters required when they backed the creation of a comprehensive waterfront development plan in 1990. "What this initiative says is, respect the plan that's already in place," said Jon Golinger, campaign director for the measure, "and if you want to change it, don't try to do it behind closed doors. Do it in the light of day, and let the people have a say."


SF Bay Guardian:  Judge says state erred in 8 Washington property transfer

January 22, 2014

A San Francisco judge has ruled that the California State Lands Commission illegally exempted from environmental review a property transfer it approved in 2012 to facilitate the controversial 8 Washington project — a ruling that casts doubt over a dubious tactic the agency commonly uses to expedite development, as well as the legal judgment of an agency that is trying to subvert a new initiative that would subject waterfront height increases to a public vote. Superior Court Judge James Robertson yesterday found the commission improperly cited obscure provisions that allow it to avoid a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act for cases involving “settlement of a title or boundary problem” when it transferred Seawall Lot 351 to developer Simon Snellgrove for his 8 Washington luxury condo project. “The SLC in approving this exemption has acted contrary to the clear language of the statute,” Robertson ruled, finding that property transfers are far more significant than rare cases involving contested property boundaries or titles. “The State Lands Commission involves this exemption routinely for land exchanges [through the state],” said attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, who represented opponents of the project, which was stopped by voters in November with the defeat of Prop. B, a referendum, and Prop. C, a developer-written initiative supporting the project. State Lands Commission Sheri Pemberton confirmed that the agency commonly uses this exemption for property transfers, but she said that she couldn’t comment on the ruling or the underlying issues because she said the litigation is ongoing. Asked whether that means the commission plans to appeal, she wouldn’t comment. Former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne, a key opponent of the 8 Washington project, told the Guardian that the commission has clearly been misusing this exemption and abusing its authority over “public trust” waterfront lands in order to expedite development proposals. “I believe the State Lands Commission has lost sight of the importance of public trust lands,” Renne told us. “How can you possibly say there was a title and boundary dispute? I’ll be blunt: I think the fix was in.” She was also critical of the commission for sending a Jan. 13 letter to the city contesting the authority of San Francisco voters to use the initiative process to be able to protect waterfront heights limits by requiring a vote on projects that exceed those limits. “What in the world would possess them to get involved in this matter at this time? Who is talking to whom over there?” Renne said. We asked Pemberton whether Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a commission member who was a strong supporter of 8 Washington, had any role in requesting the letter and she said that she didn’t know. Newsom hasn’t returned our calls on the issue, but the Guardian today made a California Public Records Act request to the commission for all communications related to that letter, so stay tuned. 

SF Bay Guardian:  On The Waterfront
January 15, 2014

Who should decide what gets built on San Francisco's waterfront: the people or the Mayor's Office and its political appointees? That's the question that has been raised by a series of high-profile development proposals that exceed current zoning restrictions, as well as by a new initiative campaign that has just begun gathering signatures.  Officially known as the Voter Approval to Waterfront Development Height Increases initiative, the proposal grew out of the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign that defeated Propositions B and C in November, stopping the controversial 8 Washington luxury condo tower in the process.  "The idea was to have a public process around what we're going to do with the waterfront," campaign consultant Jim Stearns told the Guardian.  San Franciscans have been here before. When developers and the Mayor's Office proposed big hotel projects on the city's waterfront, voters in 1990 reacted by approving Proposition H. It created a temporary moratorium on new hotels and required the city to create a Waterfront Land Use Plan to regulate new development, which was approved in 1997 and hasn't been updated since.  It was an important transition point for the city's iconic waterfront, which was still dominated by industrial and maritime uses when the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 led to the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and opening up of shoreline property controlled by the Port of San Francisco.  Ironically, then-Mayor Art Agnos supported a luxury hotel project at Seawall Lot 330 (which is now part of the proposed Warriors Arena project at Piers 30-32) that helped trigger Prop. H. Agnos stayed neutral on that measure and says he was supportive of setting clear development standards for the waterfront.  Today, Agnos is one of the more vocal critics of the Warriors Arena and how the city is managing its waterfront. "What's happened in the last three to four years is all those height limits have been abrogated," Agnos said of the standards set by the WLUP. "With the sudden availability of big money for investment purposes, there is now funding for these mega-developments projects."  The trio of high-profile projects that would be most directly affected by the initiative are the proposed Warriors Arena, hotel, and condos at Piers 30-32/Seawall Lot 330; a large housing and retail project proposed by the San Francisco Giants at Pier 48/Seawall Lot 337; and a sprawling office, residential, and retail project that Forest City wants to build at Pier 70. Each project violates parts of the WLUP.  "We need to let the people protect the waterfront and current height limits," Agnos said, "because clearly there is no protection at City Hall."

SF Chronicle:  Waterfront Height Limit Initiative Petition Drive Kicks Off
January 12, 2014

The war over San Francisco's waterfront is escalating this weekend, as opponents of the Warriors' proposed arena begin gathering signatures for a ballot measure that could block both the waterfront hoops palace and the Giants' planned development across from AT&T Park.  The measure - put together by local Sierra Club leaders and others in the "No Wall on the Waterfront" movement - would require that any development exceeding height limits go before voters.  The physical targets of the proposed June measure are the Warriors' planned 17,000-seat arena at Piers 30-32, luxury condos and a hotel across the Embarcadero, the Giants' planned high-rises for their main parking lot, and Forest City's housing and retail development at Pier 70.  The political target looks to be Mayor Ed Lee.  "It's a reaction to what appears to be the unchecked granting of exemptions by City Hall for high-rise luxury developments along the city-owned waterfront," said former Mayor Art Agnos, who is campaigning for the measure.  "If these projects are as good as they say, then they should have no problem," he said.

