pier 70 Project Area Aerial

In a preemptive move designed to counter the likely passage of Proposition B (the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act), a ballot measure to increase the existing building height limits on the Port property at Pier 70 from 40 feet to 90 feet has been filed with San Francisco’s Department of Elections and proposed for the November ballot.

If passed, the “Union Iron Works Historic District Housing, Waterfront Parks, Jobs and Preservation Initiative” would help clear the way for Forest City’s development of up to 1,000 new units of housing, two million square feet of commercial space, and 400,000 square feet of retail, cultural and maker uses to rise up to nine stories in height on the Pier 70 site, along with 7 acres of new parks.

The development of Pier 70’s Waterfront District is slated to begin in 2016 and would stretch until 2030. The redevelopment of Pier 70’s Historic Core, a separate six acre project, is already underway.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by d-b

    I wonder if they have done polling on this. While not prime northern SF Waterfront, I would think someone would not like tall buildings along the water in Dogpatch.

    • Posted by Jake

      I was polled on this about a month ago. Many of the questions were about sensitivity to different building heights and factors that would make me want to vote for/against, such as endorsements from politicians/groups, jobs created, and amount of affordable housing.

  2. Posted by seriously

    i wonder if they should just tell people to shut up and do what’s right for the city (which is provide more housing) and build it over 3 stories.

  3. Posted by Anonymous

    What’s right for the city is provide more housing that doesn’t destroy the landscape and that people can afford, not build condos that are way, way out of the reach of the average resident. Going from the initial 40 to 90 feet height limit is driven by greed not need or good sense.

    • Posted by oscar

      it’s basic economics. more supply should lead to lower prices. everyone should be in favor of creating more housing. it’s so non-sensical to oppose more housing and complain about prices being too high.

      • Posted by san FronziScheme (formerly known as lol)

        It can be a bit more complex than that.

        Say you have a city of 1M people with 100K people waiting on the outskirts for the proper type of housing to be built. the 100K are split between 2 equal groups: affluent and less affluent.

        If the city builds 30K units, they will be snatched overwhelmingly by the affluent. There will still be demand from the affluent pool (less numerous but still present), therefore maintaining high levels of rents.

        What you need is massive building to absorb the demand. The issue is that if the city is limited by its limits (7×7) and its zoning rules, this massive infill cannot be achieved. In SF, new demand comes all the time and we are still far from satisfying its affluent side. High prices will go on unless there’s a significant downturn/bubble pop.

        • Posted by jill

          a building boom in oakland, berkely, emeryville, san bruno, south san francisco, daly city, mill valley, pacifica would also help .

          • Posted by san FronziScheme (formerly known as lol)

            During the last bubble the expansion was to the outskirts of the BA. After the houses were built and the bubble had popped many of the new communities discovered they were not rebounding and attracting the high earners due to commute times. The solution is density, and I agree all the SF Metro should chip in. As prices have gone through the roof to catch up with SF, there’s motivation for a new building boom.

        • Posted by NoeValleyJim

          The problem is, San Francisco has never actually had a housing construction boom. I have lived here over 20 years and in that entire time we have built less than 30,000 units.

          • Posted by Jake

            FYI, San Francisco has built more than 30k units in the last 20 years of 1994 to 2013 inclusive, according to the SF Planning Dept Housing Inventory report of April 2014 (pdf at namelink – see page 6).

            According to the US Census 100% counts of 2000 and 2010, they counted over 30,000 more housing units in San Francisco in 2010 than in 2000 (see Table DP-1 of the 2000 and 2010 Census).

          • Posted by NoeValleyJim

            http://www.spur.org/publications/article/2012-12-18/san-francisco-boom-back

            “On the supply side, over the past 20 years San Francisco has built about 1,500 units per year on average. ”

            Sorry Jake, making stuff up does not make you appear more credulous. 1994 to 2013 “inclusive” is 22 years, not 20.

          • Posted by Jake

            Here is the footnote to the source of the quote you provided from the SPUR report:

            [11] San Francisco Planning Department, San Francisco Housing Inventory (May 2012), p. 6.

            Notice that it is from a 2012 SF Planning Dept report. Here is a link to that report:

            http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/files/publications_reports/2011_Housing_Inventory_Report.pdf

            Notice that on page 6 there is a table which shows that more than 30k units were constructed in SF in the 20 years from 1992 to 2011 inclusive.

