WITH DANIELA KIRSHENBAUM
Photo by Andrew McDonald
Call it Ultimate Real Estate
September 24, 2006
Don't sob for the San Franciscan who has just lost his view
to a boxy new development. Fear instead the bigger picture.
Think of the city's local connection to the number 37, as in
Oregon's Measure 37, the most stylish bit of new legislation.
It's now all the rage in at least six more western states. California
will vote on Prop 90, its own vicious version, this November.
Here it's titled the "Protect Our Homes Act." Get it?
The very title calls to mind wicked governmental meddlers using
terms like "eminent domain," who are poised to swoop
in and seize your house, your land, your property and your dog!
An east coast real estate tycoon is paying for the campaign (see
link below). He wants you to fear the property rights dismantler.
Your reward, with the passage of Prop 90, will be the right to
demand Cash Money from the evil state any time zoning regulations
Of course, the state can't start writing checks to everyone.
So they will just drop. Any new. Land use. Regulations. Wow.
The imagination boggles with the possibilities. After all, this
could kill any kind of rezoning! Let's see: how many units do
you figure you can jam on that little bit of land between your
garage space and the front door? How wide could those floodgates
Poor Oregon started this whole new age gold rush. Now, you can
order your very own copy of a "claim manual," designed
for draining your share of money out of Salem's coffers. Just
What could this mean for San Francisco? Well, just across the
Bay last week, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council rushed
through some adjustments to their land use laws, in case Prop
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
"Both Berkeley and San Francisco are very dense,
built-out places where neighborhoods need protection," said
Cisco DeVries, Chief of Staff to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. "This
state proposition would come in and undermine our ability to determine
how much to build and where to build it."
Who likes having no control over one's built environment? Not
the fragile neighborhoods that make up the celebrated "character"
of San Francisco. We are all too used to relinquishing control
- frequently over all-too-insensitive new development. We mustn't
be naïve: the passage of Prop 90 could be another blow in
favor of a continued scramble for development dollars, damn the
inconvenience to those affected.
Fortunately, people in the neighborhoods have started practicing
the honored dictum of "following the money." We may
be densely populated and built-out city, as Mr. DeVries notes,
but that's not stopping the vast numbers of people - speculators,
land use attorneys, and lobbyists are but a few - who support
themselves handsomely in the development trade. Many use righteous
titles: "green" and "affordable" and "family"
and "workforce" are all happy adjectives used in the
marketing of character-crushing development.
What's needed, of course, is a really strong set of city departments
- and that's even if Prop 90 doesn't pass. We need a Planning
Department with a leader who can see (without help) that we need
big, comprehensive solutions because we won't win the race in
building enough housing. We need a Building Department with a
leader who can boost morale by avoiding favoritism and rewarding
merit, so that inspectors can perform their jobs without fear.
During the previous mayoral administration, payrolls were fattened
and merit was confused with loyalty. That alone is adding to the
number of steps it will take to get those strong city departments
In the meantime, a small band of savvy neighborhood veterans is
meeting at City Hall most Fridays. They call themselves the San
Francisco Neighborhood Network, and their motto is "Good
Planning, Good Government."
I used to meet with them myself. In fact, I helped establish the
group. But with threats like Prop 90, you might want to join them
in their effort to keep our city planning and our city government
One veteran land use attorney calls Prop 90 a "meat axe."
Cisco DeVries wonders: "Prop 90 doesn't make a lot of sense
- will people be able to look past the eminent domain bait and
understand that? That it will be 'guess what, discussion over?'"
As Supervisor Chris Daly puts it: "If I win the election
and Prop 90 passes, I can take off for the beach -- there'll be
nothing for me to do!"
San Francisco Neighborhood Network
Contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
Manual" for Measure 37
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