February 3, 2014
Sponsors Of Measure To Limit Building Heights Deliver 21K Signatures
Needing 9,702 valid signatures to qualify for the June ballot, the sponsors of the proposed Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act delivered over 21,000 raw signatures to the Department of Elections this afternoon.
Designed to prohibit the increasing of existing building height limits for parcels along San Francisco's waterfront, such as for the Warriors' proposed arena project, the measure would require voters to approve the upzoning of waterfront parcels on a project-by-project basis.
First Published: February 3, 2014 7:00 PM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
Why do we need architects and city planners? Hell- let's just vote on everything!
I don't go to your office and tell you how to do your job. Please just let designers and planners do theirs. They really don't need another layer of bureaucracy to slow down SF projects even MORE.
Posted by: seriously at February 3, 2014 7:31 PM
Exactly. What a bunch of bs giving voters ANY rights to decide on design issues.
Posted by: Futurist at February 3, 2014 7:39 PM
This is so stupid and I hope it fails, but I'm pessimistic after the 8 Washington debacle. I wonder how many [people] will vote like this to stop development and then complain that housing prices are too high?
Posted by: Gordon at February 3, 2014 8:22 PM
I'm not sure where SocketSite got this information (they don't like to cite sources in general), but here is an article with more details: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Signatures-for-S-F-waterfront-height-limit-5201678.php
Particularly annoying is that this effort was "funded exclusively by $75,000 donated from Barbara and Richard Stewart, a wealthy couple who live in the Golden Gateway Apartments and were the major backers opposing 8 Washington, which would have been built between their building and the water."
[Editor's Note: We cite and credit sources when they aren't our own. And considering we published our piece before the SFGate story above, it's probably safe to assume that wasn't our source for this report.]
Posted by: Gordon at February 3, 2014 8:40 PM
As outrageous an idea as this is, I still honestly can't think of a better solution to our tendency of bending the rules with sweetheart deals for ego-boosting pet projects.
The city has building height regulations. Therefore, it's not unreasonable for a homeowner who makes a purchase after checking those regulations -- a sensible move if there's a view involved -- to expect them to be upheld.
If the system weren't being so frequently abused (like the friends-of-an-ex-mayor partners in the Warriors stadium scheme are attempting to do by building a way-out-of-spec high-rise condo situated right on the Embarcadero), this wouldn't have come down to such an absurd "solution" as taking the power out of the hands of the city.
I don't think the city has anyone to blame but themselves.
Posted by: ciparis at February 3, 2014 9:18 PM
I hope all of you understand this is just the beginning.
I know that San Francisco residents, perhaps more than residents of any other city around the world, think they know more about, and deserve more say in, what their neighbors do with their property.
This is the first step to planning by pure democracy. I'm talking about city-wide votes required just re-pave your driveway, fix your window, or paint your house. Voters all over the city will LOVE deciding for you what color your front door should be...
Posted by: anon at February 3, 2014 9:56 PM
The system is much more often abused the other way. Approvals that should be ministerial based on approved zoning and community plans goes into appeals zombie land one project at a time
Posted by: Zig at February 3, 2014 10:20 PM
It is absurd to equate the impact of the Warriors stadium with 8 Washington.
The stadium will bring 17,500 visitors to South Beach 200 days each year, adding to the present impact of 80 Giants game in the same year with its 45,000 visitors/game. This neighborhood of two-lane streets lacks the capacity to handle even standard 5:00pm traffic rush, with gridlock frequent throughout the area. To really put a cap on it, the developers with their city hall connections tell us it won't pencil out for them unless they can also build a 20 story condominium complex and hotel, the former in flagrant violation of existing zoning, pushing the financial district's "great wall" a further block south.
I agree with Zig - the abuse has rather consistently been on the developer's side: in this case it is their lackey Phil Ting working hard in Sacramento to legislatively limit standard project reviews.
Posted by: Truthy at February 3, 2014 11:53 PM
And the Giants want to build on waterfront land zoned for open space.
