April 5, 2012

Art Agnos’ Open Opposition To The Development Of 8 Washington

8 Washinton Revised Rendering: North

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos came out swinging today against the proposed and Planning approved 8 Washington Street development. From Agnos' open forum letter published in the Chronicle:

City leaders have been lamenting recently the continuing flight of families from San Francisco. Chronicle stories state a family earning $111,000 a year could afford only 23 percent of the houses for sale primarily in the city’s southern neighborhoods. Each year it gets worse. The response is civic hand wringing.
8 Washington, a project that combines public and private land, is a perfect place to begin a new policy by insisting that any residential development involving public land include middle-class family housing on the site. The current proposal is for a vertical gated community of luxury condos selling at $2.5 million to $7.5 million each. To get the best views, the developer is asking for the first height increase on northern waterfront in more than 40 years, from the current limit of 84 feet to 136 feet, as well as doubling the allowed bulk to make the project as wide as a football field.
The developer claims the project will meet the city requirement to fund 27 units of affordable housing — but somewhere else in the city, not on this partially city-owned lot. This deal also requires the city to continue to turn a blind eye to the loss of more than 100 rental apartments that have been converted to hotel use as corporate and vacation rentals. Those units are part of the Golden Gateway apartment complex, which is providing 80 percent of the 8 Washington site as a partner in the project. The result is that we accept an ongoing loss of affordable housing in order to aid in the development of luxury housing on the waterfront.

The alternative plan supported by Agnos and others, "a mix of hotels, restaurants, retail and a Downtown Transit & Bicycle Center on the Port of San Francisco’s remaining seawall lots, including 8 Washington."

With respect to "the loss of more than 100 rental apartments that have been converted to hotel use as corporate and vacation rentals," as we first reported earlier this week, an amendment to San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 41 sponsored by Supervisor Chiu would "extend the restrictions against converting apartment units to short-term occupancies to tenants or guests of corporate entities that rent such apartments."

Planning Approves 8 Washington Street Development As Proposed [SocketSite]
We tore down the Embarcadero Freeway for this? [SFGate]
Airbnb: A Potential Civil And Criminal Penalty Hit List? [SocketSite]

First Published: April 5, 2012 11:15 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

I think my dogs opinion on this development is about as meaningful as Art Agnos's.
AKA who cares what Art thinks?
What has he done lately but give suits to Matt Gonzalez and safe house to Ross mirkarimi.
Next!

Posted by: Joe at April 5, 2012 11:42 AM

Thanks for reminding us all of the naysaying that got us to where we are now, Art.

Posted by: Mole Man at April 5, 2012 11:49 AM

I just don't understand why families or low income folks would be entitled to some of the most desirable real estate in the city. Sure, they need a place to live. But does it have to be waterfront?

Posted by: kg at April 5, 2012 11:57 AM

Perhaps it is something in the water here in SF, but people (typically public and ex-public employees) can't get out the market's way. Stop trying to rig it, the market wins eventually.

Posted by: oa at April 5, 2012 11:57 AM

Yes, let's mandate that all residents of SF deserve the right to purchase an "affordable" premium condo with a bay view in a prime location across from the Ferry building.

Want to make SF more livable for families with children? Ok, let's start with the public school system.

Art Agnos, focusing on a project that, due to its location and the market, will obviously be high-end luxury condos is a waste of your time.

Coming up with ideas to improve public schools, reduce homeless camping in the city parks, etc. is where you should spend your efforts.

Posted by: sfresident at April 5, 2012 12:04 PM

I don't know why anybody would want to live near the waterfront- just walk down Embarcadero @ Howard and take a big whiff of the rotting sewage underground.

Posted by: sf at April 5, 2012 12:08 PM

Who knew Agnos was still alive?

Posted by: Snark17 at April 5, 2012 12:43 PM

If we put as much energy into crime, homelessness, the public school system, and cleaning up the streets as we do delaying and killing progress in this town we might actually see some families returning to SF. Until then...expect families to continue to flee to safer and cleaner pastures.

