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 that would add condominiums and recreational space, while replacing a private tennis club and parking lot. The project has received official approval from all the requisite city officials and agencies but it’s also the subject of not one, but two city propositions that will ultimately decide its fate. In this hour, we debate San Francisco Propositions B and C.

A Battle Over San Francisco’s Waterfront: Propositions B and C 25 October,2013forum

Mark Farrell, supervisor representing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors District 2
Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition
Art Agnos, former mayor of San Francisco
Jon Golinger, campaign director for No Wall on the Waterfront

  • Sean Karlin

    In this mornings teaser for the show, the announcer said that propositions B & C are “dueling” proposals. The term dueling would imply that they are pitted against each other when a more accurate description would be that B & C are back-up proposals. Less like adversaries and more like a two-man assault team rushing through the door. If one goes down the other can finish the job.
    As a voter in San Francisco I will be voting ‘No’ on both of them.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Selloff public land to build 5 MILLION DOLLAR condos? Even worse is the crackbrained part of the Warriors deal requiring the City to borrow 120 million dollars from the Warriors – at 13 percent interest! Remember the City’s bankruptcy? Why in hell should we citizens go into debt to build condos for billionaires? This is a land grab for waterfront property – that “they aren’t making any more of”, to paraphrase Mark Twain…

  • kate wright

    I resent the fact that the developer says that there is recreational space. The park is in a little triangle at the end of the development area no bigger than a tennis court and about 60% of the open areas are for private use of condo owners, NOT the public. That’s a lie. Why do we have a height limit? With the approval of this project it will lead to more and more high rises cutting out the light and making it look like Manhattan, Miami Beach or Dubai. Why do we need more luxury housing?

  • thucy

    Grew up swimming at that club. Would like to see more affordable housing for the city but will not be supporting B and C because new condos don’t equal affordable housing.

    Show us the affordable housing and we’ll tear down our dear old club with our bare swimmer hands!

  • theresa

    If each of the condos is worth that much, the property tax would be more beneficial than what is there now

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Farrell is the supervisor who bragged he’d only work part time if he was elected. Mark, did you refuse half of your City salary?

  • thucy

    love the dig at the fontana towers by the pro-developer team. Generations of small boats have used the fontanas as a sighting tool as night falls, as have bay swimmers on the Alcatraz swims.

    One man’s “ugly” is another man’s survival….

    • Fay Nissenbaum

      talk about a niche value. have you heard of a compass? You are talking about a thing called a lighthouse.

      • thucy

        I guess You don’t spend a lot of time on the bay, but those ugly towers are used for sighting. So is the bridge. Day and night.

        • Fay Nissenbaum

          that’s hardly justification for having them there.

          • thucy

            Didn’t claim it was! Just pointing out that the old uglies have been around long enough to have established some bay cred.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Talk about what this costs us taxpayers in bonds or increased costs to live…
    It is a fallacy to claim there is a genuine need for the City’s land to be sold off. Why not bank it?

  • Guest

    Why is Scott asking what the project’s replacement should be? That is not in propositions B and C. It is only concerning whether the City should change the law for billionaire condo buyers.

  • The City needs to change the formula for affordable housing requirements to consider the price of the market rate housing. Maybe it’s acceptable for more modest housing to only require 10% of units be affordable, but this type of ultra-luxury housing should have a much higher affordable housing requirement. This type of housing creates upward pressure on the housing market that is not balanced by the relatively small amount they’re contributing to the affordable housing fund.

    – jeremy

  • Ehkzu

    “Affordable housing” has become the go-to phrase big developers now use all over the Bay Area. A more accurate phrase would be “zoning for sale” in which developers offer a city’s residents a few paltry benefits in exchange for giving up the existing zoning–and all the planning and benefits for the general citizenry that comes from upholding our existing zoning.

    What the developers don’t talk about is the fact that the entire Bay Area’s population has doubled since the 1960s but our water supply and highway system hasn’t remotely kept up with this explosion. Now every “rush hour” turns our freeways into parking lots, and jams can occur at any hour of the day or week.

    And water–all this densification will bring with it stringent water rationing. Climate change is making Northern California’s climate drier and more variable. And Southern California wants a lot of our water–and has more votes than the Bay Area.

    No “affordable housing” advocates ever–and I mean ever–talk about “affordable water.”