Posted by: Jake at February 4, 2014 12:48 AM
this is just another NIMBY proposition ,
the truth is that the Arena will create much greater and fuller access to the waterfront , that it will add THOUSANDS of jobs both at the ARENA and many more additional jobs in the city due to the events being held
Its a great project , in the right place , that will give SF a world class venue
This project needs to get the support it deserves , Warriors in SF needs to happen
Posted by: Joseph A at February 4, 2014 2:12 AM
Do people actually expect a measure that gives "the people" more power to actually fail? This measure seems like a done deal, for better or for worse...
Posted by: David at February 4, 2014 4:08 AM
We should present Barbara and Richard Stewart with the first NIMBY award. Any design ideas for this award? Remember, we will have to vote on the design before it is approved.
Posted by: SF Citizen at February 4, 2014 6:22 AM
Great news. This not only kills the Warriors waterfront project, it will also stop the Giants from building that monstrosity breakwater project with 30 story towers near the waterfront, blocking the waterfront.
Posted by: Tobias at February 4, 2014 6:29 AM
Anyone opposed to this concept, do you really believe that unelected city officials, developers and architechts (the majority of which do not even live in San Francisco) know what is better for us than city residents? As an example, it cracks me up when I hear some east coast architect who has been in SF for 1 week of his life think he knows more about traffic flows than people that have lived in a neighborhood for 30 years. Uh, not even close.
All this measure does is ensure that only great projects get built. I (and The Warriors) expect that the majority of voters will favor the arena. The proposed towers and hotel across the street, probably not.
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 7:42 AM
"I agree with Zig - the abuse has rather consistently been on the developer's side"
you don't agree with me. I said the opposite what you think I did
Posted by: zig at February 4, 2014 7:44 AM
"Do people actually expect a measure that gives "the people" more power to actually fail?"
Yea, I think that's a big part of this.
Posted by: Sam at February 4, 2014 7:50 AM
I have to agree with @anon (2/3; 9:56pm). Where is the line drawn? First it's height. Then what's next? To me, this isn't good in general given projections for the growth of SF (residential & commercial) over the next handful of years.
And let's face it. If not the Warriors, then it will eventually be somebody else. Whoever wants to build will still need to repair the pier. So the "penciling out" will have to take into consideration an ever growing cost to repair the pier, that I would wager, would force a variance anyway to building something with enough SqF to properly cover those repair costs. And there would still be congestion in the area to deal with.
I doubt SF will pony up the millions ($40+M?) to tear out the pier and letting it simply collapse into the bay isn't too smart. And probably soon, pier 30/32 will be permanently fenced off as a hazard. No parking for FiDi and Giants games means some level of TBD increased congestion anyway.
And for the condo, as I mentioned in another thread, its too tall for zoning (105/65), but the hotel fits inside the current height limits for SWL330. I'm not an architect, but I can see the condo being redesigned into two towers as well, just like the hotel. Then it will fit in the envelope, and you will have a wall on the waterfront - four ten story towers right on the Embarcadero that fit perfectly within height restrictions.
And to answer @SF Citizen's question about the design of the NIMBY award, I won't comment on the design, but it should be made from Amber...
Posted by: Can't think of Cool Name at February 4, 2014 7:55 AM
By hook or by crook they did it.
Posted by: SFFan at February 4, 2014 8:23 AM
If SF decides to demolish Pier 30-32 and is patient, they can get the feds to pay most or all of the cost.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paid for and supervised the demolition of Pier 36 (3.6 acres):
“This project is important because the pier was condemned, it was a hazard, it served no use and it was closed to the public,” said Ricardo Galdamez, a Corps civil engineer
Posted by: Jake at February 4, 2014 8:29 AM
The only way to save this city and make housing more affordable is an immediate building moratorium. Afterwards, all permits will be put to citywide votes. Violations will result in forfeiture of property.