Posted by: gellan at April 5, 2012 12:43 PM

re: sf resident's post - I totally agree

As a potential flier from the city after growing up and living here for 36 years, my flight consideration completely revolves around the public school options for my eldest kid who will be kindergarten age next September. That would be the only reason we'd leave.

Posted by: DCR at April 5, 2012 12:45 PM

Maybe instead of mandating a requirement to build low income housing, they could instead reduce the price of the units themselves. The way it is now, wealthy people pay for poor people's housing, but middle people can't afford the wealthy housing nor qualify for the poor people housing.

Posted by: RobBob at April 5, 2012 12:47 PM

I'm glad that I'm not the only one pissed about Art's bias... Maybe I'm missing something, but how would using the land for a hotel benefit San Franciscans? People need to take their heads out of their asses. Build the damn thing... move on.

Posted by: Rob at April 5, 2012 12:47 PM

I don't know why anybody would want to live near the waterfront- just walk down Embarcadero @ Howard and take a big whiff of the rotting sewage underground.

True. It's the unintended consequence of the lo-flo trend. Yeah, they got all our new buildings to pass whatever LEED grade required but all we have to show for it is extremely dense sewage downstream! Function should come before dogma.

Posted by: lol at April 5, 2012 12:48 PM

Don't want to go to far playing the devil's advocate here, but I don't believe his substantive objection is based on the assumption that "families or low income folks [are] entitled to some of the most desirable real estate in the city", but rather that the developer is attempting to:
1.) leverage publicly-owned land into a private project
2.) trying to get a height and bulk variance in order to build more lucrative units with view premiums and finally,
3.) trying to NOT build the required middle-class family housing near the site.
It's the combination of these factors that makes this deal irritating, not any one of them in and of itself.

If the developer gave up trying to scarf the public land and get the variance, I'd agree with all the comments up thread that Agnos' objections are a reach. But when a developer wants more from The City than what the current zoning and policies allow for, then they open themselves up to The City asking for more in return.

It's not a matter of "delaying and killing progress", the developer is a business and this is a business deal we're discussing.

I'd also say that when a project is proposed and in front of the relevant commission, it's too late to try to impose new policies such as requiring that "any residential development involving public land include middle-class family housing on the site." If the policy at the time of the proposal was that the developer could pay a fee in lieu of the lower-cost units, then those rules should stand. But of course, the developer, not The City, is proposing to make a special exception to the rules.

Riddle me this: why shouldn't the city ask for something in return?

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at April 5, 2012 1:05 PM

The 8 Washington project is very appropriate for its location.

Having such a mid-rise residential building on the west side of The Embarcadero will bring more night time utilization of the neighborhood, with more shops, markets, and restaurants to follow.

The opinion of Art Agnos should be without merit.

I also can't afford to live there, and do not feel entitled too either.

Posted by: Jackson at April 5, 2012 1:12 PM

Add 1000 middle income and family sized apartments to Mission Rock.

Posted by: Invented at April 5, 2012 1:21 PM

The only way to make housing less expensive is to build more of it. Period.

In the long run, everything else is just a waste of time and money. Subsidies and quotas do nothing but create economic friction at taxpayer expense while breaking society into cohorts and then pitting them against each other. Of course, the professional bureaucrats love this stuff - it's what keeps them in business.

Want to make SF affordable? Build a dozen 50-story apartment or condo towers in Mission Bay. Wrap Golden Gate Park with 20-30 story towers like Central Park in NYC. Do that and watch what happens to home prices and rents.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at April 5, 2012 1:42 PM

For once I do agree with Brahma.

A way to make middle class housing on public property: If the city owns this land, then this means they could perfectly build a residential building themselves and market it at cost. The buyer would be free to sell the place but at the condition the seller would pay the city for the free land.

Net result: a middle class family would get into the market. When they sell the dwelling would fall into the normal supply. It would be a minimal disruption to the normal market, have no long lasting effects and allow middle class to stay in SF at no cost to the tax payer.

Posted by: lol at April 5, 2012 1:45 PM

When I said "at no cost to the taxpayer" this is not exactly true as the City could perfectly have gotten some income from this land. But at least 100 years from now the land would still be public property.