  • Dave

    Its seems to me that every dispute in San Francisco these days is framed in an “either or” way instead of a collaborative way. SFMTA just forces its anti car ideology without any middle road. 8 Washington is either wildly expensive condos or less expensive condos without any middle road. Homeless policy is “us versus them” instead of realistically addressing the many varied individuals on our streets — good and bad. I find it appalling that Agnos and Lee as long time leaders can’t hush it up, sit down and work out a solution that works for everyone instead of once again “taking sides.”

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    If South of Market has boomed, as was just argued, why should we sell our land off in a market that’s going up? The land is money in my City’s bank. What balance sheet-minded business person believes in selling low?

  • Bob Iwersen

    The park/open space rhetoric the developer uses is …pathetic. First, the city owns the parking lot. Second, already outside the “fence” is 3/4 the open space avilable to the public. They are not seriously proposing any more open space. Their numbers park/open space are completely impossible. With such a large project on what is already 100% open space “create” more open space?

    Bob Iwersen

  • danisf

    The spirit of the law was to actually *build* affordable housing—not simply allocate $$. The 11 million funding smacks of “charity” to me, as opposed to a value-based policy of responding to the needs of the people.

  • disqus_87jSZAres0

    People don’t seem to understand that housing in SF is just getting less and less affordable precisely because we make it so difficult to build projects like this. In order to increase the housing supply, we have to build more, faster, taller, and denser, which is what this project does. The opponents of the project seem to be fear mongering and hyperbolizing. Are the existing tall buildings along Embarcadero a “wall”? Should we reduce the height of the Hills Bros. building, the Embarcadero center, and 1 Market St and drive rents up in this City even higher? I work on affordable housing development, and it will never happen in the most expensive zip codes; it just doesn’t make sense economically. I’m willing to bet that the wealthy people funding the opposition of this project don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhood. There’s a reason they live in Richie-rich towers adjacent to the Financial District, with a view of the Bay. This project doesn’t change anything about how SF handles affordable housing development; the City already has a Mayor’s Office on Housing that works tirelessly to encourage affordable housing development throughout the City. Affordable housing efforts and funding are better spent in other neighborhoods.

    • thucy

      Mayor Lee is bought and sold. He’s the updated version of Boss Tweed, but it’s not PC to say it. If the mayor is doing anything for affordable housing, why are so many of us working 70 hrs a week to pay rent here?

    • Sean Karlin

      The only thing being proposed for construction in San Francisco is high priced condos. 8 Washington is getting pushed hard while the much more affordable Hunters Point barely creeps forward. Lack of affordable housing has little to do with the limits we have on building massive walls along the waterfront.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Mark Farrel cites the Board’s approval of the project, but leaves out how several Supes facing re-election voted for 8 Washington b/c they were saving their ‘rear ends’. Let’s be honest – they were not votes of conscience – they were votes for political survival. And we, the people, can over-ride the Board.

    • Paul Webber

      The Bd of Supes DID NOT APPROVE Prop B; the developer got enough signatures from voters to get it on the ballot, WITHOUT any Bd input. It creates its own little district with its own accommodating height and volume limits AND, In fact, LIMITS the City’s oversight of the project. The Board would never have approved that, but apparently Supervisor Farrel, Mayor Lee and Lt Gov. Newsom think that it is okay.

      The Bd only approved the waiver of the height limit and the volume limits and voting NO on Prop C will reverse that action. ( Remember to VOTE No on BOTH B & C

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        Thank you. That is detail the show’s interviewer should have pulled out of the debate.

  • Matt

    The proponents of this project refer to the existing site as a ‘private club’. Anyone can join this club for $120 per month. They are proposing a development that will cost $5 million (lowest priced condo) to join.

  • Steve

    If the current height limits are a good idea, why does it make sense to allow this one project to exceed them?

    • Ehkzu

      Because zoning laws are for the “little people.” How dare you propose that the 1% obey the same rules that rest of us have to obey?

  • Guest

    The Warriors arena is even worse and that’s the subject of Prop C.
    Scott, can you discuss the other project?

  • Another Mike

    As long as we don’t care about blocking views, let’s rebuild the Embarcadero Freeway — make it easier for tourists to get to Fisherman’s Wharf.

  • disqus_mWJ8hW5T8m

    A low fence around the tennis courts, replaced by 134′ high luxury condos. The so called park is a joke. Much more “open space and parkland will be for exclusive use by the wealthy residents. And a private club is replaced by another private club for even more exclusive residents. NOT on our public land. Lots of ideas pass the boards- America’s Cup big money loser , the Warrior’s Project. Our waterfront is not for sale to those who write checks to get their way!

