Recent Comments

    Vote No on Propositions B and C



    With just days left before the November 5th election, the battle over Propositions B and C has been raging in mailboxes, editorial pages and cable television ads across the City for what seems like an eternity. And yet, for all the noise, many voters remain confused about what exactly they are voting on and why it even matters.

    The basic issue is quite simple: Should long-standing height limits along the waterfront be lifted to allow development of 134 units of luxury housing on the Embarcadero? Proponents say the benefits of the project – increased tax revenue, new open space, greater-than-required contributions to the City’s affordable housing fund – justify the proposed zoning change. Opponents have a number of concerns – the obscene unaffordability of the residential units, the fact that most of the promised “open space” will not, in fact, be open to the public, potential damage to a nearby sewer line carrying 20 million gallons of raw sewage a day – but in my mind, the main issue remains the height limits and the precedent lifting them establishes for other projects up and down the Embarcadero, and elsewhere in the City.

    Ever since the Fontana Towers went up back in the early 1960s, sparking a citizen revolt against Bay-front overdevelopment, successive generations of San Franciscans have watchfully guarded our waterfront to prevent similar conversions of public views for private benefit. Developers have, for the intervening decades, chafed against the City’s strict waterfront height limits, but those height limits have nevertheless held, at least until now.

    Last June, by an 8-3 vote (with Supervisors Avalos, Campos and Chiu in opposition), the Board of Supervisors gave final approval for 8 Washington, lifting the height limits for the project from 84 to 136 feet. By early August of last year, project opponents had gathered more than 31,000 signatures to qualify a referendum for this year’s ballot. That referendum measure would become Proposition C. A “yes” vote approves the project; a “no” vote disapproves it.

    Based on early polling showing that the referendum measure would likely succeed in killing the project, the developers put forward a second ballot measure (which would become Proposition B) to allow them to emphasize its alleged public benefits and give them a better shot at winning the voters’ approval. And here’s the annoying thing for project opponents: even if C loses overwhelmingly, it won’t matter if B passes. If the “yes” position on either B or C wins, the project is approved, and the height limits are raised.

    I care about waterfront views, and I do not think the public benefits of the 8 Washington project justify loosening our waterfront height limits. But Propositions B and C have implications that extend even beyond the waterfront.

    Defeating 8 Washington at the ballot box will send a message to City Hall and the development community that San Franciscans have had enough of a scaldingly hot real estate market, that they expect our elected officials to wake up, realize the recession is over and start demanding that new development – on the waterfront, and elsewhere – meet our City’s needs, rather than the other way around. And, by the same token, if the voters approve this project, our elected officials and the development community will surely receive an equally strong message that today’s San Francisco is a radically changed place, with the lessons of earlier generations long forgotten and its people ready and even eager to sign on to downtown’s dreams.

    I know how I’ll be voting: No on B and C.

    Rafael Mandelman is a member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees. He is also a partner at Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.