Why the May 15 vote on 8 Washington matters


Brad Benson, the special projects director at the Port of San Francisco, took me on a tour of the 8 Washington project and gave me his pitch for why the city ought to allow a developer to put the most expensive condos in city history, housing for the top half of the top half of the top 1 percent, on a prime piece of waterfront land. He showed me the fence around the existing Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club (it's not terribly attractive) and I watched a powerpoint presentation on the glories of the project.

His argument: The Port has no money, and no easy way to get any money, to do the roughly $2 billion worth of maintenance needed on the its piers and property. Residential development on a few seawall lots is part of the Port's master plan and part of a waterfront plan that won approval of the Port Commission and the (mostly corrupt) Board of Supervisors in the 1990s.

The Port will eventually realize roughly $100 million from the deal. The city will get about $11 million for affordable housing. There will be new parks and open space, and a new, way fancier swimming pool and aquatic center. The tennis courts will be gone (Benson told me that tennis isn't the best use for that valuable land) but the club will shuttle tennis players to another facility South of Market.

Just an aside: This is often deried as a private club, and it is -- in the sense that you have to join and pay membership dues. It's open to anyone who wants to pay, much as the YMCA is. It's a bit more expensive than the Y, way more expensive than my gym (which has no tennis courts and a tiny two-lane lap pool) and a good bit less expensive than the high-end places lilke the Bay Club. It's not a recreation facility for poor people, by any means. It has relatively middle-class users, particularly the folks who live in rent-controlled apartments at Golden Gateway, who get a discount. It's not clear at this point if the club fees will go up when the fancy new version is unveiled, but I'd be shocked if the swim club attached to the priciest new housing in the city was affordable to the rest of us.

Now then: Back to the project. If you look at all the pretty architectural drawings and see all the amenities, like the new park and the wider sidewalks and the street-level retail and restaurants (ya think those will be a bit out of the normal person's price range? Ya think?), it all looks lovely. 

Money for the port. Money for the city's general fund. Affordable housing money. What's not to like?

Well, I told Benson, who used to work for Tom Ammiano is someone I've been friendly with for years, the same thing that I've told other city officials, including a few supervisors:

If this is the kind of housing we're building, if this is the population our housing policy caters to, if this is what San Francisco is going to become, then nothing else really matters.There will be no progressive movement in this city. There will be no crazy, wild culture. To quote Calvin Welch: "Who lives here, votes here." And the richer the city gets, the more conservative it gets.

And, frankly, the more boring it gets.

We're seeing that already. The 20,000 new (rich) residents of District 6 voted for Jane Kim, and they may continue to vote for her as long as she supports things like the Twitter tax break, but they wouldn't have voted for Chris Daly. And when Kim is termed out, the next D6 supervisor is likely to be  a lot more conservative. The wild SOMA culture is going to vanish. How many of these condo-dwellers will go to, or even tolerate, the How Weird Street Fair? How many will want to put an end to the Folsom Street Fair? 

Yeah, the rich who move into this city support same-sex marriage and like bicycle lanes on the streets. But they aren't going to push higher taxes. They aren't going to support politicians who have at their core a belief that narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor is the most important issue facing this city and this country today. They'd probably vote for Scott Wiener over David Campos for state Assembly. They'll blent the city's edge, make it just like so many other places in the world.

The city's own policy makes clear that 60 percent of all new housing should be below market-rate. Every new project for the rich that we approve skews the balance a little further away from housing for the majority of people who work in the city. Teachers, firefighters, hotel workers -- they can't afford this stuff. So they move further out of town, taking longer commutes, using more energy ... it's all wrong.

That's why the May 15 vote on this project matters. Not because most of us will ever swim or play tennis at the Golden Gateway club one way or the other. Not just because the new buildings are too tall. Not because 134 units of uber-rich condos at 8 Washington will gentrify the Mission. It matters because, day by day, wek by week, condo approval by condo approval, we're losing San Francisco.