What's going on with sale of public land is similar to a broke farmer who sells 100 acres to compensate for a bad crop. He's not helping his future but he solves a short term pickle.

Posted by: lol at April 5, 2012 1:50 PM

"Want to make SF affordable? ... Wrap Golden Gate Park with 20-30 story towers like Central Park in NYC. Do that and watch what happens to home prices and rents."

Yes, because Manhattan is known for being so affordable. What point are you trying to make, again?

Posted by: James at April 5, 2012 1:52 PM

Solid logic, James. And Hong Kong is even more expensive than Manhattan, ergo, more residential units = more expensive. Is that what you're suggesting? That by building more, housing will become more expensive, like NYC? By extension of your notion, should we start tearing down buildings to make housing cheaper?
What point are you trying to make, again?

My point: increase the city's housing stock MATERIALLY, by 20 or 30% and watch prices and rents fall dramatically. Replacing 8 units with 12 units here and there does nothing.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at April 5, 2012 2:19 PM

Is everyone ignoring the massive transfer taxes and the property taxes collected from this project.

Posted by: rickrocket at April 5, 2012 2:27 PM

From The New York Times fourteen days ago, Goodbye Malaria, Hello Condos:

IT can seem hard to believe, but there was a time when people didn’t value Central Park for its views.
In the late 1800s, after the park was created, most buildings were still no more than five stories high…
That was before skyscrapers began shooting up around the park, giving rise to the notion of “park views.”
Today, those two words are worth untold millions in the world of New York real estate. Apartments overlooking the park can command prices of as much as $88 million, for the full-floor penthouse at 15 Central Park West, and the developer Gary Barnett is betting he can sell the two-floor penthouse at 157 West 57th Street, the crown jewel of his One57 project, for $115 million.

Interesting, isn't it? Supply of homes increased dramatically, and prices rose dramatically. What happened is exactly what you learned in the third week of econ 101, ceteris paribus can't be assumed, so the law of supply and demand isn't violated.

If we were to bet whether or not increasing the housing supply MATERIALLY, by 20 or 30%, would cause housing prices and rents to "fall dramatically" in either the short or medium term in the REAL WORLD of SF Real Estate, I'd take the side of that bet opposite Legacy Dude. Because (in the REAL WORLD) 20 or 30% more people from all over would rush in to take advantage of the increased supply while the people who are being priced out now would be able to stay.

One of the reasons that I keep reading socketsite is to see what it's going to take to saturate the market in local luxury condos.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at April 5, 2012 2:42 PM

The twin pillars of our affordability issue are Prop 13 and Rent Control. Railing against luxury condos doesn't help. If he really cares about middle class affordability, Agnos should use his experience and knowledge to help mitigate Prop 13 somehow and to begin the phase-out of rent control.

Posted by: jarvisgone at April 5, 2012 2:45 PM

Btw, I should say that I also think that the 8 Washington project is appropriate for its location.

The fact that Art Agnos is making these points really is neither here nor there. They'd have equal validity, or not, if a random homeless person during public comment period was making them. But Art Agnos was Mayor when the decision to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway, so that gave The Chronicle an incentive to publish his op-ed.

Even if we all agree that "the only way to make housing less expensive is to build more of it," it does not follow that we should allow every developer that comes along and wants to build luxury condos on partially publicly-owned land, with a variance from established height and bulk rules, should be allowed to do so with impunity. The fact that this project is on the waterfront makes it more important that they conform to the same ground rules as everybody else.

If San Francisco Waterfront Partners wanted to build this project without the partially city-owned lot and within the rules at the time the project was proposed, I'd say more power to them. But they want more.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at April 5, 2012 3:06 PM

the point I'm making is that the analogy to NYC does not support the conclusion that more housing results in lower prices; in fact it would seem to support the opposite. Saturating the market with luxury pieds-a-terre will not draw out the secret millionaires currently hiding out in the Inner Sunset, thus releasing their homes to the middle class; it will pull from a global luxury market that is largely uninvolved with local residents and their housing needs. "Build more housing" must be qualified with "what kind?"

