The proposed Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act has qualified for the June ballot.
If passed, the ballot measure would prohibit increasing the existing maximum building heights for parcels along San Francisco’s waterfront unless explicitly approved by voters on a project-by-project basis.
The measure defines “waterfront” as public trust property that the State transferred to the City to be placed under the control of the San Francisco Port Commission, as well as any other property that the Port owns or controls as of January 1, 2014 or later acquires.
Examples of such waterfront property include the pier and Embarcadero parcel upon which the Warriors would like to build their proposed 125-foot-tall arena and condo/hotel complex rising up to 175 feet, and the Mission Bay parking lot upon which the Giants would like to build their proposed Mission Rock neighborhood rising up to 320 feet in height.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    Reactionary garbage. The ballot AND the people behind it.

  2. Posted by poor.ass.millionaire

    This is probably going to pass, huh? Tswhat my gut says.
    What are others opinions on if it will be approved in June?
    [Editor’s Note: Early polls suggest it will pass by a wide margin.]

  3. Posted by Luke

    What is stopping the port from simply transferring these parcels to a third party to avoid falling under the jurisdiction of this proposal? If the port suddenly decided to sell these parcels for $1 to the parks department, which in turn sold them to the developers, would they avoid this proposal completely?

  4. Posted by anon

    Because the ordinance defines the relevant property as that under control by the port commission as of 1/1/14. So unless the port commissioners jump in a time machine, go back to 2013, and effect a property transfer in 2013, your trick would not have any effect.

  5. Posted by anon

    Formidable,
    Let’s say 90% of the voting population oppose or support a project. Are they wrong? No they are not.
    The measure (which will inevitably pass) just ensures taxpaying residents have a say rather than allowing unelected money-hungry bureaucrats and developers to control the City’s fate.
    There is a war brewing for the future of the City…not just towers and development but new vs. old, affluent vs. non-affluent. It will be a very interesting year.

  6. Posted by Can't think of Cool Name

    If this passes in June, specifically in regards to SWL330 as I mentioned previously, its already zoned for 105/65. This is roughly a ten story building, which is what the hotel is that is currently planned for by the Warriors.
    It will be interesting to see if there is an uproar if a building(s) is/are built to the maximum of that zoning envelope on SWL330, since to some, those buildings I’m willing to bet, will still be a “wall on the waterfront.”

  7. Posted by moto mayhem

    “paid for by friends of making san francisco the new petrified forest”
    san francisco is not rome for god’s sakes.
    what a bunch of tools. this would not win at the ballot if the majority of san franciscans voted, but they won’t.

  8. Posted by Justin

    All we ever hear is about how nobody can afford to live in this city anymore and yet there are just way too many examples of this city doing it to itself. Just keep adding more restrictions on supply because that is clearly doing the job.
    This effectively kills any development in those areas. No developer would take the risk. Even if they were crazy enough, they would have to budget a ton of money for the PR campaign. The added cost only makes the resulting development more expensive.
    This only makes the affordability issue worse.

  9. Posted by Tobias

    Gee, an ordinance that requires developers to adhere to existing height limits? Too bad it had to come to this, but developers are destroying the City. It has to stop. This kills the Mission Rock project which is great. Hope it kills the arena – I think its 50/50 whether voters would approve it.
    Next step – an initiative banning developers from exceeding height limits throughout the City. I asked someone involved why they didn’t include this in the initiative. the reply – one step at a time.

  10. Posted by JWS

    The writing is on the wall. The problem of supply and housing affordability will have to get much worse before it gets better. There is a significant vocal part of this city that is viciously anti-development, anti-growth, anti-tech, anti-new, anti-progress, anti-everything. Never mind what we all know, and the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a fantastic article last week (yet another high profile article about how San Francisco keeps dooming itself, and how the current problems are due to building freezes), it doesn’t matter.
    As long as San Francisco keeps getting in its own way (and it will), we will continue to see the city become more and more unaffordable. I hate it, of course, but logic is completely lost on this issue.

