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Monday, September 30, 2013

The 8 Washington lies

I was walking around Glen Park on Saturday with my son, who is a volunteer on the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign, and we wandered into a laundromat where a friendly woman helped Michael hang a poster. "Is this the thing where they're going to build a park on the waterfront?" she asked.

No, actually, it's not, I told her. It's the thing where they're going to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history, housing for the one percent of the one percent, in part on public land, with a massive spot-zoning increase in the allowable height limit for the area. It's a terrible idea.

But it's also going to be a low-turnout election, and not a lot of voters are paying attention, so there's bound to be some confusion. And developer Simon Snellgrove and his partners are taking advantage of it, pouring a truly obscene amount of money into the November election -- and running an almost comically misleading campaign.

Check out this ad. Nowhere does the ad even mention condominiums, much less condos that would be priced in the multiples of millions of dollars. Nowhere does it discuss the actual issue on the ballot -- should the height limit on the waterfront be raised from 84 to 136 feet so that exceptionally rich people can buy $5 million condos and Snellgrove can clear about $400 million?

But that doesn't matter -- Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee like the project!

The ad talks about affordable housing. It's a joke. Snellgrove will put $11 million into the city's affordable housing fund. That might pay for 30 subsidized units for low-income people. There are more than 100 families evicted every month in San Francisco right now. And, again: The developer is going to make vast sums of money from this deal. I'm not making up the $400 million number; I get that from Sup. David Chiu, who is hardly a left-wing radical. There have been public hearings on this; the figures are no secret.

The ad talks about a "private club." Actually, that would be the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club, which is "private" the same way the YMCA, which I belong to, is private. You can pay a monthly fee to join. It's not like the Olympic Club, where you have to be voted in. A lot of the members are seniors who live at Golden Gateway. When Snellgrove is done, there will be a new PRIVATE club on the site, which you can pay a fee (no doubt much higher) to join.

But let's get to the bottom line here. This does nothing to solve the city's housing crisis. It's a way to bring more very rich people to the city. And it will pave the way -- literally -- for more intensive, highrise, PRIVATE development on the waterfront, which ought to be a public treasure.

Check out the numbers.  If this was such a public-spirited venture, would it take more than $800,000 in developer money to sell it to the public?


  1. C'mon, Tim! Aren't you supposed to practice journalism?

    1. So you're saying that Simon is gonna "clear" $400M for himself? Does that even make sense? Doesn't that sound more like gross sales? If so, how much does Simon "clear"? Wouldn't you agree Sup. Chiu has a stake in the outcome?

    2. According to public records, the No Wall campaign is basically funded by 2 plutocrats living 50 yards from the project site and Boston Properties, one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the US. You've not ever mentioned this curiosity once. Why do you not discuss it?

    3. As to the "30" units affordable housing: Wrong! According to MOH's metrics, it'll pay for 50-55 units of low-income housing. You're saying that building 134 fancy condos to obtain a 37% affordable rate is a worse outcome for the City than preserving a parking lot? Is any other private development paying that rate? If the project is turned down will someone else fund those units? MOH is functionally broke.

    4. The project, in addition to the design benefits to the waterfront, pays the City $140M (NPV). The parking lot pays the City about $100k annually. An economist might say that rejecting the project would be equivalent to SF's taxpayers subsidizing a small group of VERY privileged residents, no?

    4. We agree that there's a housing affordability crisis. Can you please explain how rejecting this project will improve this? Isn't that topsy turvy economics?

  2. 1. Those opposed to 8 Washington are not anti-development. We are just against a precedent-setting height increase for condos on the Waterfront. If one developer can ignore the height restrictions, they all can.

    2. No one wants to maintain the parking lot and ugly fence around the recreation facility. Our group had a plan to develop the parking lot into a bicycle center and hotel, with ground floor retail. But the Port had already gotten in bed with developer Simon Snellgrove. At the same time, the recreation center would have been remodeled with glass walls, etc. But the owner of the land, Tim Foo, has no incentive to change anything. He’ll make about $50 million if 8 Washington is built.

    3. It’s not rich against rich. It’s low and middle-income renters in the Gateway towers who will lose the most. When those towers were built, the tiny apartments were balanced with a recreation facility for the renters… it was part-and-parcel of the original redevelopment deal. If 8 Washington is built, Gateway residents will have no public space for recreation or meetings. But due to a quirk in zoning when the freeway was taken down, the land was zoned as housing, not recreation/open space, further complicating the issue.

    4. There is really no excuse for the developer to run such misleading TV ads. However, he is desparate, having spent over $50 million of the CA Teacher's Retirement Fund. More than 30 grass-roots community organizations have come out against 8 Washington. I believe the truth will win.

  3. I started out ambivalent regarding B & C that will be on this November's San Francisco ballot. However, after watching the video that the 8 Washington Project produced and the robocall I received inviting me to join a conference call about Ordinance B and adding more parks to SF, I've changed my mind. Their lies have made me care.

    The 8 Washington Project (aka Ordinance B) goes under the guise of "Open up the waterfront." However, the only public space will be the northern-most corner of the property. That space will house a cafe and a few other retail stores. There won't be much space left for a public park. One of their renderings shows a lot of green space in the center of the property. That will actually be a swim and fitness club with no grassy area.

    The project's proponents don't point out all of the open public space that already exists. There are three green park spaces that surround the property; the large park just off of Justin Herman Plaza (that includes a new children's park) and two parks just one block west of the property. Plus, there is the large public walkway on the east side of the Embarcadero with no stop lights or cross walks. In addition, there is the lovely waterfront promenade that was created when the piers were renovated. There are park benches and hanging potted plants along this promenade.

    Their video also states that it will add "needed" restaurants. I guess they don't consider La Mar, Coquette, Plant, The Waterfront, Slanted Door, One Market, Boulevard, the Americano and all of the other restaurants and bars in the Ferry Building and that surround the Embarcadero 4 area enough restaurants for people to choose from.

    Certainly a parking lot can be an eye sore. But it a necessity in this part of the city. Street parking is limited to an hour and you have to move your car to a new area once the hour is up or get a large sum on a parking ticket. Why not focus on getting the owners of the lot and the tennis and swim club to add a great deal of greenery/trees/shrubs around the land they occupy? This seems like a better option to me. Instead they are going to build two large and tall (they will higher than the freeway that ran above the same area) condominium buildings to "beautify" the area.

    If the proponents of Ordinance B did not take the sneaky, lie-filled approach to getting public approval for the fairly large height limit increase they received from SF Planning, then I may not have noticed. But I noticed.