Posted by: outtahere at February 4, 2014 8:34 AM
@Cool Name - I could definitely see that happening. Since the stadium has popular support, they'll send that to the ballot but redesign the seawall lot to have more building mass (under the height limit) and less open space. We may end up having *more* buildings that resemble walls if the NIMBYs supporting this measure succeed.
Posted by: Joel at February 4, 2014 8:35 AM
Let's vote on height, design, where to put stop signs, traffic lights, cross walks, who gets to have medical care, food, a bed and....
who gets to breath
what an F-ing stupid idea. Of course- It's SF!
Posted by: mdg at February 4, 2014 8:50 AM
Horrible. Why are so many people in this city such morons? And why do we allow the morons to dictate how the city grows?
Posted by: cfb at February 4, 2014 9:09 AM
And, of course, it's not legal, since the city doesn't control the waterfront, the state does.
Posted by: R at February 4, 2014 9:15 AM
@Jake, thanks for passing along the PDF. I didn't know the Corps oversaw the removal of pier 36.
Here's what has me wondering though whether or not the Feds paid for the removal: "In March of 2012 the San Francisco District Corps of Engineers Construction Branch began supervision of the $5 million demolition of Pier 36."
Its not clear to me from reading the article that the Feds paid or if the Corps simply supervised a $5M pier removal.
I guess regardless, if the Feds, state or city paid - any way you slice it, we would have paid...
Posted by: Can't think of Cool Name at February 4, 2014 9:22 AM
"And, of course, it's not legal, since the city doesn't control the waterfront, the state does."
Nice, I forgot about this. So what happens then? This gets struck down by a court after passing, just like when SF voters attempted to illegally ban handguns several years ago? Or will it end up getting killed before it even gets to the ballot?
Posted by: cfb at February 4, 2014 9:22 AM
I suspect the legal issues are very complicated, and certainly not as simple as reciting "the city doesn't control the waterfront, the state does."
For example, from the measure:
"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."
I'm no expert on this, but it certainly does not appear to be "not legal" on the ground that the state "controls the waterfront."
I give this about a 99% chance of passing. Democracy at work. If someone got a ballot measure qualified to require a citywide vote to "fix your window, or paint your house" it would be 100% certain to fail. That is just a silly slippery-slope argument. Dumb measures usually fail. This one is not obviously dumb (although I understand the arguments against it) because people legitimately want to preserve our waterfront and not block it. I will vote for it.
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 9:48 AM
"And let's face it. If not the Warriors, then it will eventually be somebody else. Whoever wants to build will still need to repair the pier"
I believe there has been a few proposals that have failed to pencil out. I have never heard an opponent of the project make an argument of what sort of project could provide any public benefits like they want while inventing hundreds of millions to fix the piers.
I have to think without this project they are condemned for another decade or two and then dismantled.
Posted by: zig at February 4, 2014 9:59 AM
Yes, the feds paid for it. There is a 'Water Resources Development Act' that gets reauthorized ever few years.
The Army Corps of Engineers does this stuff instead of local governments. Check the namelink for how complex even this small project was.
Their SF District spends tens of millions every year on infrastructure projects.
Posted by: Jake at February 4, 2014 10:07 AM
Hopefully San Jose will get serious about attracting the Warrioes now as they are about getting the Giants.
San Jose is the population and jobs center of the Bay Area. Oakland the geographic and easy to get to center.
A new baseball stadium, arena and possibly football stadium belong in Oakland or - otherwise build a new baseball and arena stadium in San Jose.
Hopefully this kills plans for an SF arena on the waterfront.
Posted by: Tobias at February 4, 2014 10:07 AM
"San Jose is the population and jobs center of the Bay Area"
San Jose is one of the few large cities in the US that has a net negative daytime population. Downtown San Jose is not much.
But it is really fun to make stuff up.
Posted by: zig at February 4, 2014 10:14 AM
lol at SJ as the "jobs center" of anything. SJ has hundreds of thousands fewer jobs than SF in spite of a larger population. You're probably confusing SJ with all of Silicon Valley, but if so, why are you comparing a bunch of cities to only SF? Why would you lump SJ in with Palo Alto, but not SF in with Berkeley and Oakland? Berkeley and Oakland are much closer to SF geographically...
