Manhattanization forgotten, Transbay Tower moves without the trains


Times in San Francisco have changed since the battles in the ‘80s against increased high-rise development and the “Manhattanization of San Francisco,” which peaked in 1986 with the passage of Prop. M placing limits on the rapid development pushed by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein and her downtown allies.

Now, in 2012, the tallest building on the West Coast -- Transbay Tower, the first in a series of new high-rises envisioned for downtown -- gathered its final approvals with only scattered opposition (such as Quentin Kopp, the former judge and legislator, who derides the project as nothing but a “real estate scheme” involving lucrative publicly owned land being turned over private developers).

Whether we were all too distracted by a year of political scandals real and contrived, or whether it was the project proponents’ savvy marriage of the real estate deal to the high-speed rail project and Caltrain extension that environmentalists want to see become a reality, this behemoth building is now all but a done-deal.

Yet despite the slick and compelling interactive videos and project descriptions on the Transit Joint Powers Authority website, San Franciscans aren’t really on the verge of realizing this utopian urban vision of 21st century high-speed rail burrowing its way into SoMa over the next few years.

“The projection of that is less clear now. The delays with the high-speed rail have created some challenges for us,” said Adam Alberti of the high-powered communications firm Singer Associates, which represents the TJPA. Contributing to the delay and uncertainty is the indefinitely delayed plan for the electricification of Caltrain tracks that would be a precursor to bringing the trains downtown.

Now, even though the current Transbay Terminal rebuild (scheduled for completion in 2017) includes a “train box,” funding hasn’t yet been identified for the tunneling to get the trains there. That depends on federal allocations and the New Starts program administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“Those things take awhile. It’s a long process,” Alberti said.

But the 930-foot Transbay Tower has its approvals, with the property scheduled to be formally transferred to the Hines/Boston Properties building team in the next couple months, followed in the coming years by other parcels in the area for more high-rises.

“The other parcels will be metered out and put out when we get maximum return for taxpayers,” Alberti said. “The transit center itself is on schedule and on budget, so it’s moving forward.”

That’s great, even if it’s just going to be a glorified bus station for the foreseeable future as the high-rises that are being built as part of this trade-off for trains help inch San Francisco a bit closer to Manhattanization


your rent will be lower? Is that it?

How many votes do you think you'd get if such an idea were put to the voters.

The simple fact is that most SF housing will always be built by the private sector. If you try and legislate them into building elsewhere, that means less supply which means higher prices.

Affordable housing can only be achieved by either turning Sf into Detroit, as you appear to favor, or by building high densities of housing. And since the government doesn't have the money to do that, that means you have to give the developers a decent deal so they will come here and build, rather than elsewhere.

Posted by anon on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

Hermetically sealed? I hate it when people make comments without even basic fact checking. One Rincon has operable windows and balconies. Practically every modern residential highrise has at the very least operable windows. Only old officer-tower-to-condo conversions don't have windows, but they are super rare to begin with.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

I've turned down so many offers to visit friends who live in 1 Rincon that I really have nobody to blame but myself for that faux pas.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

Some people prefer to live in high rises. Partly for the views. Then there is more light and less noise. And partly because there is no yard work and relatively little maintenance to do. Safety can be better too, as there is usually a doorman and/or a security system, sprinkler systems and so on.

High-rise living may not work for families, but then they probably want to be in the suburbs anyway. But for singles, couples without children or retired folks, it can really work well, whether the windows open or not.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 8:29 am

Okay, you don't like One Rincon, fine. Also, it's fine if you never visit your friend. (Though, perhaps you should ponder why your friends moved to a building you would refuse to visit--maybe, they were trying to send you a hint?)

Also, you don't like the new Transbay Tower, well, that is okay, too.

However, One Rincon exists and the Transbay Tower is under construction. Avert your eyes as you walk by, and move on with your life.

Posted by Chris on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:04 am

How could a building that is designed to EXACTLY look like a HEPA filter be considered and elegant tower?? I have yet met ONE SINGLE PERSON who thought that the hepa filter is pretty or attractive. And to add insult to injury, it blocks the view of the bridge upon approach to the bridge. Not unlike how the city has approved so many hideously plain ugly hi-rises downtown, that you can no longer see Transamerica coming in from the south on 101. They could not have just left a tiny little window between the bldgs so our city icon is visible to people coming in from the airport or other places south? It is a messed up thing that they have done and now it will probably (hopefully) take another big shaker to possibly if ever take one of those ugly towers out, or we are stuck with them forever! BOO on YOU SF GOVT!

