October 29, 2013
There is a battle going on for the soul of San Francisco. This is not a new battle but one that has been transpiring in San Francisco for quite some time. Currently the battle is being waged between developers, who would like to turn San Francisco into a playground for the wealthy in return for large profits, versus people who live and work in San Francisco and wish to preserve the character that makes our city a welcomed change from the urban status quo.
At stake in this battle, are San Francisco’s skyline, its streets, and most recently its historic waterfront. Two prospective development projects have become the front lines of the waterfront fight, the 8 Washington Project and the proposed Warriors’ Stadium.
So what’s the big deal? Why is our waterfront so important? Wouldn’t it be great to have the Warriors in San Francisco? Don’t we need more housing?
How we utilize the land that meets the bay in San Francisco is vital to the direction of our city and, quite frankly, to our country. It is especially important when we are talking about our historic waterfront – sections around the Ferry Building, Bay Bridge, and North to Aquatic Park.
San Francisco is a city that has, and can, continue to lead the way to more sustainable and livable urban planning. This battle on our waterfront is a defining moment for us and can be an important step in a better direction for our country and our planet.
8 Washington is a development project that is seven years in the making and would create 134 of the most expensive condominiums in the history of San Francisco, ranging in price from $2 million to $10 million along with restaurants and retail shops. One of the main concerns of opponents is that at 136 feet high, the development exceeds the height zoning in that area by over 50 feet. Exceeding height zoning restrictions on our waterfront sets a precedent and developers are keeping a close eye on how this turns out. No doubt a decision to disregard previous zoning requirements and move forward with 8 Washington will be a sign for developers that San Francisco is ready for many more projects that exceed height zoning in this area and there are projects in the cue right now that will do just that.
Unfortunately for developers, 8 Washington was approved by the Board of Supervisors, but soon after a group of concerned citizens, opposed to the current project proposal, was able gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot November. A referendum is a process that can overturn a vote of the Board of Supervisors and, in this case, required the gathering of over 30,000 signatures. This referendum is one of only seven in our city’s history. That referendum is now Prop C on our ballot this November. A yes vote on Prop C would allow 8 Washington to proceed and a no vote would force the developers to go back to the drawing board. A similar ballot initiative, Prop B,is a developer sponsored piece of legislation which would do the same exact thing if SF voted yes on Prop C. It would allow the developer to move forward with the project and set a precedent for more building on our historic waterfront.
The proposed Warriors stadium is another important part of the future of our historic waterfront. The developer has released some preliminary designs. Many of the same issues that have been raised regarding the Warriors stadium have come up with 8 Washington project. Do we need to clog up our waterfront with a large structure? Can the infrastructure in that area handle a stadium? Do we need a stadium there or is there a better place to put it? Unfortunately, developers have been framing the discussions about the stadium and what we build on our historic waterfront which, in my experience, is a recipe for problems.
I lived in Florida for 10 years before moving to San Francisco and while there are many naturally beautiful things in that State my time there taught me important lessons about out of control development. When developers have free reign to build with little thought about planning or input from citizens, what results is homogeneity, a lack of attention to design or aesthetics, and a loss of character and livability. Many places in Florida look exactly the same. When it comes to the waterfront in many Florida counties there are towering condominiums for people who reside there less than half of the year which block waterfront views and access for the rest of the residents who live there year round. Is that the direction we want for our waterfront? I doubt it. San Francisco is not Miami.
For the most part, San Francisco is a city that tries harder to preserve its character, to make land use decisions thoughtfully and with input from the citizens who live and work here. Our waterfront is a treasure and one we need to plan carefully in order to maximize its benefit for everyone.
San Francisco voters have a chance this year by voting no on both Props B & C to send a message that we want thoughtful inclusive development on our waterfront.
Developing on our waterfront requires a vision that includes consideration for the importance of open spaces, public access, environmental concerns and more creative concepts that bring people in contact with the Bay in thoughtful ways. This requires people – not developers – to decide how we develop it and it requires a step back to look at the entire picture of what we want our shared, historic waterfront to be.