555 Washington At 200 Feet
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has upheld the appeal of the San Francisco Planning Department’s certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the 555 Washington project voting 10 to 0 to reverse said certification.
True to our headline and tone in March (“EIR Approved But…“), the Board focused not only on concerns related to height, wind, and shadows but also objections with respect to land use and the inclusion Redwood Park in the project’s floor area-ratio (FAR) calculations (an approach which Planning staffers had recommended against but were overruled by Planning’s higher-ups).
A Hail Mary request from the developer to certify the EIR on the condition that the development adhere to current height restrictions of 200 feet was deemed too little, too late (and as far as we’re concerned, too damn short for the design) and failed to address the underlying concern that the existing EIR doesn’t meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines for the project as proposed.
All eyes and ears are now back on developer Andrew Segal who intimated that upholding the EIR’s appeal would kill the project (an action which was characterized by at least one Supervisor as “holding a gun to our heads”).
Will Segal throw in the towel or reenter the ring for another round? We’ll keep you posted.
555 Washington: Round Four On Hold Pending EIR Appeal [SocketSite]
555 Washington Round Two Vote Redux: EIR Approved But… [SocketSite]
555 Washington EIR Appeal: An Expected Response (From Both Sides) [SocketSite]
Let’s Get Ready To Rumble Over 555 Washington [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by MoneyMan

    Way to go Sups. Kill ways to bring in more revenue to the city, so you can put more parcel taxes and transfer fees on the ballot, so rent-controlled tenants can force homeowners to pay a disproportionate share of the city’s taxes.

  2. Posted by Board of Stupes

    Pathetic. You’d think the economy was booming and the city wasn’t broke.

  3. Posted by Mr. Jones

    Hmmm…maybe they rejected it because they wanted that space to build more homeless housing. Isn’t the the SF playbook?

  4. Posted by louis

    I am not surprised by this decision but the order of magnitude is surprising.
    This is the bluntest rejection of a project that i can recall. This was TEN TO NOTHING — which means it included a virtually all of the moderate supervisors. Which means there were some objections of substance not just ideology.
    Looks like moving the goal posts to calculate a very high FAR, and being a proxy for park shadow ban to come soon, were the real issues.
    I have heard that the real owner of this “deal” is transamerica / aegon or whoever their successors are. and the “developer” is somewhat of a buffer…….
    …..and the developer advertising that an objection would kill the project is probably a pretty good invitation to go ahead and object, and not a deterrent at all.
    they could have gotten 200 feet approved a long time ago, and added something to their existing asset value.
    This will not be a one-project trend.

  5. Posted by Kazee

    On SFGTV now (Channel 26 Comcast)

  6. Posted by Danny J

    The provincialism of the politics in this city is mind-boggling. These so called leaders are nothing more than villagers with a backward mindset. Oh well, the collective voice of the San Francisco citizenry deserves what it votes for!

  7. Posted by sharkjack

    Why not just cut to the chase and amend the Planning code to read “build nothing taller than Aaron Peskin.”

  8. Posted by flaneur

    How about: “build nothing taller than the allowed height”?

  9. Posted by Copernicus

    As predicted, (I’ll try to find the original thread), this deal will never be built. Even if the go ahead was given by The City (fat chance), this is just a fee generator for Segal/Lowe etc. The confluence of Market conditions (eg costs and time versus sale pricing) and conservative ownership will never have this building make financial sense. That said, I would love to see it built.

  10. Posted by ex SF-er

    a pity.
    I liked this building.
    maybe if they added Bay windows?

  11. Posted by Gil

    Hopefully this is the start of a trend and SF will stop rubber stamping all these highrise projects.
    The next battleground could be proposals for several condo towers near YB Gardens. The shadowing of the park must not be allowed to happen. These projects need to be scaled back bigtime.
    Waiting in the wings is a potential new shadow initiative which, in the end, may be the only practical way to end the highrise madness that has swapmed the city in recent years. I’m not sure we can trust the Planning Commission on thesee critical issues. Just look how they were shot down on 555 Montgomery project.

  12. Posted by Tweety

    @ ex SF-er – LOL! “Darn” bay windows! (Is that better, Socketsite? I didn’t use that dirty “f” word.)

  13. Posted by SFRE

    Nothing stands in the way of progress in SF. Not even nice looking, useful buildings.