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 10:21 AM
"I have never heard an opponent of the project make an argument of what sort of project could provide any public benefits like they want while inventing hundreds of millions to fix the piers."
Who could have foreseen that the Exploratorium would spend $300 million of non-public funds to move into their current location? Who could have foreseen the Pilara foundation would rebuild Pier 24 and create a world-class photography museum using non-public funds?
Just because you can't currently think of another party that can develop pier 30-32 doesn't mean there isn't one.
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 10:36 AM
Even Oakland has more downtown office space than San Jose does, and downtown SF has far more than downtown Oakland and downtown SJ combined (80 million for SF, 15 million for Oakland, 10 million for SJ). And as has been mentioned, SF in total also has more jobs than SJ in total, as well as a larger daytime population than SJ (by over 100,000), which actually looses population during the day (if I remember right, Detroit is the only other big US city where this is true), as so many of its residents commute to suburban job centers.
LOL indeed at those who think SJ is the center of the Bay Area just because it has a larger city-proper population than SF (which it only achieved through annexing neighboring towns by the way, the equivalent land area around SF has a much larger population), and because it's the self-proclaimed "capitol of silicon valley"...as if the tech industry has nothing to do with SF, or is the only aspect of the Bay's economy, which is actually quite diverse. Other big economic sectors include finance, energy, manufacturing, healthcare, tourism, construction and engineering, government, education, transportation, etc, etc.
Posted by: cfb at February 4, 2014 10:39 AM
Just build high rises a block away from the waterfront.
Oh, can't, there is a homeless park a mile away that will get shaded on Dec. 22.
Then build them downtown next to other high rises.
Oops, rich condo dwellers must protect their own high rise views.
Ergo insane housing costs.
You people do realize that the only solution I've heard from the NIMBYs to lower housing costs is for the economy bubble to burst. They are literally rooting for the city to fail. Sad.
Posted by: sf at February 4, 2014 11:03 AM
It's my back yard and I have nothing against rehabbing Piers 30-32 and building a shinny new 135 foot tall,18,000 seat, 300+ day multipurpose venue, plus hotel and market rate condos on the waterfront in my backyard.
I don't rely on Muni to get out to the Sunset, the Richmond or Bayview after working in my downtown office. I don't need to get to the Caltrain station at rush hour to catch a train after work. I have a private parking space for my car in my backyard, so street parking is not my issue. I can walk to my local market anytime I want to fill my needs. I walk home to from my office downtown.
Heck, a new 160 foot tall hotel and more condos will fit right into my neighborhood and maybe even bring some new restaurants and life to the area. Unlike the vacant space now enjoying waterfront views at Bayside Village apartments and Delancy Street along the Embarcadero. (READ:neighborhood blight)
I could care less if this gets built or not. See my life isn't dependent on Muni or CalTrain to get around my hood. I walk where I need to go.
Now for you folks that support this shinny new multipurpose venue on the waterfront. That is proposed to operate 300+ days a year and depend on public transportation like Muni and CalTrain to fill it up, well maybe you should have a second look at how this project might effect your lives. The reality is it's you that will most likely have to deal with the negative impacts from this project on a daily basis. Longer delays waiting around for Muni, longer commute times getting home. Ask yourselves if you have any issues with Giants home games and Muni? Now add 300+ events to the mix....anyone see any problems? I don't...but I don't need to get home after work using public transportation.
Me, I could care less if it gets build in my backyard. You folks dependent on Muni, all you need to do is make some minor adjustments to your life and everything will be just fine. Just add a hour here and a hour there....enjoy the time reading your emails and reading your Kindle. Put on your headphones and internalize....you'll be fine.
Posted by: Keepitup at February 4, 2014 11:40 AM
SF Planning Dept has dug their grave here. But it's the City that suffers for it.
By crafting such rigid form-based zoning, they allow no wiggle room to make projects responsive to local conditions or needs. And now their ham-fisted rules will be writ in stone forever.
