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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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."
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.