SF Examiner:  Supporters seek signatures for ballot measure on waterfront development heights
January 10, 2014

Signature gathering will begin this weekend in the campaign for a ballot measure on waterfront development heights in The City, setting the stage for the next battle over the 7.5 miles fronting San Francisco Bay.  On Thursday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera signed off on the title and summary of the Waterfront Development Height Increases initiative, giving backers the green light to begin collecting signatures.  It would take 9,702 signatures by Feb. 3 to place the initiative on the June ballot, but supporters could alternatively seek inclusion in the November election.  Under the measure, any development on Port of San Francisco property would have to go before the voters if it exceeds existing height limits, which generally range from 40 to 105 feet.

SF Chronicle:  Uncertainty clouds 8 Washington after major defeat
November 11, 2013

If there's a Plan B for the luxury waterfront condominium project overwhelmingly rejected by San Francisco voters Tuesday, no one is talking about it. Despite the highly visible support of Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Gavin Newsom, backing from labor and planning groups, and millions of dollars from the developer of the 8 Washington project and his allies, Propositions B and C, which would have allowed construction of the 134 high-rise units across the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building, were shellacked at the polls. Simon Snellgrove of project developer Pacific Waterfront Partners blamed the loss on "a supercharged political process that made 8 Washington a lightning rod for all sorts of hot-button issues," including a lack of affordable housing, soaring local home prices and the growing number of wealthy people eager to move into the city. "We'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and evaluate our next steps," Snellgrove said in a statement. "But we're not prepared to speculate on those next steps at this time." That next step won't be a downsized and reworked version of the same high-priced condo project, predicted Jon Golinger, who helped organize the referendum drive that put the project on the ballot after it had been approved by the City Planning Commission, the Port Commission and the Board of Supervisors. That plan was rejected wholesale by voters when they struck down the measures by ratios of almost 2 to 1, he said. "I don't think there's any question that the 8 Washington condos are a dead issue," said Golinger, who also ran the campaign against the two propositions. Snellgrove "would be laughed out of City Hall if he came back with a plan with more revisions."

LA Times:  Fight over waterfront condo height goes to SF voters
November 4, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — On its face it doesn't look menacing: a proposed waterfront development of upscale condominiums that step down from 12 stories to five near San Francisco's towering financial district. Cafes and stores on the ground floor. Public pathways and a small park with stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Ferry Building. But against the backdrop of a loved-and-loathed technology boom, the project known as 8 Washington has become nothing short of a referendum on the kind of city San Francisco is and shall become. Nearly $3 million has been pumped into campaigns on dual ballot measures that on Tuesday will determine the fate of the development, which secured an exemption from waterfront height limits. Critics say it would lead to more high-rise waterfront projects, Miami-style, and further cede to the wealthy a city already rated the nation's least affordable. "What we're really talking about with this project is a kind of economic segregation in the city," said former Mayor Art Agnos, who in 1990 oversaw demolition of the earthquake-damaged Embarcadero Freeway and helped transform the waterfront from a "slum where 'Dirty Harry' movies were made" into a civic gem. "We'll have a billionaires' row and middle-class housing to be built somewhere else, some other time," said Agnos, who has campaigned for the "No Wall on the Waterfront" referendum along with environmental, affordable housing and neighborhood groups.

KQED:  San Francisco Props B&C Reignite Past Waterfront Battles
October 31, 2013
by Scott Shafer

The slogan for the No on B and C campaigns (opposing the condos) is “No Wall on the Waterfront.” Former Mayor Art Agnos, a leading opponent of 8 Washington, calls the development “the first brick” in a wall of development along the waterfront that will occur if this project moves forward. Agnos sees the No on Props B and C campaign as a battle to build more middle class housing (8 Washington will be luxury condos) and also to protect a fight he waged more than two decades ago – to tear down the double decked Embarcadero Freeway and open up the waterfront.  I remember that battle well. At the time, I was a 32-year-old press secretary working for Mayor Agnos. When the freeway was severely damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, there were loud calls – led by Chinatown dynamo Rose Pak – to repair the freeway. To her and other Chinatown merchants, the Embarcadero Freeway resembled a long snake – a symbol of luck and good fortune in Chinese tradition. That snake also brought tons of traffic and business into Chinatown. They wanted it rebuilt. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors at the time was closely divided on the matter. In fact, when the time came to vote on rebuilding or demolishing the freeway, the supervisors were split 5-5. Only after heavy (and I mean heavy) lobbying from the Mayor’s Office did Supervisor Willie B. Kennedy cast her vote in support of demolition. Supporters of the freeway threatened a ballot measure calling for it to be rebuilt. Instead, it became a contentious issue in the 1991 mayoral campaign – a campaign Mayor Agnos lost in part due to loss of support from Chinatown. Now, of course, no one would say the Embarcadero Freeway should have been rebuilt. The waterfront, with the magnificently restored Ferry Building and historic street cars gliding up and down, is a model for urban renewal. Props. B and C – and the 8 Washington Street project – provide a kind of political Rorschach test: Does the development look like the start of another waterfront wall or a reasonable use of public land with public benefits? We’ll find out on Tuesday.

SF Chronicle:  8 Washington Spokesman P.J. Johnston Accused of Ethics Breach
October 31, 2013

Competing accusations of financial impropriety that for months have marked the bitterly contested campaign over a luxury condominium development near the Ferry Building have now ensnared the longtime spokesman for the 8 Washington project. Opponents are accusing P.J. Johnston, a well-known San Francisco public relations specialist and former spokesman for Mayor Willie Brown, of being an unregistered campaign consultant for the project's developer. City records show he billed for $1,500 in work that was listed on financial disclosure forms as "campaign consultants." Under a measure that voters approved in 1997, anyone who receives or is promised $1,000 or more in a year for campaign consulting services is required to register with the city's Ethics Commission. The idea was to provide voters with information about consultants, who by virtue of raising money for candidates and campaigns can wield influence over public officials. Johnston is not registered, records show, and he acknowledged he hadn't registered after the pro-8 Washington campaign's attorney said it wasn't necessary because Johnston's work didn't fall under the legal definition of "campaign consulting services." "I'm not a campaign consultant," said Johnston, also a former city arts commissioner. "I'm a media consultant and I do PR. ... If there is anything that I need to file, then I will." A complaint filed with the city's Ethics Commission this week by Telegraph Hill resident Geraldine Crowley contends that Johnston was in "clear violation" of the registration law. Violations carry a penalty of $5,000 or more per instance, said the commission's director, John St. Croix.