Posted by: James at April 5, 2012 3:17 PM

Brahma, the island of Manhattan is 23 square miles and home to 1.6 million people. It's also where many large corporations are headquartered, along with the finance industry. The average Manhattanite is a 20- or 30-something MBA making half a mil a year. Families were pushed out of Manhattan long ago.

SF is 49 square miles and home to less than 1 million people. Our job base is smaller, and the average SFer is a tattooed hipster who grew up in Marin, makes $85K/year, and is waiting for their tech start-up to get bought by Google before it runs out of cash.

If luxury condos attract limitless global wealth, why did it take 6 years for ORH to sell out? Why did Millennium go rental? Why didn't ORH build the second tower immediately? Why aren't condos popping up on all the empty lots in Soma now? What's with all the short sales at the St. Regis and Ritz? I'm looking for some proof of your theory in the REAL WORLD. Because it sounds like you're insinuating that building 20 more towers would make prices go up.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at April 5, 2012 3:33 PM

James: I think you might be confused on how markets work. While I'm sure developers would love to have an unlimited supply of buyers for 'luxury' condos, it doesn't work that way. As more and more are built, prices come down. It's Econ 101.

Posted by: R at April 5, 2012 3:37 PM

Families are leaving the City because of the crummy schools. Not because they can't get a city-subsidized 3 bedroom home downtown?!

I wonder how much the anti-development lobby is paying Art Agnos?

Posted by: developer at April 5, 2012 3:40 PM

The developer in fact tried to build a 84' conforming building. The Northeast Waterfront design study which the Planning Department undertook, with scores of public meetings over 17 months, resulted in the stepped design, whereby the part of the project along the Embarcadero is 48 feet and the part up against the 230 foot Gateway Vista apartments is 136 feet. The developer is not trying to do anything but what the public and the Planning Department told them to do. And yes, that failed politician is a paid lobbyist these days.

[Editor's Note: With respect to the 84’ foot buildings: 8 Washington: The City's Plan Which Nobody Seems To Love and in response to the Northeast Waterfront study: 8 Washington Street Project Proposal (And Renderings) Revised.]

Posted by: Jim at April 5, 2012 4:01 PM

@Brahma IR: All three lots are publicly owned, one by Ports and two by the successor to the Redevelopment Agency. There has been no requirement to build BMR housing at development sites for a decade.

Posted by: Rocco at April 5, 2012 5:03 PM

Art and all the progressives that came after him had their chance to make the City a better place, since they more or less controlled the place. I just ask my friends if they think the City is better or worse than 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago...the answer is almost always the same...less than worse!

Posted by: Better or Worse at April 5, 2012 5:32 PM

It's amazing to hear the back and forth even here on a dev blog... I can only imagine what the locker rooms and conference calls are like. SF is far too democratic and has become stagnated and fallen behind because of it.

This is such a tiny issue with no direct negative impact on anyone or anything... and in my opinion, regardless of the salary level of the individuals that choose to fill these structures, this will do a great deal to help bring SFers to the Embarcadero to spend time and money... as well as enjoy the views of the apparently disgusting, sewage filled bay.

Posted by: Rob at April 5, 2012 5:46 PM

I was trying to say explicitly that prices would not come down to the level where the family earning north of $111,000 a year could afford to own a condo and keep living here if the future additions to supply are largely luxury condos.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at April 5, 2012 5:48 PM

the real issue is the sports club being torn down.....

Posted by: wrath at April 5, 2012 5:59 PM

Interesting that this washed-up politico is seeking new-found gravitas (and apparently found it on Socketsite) as a result of permitting Ross Mirkarimi to sleep on his sofa. Who cares what Agnos thinks? Not me. The only lasting contribution I recall he made to SF was "Camp Agnos".

Posted by: Archtype1 at April 5, 2012 7:34 PM

I actually think that the public schools are a draw for most parents: I know they were for us. We got into a Mandarin immersion school and couldn't be happier. Our daughter is speaking more Mandarin than my buddy who put his daughter in CAIS and we are saving $25k/yr.

