On the waterfront

Initiative would give voters a say on big waterfront projects that violate zoning standards

Sup. David Campos (left) was the first to sign campaign manager Jon Golinger's initiative petition.


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."



On a drizzly Saturday, Jan. 11, a few dozen activists crowded into the office at 15 Columbus Avenue, preparing to go collect signatures for the new waterfront initiative. It was a space that was already familiar to many of them from their fall campaign against height increases on the 8 Washington project.

"What we're doing today is launching the next phase of that campaign," campaign manager Jon Golinger told the assembled volunteers, calling this space "the center of the fight for San Francisco's future."

The campaign must collect at least 9,702 valid signatures by Feb. 3 to qualify for the June election, but Golinger said those involved in the campaign actually have six months to gather signatures if they want to wait for the November election.

Golinger said they would prefer June in order to build off of the momentum of the fall campaign and not get caught up in the more crowded November ballot. "There's a lot of enthusiasm from the last election to ensure the waterfront gets the protection it needs," he told us.


This will ultimately be found illegal as it subverts state law by local law.
The Stewarts and Peskim overstepped their bounds on this one.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 6:29 am

Many of us in the Rincon Hill neighborhood supported the 8 Washington project and similarly oppose this new waterfront height initiative.

Will San Francisco become a world-class city with a world-class waterfront? It will if the city's Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are allowed to continue to do their jobs -- jobs monitored by myriad citizens groups, neighborhood organizations, the business community, other elected officials, and media watchdogs.

Requiring voters to approve development projects at the ballot box is not an appropriate use of city elections and undermines our democratic institutions. If the electorate disagrees often enough with its elected officials, then it should vote them out. But until then our city representatives should be allowed to make decisions on our behalf.

Do not turn San Francisco into a mini-California stymied by voter-approved initiatives that come back to haunt us. Please do not sign the height limit initiative petition. If it does qualify for the ballot, please vote no.

Thank you.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 9:26 am

As clearly shown in the 8 Washington battle, developers and city officials frequently operate against public opinion. All this measure ensures is that people get a say before existing zoning laws are overturned.

It cracks me up when developers from the other side of the country and city officials who don't even live in San Francisco think they know what is best for a neighborhood even though they have hardly spent time there. City officials need to remember they work for us, and need to represent our interests - not their interests and not the interests of billionaire out of town developers.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 10:04 am

down Market Street and observing all the cranes building homes that many people cannot afford. The voters may oppose a specific project (and even then only when some NIMBY billionaire funds the campaign) but there is no question that the voters want to see thousands of new market-rate homes to ease the ceaseless demand for housing here.

Throw in the BMR setasides and the people are even happier.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 10:51 am

Honestly, I dont understand why SF needs to bear this brunt of growth and I think the more scrutiny that each development in the city goes through, the better off existing homeowners and renters (eg PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE) are.
You can drive in any direction for 15 minutes and be in wilderness. Let Marin densify, Let the east bay build more. SF has built itself up as more of an urban village than a big city and nothing should be done to ruin that feeling.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 11:30 am

All parts of the Bay Area are experiencing growth, and we need homes in all parts of it, excepting designated parkland which is why Marin cannot be built up so much.

As we run out of land, we will need to build higher, and luckily that is also the ebst way of building cheaper, helping affordability.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 11:58 am

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