SF Chronicle:  8 Washington Debate About Far More Than One Project
October 31, 2013

Prop. C is the actual referendum. Prop. B is a developer-sponsored initiative that would create a special-use district allowing the development to be built. A "yes" vote on either measure would clear the way for the project to be built as already approved by the board; a "no" vote on both would eliminate the increased height limit, forcing the project to be revised. In a 30-second ad running on local TV, Kate Looby of the Sierra Club, Supervisor David Chiu, Democratic activist Kelly Dwyer and former Mayor Art Agnos all say that the proposed development will be twice the height of the long-dismantled Embarcadero Freeway, replace an athletic club with high-priced condos, and destroy the look and feel of an important part of the city. "Let's not build a new wall on the waterfront," Agnos says in the spot.

KQED News:  Is Trickle-Down Economics the Real Issue in SF Props B and C?
October 29, 2013

It might be about as off an election year as they get come, but San Francisco Props. B and C are generating plenty of heat. Or at least they did when Forum hosted representatives from both sides of the measures. Let's just say host Dave Iverson earned his money that morning, reining in guests and keeping the conversation from devolving into a sophomoric episode of "he said, he said." At the heart of the propositions is a proposed luxury condominium development along the Embarcadero titled 8 Washington. Lots of issues related to the physical project were covered during the hour-long conversation: height restrictions, the amount of public open space that the development will create, dissatisfaction with the private health club and parking lot that occupy the site now. But several ideological questions around affordable housing — the issue dominating mastheads and coffee shops across the region — came up during the conversation as well: Who should live in the Bay Area — those who can afford its rising costs or those who are already here? How much should housing cost? What shape should new housing take? Should affordable and low-income housing be built in prime locations, like the waterfront? That question led Jon Golinger, campaign director for No Wall on the Waterfront, to accuse his opponents of practicing trickle-down economics.

SF Bay Guardian:  Developer-funded campaign spends $1.8 million pushing Props. B&C
October 25, 2013

The developer of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo project and his allies have spent more $1.8 million this year pushing Propositions B and C, according to new campaign finance filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission. San Franciscans for Parks, Jobs and Housing spent nearly $1 million in the latest Sept. 22 to Oct. 19 period, while raising $687,006 — bringing its year-to-date totals to $1.4 million raised and $1.8 million spent — and leaving the Yes on B&C committee $562,029 in debt. But that “debt” is actually more like an investment considering developer Simon Snellgrove and his Pacific Waterfront Partners have contributed the lion’s share to this campaign, $1.1 million and counting, which is probably a pittance compared to the profits he plans to make on 134 condos that will go for around $5 million each.  By contrast, the opposition campaign, No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront, has raised $587,625 so far this year (almost half of that in the latest filing period) and spent $511,703 ($333,589 since Sept. 22), leaving the campaign with $88,553 in the bank as of Oct. 19. Unlike the developer-funded campaign, whose only other significant financial support came from project contractor Cahill Construction, the opposition campaign was funded mostly by dozens of small contributions ranging from less than $100 up to a few $5,000 donations.

October 25, 2013
Combine the following words: Highrise. Waterfront. San Francisco. What do you get? The answer of course is controversy. So it goes with the project known as 8 Washington Street, a proposed development project along the Embarcadero.  It's the subject of not one, but two city propositions that will ultimately decide its fate. Listen to the debate about San Francisco Propositions B and C by clicking here.

ABC Ch. 7:  Battle Heats Up Over SF Waterfront Development Project

October 23, 2013

The upcoming off-year election is not expected to draw a big voter turnout, but in San Francisco, there's a heated battle over two propositions that deal with the same issue. ABC7 News takes a look at the competing campaigns over a waterfront project. 

You've probably seen the dueling commercials over the waterfront project known as "8 Washington."  Some ads feature San Francisco Mayor Ed Le saying, "Open up the waterfront. Vote yes on B."  Or former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos saying, "Let's not build a new wall on the waterfront. Please vote no."  The plan would turn a few blocks, now occupied by a private tennis and swimming club and a public parking lot, into two high-rises with 134 multimillion dollar condos.  The opponents include Agnos, who was mayor when the decision was made in 1990 to tear down the earthquake-damaged Embarcadero freeway that has opened up the waterfront.  "The old freeway was 70 feet. This is going to be 136 feet, almost double the size," said Agnos.

Wall Street Journal:  San Francisco Condo Plan Starts a Rumble
October 23, 2013

The Proposition B and C opponents' group—called No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront—says that while the opposition may have started local, it has expanded to include more than 1,000 individual donors and advocacy and political groups from around the city, including the Sierra Club. The group has focused on concerns of overdevelopment, saying the building is out of scale and far taller than should be permitted.  "It's not just a small group of people," said Jon Golinger, a spokesman for the No Wall group. "The people who live, work and own property in the area were the first to sound the alarm."

October 17, 2013

The fight over the 8 Washington St. development project on The Embarcadero has been pitched in several ways — including as luxury housing vs. affordable housing, height limits along the waterfront and park space.  Those discussions are important to have in San Francisco, a land-constrained city that is bursting with new workers looking for places to live and those already here, some of whom are struggling to stay. 

Now, when San Francisco voters are being asked to weigh in on the merits of the project with Propositions B and C on the November ballot, there is another discussion point that has been bandied about but not delved into enough: ballot-box planning.

The 8 Washington project has been in the planning process for seven years, and there is a reason for that: it’s complicated. The project — which calls for the construction of between 121 and 141 residential units, a private fitness facility, and ground-floor retail and eateries — includes changing the height limits on parts of the parcel and other nuances, such as how the building heights step down toward the Bay to mimic the nearby hills.

