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Thursday, November 7, 2013

What we should do with the waterfront

Art Agnos, the former mayor and foe of both 8 Washington and the Warriors arena, floated out an idea today that I've been talking about for years. Why not stop selling off parts of the waterfront to raise money, and instead ask the voters to approve a bond act that would pay for repairing some crumbling piers, demolishing the rest of them -- and turn as much as possible of the Port's underused land into parks and open space?

It's an expensive proposition, but when you look at the long term -- say , the next 50 years --is it worthwhile for the city to have a world-class waterfront filled with public space (and prepared for sea-level rise)? Or is it better to take the short view, and lose public land now for quick cash?

At least we're starting to talk about it. And I can pretty much guarantee that  in the next year or two there will be a major campaign, and probably a ballot initiative, to lock down lower height limits on Port land, the Embarcadero, and the immediately adjoining areas. That would shoot down the Warriors arena, probably 75 Howard, and the Giants ambitious development plans for the parking lots near AT&T Park.

At the very least, we ought to have a serious waterfront planning process that sets some rules -- and then follow them. Right now, every project that's planned for that part of town violates existing zoning and height limits. Every single site has to be spot-zoned. Every single developer is getting some sort of a break from the city.

Supporters of 8 Washington, like Chuck Nevius,  like to say that the developer, Simon Snellgrove, went through a long, involved planning process and got all the necessary permits. But what he didn't do was follow the existing rules. He could have built a condo complex on that site that met current zoning rules; it would have been smaller, and he wouldn't have made as much money. But he would have avoided the ballot battle -- which, after all, started off as a referendum on the single-site height increase.

So let's talk firs about what we want to do with this part of the city city, and then offer developers a chance to fulfill that mission. And keep as much of it public as possible. That would actually be logical.

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