            My data and the report I linked to are from the 2014 report from the same SF Planning Dept (namelink). It would only take you about a minute to look this up.

            And BTW, 1994 to 2013 inclusive is 20 years. And I did not make that up either.

          • Posted by JR "Bob" Dobbs

            “1994 to 2013 ‘inclusive’ is 22 years, not 20.”

            WTF! NoeValleyJim, you went to Cal Tech forchrissake!

            Regardless, I think we’re all in agreement that SF has built far too few units in the last couple of decades to satisfy the demand – hence, higher prices/rents. Econ 101. Where we are not all in agreement is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. The answer to that one is not nearly as black and white as many here posit.

          • Posted by anon

            Jake knocks it out of the park again with facts, links and sources provided. Well done!

          • Posted by BRDC

            “WTF! NoeValleyJim, you went to Cal Tech forchrissake!”

            “went to” or graduated?
            And its Caltech not Cal Tech

          • Posted by JR "Bob" Dobbs

            Went to, graduated? Who cares? Try getting into that school or surviving a single class. It is a truly awesome place. I’m just ribbing NoeValleyJim because this was a rare (and insignificant) lapse. One thing you must concede is that his posts are intelligent and thoughtful, whether or not you agree with him.

  4. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    Here we go again with the “greed” BS. It’s called satisfying a demand. Last I checked there was a shortage of housing in SF. I guess all those people who would like a home to live in are also driven by greed.

  5. Posted by seriously

    So developers of 40′ buildings are righteous do-gooder civil servants and developers of 90′ buildings are just “greedy”? It’s satisfying a demand and change can be good. It’s all money anyway.

    European cities are all 6-10 story buildings.

    The skyline or prices- one has to go up.

  6. Posted by Sierrajeff

    A”greed”, LOL.

    People want more housing – but not in the Richmond / Sunset / Pac Heights / Hayes Valley / Marina / Castro / Mission. But they also don’t want height, and they don’t want shadows on parks, and they don’t want infill. (For chrissake, we can’t even build above 4 stories at Kearney & Pine.)

    Well guess what, something’s got to give. Housing demand here is so great that even the biggest recession since the Great Depression barely caused a hiccup in San Francisco housing prices. You are not going to re-create – you cannot re-create – the San Francisco of the 1950s; housing prices won’t magically become “affordable” if only those hipsters would go away, or if only they weren’t building those office towers in SoMa.

    Many cities are seeing housing prices explode – not just S.F. or NYC, but L.A., Boston, D.C., Seatle, etc. But one thing that sets apart San Francisco – much like NYC or L.A. – is that there’s a pent-up demand to move here. People want to live here who are currently priced out, so the second housing prices start leveling off, more people decide to jump into the fray. So even if the 1990s and 2000s office blocks went away, and the dot coms all moved to Austin and NYC… housing here would still be expensive, there would still be a need. Hence, if we want any shread of affordability whatsoever, we need to build housing units – a lot of them. And if you don’t want it in the Richmond / Sunset / etc., then it has to go somewhere, and it might as well be where there’s currently nothing but empty industrial buildings and abandoned warehouses. If there are actually developers wanting to invest money there and build there, then good for them and let’s facilitate that, not pillory them for having the audacity to propose something more than 3 stories in height.

    • Posted by sfrealadvocate

      Bravo, sierrajeff! You are so very right!

    • Posted by 7 by 7

      Yay! THIS!!

    • Posted by Can't think of Cool Name

      No kidding. BTW, people can still vote No on Prop. B.

    • Posted by sf

      Housing should be build along the Peninsula as well. Daly City has an average height of 1 ½ stories I think. San Mateo could use housing towers too.

  7. Posted by Toby Levine

    Pier 70 development site cannot be restored/rebuilt on the funds generated by 40′, even if you were to skip parks, child care, streets, infrastructure and other benefits. 90′ is merely an 8 story building. Many corner buildings in the Mission, built on flat land are 8 stories or more. Housing at Pier 70 will be rentals…not condos. Friend of Pier 70.