City residents are being asked to be pseudo-city planners by voting on the project in its entirety — a dangerous precedent that should be rejected.  The planning process in San Francisco includes a number of checks and balances. A debate about whether those are too laborious could be of merit, but Props. B and C are not the way that should be done.

San Francisco needs more housing for every income level — a reality that can be seen in the current prices for rentals and homes. But future developments need to be approved through the proper channels.  Prop. B especially goes too far in setting the stage for an alternative planning process that could be used by future projects to bypass too much of the discussion in which the public can take part.  Props. B and C could approve a housing project that The San Francisco Examiner has supported. But the long-range damage done by the measures’ ballot-box planning is too great of a risk for this city in the long run, wiping out the benefits of this one project.

We urge a no vote on Propositions B and C.

Berkeley Daily Planet:  Down and Dirty Dealings Borrowed From Berkeley in Play in SF
October 11, 2013

The 8 Washington developer's campaign has been particularly nasty. Citizens opposed to the Board of Supervisors’ decision to allow 8 Washington needed to gather many signatures to put C, the referendum, on the ballot. When my North Beach friend was circulating a petition in a shopping center, she was surrounding by developers’ shills, pushing and shoving and trying to prevent her from asking voters to sign. And there’s the link to the “there goes the neighborhood” mafia now trying to devour our cities. Some of us who live in Berkeley are familiar with these tactics. The late Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey, may she rest in peace, recounted similar down-and-dirty tactics from harassers in 2009, when she was circulating petitions for a referendum opposing the Berkeley City Council’s pro-highrise pro-developer Downtown Plan—which she told Planet reporter Richard Brenneman amounted to “thuggery”.  That plan was the child of Berkeley’s Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee.  The Mayor’s appointee as DAPAC chair, who tried unsuccessfully to promote the developers’ agenda, was a guy named Will Travis, a professional planner and a resident of a single family home in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Later Patti Dacey identified him as one of what she called “blockers”, the people who tried to intimidate referendum signature gatherers.   On the Yes on B&C web site is another video with an assortment of talking heads promoting the measures. And who’s the leading spokesperson for this project for “our” waterfront? That’s right, you guessed it, Berkeley’s Will Travis.

CBS Channel 5:  Campaign Heats Up over SF's Proposition B
October 10, 2013

In San Francisco, the battle is heating up over Proposition B on the November ballot. The measure would allow the construction of the 8 Washington condo development. Click here to watch the video.

Bay Area Reporter:  LGBT Leaders First To Vote NO on B and C
October 10, 2013

Monday, opponents of the controversial measure gathered several LGBT community leaders to be among the first people to cast votes against B and C at City Hall. Gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos told the dozen people present that the LGBT community should be paying attention to the ballot measure battle.  Having just come from an event geared toward LGBT homeless people, Campos criticized the lack of affordable housing included on-site at the 8 Washington Street project. Instead, the developer is opting to pay an $11 million in-lieu fee toward a fund for affordable housing overseen by the mayor's office of housing.  The people he met at the homeless event "need housing affordable to them. B and C are creating the last kind of housing we need in San Francisco," said Campos. "We don't need housing for the ultra rich."  Joining Campos was longtime LGBT rights activist Phyllis Lyon, better known these days as part of the first same-sex couple to marry back in 2004 and again in 2008. Her wife Del Martin died shortly after their second marriage.  "It is very important people vote on this issue," said Lyon, who objects to the height limit exemption the developer was able to obtain from city officials. "We've been very good at not putting a lot of big things up to block the waterfront."

SF Chronicle Open Forum:  Protect San Francisco's Waterfront
October 8, 2013
by Louise Renne

Can you name another city in this country where steep hills roll down to meet a beautiful bay and produce a spectacular waterfront that is free and open to everyone to enjoy? There is no other place like San Francisco. But now some people want to begin to wall off our public waterfront for their own private purposes with a ballot measure called Proposition B.  Prop. B would repeal existing waterfront height limits and take San Francisco backward to the time before we had any height limits in place to keep high-rises from being built all along our waterfront. Some people say those were the good old days, but I think they're wrong. In fact, there's something still here from those days to remind us of what will be lost if Prop. B is approved. It's called the Fontana Towers.

October 2, 2013

Contrary to the well-funded deceptions its backers are circulating, claiming this measure is about parks, Prop. B is nothing more than a developer and his attorneys preventing meaningful review and enforcement by the city of their vague and deceptive promises.  It's hard to know where to begin to refute the wall of mendacity its backers have erected to fool voters into supporting this measure.

SF Chronicle:  Voters to have final say on luxury condo project
September 30, 2013

The Port Commission approved the 8 Washington St. project last year. The City Planning Commission approved it. The Board of Supervisors, in an 8-3 vote, approved it.  But now the only decision that counts will come Nov. 5, when San Francisco will vote on Proposition C, a referendum that would allow construction of 134 luxury condominiums on the Embarcadero across from the Ferry Building.  For opponents of the project, a "no" vote is the only way to save the waterfront as it now exists.  "What's special and unique about San Francisco is the juxtaposition of the hills and the waterfront," said former supervisor and city attorney Louise Renne, a leader of the campaign against the project. "If the uniqueness of the waterfront is lost, why live in San Francisco?"  The referendum only questions the 136-foot height of the development, which is well above the waterfront's current 84-foot limit.

Bay Area Reporter:  Condo project headlines SF ballot
September 26, 2013

Opponents of the project have decried it as a "wall on the waterfront" due to city leaders granting the local developer, Simon W.R. Snellgrove and his Pacific Waterfront Partners, LLC, a height increase from 84 feet to 136 feet for the site. Pointing to estimates that the units could average $5 million, they also contend the building will add to the city's rising rents and housing prices.  "The city is granting to the developer the space that is there to develop their high-rise condos," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents the northern waterfront at City Hall and has been a vocal critic of the project for years. "I don't think it is a good deal for the city."  Chiu is part of a coalition of current and former San Francisco elected officials, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates, and neighborhood leaders who are trying to block the development from being built as proposed. They are asking voters to reject two local ballot measures, Propositions B and C, in November and launched their campaign last Wednesday with a press conference at the site.  Among those seeking to torpedo the development are former Mayor Art Agnos; former City Attorney Louise Renne; and gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who is running against Chiu next year in the race for the city's 17th Assembly District seat. The progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club has also endorsed no votes on both B and C.