Posted by bluepearlgirl on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:14 am

including the two people I know who live there!

You say the Pyramid is an icon but SF'ers hated it when first built. In 20 years time, you'll see 1 Rincom as an icon and be complaining because some 2,000 foot high tower has blocked your view of it.

The city forever changes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:58 am

So the city should block dozens of towers from being built--which could house thousands of people--all so that you can spot a different tower while driving on a particular road.

When reasons like these are used to block housing construction, it's no wonder there's a housing crisis.

Posted by Alai on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 2:11 am

A desolate scar that houses multiple hundreds of people, which will soon double with the construction of tower 2.
Of course, these people arent like you - helping gentrify a latino neighborhood - so they dont matter.

Posted by Erick Brooks on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 8:24 am

Mission district TIC is considered OK. But buying a brand new condo that displaces nobody and adds to the city's tax revenues does not.

It's a topsy turvy world being a Progressive in this city.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 9:05 am

Let's reduce everything to extremes: give developers everything they want or you are in favor of a desolate scar. Relentlessly reissuing missives of corporate propaganda is not discourse.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

The more interesting question is how much high-rise we allow outside of downtown, in order to create more affordable housing.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 8:59 am

As marcos stated, relentlessly reissuing corporate propaganda is not discourse.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 10:24 am

that is the area that is the most expensive per square foot and where the transit systems are designed to deliver the most people.

It's really not that complicated.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

the corporate axiom that the only consideration in urban planning should be what makes the most money.

I don't. Most San Franciscans don't. What is it with the Randian troll infestation? The SFBG has always had this vermin problem, but it seems to be worse lately.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

would not be a growing forest of high-rises downtown. with more to come - check this out:

Read it and weep, Luddite.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

It's just that the administration doesn't. Ed Lee and his cronies serve the developers. And spare me the tripe about Ed Lee winning the election. We both know how the game is played.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

Or is that somehow magically different?

Elections are "tripe" when you lose but "valid" when you win?

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:12 am

excuse on Gregs part.

When they true believer wins the people have seen through the bullshit, when he loses it was all so unfair.

There is always a mitigating reason for the loss, and a victory is a concrete of their greatness.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

Progressive wins an election: A great victory for the forces of justice and equality over the powers of the nasty capitalists. The people have spoken decisively.

Progressive loses an election: There was widespread voter fraud OR the other side out-spent us 100 to 1 OR the voice of the oppressed was drowned out by a biased media OR . . .

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

And yet progressives ARE massively outspent, and there IS voter fraud, and the corporate media IS biased against progressives.

Those are facts, and ignoring those facts and pretending everything is fair, just shows your utter contempt for democracy. People like matlock who want to pretend all is equivalent, are just parading their false consistency as a high moral virtue.

And yes, when the rules are rigged, and the people who they're rigged against still win in spite of the odds, it IS a victory for justice. By contrast, when the people who they're rigged in favor of win, it is nothing to be proud of. The two are not equivalent no matter how many times you repeat it.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:56 am

the left, because of activists and non-profits and the lack of a Republican party here and because of the unions and the large number of public sector workers, plus all the activists etc.

Whatever you think of our voting system, the way it works is clear to see, and you have to work with the way it is, and not the way you'd like it to be.

If the Dem's can win nationwide in 2012 (and 2008), how can the system be that biased against them?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:56 am

"And yet, Greg, those on the right see SF is rigged in favor of the left, because of activists and non-profits and the lack of a Republican party here and because of the unions and the large number of public sector workers, plus all the activists etc."

You mentioned activists twice. They're not *that* powerful. Certainly not as powerful as the corporations and the media. The lack of the Republican party doesn't mean much. The real power -big business and big money -finds Democrats who are perfectly willing to do their bidding. As a result, the duopoly still holds all the reins.

"Whatever you think of our voting system, the way it works is clear to see, and you have to work with the way it is, and not the way you'd like it to be."

Actually it's pretty opaque, and no, you shouldn't just accept things the way they are. If it's wrong, than we should fight to change it.