  8. Posted by Bob

    If you ask San Franciscans if they want new things, they will inevitably say no.
    Ive been here for over two decades, and I’ve watched the process. I watched people line up to testify against ATT park, the deyoung, the steinhart… you name it

    Now we are giving these same people the chance to be even more effective in saying no. You dont even have to go down and speak at city hall – you can vote from your home.

    The average San Franciscan resident could care less about our housing crisis, or about the citys health overall. They want their view, and their parking spot, and their fantasy that SF is the place that wont ever have to reflect the change that is reflected everywhere else in the world.

  9. Posted by James

    Most residents have never even been near Pier 70. They’ll hear “the Waterfront” and imagine the Embacadero or Wharf, and vote against any development.

  10. Posted by anon

    The earth is filled with expensive places to live. It’s not a valid argument to say that you want to live in Bel Air, Monaco, or San Francisco but can’t afford it – so extra housing must be built just for you or someone else.

    Tough sh**. Work harder, earn more money and make better financial decisions.

    • Posted by Futurist

      I agree completely. But there are plenty here who just want to build, build, build.
      Let it fill up completely. Forget about the character that makes San Francisco what it has been, and what it is today.
      For anyone, anywhere.

      And, btw: I’m fine with the 9 story height limit in this particular location.

  11. Posted by S

    In this case (and with 8 Washington) the higher height on some of the buildings allows the creation of open space for use of the public. I don’t think the developer cares whether they build 4 stories on 100% of the land, or 9 stories on some of the land leaving the other bit vacant. While I get the frustration and wish more affordable units would be built, the planners should be able to negotiate with the developers to get the best project built, at least from an urban planning perspective.

  12. Posted by S

    that’s just silly. Every city, economy, country needs people of all types of incomes to be healthy. Diversity is what makes SF what it is and planning for inclusive growth is not bad. Some people work extremely hard and never become rich. Some people are rich because they lie, cheat, and steal to get there.

    • Posted by rippin

      Cmon S It is possible to work your ass off invest/save and do well without the lie cheat steal garbage.

      • Posted by Brian M

        It’s also possible to work you ass off invest./save and NOT do that well. Plus…you miss the main point…an economy needs a variety of people at a variety of income levels to be healthy. Not everyone can or should be a seven figure investment banker.

        In a financialized economy where the most successful banks are those like HSBC which “invest” in terrorist gangs and drug money laundering, a good part of the 1% IS from lying, cheating and stealing, it can be argued. :)

  13. Posted by Futurist

    Exactly. Not everyone who WANTS to live here can afford it. This is reality.

  14. Posted by Mr. E.

    What fraction of the development is “affordable housing?” Some of it will be.

  15. Posted by Keepitup

    Sorry…I’m LMAO! Forest City created a monster in the South Waterfront Alliance to defeat the Warriors Pier 30-32 proposal by supporting and funding Art “I’m the new King of the Waterfront” Agnos and now has to pay for their sins by going to the voters with a ballot proposal to defeat Art “I’m the new King of the Waterfront” Agnos. Sorry but I’m beating the floor and LMAO…

  16. Posted by 7 by 7

    Doh! Still figuring out this “nesting” of replies thing. My YAY was directed at SierraJeff.

    [Editor’s Note: It’s not you, it’s us. We have a glitch with the nesting that we should soon have resolved and working properly again.]

  17. Posted by gml

    I hope this passes. 90 feet is not so bad. That’s 8-12 stories high.
    This part of the city needs to get developed.
    They have historical sites there – and with residential buildings the area will start be attractive.
    The more they build there, the better.

  18. Posted by JB10

    Who are the people pushing for taller buildings? Most people hate them so where is the push coming from? Tall buildings have high unit costs because of the cost of elevators, services, foundations so they do not reduce housing costs. So again, who, apart from the developers and their sidekicks, is pushing for increased heights?

    • Posted by Futurist

      Good question JB10:

      Those who constantly push for height limit increases and taller buildings really have no solid reasons. They seem envious of cities like Chicago and NYC. They offer no measured reasons why taller is “better”. Yes, taller is denser, but taller will NOT result in cheaper housing. Never will. All new housing is essentially “market rate”, for those who can AFFORD to live here.

      We have no logical reason to grow “uncontrolled” just because of demand. We need to grow carefully, sensitive to existing scale and context. We need to also keep the unique urban character this is essential to San Francisco.