SF Chronicle:  Bay-front high-rise luxury condos face ballot showdown
September 23, 2013

Developer Simon Snellgrove of Pacific Waterfront Partners didn't start the effort to put Prop. B on the ballot until opponents of his luxury condominium proposal collected enough signatures to qualify a referendum challenging the Board of Supervisors' June 2012 approval of the project. That referendum is Prop. C on the November ballot, in which a "yes" vote would affirm the project and the "no" vote recommended by opponents would overturn the board's action.  "Prop. B is just a developer wanting to write his own ticket," said Louise Renne, the former San Francisco supervisor and city attorney who's one of the leaders of the anti-8 Washington effort. The planned project "is just too big and too tall."

Bay City News:  Past And Present Officials Warn Of Massive Sewage Spill At Site Of Waterfront Condo Project
September 19, 2013

Current and former San Francisco officials today called for voters to reject two measures on the November ballot that would allow a condominium project to move forward along the city’s waterfront.  With Propositions B and C, San Francisco voters will decide the fate of the 8 Washington project, a proposed 134-unit condo complex located just north of the Ferry Building in the city’s Financial District.  The project was approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors last year but opponents gathered tens of thousands of signatures to put the plans on hold and place a referendum on the ballot in the form of Proposition C.  The 8 Washington project’s proponents have also placed a separate competing initiative on the ballot in the form of Proposition B.  Board of Supervisors president David Chiu, former Mayor Art Agnos and others gathered near the site of the proposed development this morning to call on San Franciscans to vote “no” on both measures, calling it a “wall on the waterfront.”  Agnos said the city tore down the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway and has been working to make the waterfront more accessible and appealing to the public.  “It belongs to all of San Francisco” but “is being sold to the highest bidder” in the form of condos costing about $5 million each, Agnos said.  Chiu said the development would also be built on top of the city’s largest sewer line, which handles 20 million gallons of sewage daily.  Chiu said if something went wrong on the project that caused a sewage spill, “it really could jeopardize the neighborhood and create a major liability for the city.”

SF Examiner:  SF Democratic Party Encourages "No" Votes on 8 Washington Propositions
August 16, 2013

San Francisco voters will have the unprecedented chance to weigh in on a development project this fall, and The City's Democratic Party wants them to say no.  A proposed 136-foot tall building that would replace a gym and tennis courts with 134 luxury condominium units along The Embarcadero is the subject of two competing measures on the November ballot: Proposition C, The City's first referendum in decades, which would reverse height exemptions and derail the project; and Proposition B, a developer-funded measure that would allow the controversial project to go forward.  And the official Democratic County Central Committee line is to kill the project, known as 8 Washington. On Wednesday, the DCCC — which hands out official party endorsements and also commands some campaign cash — voted 14-6 to endorse a "no" vote on Prop. B.  The vote makes the DCCC's position against 8 Washington clear: months earlier, it had voted to endorse a "no" vote on the referendum question.

SF Bay Guardian:  SF Democratic Party Opposes 8 Washington Initiative
August 15, 2013

On Wednesday, members of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee voted 14-6 to oppose Proposition B, a San Francisco ballot measure backed by the developers of a luxury waterfront development project, 8 Washington. Ten DCCC members abstained, while two voted “no endorsement.” Prop. B seeks voter approval for the waterfront development, which has become a flashpoint in San Francisco politics.  The 134-unit condominium complex, which will offer units in the $5 million range, already won approval from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last June. But 8 Washington developers launched the Prop. B initiative in response to Prop. C, a referendum backed by oppositional campaign “No Wall on the Waterfront.” In May, the DCCC made an early endorsement against Prop. C, essentially siding with project opponents in declaring opposition to 8 Washington.  It’s easy to get Props. B and C confused. The campaign against 8 Washington is called “No Wall on the Waterfront,” while the developer-backed campaign favoring construction has been dubbed “Open up the Waterfront.” From opponents’ perspective, it almost doesn’t matter if voters bother to sort out which is which. Now with the support of the DCCC, they are urging a “no” vote on each.

SF Chronicle:  8 Washington Compared to Embarcadero Freeway
August 6, 2013

Not to be outdone by a celebrity chef, some local officials and a deep-pocketed developer, opponents of a luxury condo development across from the Ferry Building have tapped their similarly deep-pocketed backers for a counter video blasting the project as the second coming of the Embarcadero Freeway.  “The people of our city hated that concrete wall that blocked our waterfront,” former Mayor Art Agnos, who led the effort to demolish the double-decker highway after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, says on the video released Tuesday. “Now some people want to build a new wall on the waterfront. It’s called 8 Washington.”  Opponents of the 134-unit development, including nearby residents, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and other neighborhood and environmental groups, contend the development will be the first brick in a new wall along the waterfront comprised of luxury high-rises.  The 8 Washington project got a special city exemption to the 84-foot waterfront height limit to include a building 136 feet high – twice the height of the old freeway.

