Nevius’ argument doesn’t fly

Why does C.W. Nevius hate this yellow-rumped warbler?
Will Elder, NPS

Here’s a line from the San Francisco Chronicle’s latest “hard-hitting” science news, penned by columnist C.W. Nevius:

“Birds have been flying around similar buildings for years, but apparently would suddenly lose their bearings and crash into this one.”

The building Nevius refers to, of course, is the proposed 555 Washington tower, the subject of mighty controversy which will go before the Board of Supervisors today, April 20.

The luxury condo tower would be erected beside the Transamerica Pyramid, and it’s drawn no shortage of criticism due to a variety of issues including, yes, the threat it poses to birds.

Nevius seems to be implying that anyone who would worry about the welfare of birds when there's a recession going on is just plain silly. But is a luxury condo tower that most people can't afford to live in really going to benefit the average San Franciscan who's reeling from the recession?

And what about the birds, anyway? While the danger to birds is just one issue critics have pointed to -- think increased traffic congestion, public parks darkened by shadows, spot-zoning that doubles the allowable height limit, etc. -- Nevius dismisses it as ridiculous without, apparently, so much as glancing at the facts.

So in case anyone cares, here's is a deeper explanation of the bird issue, derived from information (readily available via Google search) on the Golden Gate Audubon Society Web site. Since birds migrate at night, they can be thrown off course by tall, lighted structures. Scientists aren’t really sure why lit-up skyscrapers are so confusing to the delicate winged creatures, but they think it may have something to do with the fact that they use the stars as navigational cues.

“Once in among the lights, birds seem reluctant to fly out,” the Audubon Society informs us. “Sometimes they strike buildings or rooftop structures outright. Sometimes they continue flying in circles around the lighted buildings until they drop to the rooftop or the ground from exhaustion.”

So, the notion that birds have been flying around similar buildings for years without any problem is pretty much a myth. And the idea that they would lose their bearings seems to be backed by science -- not (gasp!) some wild tale crafted by hysterical anti-development lefties who hate progress.

Some of the roughly 250 different kinds of birds that migrate through the Bay Area are threatened species.

The Golden Gate Audubon Society sponsors a voluntary program called Lights Out for Birds (an apt or unfortunate title, depending on how you look at it), in which building owners, managers, and tenants work together to turn off unnecessary lighting between key migration dates.

Now, this isn’t to say that 555 Washington ought to be halted purely because some endangered birds might meet their demise slamming against the fancy new addition to downtown San Francisco (though this prospect doesn't exactly jive with they city's green image, does it?). Whether or not the building moves forward is the subject of a rigorous public debate that we can surely look forward to very soon. But we just wanted to set the record straight on the bird bit, lest you feel disoriented and confused by Nevius' reporting.

P.S. We emailed Nevius a little while ago for a comment. If he responds, we'll post it as an update.


Yes, you twit, what about the fucking JOBS????????????????????????

Posted by My God! on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

Jobs is a fascist issue. The correct concern is right livelihood, not just jobs. What if there were a proposal to create jobs by razing every home in your neighborhood, including yours?

Life is always more important than money. Jobs that destroy life, like this one, should not exist. The lives of birds are worth far more than any number of jobs.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 23, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

His point, also asked by many others, is 'Why are birds going to pick THIS building to fly into? I noticed that you didn't even try to answer it.

Also, can you please provide the details on the ominous shadows?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

OK, regarding the jobs (and hey, 'twit' is our line!): Yes, the project would create some temporary construction jobs and I know (personally) people in that industry who are hurting right now. The post doesn't say concerns about birds should outwiegh everything else -- it merely responds to Nevius' dismissal of a legitimate issue as fantasy.

Guest, I'm no scientist but based on what I have read, it would seem that birds would be more likely to fly into 555 Washington because as a residential tower it would be lighted at night, unlike buildings that are predominantly used during the day. Also, a woman who just testified at the hearing who did a film about the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill said birds are more likely to fly into reflective glass because they mistake it for the sky. As to the shadows, here's some background reading:

Posted by rebecca on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

But we just wanted to set the record straight on the bird bit, lest you feel disoriented and confused by Nevius' reporting.


I usually don't read anything that that piece of !@#$!#$ writes. I've learned not to. He just makes me angry, which is his intent. He writes "bait" articles for SFHate (a.k.a. SFGate) to draw the rabid right-wing trash---who could care less about the US Constitution---to the site to generate hits. Chris Daly once referred to the comment forum there as a "backwater cesspool." He got that right! Hate and willful-ignorance are in full force there and the "people" there are proud of their ignorance. SFHate/The Chronicle uses hate (anti-homeless, anti-bicyclists, you probably already know the bait topics they routinely's become predictable) to sell advertising and newspapers. That's about as low as one can get. The day The Chronicle and SFHate shut down can't come soon enough! What an useless waste of server space and paper. I've often asked why doesn't Nevius find a job closer to where he lives in the East Bay? Then he wouldn't have to come into a city that he obviously can't stand or even hates? Maybe no one with an operative brain wants him.

