On the waterfront - Page 2

Initiative would give voters a say on big waterfront projects that violate zoning standards

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Sup. David Campos (left) was the first to sign campaign manager Jon Golinger's initiative petition.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY TIM DAW

As for getting the necessary signatures, Golinger said he isn't worried, noting that almost two years ago, he and other activists collected twice that many signatures — referendums require 10 percent of those voting in the last mayor's race, but initiatives need only 5 percent — to challenge just the 8 Washington project.

Here, the stakes are much higher, spanning the entire seven-mile waterfront.

"We want the voters to have a say when a project goes beyond the rules that are in place," said Sup. David Campos, the first elected official to endorse the measure and the first person to sign Golinger's petition.

Campos also connected the campaign to the eviction crises and tenant organizing now underway, including the first in a series of Neighborhood Tenants Conventions taking place that day, culminating in a Feb. 8 event adopting a platform. "That struggle is part of this struggle," Campos said. "We have to make sure we're working collectively."

The official proponent of the initiative is Becky Evans, who has been working on issues related to San Francisco's waterfront for more than 40 years. "I remember walking along the waterfront with Herb Caen back in the '70s," she said of the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist for whom the promenade on the Embarcadero is now named.

Evans is a longtime Sierra Club member who also served on the city's first Commission on the Environment, and she believes the shoreline is a critical intersection between the city's natural and built environments, one where the citizens have an active interest.

"I think the 8 Washington process — including the petition gathering and the vote — awoke a bunch of people to making a difference in what happens to the city," Evans told us, calling the waterfront a defining feature of San Francisco. "For many people, our skyline is the bay, not the buildings."

 

BEYOND THE PLAN

The initiative has few overt critics at this point. Both city and Port officials refused to comment on the measure, citing a City Attorney's Office memo advising against such electioneering. "I'm incredibly limited as to what I can say," the Port's Brad Benson told us.

And none of the spokespeople for the affected development projects wanted to say much. "We're taking a wait and see attitude," PJ Johnston, a spokesperson for the Warriors Arena, said when he finally responded to several Guardian inquiries.

"Right now, we're trying to understand it," said Staci Slaughter, the senior vice president of communications for the San Francisco Giants, whose proposal for Pier 48 and Seawall Lot 337 includes 3.7 million square feet of residential, commercial, parking, and retail, including the new Anchor Steam Brewery.

That project is just launching its environmental studies, which was the subject of a public scoping meeting on Jan. 13. Slaughter did tell us that "right now, the majority of the site doesn't have an established height limit," a reference to the fact that most of the site is zoned for open space with no buildings allowed.

Diane Oshima, associate director of waterfront planning at the Port, told us that during the adoption of the WLUP, "We did not broach the subject of changing any height limits." But the plan itself says that was because tall buildings weren't appropriate for the waterfront.

"Maintain existing building height and bulk limitations and encourage building designs that step down to the shoreline," is the plan's first design objective. Others include "Improve views of the working waterfront from all perspectives" and "Remove certain piers between Pier 35 and China Basin to create Open Water Basins and to improve Bay views."