SF Bay Guardian:  Desperate for support, wealthy 8 Washington developer attacks the 1%
June 25, 2013

With a July 8 deadline fast approaching, the developers behind the 8 Washington project are taking steps to ensure their measure to approve one of the priciest condo projects ever contemplated in San Francisco ends up on the November ballot.  David Beltran, a spokesman for 8 Washington's campaign "Open Up the Waterfront," says they are "on track" to collect the 9,000 signatures needed to place their measure – which would counter a measure opposing the project – on the ballot. But in a seemingly desperate move, the project proponents are paying a higher-than-average rate of $3 per signature. According to a voicemail left for petition gatherers, they’re trying to gather all the signatures by June 30, less than a week away.  "They have spent $220,000 on the campaign trying to qualify the counter measure for the ballot," according to Jon Golinger, who ran the referendum campaign opposing the project.  Meanwhile, an online ad circulated by "Open Up the Waterfront" reads: "Stop the 1%. Don't let the 1% prevent open access to the waterfront." The ad makes no mention of the condos at the heart of the project. Apparently the deep-pocketed project proponents believe the best way to garner popular support is through vague messaging that sounds aligned against the superrich. "A corporate developer is posing as an Occupy activist and attacking the millionaires he is trying to build his luxury condos for," Golinger says. "What's next, Larry Ellison walking the picket line to protest the America's Cup fiasco?"

SF Examiner Op-Ed:  Read The Fine Print On 8 Washington St.
May 28, 2013

The devil is in the details on 8 Washington St.  Over the next several weeks, San Franciscans will see dozens of paid petition-gatherers in front of grocery stores and on city streets asking them to sign a petition for a ballot initiative to “open up the waterfront.” Titled the 8 Washington Parks, Public Access and Housing Initiative, it excitedly proclaims it will transform an asphalt parking lot and chain-link fence into wonderful amenities such as “new housing, new waterfront public parks and open space.”  Throughout my eight years as San Francisco’s planning director, I learned time and time again that in any plan the details matter most after the promises fade. The proposal contains some 13,000-plus words. Here are a few of the details about the proposal that really matter:

  • Raises waterfront height limits

Words that matter most in the 8 Washington St. initiative are hidden deep inside the text and are nearly impossible to decipher. Section 4(a) makes amendments to the San Francisco general plan that revise the height and bulk classifications for Block 0201, Lot 012 from 84-E to 136-E. That would raise existing waterfront height limits from 84 feet to 136 feet to enable the construction of a tall condo tower that would be more than 50 feet higher than the torn-down Embarcadero Freeway that walled off this section of San Francisco’s waterfront for decades. By employing special-use district zoning to change the law and increase waterfront height limits for this project, the measure will open the door to proposals for tall towers on the waterfront from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf.  San Francisco’s now-famous urban design plan addressed issues of height and bulk of buildings citywide, very much including the waterfront. Those matters became law. The piecemeal game playing that is central to what we are being asked to approve is a terrible way to make public policy — all the more so because it benefits a few high-end developers.

  • Reduces public open space and recreation

The 8 Washington St. proponents claim that “more than half of the land in the proposed 8 Washington St. plan is dedicated to recreation and public open space.” A careful reading of the text reveals that most of that space would not be open to the general public but would be available only to residents of the condo complex or to members of a new high-end health club.
Thousands of square feet of “open space” would actually come in the form of decks, terraces and common usable space for condo owners, and would be accessible only to them.  To add insult to injury, in their counting, they claim they are giving us walkways that are already public open space.

  • Creates zero affordable-housing units on-site

The initiative says it “will create much needed affordable housing in San Francisco.” The actual plan builds zero affordable-housing units at 8 Washington St. or on the waterfront while providing for 134 luxury housing units that will cost fortunes: not for you or me. The developer would have to contribute to The City’s affordable-housing fund. But voters should wonder why affordable-housing units were entirely left out of a plan that now purports to be a “housing initiative.”  It is more than the details of the 8 Washington St. initiative that are disturbing; it is basic substance. The Sierra Club, Affordable Housing Alliance and Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods are all urging a “no” vote on the 8 Washington St. height-limit increase that is already on the November ballot.  There’s much more to this measure than meets the eye. For sure, it’s time to revisit The City’s urban design plan, to see if it can be made better, but not through ballot-box planning in this terrible, piecemeal way that benefits one developer at the expense of all of us.

Allan B. Jacobs is a professor emeritus in the department of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley and the former director of the Planning Department.

SF Examiner:  San Francisco Democratic Party Endorses Measure Against 8 Washington Condo Project
May 24, 2013

Backers of a November referendum of the contentious 8 Washington St. condominium development on the waterfront picked up a key endorsement Wednesday from the local Democratic County Central Committee.  An endorsement from the local Democratic Party is one of the most influential in San Francisco politics and is being celebrated by opponents of the 134-unit development.  Jon Golinger, who is running the referendum campaign known as No Wall on the Waterfront, said the endorsement can “make or break” ballot measures, especially in low-turnout elections, which is expected to be the case this year. He called it a “massive blow” to project developer Simon Snellgrove’s development, which was approved last year by the Board of Supervisors in an 8-3 vote. The referendum seeks to prevent the allowable height limit from increasing from 84 feet to 136 feet.

SF Bay Guardian:  Democrats Reject 8 Washington
May 23, 2013

The San Francisco Democratic Party has voted to oppose the 8 Washington project and to endorse the ballot measure that would halt it.  By a 15-4 margin, the Democratic County Central Commitee, which makes policy for the local party, endorsed a No vote on the fall referendum that would negate the height limit increase developer Simon Snellgrove says he needs to build the ultra-luxury condos. The units would be the most expensive in San Francisco history.  The supervisors approved the height limit last fall. The referendum puts the issue directly before the voters, and foes of the project need a "no" vote to reject it.  "This was a huge victory," Jon Golinger, who is running the campaign against the condos, told me. "The Democratic Party is a huge endorsement in San Francisco."  That's particularly true in a low-turnout election -- and since there aren't any high-profile races on this November's ballot, I would guess only the most serious voters will make it to the polls.  The Sierra Club -- another group that carries a lot of clout -- has already come out against the project.

SF Examiner:  Sewage Concerns Raised Over 8 Washington
May 10, 2013

Opponents of the 8 Washington St. luxury condo development are casting a shadow on the project by zeroing in on its precarious proximity to a city sewage line carrying 20 million gallons of human waste a day.  With about six months before voters will be asked to reject the development, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu — an opponent of the project, which is in his district — warned Thursday of a scenario in which millions of gallons of sewage spill out onto waterfront streets as a result of construction or an earthquake.  Chiu, along with Supervisor David Campos, also questioned why the Board of Supervisors was not informed of risks outlined in a $105,000 Feb. 22 engineering report conducted by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission about having a development within several feet of the sewage line. They suggested the report was purposely kept away from decision-makers during the approval process.