  14. Posted by anon

    Ok, so Socketsite readers are ok with zoning changes being made if height or parking is going to be increased, but not ok with zoning changes if height or parking is going to be decreased. Good to know.
    How about we just not allow changes to zoning plans, period? A 200 foot zoning allowance means you can build 200 feet, a 1:2 parking allowance means you can build 1:2 parking, an 85 foot building allowance means that you can build to 85 feet? No changes up or down after zoning is set through neighborhood plans? Nah, that’s too easy.

  15. Posted by Joe

    Rubber stamping? Give me a flipping break. This is the least rubber stamp town in America.
    Take a look at the photo archives at the SFPL- with the exception of DT and SOMA probably something like 85% of SF looks exactly as it did 60 years ago.
    We’re a provincial town. We’ve instituted district election so we had supes which were not bought by DT – and what we have is supes bought by Telegraph hill and the non profit mafia.
    And Sue Hestor! how much money has she made off denying SF housing opportunities ? The only thing inevitable is change people. Eventually all the Luddites in this town will be gone and people wont remember why a 400 foot building next to and 857 foot building caused insane amounts of hand wringing.

  16. Posted by BobN

    In these times of budget cuts and reduced incomes, perhaps the Planning Department could join forces with the Board of Supervisors and open a side business, a design firm that would, in theory, at least produce projects they would then approve.
    I’m only sort of kidding.

  17. Posted by Dan

    Gil: Which high rise condos that were built would you have stopped, using a stronger shade ordinance?
    Which highrises near Yerba Buena Gardens do you want to stop? The SFMOMA expansion? The Mexican Museum building?

  18. Posted by ex SF-er

    How about we just not allow changes to zoning plans, period? A 200 foot zoning allowance means you can build 200 feet, a 1:2 parking allowance means you can build 1:2 parking, an 85 foot building allowance means that you can build to 85 feet? No changes up or down after zoning is set through neighborhood plans? Nah, that’s too easy.
    I actually like this idea, as long as we pair this with increased property rights for owners so long as they adhere to the zoning.
    For instance, if I want to expand my home but stay within reasonable restrictions. (in other words, I don’t have to add bay windows if I don’t want to, and can change my duplex into a SFH).
    or if I have 40 ft tall property in a place zoned for up to 80 feet, then I should be able to build up to 79ft 11.9 inches without much resistance.
    the problem in the end is that SF planning and zoning is arbitrary, complex and fraught with nightmares.
    it makes an artificial shortage of real estate. This, of course, is by design to keep RE prices elevated to help entrenched interests happy…those who already own.

  19. Posted by Gil

    “Gil: Which high rise condos that were built would you have stopped, using a stronger shade ordinance?
    Which highrises near Yerba Buena Gardens do you want to stop? The SFMOMA expansion? The Mexican Museum building?”
    It’s not just highrises that shade parks that shouldn’t be allowed – just to clairfy my position. Other projects ruin views and excessively strain public services.
    ORH should never have been built. It’s a monstrosity on the skyline. When I drive friends to Twin Peaks they always ask – why in the world was “ugly building” allowed to be built!?
    The Millenium tower is questionnable IMO too to name another non-shade related tower.
    TRH has been scrapped, but that is small consolation. The damage is done.
    Both the SFMOMA expansion and particularly the Mexican Museum Tower violate the shade ordinance. The tower needs to be stopped – no shadowing period on YBG for commercial projects.
    As much as I like SFMOMA, that project needs to be carefully looked at. Commercial highrises should never be allowed to violate the shade ordinance, while solely cultural/public projects like the SFMOMA expansion can be granted some wiggle room – but not be allowed to blatantly violate the ordinance.

  20. Posted by CameronRex

    Wow…Gil, why do you even live in a major city? To be as militantly anti-‘any building of any size’ as you are but live in a major city doesn’t seem logical. I don’t know the exact percentages but I’d guess over 75% of SF is low-rise development. There should be allowances made for bulk and height in city cores. Even wonderful old cities like Paris and London have areas dedicated for larger buildings.
    If we were talking of building high-rises next to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach or the Presidio I’d be right there with you in protest but to be so opposed to additional towers – next to/in the middle of existing towers – in the city center? Whats the big deal? That should be expected in a city of SF’s size.
    YBL is one of my favorite spots in the city. One more tower on the skyline will make little difference and just add more variety to the view. Some people like that. Asking that a small percentage of the city be able to LOOK and FEEL like a city doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
    The other 75% of the city is practically shadow free….except for all those darned shade trees in GGP….curse them!