Good thing BART got built over SFBG objections, huh?

Oh, and by the way, the most boring, self-absorbed people I know are all low-rent artists with a crushing sense of entitlement. Funny that, huh?

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

we live in a world class city. there are tons of cool bars, restaurants, parks, museums, concerts, freaks, sports, artists, shops, etc etc.
if you ask me, only boring people get bored.

Posted by DanO on May. 15, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

Its the same kind of people who look down their nose at you if you dont eat organic, or dont shop at Rainbow, or eat meat, or think burning man is the ultimate in community.
Remember in high school when everyone was tallied into little groups based on popularity? Stereo-typically the jocks and cheerleaders were on the top and the outcasts - people like Tim were on the bottom.
In SF its reversed.. The outcasts run the show, or at least try too.
Is this not clear in Tim's embarrassing display of class envy and prejudice? Clearly never growing up is a common theme here.
Marcos, Erik Brooks, lillipublican, the old dude from Noe valley..

Posted by Greg2 on May. 15, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

Also: Glenparkdaddy. 10 bucks says hes the kind of daddy with a sling in his living room instead of a toddlers playpen.

Posted by Greg2 on May. 15, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

Doesn't take much for you guys to start fag bashing, does it?

What difference does it make? Maybe I have both.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on May. 15, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

I'm a gay and when I saw your moniker I have to admit that "sling in the living room" was my first thought too.

Posted by Troll II on May. 15, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

For the record, I'm also a fag. Just calling things as I see them, "daddy"

Posted by Greg2 on May. 15, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

the old gay guy in Noe Valley also appears to have given up. Marcos is in a world of his own, and the original Greg also has left the building.

I think Tim can hear his echo in here.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

"Clearly never growing up is a common theme here."

You're here and that's why you're here. It's like a playground for you and the other bullies.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

People who never want to grow up. Want to be a fify year old punk rocker? Well, you can be, but only here.

Quite why that's a good thing is another matter, of course.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

Why is it a bad thing? Or is marriage, mortgage, kids, golf course retirement, and death the only real way to live?

Posted by Guest on May. 20, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

A very shallow and superficial post.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

For a very shallow and superficial editorial.

"Rich people are boring"

Posted by Greg2 on May. 15, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

I have lived in San Francisco for ten years but just came across your writing a few days ago.

Your posts that I have read have been a pleasure to read. They cover complex topics with many nuances. You provide insights into the various perspectives. And then finish with taking a position on the topic that is openly and frankly personal.

In the case of this post on the project known as 8 Washington - which you covered in depth in your article of March 6 - I would like to add this observation: The Port says it wants two billion dollars to 'save' the piers. But instead of sourcing investors for projects on the existing piers, they find investors to build brand new ballparks, restaurants and condos. Isn't this saying that the existing piers really aren't worth saving? Or even more curious, are the piers only worth something if two billion dollars is invested in them?

I look forward to your next post and becoming a regular reader. As to whether I become reader of the comments penned by your devoted fan club, that remains to be seen.

Posted by Theo on May. 15, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

Supporting: Chu; Cohen; Elsbernd; Farrell; Kim; Mar; Olague; Wiener
Opposed: Avalos; Campos; Chiu

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 12:40 am

I am glad to see something built here. It should have been high rise middle income housing, but THD made sure that didn't happen. They drove the cost up and the height down to the point that only rich people will live here.

You have no one to blame for that but yourself Tim. Stop aligning yourself with the NIMBY crowd and help us get some middle income housing built by the private sector.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on May. 16, 2012 @ 9:06 am

because others will lose their "Bay view".

But I do support high-rises. Plenty of space in the south-east of the city for them.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 9:58 am

Of course you can, look at a city like Hong Kong. THD wouldn't like it, but screw them, they are a bunch of yuppie assholes anyway.

High rises need to be near good transit and this is a short walk from Embarcadero BART and a moderate walk from Trans Bay Terminal.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on May. 20, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

I see the vote by the Board of Supervisors as a vote for the 'hotelization' of the Embarcadero.