SF Weekly:  8 Washington - Who's Gonna Pay For Rivers of Sewage?
May 9, 2013

The notions of luxury condos and torrents of raw sewage do not exactly jibe. Nor does the idea of the residents of those condos -- and the city -- being on the hook for said fetid rivers. But that was the picture painted by Supervisor David Chiu today during a provocative hearing regarding the 8 Washington condo tower's proposed construction just a yard from a sewer line pumping 20 million gallons of waste daily.  That effluent is generated by 375,000 city residents and represents about a quarter of the city's sewage. You do not want that coming out of the pipe.  Chiu -- an outspoken opponent of the development -- alleged that he and his colleagues on the board were willfully kept in the dark about engineering concerns regarding the proximity of the proposed structure to the century-old sewage line.

SF Bay Guardian:  On 8 Washington It's "No, No"
April 24, 2013

The November ballot may contain not one but two measures addressing super-luxury condos on the waterfront. And that could pose a serious problem for the developer of the 8 Washington condominium project.  The Board of Supervisors approved that proposed 134-unit complex, which would be the most expensive condos ever built in San Francisco, in June, 2012, but immediately opponents gathered enough signatures to force a vote of the people. The referendum would overturn the increased height limits that developer Simon Snellgrove wants for the site.  That, it turns out, is a popular notion: “If Snellgrove is looking at the same polls we’re looking at, the public is not interested in raising building heights on the waterfront,” Jon Golinger, who is running the referendum campaign, told us.  So Snellgrove is now funding his own initiative -- a ballot measure that would essentially approve the entire project, allowing 136-foot buildings along the Embarcadero and giving the green light to start construction on housing for multimillionaires.

March 12, 2013

A politically freighted luxury condominium project near San Francisco's Ferry Building could threaten the city's sewer system - both during construction and in the event of a major earthquake - if built as currently planned, city documents show.  The 8 Washington project - which would replace a Port of San Francisco-owned parking lot and a private health club with a 12-story condominium building, rebuilt health club, underground parking garage and other features - would come within 6 feet of a pressurized sewer pipeline and other sewer infrastructure that serve North Beach, the Marina, the Financial District and Chinatown, according to city documents.  Other parts of the sewer system, including two underground vaults and an overflow structure, would also be at risk, according to a Feb. 22 draft report by an outside engineer hired by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.  "These utilities are susceptible to damage ... that can be caused by the (8 Washington) construction," wrote William Bergeson, an engineer with AECOM.  After construction, the project "may also adversely affect the existing SFPUC facilities due to the seismic response of the completed building," and "there may be increased liability for the SFPUC due to an unforeseen force main rupture since the completed building is in very close proximity," Bergeson wrote.

March 12, 2013

Opponents to new condominiums near San Francisco’s Ferry Building said the development could threaten the city’s sewer system. Meanwhile, a report from an outside engineer hired by the San Francisco Public Utilities raises questions about risks involving the 8 Washington project.  The project, which would be located on Washington and The Embarcadero, includes more than 130 residential units along with restaurants and retail shops.  Internal city documents show that luxury condominiums could aversely affect the city’s sewers, which are now being replaced near Washington and Drumm Streets, in the event of an earthquake.

February 7, 2013

The fate of 8 Washington, a luxury high-rise project planned for San Francisco’s northern waterfront, remains uncertain after landing at the center of a political firestorm last year.  Yet a whopping $42 million, invested by the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), is currently tied up in the project.  Months from now, in the November 2013 election, San Franciscans will vote on a building height-limit variance crafted for this particular development.  If the variance goes down, the luxury development – in spite of winning entitlements last June with an 8-3 vote of the Board of Supervisors – will be toast.  That outcome could jeopardize CalSTRS’ $42 million contribution, and some retired teachers are beginning to ask questions.  “We have been watching with particular concern what appears to be an incredibly risky investment by CalSTRS,” four retired CalSTRS members from San Francisco wrote in a letter to the pension fund’s investment committee last October, requesting information about how project developer Pacific Waterfront Partners had made use of the funds.

SF Chronicle:  8 Washington foes allege port used city resources for politics
September 21, 2012

The folks battling the approved 8 Washington luxury condominium project along the Embarcadero have filed a complaint with City Attorney Dennis Herrera alleging port officials improperly used city resources to engage in political activity to support the development, and it appears Herrera’s office is looking into the matter.  State law prohibits the use of city resources to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures, and local law prohibits city officials and employees from engaging in political activity during work hours or on city premises.  Herrera’s office confirmed that it received the Sept. 19 letter from Jon Golinger, the campaign director for a referendum going before voters opposing the condo project, but declined to comment further.  “We have the letter,” Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey said, “but it is our policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.”  Golinger, though, said investigators from Herrera’s office interviewed him for about 45 minutes Thursday.  “They made clear they take this kind of matter very seriously,” Golinger said. “It was clear the use of staff time of any amount (on political activity), no matter how small, qualifies as a use of public resources.”  Port executive director Monique Moyer did not return a call seeking comment, and a port spokeswoman declined to comment.

Golinger’s complaint cites an Aug. 6 e-mail exchange between Port Commission President Doreen Woo Ho and Moyer after Moyer forwarded to commissioners a statement from the condo developers vowing to persevere despite the referendum opposing the project qualifying for the ballot.

Ho replied:

The Port is an interested stake holder to see this project through. Can
you think through with your staff and recommend to the commission how we
can help defeat this ballot measure and what strategy/structure can we
employ within proper guidelines?



Moyer then replied:

Yes, we are talking about that and how to handle the litigation although
we have to defer to the City attorney on the latter.