  11. Posted by cfb

    Tobias, you’re a fool. The arena and giants devlopment would bring much needed housing, and a much wanted arena, two things SF is lacking. This ballot measure will make it hard or impossible for either to get built. How is that good for the city? And to do this citywide would be much worse, due to the extra constraint on housing construction. It will only make the city more expensive. Not to mention it would entice developers to build ugly, squat slabs and boxes, in order to maximize square footage and profit, resulting in the exact types of ugly “walls” that everyone hates and claims to be figting by supporting this measure. The only people these measures are truly helping are wealthy NIMBY types who arę trying to preserve their views and thus propertty values, and who selfishly want fęwer people using what the see as “their” streets (such as the sïngle couple who financed this measure as well as no on B&C, who hypocritically live themselves in a waterfront tower)

  12. Posted by K&L

    VOTE NO! my reasoning has nothing to do with height limits, the water front or anything else related to the Port.
    Can we let the public officials we voted for, make the decisions they are paid to make. The more involved the uninformed voter becomes the less productive and assinine the process becomes.
    How much is this ballot measuring going to cost the tax payers of San Francisco? Money better well spent in the cities affordable housing fund.
    SF is digging up my street this year to improve gas pipelines and put in a smart meter. Unbelievable, I never ok’d this. The nerve of the city. Let’s take to the polls!

  13. Posted by Invented

    Fab news for the East Bay!
    They should seize the NIMBYism here -and accelerate waterfront development — JLS, Emeryville, etc.

  14. Posted by Jake

    The expected number of votes for the next election is less than 160,000, based on the historical turnout for SF elections (namelink) in non-presidential and non-mayoral elections.
    The vote against 8 Washington was more than 80,000. So, this is very likely to pass, probably with at least 60% of the vote, as long as they can fund a campaign.

  15. Posted by Bob

    And once again, nobody is talking about the fact that this is almost completely funded by Richard and Barbara Stewart.
    Maybe people dont care that development policy is essentially being dictated by one NIMBY couple with very deep pockets.
    Expect further restrictive propositions to hit the ballot box when this passes. The ultra conservative rich in SF have found their power, and its buying what they want at the ballot box.

  16. Posted by cfb

    “The vote against 8 Washington was more than 80,000″
    So less than a tenth of the city’s population (who are clearly disproportionately old and wealthy, at that) got to pass a law that would restrict housing supply and contribute to increased prices for everyone…and it looks like they’ll be doing it again, to an even greater degree. The process in this city is completely screwed up. The non-NIMBYs need to start paying attention, and start voting for the future of the city (and not the ultra-expensive museum/boutique city future that the wealthy NIMBYs envision, which is what ballot measures like this will eventually lead to)

  17. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    OK, anon, I’ll take you up on that. Let’s let tax-paying neighboring property owners have a vote, since they’re the ones who are materially affected. Let’s say a quarter-mile radius if the variance is up to 100% and a half-mile radius for anything greater. I think that’s fair. Votes could be weighted by proximity to make it even better. And it should apply to all zoning rules, not just height limits.
    Now, please explain why you think tenants in the Sunset and Visitacion Valley should be able to overrule city planners when it comes to Pier 30-32.

  18. Posted by Jake

    @cfb
    The flip side is that only about 5% of the population voted in favor of the 8 Washington project.
    80,000 votes has often been enough to win in SF.
    Compare the votes against 8 Washington in 2012:
    Measure B 79,738
    Measure C 84,083
    with the votes for SF’s top office holders in 2011:
    GEORGE GASCÓN 76,043
    ROSS MIRKARIMI 70,204
    ED LEE 59,663 (first choice, 84,457 in round 12 of rank choice)
    Even Willie Brown only got 75k votes in the first round of his reelection in 1999.
    “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
    ― Abraham Lincoln

  19. Posted by Gordon

    What a terrible initiative! Voter’s aren’t going to (and shouldn’t have to) spend months analyzing specific development plans and how they match up with the city’s transportation, residential, educational, financial, and affordable housing plans and priorities. That’s why we have a Planning Department and Planning Commission. If these folks think the Planning Commission is making poor decisions, talk to (or vote out) the mayor and board of supes. But putting development projects to citywide yes/no vote is a cop out which leads to haphazard results and subject to gaming since results are based so much on who can afford the slickest marketing campaign and ads.
    I’ll be voting NO on this one for sure.

  20. Posted by Gordon

    Also, if the goal is for more Planning Commission accountability, maybe make the PC members directly electable rather than Mayor and Supervisor appointments.
    One nice thing is that each of the PC members list their email addresses at http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=7 so we can send them direct feedback.