"If the Dem's can win nationwide in 2012 (and 2008), how can the system be that biased against them? "

Who said anything about Dems? I was talking about progressives, which is completely different. But now that you mentioned it, the system is biased against Dems through things like voter suppression, small state advantage in the Senate, gerrymandering in the House (Dems got more votes, fewer seats), outright voter purges, electronic voting counted on machines owned by Republican operatives, etc. The Dems can still win at times because for all their disadvantages, they have one serious advantage -more people! But I guess that's the right-winger's idea of "balance." One side has more people, but the other side has more institutional advantages. Have to put checks and balances on democracy, you know.

But for all that talk, true progressive voices are completely shut out. You made a subtle shift from talking about the left to talking about Democrats, but that's not what I was talking about. The Democratic Party is slightly less reactionary that the Republican Party, which is why it's not the preferred party of the Right. But it's still a right wing party. And it's still part of the corporatocracy. The economic system, the reins of power, are never at stake in American elections. And that is by design.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

But isn't the more important point whether or not they have the appropriate amount of power for a group that does not enjoy broad support?

I could say the same thing about the extreme right i.e. Nazi's, Fascists, Neo-Fascists, White Power etc. I'm sure they also complain about the strangehold that the two main parties have on everything. But in the end, they don't achieve success because not enough people support them.

Why is it any different for socialists, communists, maoists etc. than it is for Nazi's, Fascists and the KKK?

Nixon's silent majority have no truck with either extreme.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

You'll find that several polls show that very large chunks of the American public are in favor of socialism -not even the mushy term progressivism -but outright socialism... even prefer it over capitalism. Far from being a tiny minority, like you insinuate, about a third favor socialism over capitalism, and among 18-30 year olds, it's a majority.

These findings are consistent in polls conducted by Pew, Gallup, and even Rasmussen (yikes!).

Contrary to what you think, progressive -even socialist -ideas enjoy very broad support, but have virtually ZERO representation in our government.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 9:17 pm

As a 20 year resident and a 6 generation sfer, i totally agree with Greg. And a lot of others do too. They just do not get the press that the conservatives do. This town has ALWAYS BEEN PROGRESSIVE... until now. What makes you think being progressive is so bad considering that it is what made this city the place you conservatives wanted to move to. Now that you are here, you want the mentality of the locals to change so that you all can make money off of our little progressive utopia by the bay. It sucks! I am watching all of the hard work of generations to keep corporate power from hi-jacking our town to line their pockets slowly be forced out... by the big corp. money. You may end up getting our city, but you will lose its soul in the process and then it is just another pretty tourist stop. Not the amazing creative bohemia it has been up until now. You would have not liked the beat era and would have HATED the flower children periods of SF... but this is what makes sf. So take away all of our abilities to live in this city without dollars being the only thing in focus and you have yourself one empty souled city. Then you all can fight amongst each other about who gets to profit off of all of your neighbors. That should be fun!

Posted by bluepearlgirl on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:25 am

That which made San Francisco attractive, culture, politics and topography must all be conquered as a lesson to all future comers that this will never happen again in America.

The counterrevolution to 2000 is being played as an end game, successfully.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:40 am

can it provides pockets of sanctuary for those who cannot flourish here financially.

The city is not a charity.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:53 am

Without businesses and wealthier folks creating prospoerity and paying taxes, there would be no here here. Your "creative bohemia" is a byproduct of those who create enoiugh wealth in this city to allow some to lead a life of bohemia creating bad art and not washing.

Do you seriously expect taxpayers to pay mroe tax just so some "bohemian" who cannot pay his or her own way can stay here because they think it is "cool"?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:52 am

The 1%-ers just concentrate it.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

The market makes that decision by paying, say, a brain surgeon more than a burger flipper. Is the market wrong?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

It's funny how the people who wield the power to make the rules seem so much more "attractive" to wealth than others. Perhaps it's not their attractiveness at all, but rather the naked excersize of raw power to screw others out of their hard-earned wealth.

Yes, the market is wrong when it pays Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman more than all the brain surgeons in California combined. In fact, the market is wrong when it pays a random do-nothing paper pushing investment banker more than a janitor. At least the latter performs an important positive service. We all want clean toilets. The investment banker... well we'd probably be better off if all the investment bankers disappeared from this earth tomorrow.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 06, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

city or state borrow money by floating bonds? Those deals are all put together by investment bankers.

So are you really arguing that the city and state should live within their emans, and not borrow at all? If so, then I'd agree with that. When do we start?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 7:37 am

Money = resources. It makes money to build there because building there is cost-effective, because it uses existing infrastructure more effectively.