With 8 Wash, they tried to make a more responsive project - raise one side, drop the other. And now that buzz-saw has begotten this silliness
Posted by: rubber_chicken at February 4, 2014 1:41 PM
I can see the national headlines now:
"America's Tightest Housing Market Set to Add More Building Restrictions"
"America's Most Expensive City Shoots Itself in Foot"
"San Francisco Residents Believe they Have Absolute Power Over Laws of Supply and Demand"
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 1:51 PM
Why has there been virtually NO investigative reporting into Richard and Barbara Stewart ?
All of a sudden, these two are the lifeblood of the anti highrise hegira part 2.
Who are they, why do they care, who is working through them.. nothing!
[Editor’s Note: Actually, SocketSite was the first to uncover who they are and why they care.]
Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2014 2:07 PM
As Dianne Feinstein once famously said, "You could put a measure on the ballot for an elevated glass sewer down the middle of Market Street, and San Franciscans would vote for it."
Posted by: Jim at February 4, 2014 2:25 PM
Sorry, there has to be more story than a rich couple who wants to preserve their view.
Yes it makes sense for the 8 washington scenario, but why are they paying for the waterfront height limit initiative?
Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2014 2:42 PM
^Easy. Reduced new construction causes current housing to increase in price. They're padding their pockets with any reduction in the amount of new housing built.
Posted by: anon at February 4, 2014 3:03 PM
The tone of many of these comments sound a lot like they are plants being paid for by the Warriors and Giants. Do you all work for them? I am guessing yes.
Posted by: southbeach at February 4, 2014 8:33 PM
You mean I can get paid to post on Socketsite? Where do I sign up?
Posted by: NoeValleyJim at February 4, 2014 9:33 PM
For the Lords of Density: anything less than everything is nothing.
Posted by: more of a lemming than a shill at February 4, 2014 9:34 PM
My name is Steph curry and I appreciate the warriors throwing in an extra $1M to post on socketsite
Posted by: Jill at February 5, 2014 8:47 AM
Is there more than one "anon"? Because I seem to recall a host of comments calling for no city-imposed parking requirements on developers, and for letting the free market build SoMa towers as high as they want. But now you not only support waterfront zoning, you support given the sheeple authority to override experienced professionals?
(Sheeple like the quasi-deranged fellow on the 5L this morning... mumbling to his invisible companion, but with a right to vote sufficient, en masse, to block sensible development in this city... democracy at work)
Posted by: Sierrajeff at February 5, 2014 10:07 AM
The paranoia among those who wish to freeze the city in amber forever is stunning.
Yes, the only people who think that SF is an over-regulated gated community are those people who are paid by the warriors and Giants???
By the same token, the only people who are against development are being paid off by Richard and Barbara Stewart!
Posted by: Bob at February 5, 2014 10:14 AM
"you support given the sheeple authority to override experienced professionals"
An emphatic "yes" to that question, in a number of contexts. Not all. "Experienced professional" often turn out to be neither, and need to be checked.
Posted by: anon at February 5, 2014 12:08 PM
And with the appearance of "sheeple" this thread no longer has any contribution to make to the betterment of humanity.
Posted by: outtahere at February 5, 2014 12:10 PM
"Experienced professional" often turn out to be neither, and need to be checked.
That's why we vote for representatives. If your reps aren't getting rid of professionals doing a bad job, vote for people who will.
Posted by: anon at February 5, 2014 2:31 PM
Yes we can vote to change our representatives, but we can also vote to change the powers we give to our representatives and through them to the "professionals".
"Governments ... deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"
Posted by: Jake at February 5, 2014 3:18 PM
So why do we even have representatives? Seems like a waste of money, let's just move to 100% direct democracy.
Posted by: anon at February 5, 2014 3:42 PM
It never ceases to amaze me how people assume the pro-development viewpoints on a development themed blog are paid posters.
Posted by: JWS at February 5, 2014 4:53 PM
@anon: "So why do we even have representatives?"