  21. Posted by woolie

    This is great news for Oakland.

  22. Posted by Mike

    The absurd idea of residents having a say.

  23. Posted by poor.ass.millionaire

    I guess I don’t care one way or the other. Probably better for the city as a whole to develop the waterfront. OTOH these asinine nimby restrictions are another reason my properties in the city will go up in value. Essentially it’s a win-win for me; i.e. a good problem to have. Me Likey :)

  24. Posted by anon

    Gordon,
    The problem is that it is not just the Planning Commision, Mayor and Supervisors. A big project is a collusion of dozens and dozens of unelected public employees that work for various agencies, e.g. the Port of San Francisco, MTA, OEWD, BCDC, etc.
    These are lifetime employees, some of which are truly bright and motivated indivuals and some of which are, well, let’s just say they’re not serving the public interest.

  25. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    ^ Which is why we have elected officials to be their bosses. Now you’re saying we shouldn’t trust them to manage zoning restrictions and that letting residents all over the city vote on each case is a more effective way of doing it? So why not do the same with law enforcement, emergency preparedness, taxation, schools, Muni, etc.? Are those less important than the height of buildings?

  26. Posted by anon

    The absurd idea of residents having a say.
    Are you suggesting that some residents are being denied the right to vote? That’s a bold claim – any evidence?

  27. Posted by anon

    One wonders why we’re paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year for thousands of city employees and their elected bosses. We should just vote on everything!
    I noticed some folks filling a pothole in my street last week! WTF?!?!? I was not allowed to vote on that. They made noise for like 15 minutes. And now the street has a different color right in the middle, completely ruining the feng shui of the street. I mean, that section of asphalt really brought the look of the street together.

  28. Posted by Grace

    Several of you want to blame nimby-ism and local wealthy homeowners but this issue transcends these groups.. Many SF residents are extremely concerned about height limits on the waterfront. And, they will vote to protect the waterfront. This administration is very pro-development and that is not lost on the residents of the city.

  29. Posted by Grace

    The warriors should let the waterfront site go and seriously consider the Bill Grahm center as their site. I understand that they do not want the Bill Grahm center – not as sexy as the water. And, their lobby machines are running full-time to discredit that location as an option. But my inside contacts say that site would be not only great for building up market street but that the people of SF strongly support it.

  30. Posted by EBGuy

    Fab news for the East Bay!
    Where do I send my donation…

  31. Posted by Jill

    .”. Many SF residents are extremely concerned about height limits on the waterfront. ”
    What is your specific concern??

  32. Posted by BillyBob

    I am sure the Giants are not too happy with the Warriors. This was a given that this project and any project along the water front will need voter approval. 8 Washington was a fluke and not a mandate. It was an off election year and most people stayed home.
    The Water front height limits started back in the 60s when US Steel tried to build a Tower on the Water Front. It went down to defeat and the electorate put a bad on height.
    The important thing to remember is not the election in June when this proposition will pass but in November when the Warriors put their plan on the ballot. This is when we should go out in force to put the NIMBYs in their place and set a mandate and say YES to the Warriors, Giants and any other proposal.

  33. Posted by anon

    I hope everyone realizes that this will become a VERY slippery slope.
    This measure will pass by a landslide. Of course voters want more say. Then they’ll want even more say. Then they won’t want anything to happen anywhere in the city without someone first coming to each of them to make sure it’s ok.
    Voters all over the city will LOVE voting on what kind of trees you can plant in your back yard. They will LOVE voting on what color your door can be.
    The waterfront measure is stupid, but not so bad by itself. Next year’s measure freezing all zoning laws for all time will be a sad day in city history.
    After that, the only new building that will EVER happen here, will be replacing existing structures with exactly the same structure again. And voters all over the city will LOVE never seeing any change or progress at all :(

  34. Posted by anon

    I understand that they do not want the Bill Grahm center
    I’m not much of a NIMBY usually, but I would riot if there was talk of altering our beautiful beaux arts civic center area. Enlarging the Bill Graham to allow basketball would mean at least doubling the footprint. Closing down streets, bulldozing the park in front of City Hall? Ah! No.