Increasingly, high-priced condos are acquired by owners who will use them to be present in the city for just a few events per year or they are sub-let for several weeks to several months at a time.

The latter is so that over-seas employees of tech companies, bank etc can be provided with accommodation while they have the opportunity of spending six months at HQ in order to learn the ropes.

These visitors don't need schools or libraries, commit few crimes, are too young to get sick and do pay taxes - and don't vote. Very nice people to have around really.

My estimate is - if this trend continues - that within ten years virtually all the residential property, within a half mile of the Bay, from Aquatic Park around the Embarcadero down to the Baseball Park will be 'hotelized'.

So my questions are:

1. Do you feel the idea that the Embarcadero will be flanked by corporate suites is a valid prediction for San Francisco in ten years time?

2. Is this the way you feel the city should be going? Is this part of your vision for San Francisco?

Posted by Theo on May. 16, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

similar, in that they are often owned by out-of-towners, foreigners, executives and those with other homes. And as you note, they are the perfect residents as they spend a lot and generate a lot of tax revenues, while putting almost no demand on city services.

Indeed, if the whole city were like that, we could afford the most lavish services on the planet, only there would be nobody who would need them.

That's why a balance is appropriate, and that is what many cities do. Sacrifice a "soulless" part of downtown to wealthy interlopers and use their money to fund vital services.

Just don't use them to prop up bankrupt municipal pension schemes.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

"Do you feel the idea that the Embarcadero will be flanked by corporate suites is a valid prediction for San Francisco in ten years time?"

I can see that happening at the rate things are going. Mainly the wealthy 1% from the U.S. and internationals would reside in them either on a temporary or permanent-home basis.

This city is becoming another Marin. One Marin is too much. This city is also becoming very unfriendly, snotty, stuck up, with occasional exceptions which are refreshing. And people here used to complain about Manhattan and Los Ángeles in that regard! The words "excuse me," no longer exists in most people's vocabulary it seems.

Tim, what happened with this vote by the way? (I assume the Board voted for it, at the rate things are going).

Thank you.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

They more than pay their way.

And the 99% have the other 99% of the city.

Seems fair to me.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

"My estimate is - if this trend continues - that within ten years virtually all the residential property, within a half mile of the Bay, from Aquatic Park around the Embarcadero down to the Baseball Park will be 'hotelized'."

Everything within a half mile of the bay? Really? You don't think that is a little over the top? That is a lot of inventory.

I don't think that most companies would even invest in 8 Washington for the young execs that you describe. Maybe for their C-Level people but what junior person would complain about any nice building downtown, as long as their was maid service.

Posted by Troll on May. 16, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

I think that is a vast vast overstatement of interest in San Francisco.
Other than that, if they pay taxes, who cares where they spend their time.

What are the other options? Mandate how much time one must spend in their condo?

Posted by Greg2 on May. 16, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

residency enforcement department, issuing citations if a resident doesn't spend enough time here.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

You would think the Editor of SFBG could do a better job making his case, but really the speculation about new residents shifting the political landscape away from the 'progressives' is just speculation, conjecture, and meaningless.

An honest appraisal of 8 Washington would have mentioned that affordable housing advocate Tim Colen and his organization support the project. He made the point at a planning commission meeting that the cost of building affordable housing on site or as part of 8 Washington is prohibitive, and that having the developer pay into the city's affordable housing fund will create more affordable housing than if 8 Washington isn't built. I imagine this could be one of the reasons that progressives like Eric Mar and Jane Kim voted to approve it.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

than see a few welthy and successful folks live in SF.

That strieks me as bizarre, and biting off your nose to spite your face.

BTW, Daly totally got this, and sanctioned a number of SOMA developments to get the setasides.

But with Tim, it;s not practical or about reality - he's on an ideological mission from god.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

I agree with Tim. Look at new York, expensive as Fuck and almost 0 culture left.

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2012 @ 5:56 pm