I think there are still some misinformed people who are holding onto ideas from the 80's that think SF schools are underperforming, but the opposite is true: San Francisco has the best performing urban school district in the state, beating out San Jose and San Diego even. And it outperforms most suburban school districts. If you have the money for Piedmont or Palo Alto, you can of course guarantee a great school but most suburban school districts in the Bay Area just aren't that great.

Where did you get into DCR? We got Glen Park on our first round (our assignment school) but got immersion the second round. Most people who stick it out end up in a school that they are satisfied with. The whole assignment process is complicated, perhaps overly so, but the School District is in a real bind with the requirement to desegregate the schools and no ability to consider race. I am not sure how it could be better.

I have said before that I am glad that The City is building more housing in general and specifically here. I can't really see what Art Agnos' beef is and he is a guy I usually agree with. But I am pretty progressive generally and part ways with the usual TND "progressive" crowd on development. I think that they are actually a bunch of hypocrites: they claim to be opposed to development to help the poor, but all they are really doing is exacerbating a housing shorting and driving up prices even more. This helps their property values and gives them other perks, like uncrowded waterfront space. I don't object to them openly lobbying for their own self-interest, but they shouldn't pretend that they are doing it for the environment or to help poor people or anything like that because they are actually hurting the environment and hurting both middle class and poor people.

Most families with kids are not willing to live in 1000 sq ft in The Susnet, which is all a middle-class family can really afford to buy. Especially since San Bruno is so close. But as the era of cheap oil draws to an end, we should be planning for the future urban renaissance, which has already started.

I think we need to build more market rate affordable housing, which would be tiny 2/2 and 3/2 apartments in good but not great locations. I am willing to bet that this will fill up with families. I like the idea of having this along GG Park and in places like Bernal and Noe.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at April 6, 2012 9:17 AM

"The twin pillars of our affordability issue are Prop 13 and Rent Control."

Well, no condo built after 1979 is subject to rent control....so as many thousands of new units get built rent control will be less material.

Posted by: anon at April 6, 2012 12:27 PM

RE: Posted by: Archtype1 at April 5, 2012 7:34 PM

We didn't get any of our 8 picks for public schools in SF and were assigned Cobb which doesn't work on many levels. We live in the Sunset. While I understand that with some determination you can get luckier on the 2nd & 3rd rounds (which we intend to do) it's still a process in which we have no control. However in most suburban jurisdictions you simply go to the school assigned to the catchment area in which your house is located and is often close enough to get the kids there by bike or walk. If we go it'll be painful for us to leave so we are weighing up options...

Posted by: DCR at April 6, 2012 12:55 PM

Yeah if SFUSD just assigned everyone to the nearest school, they would be even more segregated than they are now. And I am pretty sure the District is still under a Consent decree to try and desegregate the schools.

I have carefully looked at the assignment results from 2011 and have decided that what a very large number of parents want is a high performing school where their children's race are in the majority. This makes the Board's job incredibly difficult.

I can see why you are unhappy with Cobb, but living in The Sunset with all its good schools, you should be able to get something better and closer. What is your assignment school? Did you put it down as one of your choices? It is a bad idea to not put down your assignment school unless you are 100% convinced you would never go there and have another plan instead (like move out of town or go private).

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at April 7, 2012 11:21 AM

so what if only 1/4 of people making $110K can afford an apt. over 1/4 of rent controlled apt owners already have apts, and lower rent anyway.

Posted by: Ray at April 17, 2012 1:03 PM

NoeValleyJim said: "what a very large number of parents want is a high performing school where their children's race are in the majority. This makes the Board's job incredibly difficult."

There's the rub - a school board and a legislature (state and fed) that thinks it should strongarm parents into what the socialist politicians think is best for them and an electorate that clearly does not speak for the parents and their kids' interests. If you insist on having elected school boards (in itself a terrible idea but a natural reaction to interference over decades from outsiders), at least have their electorate representative of the parents who have to suffer their decisions. Yes, that means votes for non-citizen parents; yes, that means freedom to secede from a school district that performs badly; yes, that means school board members who represent the best educators, not their union hacks; yes, that means giving the superintendent the power to actually do his job running the schools.

Posted by: PublicSkoolMom at May 10, 2012 11:24 AM

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