Yes, why does the circus have clowns?
Because without them it would be nothing but high prices, loud noises, unpleasant smells, danger, and people barely keeping their balance.
So, mostly for the laughs.
Also, San Francisco has long worn a thin veil of 'elected pols' to mask the naked raw exercise of power by the Elect. That's our modesty showing. Wouldn't want to scare away the tourists.
Posted by: Jake at February 5, 2014 6:17 PM
The slippery-slope argument of "let's just put everything to a popular vote" is just silly.
Bottom line is that govt "experienced professional" are often incompetent, or corrupt, and need to be checked.
One of a thousand examples. Our "experienced professionals" and representatives gave Muni drivers a sweetheart bribe, er, deal, that guaranteed they would be paid no less than second-highest in the entire country no matter what. They could skip work, refuse to work commute-hour shifts, etc. Too bad. We had to pay them at least the second most in the country. Asinine of course. But the "experienced professionals" were never going to rescind this bribe, er, deal. So it was done by popular initiative (Prop G).
Voters generally (not always) vote down the really stupid initiatives. That's why a measure requiring popular votes to fix windows etc. would fail, 100% guaranteed. There is obviously a concern, not unfounded, that the "experienced professionals" will permit construction that will ruin the waterfront. This measure is overbroad, to be sure, but it addresses a valid concern whether you agree with it or not. 99% chance it passes because most SFers do not want large construction on the waterfront. Democracy at work. If you think the measure is stupid, campaign against it and see if your position carries the day.
Posted by: anon at February 6, 2014 10:23 AM
My solution to our direct democracy weakness is to require a basic test. In order to vote on an initiative you must demonstrate that basic critical thinking skills. If you can't then you don't have what it takes to make your vote count towards progress. Those who flunk the test can still vote for representatives (who need to pass a more thorough critical thinking test).
But that still doesn't solve the problem of people voting for Sarah Palin because "she's easy on the eyes".
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 6, 2014 5:18 PM
Voters generally (not always) vote down the really stupid initiatives.
Dozens of propositions that require spending money but have no way to raise that money, etc.
Basically every terrible law that exists in California was passed through direct democracy, simply because the proposition is so utterly corrupt.
If direct democracy is soooo much better and necessary in some way, one wonders why we haven't found a way to implement it nationally...
Posted by: anon at February 6, 2014 7:01 PM
99% chance it passes because most SFers do not want large construction on the waterfront. Democracy at work.
Nope, corruption at work. The proposition system (combined with term limits) has made it so that anything can be bought for the right amount of money. Just whip up a good campaign and you can fool the electorate every time. We see it every election cycle.
Posted by: anon at February 6, 2014 7:03 PM
Prop 13 is a lousy example of a "counterpoint"! It is not only a very good law (albeit with some poor components) but is the best example of a very popular check on elected representatives who refused to follow the will of the people.
I'm no fan of the ballot initiative process for one reason - it is an up of down vote with no room to amend the bad parts out of a good law. For example, Prop 13 is a good law, except it has a few components that are terrible such as its extension to commercial properties. Regardless, the initiative process is the lesser evil given the corruption and incompetence that is endemic among "experienced professionals" both elected and unelected.
I know the arguments against Prop 13 very well. I agree with a few of them as they concern parts of the law. Regardless, the citizens overwhelmingly support it, and that is what matters in a democracy.
Posted by: anon at February 7, 2014 8:50 AM
^No, it's a prime example of populism creating policies that are simply unmanageable and not sustainable.
Now, it may be true that taxes were too high in the 70s. So...the answer was to vote for people who wanted to lower taxes, not this bizarro world of "vote for people who want to give me services" but "vote for propositions that cut my taxes". Direct democracy encourages MORE bad governance, as it makes people believe that they can have their cake and eat it too. And in many cases, they can - for a few decades.
Posted by: anon at February 7, 2014 9:58 AM
Posted by: SocketSite at February 10, 2014 7:50 AM