On June 3rd, San Franciscans will decide the fate of Proposition B, the “Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act.” This radical initiative would require any future development on SF Port land that exceeds current heights limits to go to the voters for approval, throwing out decades of public planning on our waterfront.
The SFHAC strongly opposes Prop B for numerous reasons. Passage of this misguided measure would result in the effective downzoning of large amounts of derelict publicly-owned industrial and maritime land. Prop B directly threatens the production of up to 3,960 currently planned new homes, including up to 590 permanently affordable, not to mention the thousands more that the waterfront could accommodate. Prop B goes directly against SFHAC’s goal of building 5,000 new homes annually and the Mayor’s goal of creating 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes by 2020. Finally, it could easily set a precedent for similar initiatives in other areas of the City.
Prop B is “ballot-box planning” at its worst and promises enormous unintended consequences. It would replace our current, imperfect public planning process, though one that includes extensive community meetings, public hearings and City agency review, with a political process that reduces complex projects to simplistic slogans. By going directly to the voters, projects could circumvent our review process and could ignore recommendations made by the Planning Department, Historic Commission and numerous other City agencies. These projects would not be required to negotiate the extensive mitigations with the City that make developments provide the public benefits we currently expect of them.
Sea Wall Lot 337 (Lot A) today
Sea Wall Lot 337 with the Giant’s Mission Rock project
These issues were discussed last week at a standing-room-only debate hosted by ULI San Francisco. On the panel were SFHAC’s Executive Director Tim Colen as well as former Mayor Art Agnos, Tom Lockard with the new crowd-sourcing firm Fundrise, Michael Theriault with the San Francisco Building Construction Trades Council and John Rizzo with the Sierra Club. Mr. Agnos, a strong supporter of Prop B, said the public must have the final say in how public waterfront land is used. He referenced the City’s existing waterfront plan, which was created to ensure San Francisco residents have the ability to see the water. Mr. Rizzo spoke of the importance of protecting “special public land.”
Mr. Theriault, a lifelong resident of the City, believes Prop B is a shrewd political tactic aimed at a couple of City supervisorial districts and would be very harmful for jobs and housing. Mr. Lockard discussed how debates around direct democracy and “the right to vote” are as old as our republic and specifically mentioned California Prop 218 as an example of the very harmful consequences asking voters to make decisions on complex financial issues. The questions from the audience were quite skeptical of how Prop B would help the City either address its housing affordability problems or promote good planning.
(From left to right) Art Agos, Tom Lockard, John King, Michael Theriault, Tim Colen and John Rizzo
The SF Port’s waterfront is currently underutilized land with crumbling infrastructure – they have $1.5 billion in unfunded infrastructure needs. The Port’s own economic analysis calculates that Prop B could result in $8.4 billion in “delayed, reduced or lost revenues to the Port Harbor Fund.”
In SFHAC’s experience, we have never heard of a major US city downzoning unused publicly-owned industrial land that could instead offer badly needed housing to thousands of residents. The harm caused by passage of Prop B would haunt us for decades.
The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions. View all posts by Housing Action Coalition
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