  35. Posted by Schaetzer

    Re the comment about the Port simply “selling” the parcels in question. There you have the crux of the matter. The Port doesn’t own the parcels. The Port manages the parcels in trust for the people of California. Port land is public trust land. The developers don’t buy Port property; they lease it for development purposes. Port property is supposed to be used for maritime-related uses. You talk about supply and demand, waterfront property is about as supply-constrained as you can possibly get. It’s a real stretch getting the Exploratorium and similar uses in under the maritime use doctrine. But at least they are non-profit enterprises. Pretty much this whole thread assumes that those who oppose this sort of development on the waterfront are Nimbys. I’m very pro-growth, but I’m sorry, I just don’t believe the warriors arena belongs on the waterfront. I think their entire approach has been very arrogant. Bear in mind that this is a sports franchise that owes no loyalty to any city or place. They were once the SF Warriors, until they moved to Oakland for a better deal.

  36. Posted by Jamie

    It makes sense when our elected officials are mostly gypsies, liars, and thieves.
    Bill Graham Auditorium is exactly where the Warriors Arena should be built… Hayes Street could tunnel under the arena and the. Beaux Arts facade facing Grove Street could stay. The rest of the building along. Polk, Hayes, and Larkin is a crap pile anyway. With the building having 4 roadways and BART/MUNI a block away, it makes a lot more sense than Piers 30-32.

  37. Posted by anon

    It makes sense when our elected officials are mostly gypsies, liars, and thieves.
    Ok, let me see if I can decode this logic.
    1. Voters here are stupid enough to elect “mostly gypsies, liars, and thieves” as representatives.
    2. Therefore, we should have voters directly vote for more things.
    That about right?

  38. Posted by anon

    Jamie, are you suggesting buying and tearing down the Fox Plaza highrise, displacing more than 1000 residents? Wow, that’s cruel. That’s the only way that there would be enough room to expand Bill Graham without going in the other direction.

  39. Posted by JWS

    Please stop with the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium talk. Everybody knows there is not enough space there. And even if there was, this is just a ruse…the second it would be proposed (which would mean reworking an architecturally significant building, demolishing streets and other buildings which house hundreds, if not thousands, and changing the landscape of one of the most architecturally beloved parts of the city) everybody would cry foul about that proposal just as much, if not more so.
    If it gets built, the city will love it, just like AT&T Park (which had similar fights and struggles). And when I mean love it, I mean instantly and everybody will forget about the vitriol. What better way to utilize the waterfront than a venue for both sports and music, both of which are lacking (this city cannot hold basketball games, major Stones/Madonna/Prince level concerts, or bigger conventions that require stadium space), which would include open park space offering a BETTER view of the bay, in an area that is literally rotting, walled off, and soon to become dangerous.
    Whether or not YOU like sports or large concerts is not the question, but if the majority of the city does, which, yes, they do, if the outrageous success of both Outside Lands and the bazillion consecutive sellouts of the waterfront Giants games mean anything. The city already loves the Warriors to begin with.
    This is a city, and a major city at that. Cities can handle large events, and is one of the reasons many move to them in the first place. This is not the Outer Richmond or Bernal Heights, this is one of the densest and best connected transit sites in the area, with skyscrapers and nightlife galore, which already has precedent for holding successful major events.

  40. Posted by anon

    “Voters all over the city will LOVE voting on what kind of trees you can plant in your back yard. They will LOVE voting on what color your door can be.”
    (What, you’re going to let the people vote on who their president will be? Might as well let them vote on what color pants I can wear . . .)
    More slippery-slope-silliness. Nope. Put a ballot measure to require a vote on painting your door or planting trees in your yard or filling potholes on your street, and it will fail 98% – 2% (the 2% are crazy or vote Y for laughs). The people (probably) will vote for a say on something as critical and permanent as blocking our beloved (and public) waterfront. They are not interested in insignificant micro-managing. So drop this stupid line of argument. You don;t like the initiative process? Work on an initiative that gets rid of it. See how you fare with that.

  41. Posted by anon

    ^People voted for something as silly as a 40′ height limit citywide. I don’t see why they wouldn’t vote for something as silly as “no red doors” – as long as some fatcats with money started throwing around ad dollars to get it passed.
    The initiative system is completely bought and paid for by special interests. At least with representatives we have someone to complain to when things go wrong – someone who has skin in the game after the election is over…

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