  • Another Mike

    If the Warriors arena was significantly taller than the existing piers, that would be an issue. What’s annoying is the high rise towers between the Embarcadero and the bay.

  • $11165038

    Someone define what SF considers affordable in terms of dollar amount? Seems to me they are rather delusional on what affordable is to the average person.

    • Another Mike

      $3000 a month is the average market rent.

      • $11165038

        I don’t know many people who could afford $3000 per month rent, myself included.

        • Another Mike

          People pay it, thus it must be affordable.

          One of the project’s proponents should come out and say what’s affordable.

          • thucy

            It’s not affordable when native San Franciscans have to work 70 hours a week to pay it.

          • Another Mike

            SF may have reached the Manhattan tipping point where, except for Harlem, only the rich can afford to live there.

          • thucy

            Mike, I lived in NYC for 12 years. It was ALWAYS more affordable than SF, two reasons:

            1) you earn more there
            2) if your Manhattan nabe gets too pricey, there were always borough options that were actually far more stimulating than Manhattan.

          • thucy

            What decade did you last visit there?Harlem was gentrified long ago. Williamsburg, Astoria, Cobble Hill, same story. AND YET, SF Bay Area remains THE MOST EXPENSIVE AREA TO RENT when gauged by earnings/rent ratio.

          • disqus_87jSZAres0

            No, $3000 a month is market rate rent. “Affordable” = “below market rate”, which is defined and regulated by the City. Everyone wants affordable housing, but it’s not something that’s addressed either by the market or the city, as long as there’s a shortage of housing in SF.

          • thucy

            “The market” is held hostage by greedy developers. “The city” government is owned by same developers. There is no “market” solution for the working class, and it is disingeunous to suggest there is.

          • disqus_87jSZAres0

            How is the market held hostage by developers? It seems that it’s held hostage by NIMBYs and people who don’t want SF to grow/change. You should propose a new tax on development profits; I’d support that. But right now, development in SF is expensive because it’s so difficult and there’s so much opposition. And as long as everyone opposes it, the “market” will only provide overpriced, ugly, banal, low-quality housing.

    • disqus_87jSZAres0

      See here for a definition of affordable housing in SF:

      It’s housing that’s regulated by the City.
      There’s a supply problem in SF, because the city hasn’t built enough. We live in a successful, popular city, and now we’re all paying the price of a restricted market. The wealthy drive up the cost of everyone’s housing. That’s just an economic reality that can’t be simply resolved without increasing the supply, to offset the increased demand. Only with development on the high end, as well as the “affordable” end (defined by and controlled by the City) will the middle find any relief.

    • Another Mike

      OK, it’s 30% of your salary.

  • sarah

    Let’s do this in plain man’s terms: vote no if you support affordable housing and don’t think that you have to be a millionaire to live in SF, vote yes, if you support continuing the rapid gentrification of SF and restriction of access to our natural beauties.

    • thucy

      And vote no if, when you hear Agnos’ voice on the radio, you can remember when the mayor of SF was NOT a “fun-time Sally” to developers as the current mayor Lee is.

  • Another Mike

    No one on the panel seems to have heard of the False Choice Fallacy. Other things could be built on the land rather than the proposed 8 Washington.

    • MyLittleBaconBit

      Except that they won’t. There have been numerous projects proposed for this site, and they all feel flat. Affordable housing will never get built there, because the rich folk already there will also fight that tooth and nail. Do you really think the Telegraph Hill NIMBYs funding the No Wall campaign would want that kind of development next to their $3 mil condo? This is prime real estate, in one of the most expensive parts of town. To imply that it would be used for anything else is just naive. I’d rather build expensive condos there, and keep them bundled together so these kinds of projects don’t move into neighborhoods like the Mission (any more than they already have).

  • Tida

    Did I just hear one guest call SF voters stupid?

  • danisf

    it’s charity! and the people don’t like it. (ie the 11Mil handout).

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Unsaid is the fascinating drama of Willie Brown and Rose Pak and their influence in the last Supervisorial election is which Supes like Eric Mar, where facing odds against re-election. What deals were cut to secure their yes votes for 8 Washington?

    • thucy


    • Another Mike

      The area crying out for redevelopment is Chinatown. Sunny, close to the Financial District and Union Square, it is sadly underutilized.

      • thucy

        Eric Mar doesn’t “do” Chinatown. And frankly, for decades, Pak hasn’t done anything more than exploit it.

        • erictremont

          I agree with you about Rose Pak. Unelected and unaccountable.

  • geowizard

    Seems to me that many of the comments, both written and called in, against this construction are expressions of shock and ire against the idea of liberalizing the waterfront for the sake of wealthy interests.