Building downtown makes sense because it gets more use out of existing infrastructure, and is cost-effective. The idea that city decisions should be made on aesthetics without regard to costs is utterly irresponsible and unsustainable.

Posted by Alai on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 2:25 am

The problem with the SFBG is that I could write a program to reproduce an average issue and Anonymous' postings share that predictability. Tell us something that we don't already know or can it. The magic of the marketplace has already condemned your ideology to the dustbin of history.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 10:36 am

that statement is a tad rich.

Altho I notice you post more on weekdays when, of course, your public sector job allows you unlimited time to goof off here.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

Imbecile. I am not employed by the public sector or in anything remotely related to politics or governance. That is why I get to tell the truth. Idiot.

Now keep the libertarian right wing theory to yourself, we've heard it, don't agree with it, don't anticipate conversion and would like space to discuss politics from the liberal/progressive side.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:03 pm
Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:14 am

Transbay would be a major event in any city and has already effected more than the building site - the district surrounding Transbay is pretty much full of new and approved towers, the bus ramps are done and Caltrain "electrification" will be the agency's best chance for continued survival. I think the downtown "Manhattanization" debate is resolved: it's close to built out and we're still not NYC, thank god. Now a MUNI Metro under Geary with mid rise towers above could change the residential culture of the Richmond District into a more urban one - maybe that's the "Manhattanization" we should be debating.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:02 am

ever to become more affordable in SF. So ultra-high buildings for commercial use downtown, coupled with mid-high rise residential towers along major transit routes and highways seems logical.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:23 am

Echo chamber of booster sock puppets.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:41 am

Perhaps because you cannot and wish to deflect?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 11:00 am

The second Rincon Tower is under way, in 5 years time the landscape of SF will be very different than it is today, SF as you know it will be no more,

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 11:21 am

the forest of construction cranes in SF and how much the skyline is changing with gleaming new towers.

Redmond is going to hate this city in a few years.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 11:33 am

Nobody liked the Pyramid when it was first built, and now it's a San Francisco icon.

I suspect this building will be seen in the same way, whether or not a high speed train ever arrives.

Posted by Big Al on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 9:32 am

A plain rectangle. Brilliant. Why didn't anyone think of it before?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

People of San Francisco love their city to death, they want to keep it frozen in time, the way it always has been. I got news for you. Cities are living breathing machines with many parts, each part has something for everyone. Art, Culture, Music, Business, Fashion, Education and etc. Cities are just tall buildings.

Oh yes the bay area is a mess, NYC has great subway and ferry system, London has the same thing, they are connected. Here not so much.

San Jose is the city to watch at the moment, it is building up its business, arts will follow, culture will follow give or take about 50 years.

Posted by Garrett on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

dynamic businesses, new cultural initiatives, a real sense of purpose and, of course, the lowest crime rate of any major US city.

Moreover, San Francisco gets a lot of indirect benefits from the commercial success of the south bay, and our economy might be quite grim without the knock-on effects of that.

So yes, by the second half of this century, San Francisco will be little more than an "olde worlde" theme park to the real 21st century Bay Area powerhouse city - San Jose.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

It's so obvious what they will say and how they will always have such a conservative stance that is so different from the average person on the street. One of them defended One Rincon? Jesus, gimme a break with that one buddy, there is nothing nice that can be said of that hideous, disgusting eyesore. These people only read the Bay Guardian to leave asinine arguments of their indefensible, immoral, and cowardly acts that they commit upon the rest of us to enrich their own fat leathery wallets. Conway, Weiner and all the evil lying anonymous commenters that defend the actions of soulless developers deserve to be run out of town. But they operate in the shadows, they smile in public yet plot in private. Historically, the population of this city has always fought developers from the beginning and the pendulum swings one way for awhile, but it always swings back, not soon enough for me. Bring it on

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 2:31 am

Mostly, perhaps, because it is not surrounded by other high rises, and so confers a lofty dignity to it's form.

Also, it acts as a beacon to those crossing the Bay Bridge. It's light twinkle and seduce out-of-towners with the specter of excitement and forbidden pleasures.

It's also useful for orientation. Because it can be seen from so many places, it acts like a landmark, aiding navigation and a sense of place.

The Pyramid was hated too when first constructed, but now it is like an old pair of slippers, fitting the city like a glove. So too, the Transbay tower willl prove to be a beguiling anchor for the city by the bay. We are fortunate to live in times of such progress and excitement. Never look back.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:38 am