September 20, 2012

An opponent of the 8 Washington St. waterfront luxury condo development is calling for an investigation into whether Port of San Francisco officials misused city resources for political purposes.  Jon Golinger, who is running the campaign in support of a referendum on the development, sent a letter Sept. 19 to City Attorney Dennis Herrera requesting that he investigate the claims, providing him with an Aug. 6 email sent by Port Commission Chairwoman Doreen Woo Ho to Port Director Monique Moyer.  Golinger wrote that Ho’s email “is an apparent violation of California state law prohibiting city agency officials from using public resources to oppose ballot measures or engage in unauthorized political campaign activity.”  Ho, a Mayor Ed Lee appointee, emailed Moyer requesting Port staff “recommend to the commission how we can help defeat this ballot measure and what strategy/structure can we employ within proper guidelines,” according to Golinger’s letter.  In response, Moyer replied via her city email account: “Yes, we are talking about that and how to handle the litigation although we have to defer to the City attorney on the latter.”  Both the City Attorney’s Office and the Port declined to comment.

August 22, 2012

While critics of development often fight planned projects in courts and city council chambers, a group of opponents of a proposed downtown San Francisco condo project on the waterfront are looking directly to voters.  The opponents, who have dubbed the 112-foot development "Wall on the Waterfront," qualified for the ballot in late July, after they collected 31,000 signatures.  The project, officially called 8 Washington, would block views of the bay and hurt the character of the neighborhood, says Jon Golinger, who directed the ballot campaign. The project, he claims, would create a "feeling that you're in Anywheresville, U.S.A.," rather than San Francisco.

August 7, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012 was an especially gorgeous day in San Francisco. On that warm and sunny summer afternoon, a colorful collection of more than 100 citizens from every corner of the city gathered together on the steps of City Hall to announce they had done something political insiders and powerbrokers had just weeks earlier dismissed as "impossible."  This grassroots coalition of neighborhood leaders, tenant activists, homeowners, seniors, environmentalists, and recreation enthusiasts had just collected more than 31,000 petition signatures in less than 30 days from San Francisco voters. For the first time in more than 20 years, they had just qualified a referendum for the ballot challenging a Board of Supervisors-approved ordinance. They had just stopped in its tracks the seemingly done-deal to dramatically increase height limits on the waterfront for the proposed 8 Washington luxury condo high-rise project.

August 1, 2012

A referendum to block construction of a pricey waterfront condominium project along the Embarcadero has qualified for the ballot, the first time in 20 years that San Francisco voters will have a chance to reverse a decision by the Board of Supervisors.  More than 31,000 signatures were turned in to overturn the board's decision to boost the waterfront height limit for the 8 Washington project from the current 84 feet to the 136-foot height the developer requested for the 134-unit luxury development. A sampling done by the city's Elections Department found far more valid signatures than the 19,405 needed to qualify for the ballot.  "This is an historic day that shows just how effective a citizens' coalition working together for a waterfront they care deeply about can be," Jon Golinger, director of the referendum campaign, said in a statement.  A survey taken by David Binder Research for the opponents of 8 Washington found voters overwhelmingly opposed to increasing the height limit, Golinger said.

July 20, 2012

A coalition of neighborhood groups and environmentalists announced Thursday that they have gathered more than 31,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to limit the height of a condo development along San Francisco’s waterfront.  Plans for the 8 Washington development, located in the city’s Financial District just north of the Ferry Building, were approved by the Board of Supervisors last month.  The plans included a provision to increase the maximum height allowable for a building at the site from 84 feet tall to 136, drawing the ire of a coalition calling itself “No Wall on the Waterfront.”  The group has collected 31,371 signatures to overturn the board’s approval of the increased height limit, according to Jon Golinger, president of the neighborhood group Telegraph Hill Dwellers and manager of the coalition’s campaign to get the referendum on the ballot.  The city’s Department of Elections will have 30 days to verify that at least 19,405 of the signatures are from registered San Francisco voters.

July 19, 2012

Opponents of a luxury waterfront condominium project Thursday turned in more than 31,000 signatures for a ballot referendum that would block construction of the development across the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building.  The proposed measure would overturn the Board of Supervisors recent approval of an ordinance increasing the waterfront height limit for the project at 8 Washington from the current 84-feet to the 136-feet requested by the developer.  “It’s a beautiful day in San Francisco and a beautiful day for our waterfront, which we love,” said Jon Golinger, who directed the referendum campaign. “We have challenged the power at City Hall.”

July 19, 2012

Opponents of the 8 Washington luxury condo development said they turned in enough signatures Thursday to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn city approval of the waterfront project.  Jon Golinger, who is leading the effort, said his group turned in 31,371 signatures and believes it succeeded in securing at least the 19,405 valid signatures needed. The Department of Elections has 30 days to determine that.  If certified, the board will vote again on the project. If the project passes again, it would go before voters this November. However, if it misses this year’s filing deadlines, it would appear on the November 2013 ballot. In the meantime, the project would remain stalled. 

SF Bay Guardian:  Developer hires crew to block signature gathering

July 16, 2012

"The developer of 8 Washington has taken an unusual if not unprecedented step to prevent a referendum on his waterfront condo project from succeeding: He's hired a crew of people to surround signature-gatherers and try to drive away anyone who might sign a petition to put the project before voters.  The pro-condo team, whose members were paid a reported $20 an hour ... usually made up of several people, typically surrounds the signature gatherer, waves signs talking about jobs and parks, and loudly seeks to dissuade passers-by from signing the referendum petition. . . . I can't think of another time when crews were hired to convince people not to sign a petition."

April 8, 2012

by former Mayor Art Agnos

When I made the decision to demolish the monstrous double-deck Embarcadero Freeway in 1990, it cost me votes when I ran for re-election. I lost, but the ever-more-beautiful waterfront has become a magnificent destination for visitors and residents alike.  Now there is a proposal to set aside one section of the waterfront for exclusive housing for the wealthiest and, in the process, create a 136-foot high wall on the Embarcadero's edge - 80 feet higher than the original double deck freeway. It's called 8 Washington.

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