    The underlying issue appears to be that of perceived aristocracy (and it is: most of the discussion has revolved around private vs public housing, and the fact that this is public land).

    In this light, the argument that the city needs to “extract value” from the valuable waterfront land, will necessarily fall on flat ears. Why should the city seek to extract value; the process of extracting monetary value seems to be the very thing about which people are upset!

  • Another Mike

    I would suggest referring to 8 Washington as the “bayfront giveaway” to counteract the necksnapping spin their proponents have spread.

  • Ehkzu

    A caller characterized the project as legitimate, reflecting due process and our elected representatives’ judgment, and the opposition as purchased by a few rich people who don’t want their views blocked.

    This reflects a touching naivetĂ© about the Bay Area’s city governments. Councilmen get elected after kissing the rings of the special interests that fund local elections–rich developers, city employee unions, construction trade unions. Councilmen work hard to represent their patrons typically.

    And all over the Bay Area, city councils act on behalf of those special interests, from San Francisco to San Jose and beyond.

    This cuts across national party lines. More often as not it’s members of both major parties, solidly aligned against the interests of ordinary citizens.

  • danisf

    Just saw this quote, which speaks to my earlier comment of this being “charity”: Tenderhearted concern for others does not mean being foolish. For compassion to be real, it must be paired with wisdom. Charity runs the risk of patronizing the recipient, subtly setting up a one-up, one-down relationship that perpetuates feelings of separation. Sharon Salzberg from Love Your Enemies.

  • I was struck by the framing of the issue in Dave Iverson’s introduction: “Winning approval for a development project in SF is difficult, and it should be.” Why? To me, that gives away the issue right there: opposition to development and new housing is so ingrained and naturalized here, that even the host who’s obviously trying hard to be balanced states that is *should* be difficult. I disagree with that view. Doing new things in the city should be done rationally, civicly, etc., but why assume people can’t come together around common interest and agree on things? I’ve seen civic cultures and processes, such as in Portland where I’m from, which seem to run with much greater assumption of cooperative good and bias towards action; SF by contrast tends to seems parochial and paralyzed, sadly unable to tackle key issues like the housing affordability crisis.

    Tim McCormick Palo Alto @tmccormick tjm.org

  • Marie Baker

    I started out ambivalent regarding B & C that will be on this November’s San Francisco ballot. However, after watching the videos that the 8 Washington Project produced and the robocall I received inviting me to join a conference call about Ordinance B and adding more parks to SF, I’ve changed my mind. Their lies have made me care.

    The 8 Washington Project (aka Ordinance B) goes under the guise of “Open up the waterfront.” However, the only public space will be the northern-most corner of the property. That space will house a cafe and a few other retail stores. There won’t be much space left for a public park. One of their renderings shows a lot of green space in the center of the property. That will actually be a swim and fitness club with no grassy area.

    The project’s proponents don’t point out all of the open public space that already exists. There are three green park spaces that surround the property; the large park just off of Justin Herman Plaza (that includes a new children’s park) and two parks just one block west of the property. Plus, there is the large public walkway on the east side of the Embarcadero with no stop lights or cross walks. In addition, there is the lovely waterfront promenade that was created when the piers were renovated. There are park benches and hanging potted plants along this promenade.

    Their video also states that it will add “needed” restaurants. I guess they don’t consider La Mar, Coquette, Plant, The Waterfront, Slanted Door, One Market, Boulevard, the Americano and all of the other restaurants and bars in the Ferry Building and that surround the Embarcadero 4 area enough restaurants for people to choose from.

    Certainly a parking lot can be an eye sore. But it a necessity in this part of the city. Street parking is limited to an hour and you have to move your car to a new area once the hour is up or get a large sum on a parking ticket. Why not focus on getting the owners of the lot and the tennis and swim club to add a great deal of greenery/trees/shrubs around the land they occupy? This seems like a better option to me. Instead they are going to build two large and tall (they will higher than the freeway that ran above the same area) condominium buildings to “beautify” the area.

    If the proponents of Ordinance B did not take the sneaky, lie-filled approach to getting public approval for the fairly large height limit increase they received from SF Planning, then I may not have noticed. But I noticed.

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    My compliments to the host, Dave Iverson, today. He fairly and effectively moderated between and among the guests.

  • I’ll be voting NO on BOTH

  • Logan

    I voted no on prop B & C as well. Having billionaires moving into SF will only increase the rent else where and screw the rest of us. No way.

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