  21. Posted by Gil

    Paris and London keep their old cores. More intense development is allowed in outer areas.
    Paris is huge and so is London. You can’t make the comparison to SF only. You need make it to the Bay Area.
    Oakland a few years back rezoned much of its downtown area to allow 80 story and taller buildings. IMO that is one Bay Area location where intense development should occur. It’s central to everything in the Bay Area. San Jose downtown also should be targeted for mega highrises.
    But SF is the “old” city center and should not see little if any more highrise development.
    Hopefully this decision is a big step in that direction.

  22. Posted by g

    That’s just not true Gil. For example, the Gherkin was only constructed a few years ago right in central London.

  23. Posted by joe

    Is this the same guy who argued that the logical terminus for the LA to SF HSR was Oakland because it was central to everything?
    Give me a break. There is no cooperation among cities in the bay area. Highrise development should be concentrated where the infrastructure is in place to support the growth – this place is SF. Gil must be an economist with this whole no new growth in SF at all.
    Cities grow or they die.

  24. Posted by montananewsom

    Gil- your opposition to towers has nothing to do with shade- as you just put, it’s because they are “ugly,” and that is your opinion.
    “ORH should never have been built. It’s a monstrosity on the skyline. When I drive friends to Twin Peaks they always ask – why in the world was “ugly building” allowed to be built!? ”
    And how does that relate to shading parks?
    So your opinion should be foisted upon the entire city because you have a personal dislike? ORH does not shade any parks. Millennium does not shade any parks. Guess what? Trees shade parks. We should not allow trees in parks, right?
    I personally love ORH and the developing skyscraper clusters. I have lived here for 9 years, am a productive citizen, so why do your opinions have more validity than mine?
    Fact: They don’t. That is pompous, self righteous reasoning.

  25. Posted by Kazee

    Why does it always seem the same mentality that is against growth and development in core areas of a city is also against urban sprawl.
    Those hypocrites need to make a choice.
    One can not have it both ways.

  26. Posted by montananewsom

    What’s more, the NIMBYs were also against the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pyramid, both symbols of the city. These same NIMBYs also want to preserve the exact structures that they were against in the first place- case in point, Rincon Hill blocking views of the Bay Bridge towers, condos in Pacific Heights blocking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The simple mindedness of these creatures is stunning. George Carlin had some great quotes about NIMBYs and their snobbish stupidity.
    All I can say is when the quake hits and their mansions are destroyed, we can rebuild as tall as we like!

  27. Posted by MH

    Unbelievable. In a economy like this a company comes forward with a program and a forward looking design…and what does SF do? Kill it. Stuck in the 1970s.

  28. Posted by JimBobJones

    The people the Board of Supervisors is repsonding to are far worse than NIMBYs; they are BANANAs — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.
    This is why we preserve every single earthquake cottage, even though they shouldn’t be around. And why we still have outdated crappy libraries because someone claims the bookshelves are somehow historic (if so, just re-use them in the newer modern library!). Sad times. The financial district is exactly the place for a building like this.

  29. Posted by Mike Sullivan

    The only surprise to me was the 10-0 margin reported in the Chron (and socketsite). Hard to believe that supes like Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu would vote against this project – density downtown, supported by Neighborhood Parks Council and housing groups like the Housing Action Coalition. The Examiner reported the vote as 6-4, with Sophie Maxwell absent – that makes a lot more sense.

  30. Posted by SocketSite

    The only surprise to me was the 10-0 margin reported in the Chron (and socketsite)…The Examiner reported the vote as 6-4, with Sophie Maxwell absent – that makes a lot more sense.
    First of all, considering we published the results prior to the Chronicle, let’s make that “the results as reported on SocketSite (and the Chron).”
    That being said, the 10-0 tally is correct with respect to the voting on the motion to reverse the certification of the EIR. The 6-4 vote tally was with respect to the motion related to the preparation of findings to reverse the certification.
    Supervisor Maxwell was absent from both votes.

  31. Posted by Change is good

    Gil,
    Where do you suggest new housing should be built? Who are you to determine what sf should be like (eg, old city center)?
    I’m just bewildered that the Sups killed a plan where a developer will put out money to build a highrise that’ll bring jobs, housing, and a better neighborhood at a time when most developers are walking away from projects. And they’re worried about shadows, wind, and birds. Give me f*&^*n break.

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