The yellow-rumped warbler is a very pretty little bird. And I wouldn't expect him to have any interest, care or concern for this bird.

Posted by Sam on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

housed only low or middle income folks. Wouldn't it then be green because it was; high density, close to public transit and close people's work?

We are supposed to build high density buildings because it's green, unless the wrong people move in it seems.

Also, I walk by the park behind the Transamerica building all the time, usually empty, maybe a few people there for lunch. Likely the majority of people spending time in the park if they build this thing, will be the people who live in the new building... but then we have a park just for the rich?

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

We really do need more affordable housing that the average person can afford. Otherwise, this city will become a city of only rich/wealthy people and all that often goes with that: "self-entitled, pretentious, snooty, smug, nose in the air snots, with condominium-sized baby strollers (on an already overpopulated planet....duh!), with their I'm better than you, you don't belong here" mentality and so forth. Gated communities, in other words and loads of security guards at every corner. Ugh.

West Hollywood is having a similar problem. Rent-controlled building are being demolished and "luxury condos" are replacing them. That means the new building is not under rent control and the super-wealthy don't care. More and more the middle class is being forced out of West Hollywood.

Posted by Sam on Apr. 20, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

We do, indeed, need more affordable housing. That's not what this project is about.

As to Glen's point: environmental impact reports look at what a project will do to the environment, and that information allows policy makers to weigh options. Possibly a building that will kill some birds but provide housing for hundreds of poor and middle-class people is a tradeoff the city wants to make. Maybe it isn't. (In my mind, a condo tower for rich people doesn't add anything that the city needs right now and should be rejected on that grounds, alone, but that's beside the point).

But the fact that the building will kill birds is relevant to that discussion, however one comes down on the outcome -- and an EIR that doesn't provide accurate and complete information prevents policymakers from properly and fulling considering all the alternatives. So we can argue all you want about whether the building is so important to the city that the environmental impacts should be disregarded, but the point of Rebecca's piece -- and for that matter, the point of the California Environmental Quality Act -- is that you don't ignore or dismiss the facts of the situation. And the facts are that this EIR on this building was utterly inadequate in addressing a lot of issues, including birds.

Posted by tim on Apr. 21, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

didn't seem to be the subject here.

Although that is interesting in that the building might shade redwoods that live in the shade out in the wilds, redwoods which are shading the entire park itself, with redwood shade.


It would seem that college educated urban experts that I hear so much about when this sort of thing comes up, they usually insist that a denser urban population is good.

I hear from these seemingly left wing expert types, that a denser urban planning does less harm to nature than sprawl, creates shorter commutes, increases transit use, etc... things that I suspect all the Guardian staff would nod in agreement with.


In this case these benefits are negatives, the benefit of being close to mass transit is burdening mass transit, the benefit of being within walking distance to jobs that pay the kind of money to afford living in that place is bad. Instead they will drive from someplace else to work here or burden public transit to get here.

I see a load of tax $$$ flying away too and the Guardian will still be here demanding more.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 21, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

To the author: you cite birds as a reason you opposed the residential tower at 555 Washington, but the overwhelming impression I got was that you opposed the people who would live there. They were guilty of being wealthy enough to buy a downtown condominium. Shame on them. Don't they know that the only acceptable housing is "affordable housing". Don't they know that their kind is not wanted for housing near jobs, public transit and the moribund North Beach commercial area? I mean, these people who can afford market-rate housing should stop trying to live here, right?

Below are three phrases the author used to describe the proposed building at 555 Washington that would have housed such unworthy individuals and families.

"luxury condo tower"

"is a luxury condo tower that most people can't afford to live in really going to benefit the average San Franciscan who's reeling from the recession?"

"the fancy new addition" to downtown San Francisco"

Why is it okay at the Bay Guardian to oppose housing because of the people who would inhabit it?

Posted by Guest icarus12 on Apr. 21, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

Is it okay to look at a project and say: Does the city need this? Will it provide something that San Francisco lacks? There is no shortage of housing for rich people in this city. The city's own general plan states that at least half of all new housing should be available at below-market rates.

So why are we building more housing for millionaires? Is that not a legitimate question?

Posted by Tim Redmond on Apr. 21, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

we like dense housing
we like housing close to transit
we like diversity
we like tax dollars
we like jobs
we dislike classism
we (supposedly) like economic growth

all trumped by

we don't like rich people

The cities general plan? Groan, those goofy plans written by true believers saying everyone should live like Cubans?

