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The Battle for Bayview

District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Chris Daly

February 11, 2008

The stage is now set for what may be one of the biggest development battles in decades.

Last Monday, Bayview community leaders, joined by San Francisco progressives, submitted 11,236 signatures to qualify the Bayview Affordable Housing Initiative for June's ballot. With only 10 days and a few thousand dollars, dozens of volunteers braved the cold wind and rain to fight for our vision of meeting the real housing needs of folks living in the Bayview/Hunters Point.

Our intense effort displayed the strength and commitment of the growing coalition of San Francisco Progressives (who collected nearly 5,000 signatures in the effort) and rising leaders from the Bayview/Hunters Point and San Francisco's African American community.

Our resolve was tested by driving rain, gusting winds, and record cold, but we stood resolute, petitioning on street corners and shopping centers and knocking on doors from Bayview public housing to Tenderloin SRO hotels to Chinatown senior buildings.

The effort builds on the burgeoning, community-based insurgency in the Bayview. In the past year, a 1,000-person coalition concerned about environmental justice protested Lennar for blanketing Hunters Point with asbestos dust. A couple of years ago, 33,000 San Franciscans signed a referendum of the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan calling for greater public benefits and community control in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, their voices were silenced by a legal technicality.

The Corporation of Broken Promises

Meanwhile, the entire political establishment has lined up behind the Lennar Corporation who is single-handedly financing their "Bayview Jobs, Parks, and Housing Initiative" and making big promises to deliver up to 10,000 housing units with 25% affordable housing, a rebuilt football stadium, office space, and plenty of park land. Their measure, however, doesn't guarantee any of these things. Furthermore, Lennar doesn't even yet have a legal stake in the proposed development in Candlestick.

Residents of the Bayview understand that the Lennar Corporation should be named the Corporation of Broken Promises. In their Parcel A development in the Hunters Point Shipyard, Lennar promised to build one out of every 8 units as an affordable rental. They reneged on this promise claiming that it was too costly for them. Then they slashed their commitment to a community "Legacy Fund."

Their most egregious violation of trust came in the form of asbestos-laden dust plumes that covered homes, schools, playgrounds, and churches. Promise after promise was made by Lennar in community meetings, glossy brochures, at public hearings, and to regulatory agencies that they would protect the health of the community and their own workers by rigidly following a State mandated Dust Mitigation Plan.

During the months of major grading at Parcel A, a Lennar contractor failed to turn on their dust monitors, leaving the community exposed to unknown quantities of asbestos fibers. After finally turning on the monitors, Lennar routinely exceeded the asbestos limit set in the Dust Mitigation Plan of 16,000 fibers per cubic meter.

The damage having been done, Lennar successfully argued that they should be allowed to continue construction, while they mounted a behind-closed-doors effort to limit their legal liability for a Notice of Violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Not that anyone should be surprised by any of this. Lennar wasn't even supposed to get the development contract for Hunters Point in the first place, as a Redevelopment consultant recommended Forrest City for the work. Lennar flexed their significant muscle and called in political favors at the Commission. They then proved that they weren't above using dirty tricks, at one point using a contractor to pay homeless people to testify on their behalf at public hearings.

Political Jobs Program

Even as their stock plunged to its lowest levels in years, the Lennar Corporation lavished money on the who's who of San Francisco political operatives. Before the close of the signature gathering period, the Lennar Corporation reported spending nearly a million dollars on their effort! (Our committee spent less than $4000.)

By comparison, the Police Officers Association spent a total of $232,000 to qualify and pass Proposition B on last Tuesday's ballot. This included their signature gathering and campaign expenses, including commercials! So where is all that Lennar money going?

In what could only be described as a political jobs program, Lennar has dumped almost $550,000 into San Francisco's biggest political consultants and spin doctors. Terris, Barnes, and Walters have received over $180,000. Sam Singer has pulled in over $117,000. Eric Jaye's Storefront Consulting and Alex Tourk's Ground Floor each have taken a cool $75,000. Jim Stearns has taken in another $50,000. Roberta Achtenberg shows on the rolls at $8,000.

When questioned about these expenditures, Sam Singer called this cabal a "dream team of political experts."

In the last couple of weeks, Lennar has invited others to live the dream-- Newsom pollster David Binder ($23,000), former 49ers President Carmen Policy ($9,000), former Community College Trustee Johnnie Carter ($6,700), powerhouse west-side lobbyist Denise LaPointe ($2,000), and Willie Brown's go-to astroturf operation, the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Housing for the City

Even with what seems to be the entire political establishment on retainer, Lennar must have been caught off-guard by the boldness of our grassroots signature gathering effort. In the past, Lennar used their minions to do their bidding -- whether it be their high-profile "dream team" operatives or just some community sell-out. This time, though, Lennar had to do its own dirty work…

The Daly-backed measure "is essentially a poison pill," said Kofi Bonner, president of Lennar's urban land division in San Francisco. "No private developer is going to be able to create something on this scale of development, including parks and infrastructure, and be able to provide 50 percent affordable housing."

Funny. I actually agree with Lennar on this. Why should we be relying solely on out-of-town private developers, especially the likes of Lennar, to deliver the affordable housing that we need in San Francisco. In fact, last year the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution establishing policy for the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco authored by Sophie Maxwell.

In it, the Board set an aggressive goal for affordable housing production – that 64% of all new housing units should be affordable, with "28% of housing affordable to Moderate Income households, 10% of housing affordable to Low Income households, and 26% of housing affordable to Very Low Income households."

The policy goes on to say that the "affordable housing implementation strategy developed with the Mayor's Office of Housing (and) the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (should) include the mechanisms and financial resources needed to meet the housing production percentage targets specified."

So, how is the Bayview Affordable Housing Initiative off-target with this policy? Hunters Point and Candlestick Point represent San Francisco's last giant developable piece of land. It's all publicly owned and sits in one of the most affordable-housing hungry neighborhoods of our City.

The City also has the powers of Redevelopment at our disposal, including tax increment financing. If anything, our measure could mandate even more affordable housing.

With affordable housing consistently ranking as San Francisco's most pressing issue, we definitely need to be delivering very high levels of affordability to meet our housing challenge. The Bayview Affordable Housing Initiative, along with November's Affordable Housing Charter Amendment, can do this.

Affordable Housing Redux

So what's the real problem? Lennar and the Mayor's Office have been quick to say that the Bayview Affordable Housing Initiative is not financially "feasible" and would "kill" the development. But with some simple math, you can figure out what's really going on here…

"Bonner said the Lennar project is estimated to cost $1.4 billion. The company would expect to eventually make a 20 to 25 percent rate of return on its investment."

Twenty-five percent of $1.4 billion is $350 million — $350 million of profit Lennar admits it wants to extract from the Bayview. If we cut Lennar's profits out of this deal and publicly develop the project instead, we could pump this money back into increasing the affordability in the project. With the savings, we could build a couple of thousand additional affordable housing units.

The only problem with this proposal is how all the political operatives would eat!







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