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.
San Francisco voters this fall will be treated to some extra reading in the form of a 400- to 500-page ballot guide, thanks mostly to a referendum on the height of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo development. “It’s going to look like a phone book,” said Department of Elections head John Arntz. That’s because under city law, the Nov. 5 ballot book, which is mailed to 500,000 voters, must include the “full text” of the referendum as it was presented during the signature drive that put it on the ballot. In this case, that means the city must include more than 500 pages of documents, including those from the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors’ hearings and even copies of studies on shadows that the condos may cast. And it is not going to come cheap. The ballot books generally run 125 to 250 pages and cost about $1 million. Doubling the pages to 500 will cost about $1.7 million. “We might be able to shrink it down some with smaller type, but we still have to get it all in,” Arntz said. As usual, there is a lot of finger pointing going on regarding who’s to blame. Referendum backers say they only wanted the five pages that dealt with the condo’s height limit exemption in the ballot guide, but the other side pushed for the full text to be included to make it harder to gather signatures. “It was entirely political,” said Jon Golinger, manager of the “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign.
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.