Do you think that some group is going to come in and build some low income housing there?

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 21, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

I just want to point out that urban development is best sustainable with healthy amounts, but that doesn't necessarily mean "higher" is "better". This bird issue is one of many problems that come with the centralized, massively-scaled job centers that are characteristic of virtually all North American cities. We have downtowns that are vacant of street life except for the rushing mobs of workers during the weekday, buildings that are sized way beyond human scale, congested streets, freeways, and transit... (but I guess the buildings look cool from far away, eh?)

Think of European cities, and their tendency to maintain a mixture of uses in the city center that keeps not only public life on the streets downtown, but also a comfortable feeling of a human-oriented scale (ever notice how much we depend on elevators?) and a better geographic distribution of jobs throughout the city.

Posted by Aaron Bialick on Apr. 23, 2010 @ 3:38 am

If it was designed to fit another economic group the building would be on its way to being built, so all the urban planning gossip here is dust in the wind.

All this urban planning non sense from the left here in the city about this building is just cover for their classism.

Complaining about the EIR on their part is just a way to get over, they just pick and choose their way through experts anyways to fit their class obsession.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 23, 2010 @ 7:23 am

Nevius is just a propagandist for the rich and conservatives, the worst elements of San Francisco. And he doesn't even live here. Unlike Sam, I always read his columns (though not necessarily all the way through), because it's good to know how people are being propagandized if you're going to have any chance of convincing them to the contrary. But Nevius has absolutely no credibility with any decent human being, so I wouldn't get too upset at anything he writes.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 23, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

Very good, if someone doesn't agree with you, there is some reason outside of the normal give and take of politics. If people don't agree with the "progressive" view on things they are stupid and duped. In this case people who are not class obsessed progressives are too stupid to get it.

Progressives really hate people when it comes right down to it.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 24, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

It has nothing to do with whether he agrees with me or vice versa. Nevius is supposedly a reporter, not a columnist. He writes for the local Bay Area section of the paper, not the Op Ed pages. If he were in the latter, I would just consider him another right wing jerk, like Debra Sanders (though she's "only" a "moderate" Republican, not as bad as most others). But when opinions are presented as facts, as in the case of Nevius, that becomes illegitimate propaganda.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 25, 2010 @ 10:14 am

Thanks for clearing that up. Thankfully we have progressives to remind us all how we are all stupid and duped, and the only real smart people are progressives.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 25, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

If tall buildings were such a problem, wouldn't we see a pile of dead birds on the downtown sidewalks each morning? Total red heron.....

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

No way to know whether you're a lying propagandist or just ignorant, but here are the facts:

1. Approximately one BILLION birds are killed every year in the U.S. alone by flying into buildings. Birds cannot distinguish reflections in glass from the objects being reflected, and birds fly toward natural images in the sky, like clouds. So when windows in tall buildings reflect clouds, birds fly into those windows and are killed.

2. The reason that you don't see a pile of dead birds beneath tall buildings is that scavengers like crows, gulls, and rats remove and/or eat dead birds very soon after they fall to the ground dead. Many birds, like songbirds, fly at night, and the scavengers get the dead ones before you get to work in the morning.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 25, 2010 @ 10:08 am

"So why are we building more housing for millionaires? Is that not a legitimate question?"

"We" are not building it, a private developer is. So no, it's not really a legitimate question since someone else is building it with his own money. Or do you think you should have personal approval over what people do with their own property? Obviously, this developer thinks there is a market for it, or it wouldn't be proposed. If nobody buys the units, the developer will be stuck with an empty building.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

Typical disgusting attitude of a rich person and/or right winger. Just let people do whatever they want, regardless of how it affects others and/or the environment. If you research how the rich got their money that they used to own their property, you'll find that most of it was illegitimate. Land ownership should be abolished anyway, it's ecologically and morally wrong. People should own what they live in to the extent that they live there, and the rest should be managed by the government for the benefit of everyone.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 25, 2010 @ 10:18 am

In the present system where is the commenter wrong, you can create your own reality all day long and try and convince people to live in it, but when it comes down to it, the "we" in this picture is the developer. The "we" in your Guardian world view is no one, no one is going to build lower class housing in this spot.

It's interesting that every place a state run economy has been tried people starve to death in droves, and yet we just need to try it a couple of more times and it will be got right.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 25, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

No one mentioned a state run economy. But socialist governments in western Europe, like those in Scandinavia, provide a much higher standard of living and much better safety net, than do everyone-for-himself governments like that of the U.S. Pure capitalism is pure hell for the vast majority.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 02, 2010 @ 12:05 am