      • Posted by rippin

        Futurist, Perhaps this will help, by the way tall does not matter with this. If you have 500 people looking for a home but only have 200 homes to choose from the developer will be able to name his/her price because of short supply. However if those same 500 people were looking at a supply of 1000 homes the same developer would have to put the homes on sale because the buyer would be in the drivers seat because of over supply.

      • Posted by Can't think of Cool Name

        Doing a quick search on population growth projection for San Francisco, I found projections looking at a 280,000 (35%) increase in population in San Francisco between 2010 and 2040. Taking that at face value, those people will need to live somewhere. Is there enough inventory right now to house those additional people? I have no idea. If not, something has to be built somewhere. To me, that seems like a lot of people though for sub-four story buildings.

        I’m not a developer or sidekick either…

        • Posted by Futurist

          Yes, those are just projections. Not truth.
          And yes, those people “need” to live somewhere.
          There’s Oakland.
          Just a thought.

          • Posted by Can't think of Cool Name

            @Futurist, not really. I get where you’re coming from, but the way I read the projections, it is people who can afford to live in the city over that 30 year period, hence why they’re counted (projected). From your point of view, in theory, there very well could be an order of magnitude greater than the 820,000 who want to live in San Francisco over that period, but only 820,000 who can.

      • Posted by bus rider

        For better or worse, population growth (especially in the western U.S.) has been inevitable for the past century-and-a-half and there’s no sign of this slowing down. New residents must be housed. Higher density developments, including high rises, are environmentally more sustainable (and have less of an environmental footprint) than low density/low rise housing. If SF adds residents at a faster clip than distant and poorly transit connected suburbs, the Bay Area ought to move in a more environmentally sustainable direction. So, environmentalists also can/should generally be supportive of such projects.

      • Posted by seriously

        Please google “supply and demand” and educate yourself. you’re embarrassing.

    • Posted by Joe

      I am pushing for taller buildings and am neither a developer or a sidekick. I am someone who cares about the long term viability of San Francisco. Right now, we have a bunch of “haves” doing their best to turn SF into a gated community – all under the guise of preserving sf. We have an obligation to build to the best use of what little land there is left- and that means building higher. It is profoundly short sighted and selfish.

      • Posted by gml

        +1000
        I am someone who cares about having things done right.
        And while I was/am against 8 Washington, a 40 feet limit on Pier 70 is not right.

      • Posted by Futurist

        1. It’s not going to become a “gated community”. Enough with the drama. Has nothing to do with the “haves”. Enough with more drama.
        2. I, too, care very much about the long term viability of SF. That means respecting and understanding the existing context and working WITH it.
        3. And yes, there is validity in preserving a certain amount and uniqueness of what WE have here. Otherwise, what you will get, and seem to want, is just another Houston.
        4. No, we have no OBLIGATION to build to the “best use” of what little land we have. In fact we need to allow some of our land to remain low scale, small scale and human scaled.
        5. Building higher in selected, ZONED locations makes sense: Mainly along our largest corridors, near public transit.
        6. Being selfish, which I may be called is really about wanting the next generations to enjoy, live and work in what we have today, and what we are grateful for today.

        • Posted by Bob

          Sorry, when the NIMBYs are empowered enough to delay any change, no matter how small, then you are basically living in a gated community with the small mindedness of a gated communities HOA.

          Speaking of drama, I would like to understand how SF will ever be houston. We’re built out, and we have the strongest building restrictions of any “large” city in the US. Hyperbole.

          Your fetish for leaving parking lots and industrial land which will never see industrial use again as empty space is just your NIMBYism masquerading as nostalgia for the charm of SF.

          Glad that we agree that you are selfish. FYI, the future generations aren’t as self absorbed and inflexible as yours is. The generations coming into SF now want an urban environment, not a disney version of cityland.

          • Posted by Futurist

            Ok, Bob.

            Read my comments again. Very. Very. Carefully.

            Where are we built out?
            Where did I mention leaving parking lots and industrial land empty? I am looking forward to this new development. I simply want it to retain a “San Francisco” scale and character.

            You simply seem angry. What are your defined solutions for responsible growth?

          • Posted by Bob

            Are you arguing that SF isn’t built out? Where are we not built out?

            I would completely support the San Francisco scale and character which existed before the baby boomers clamped down on construction in SF. We should have a list of beloved buildings which would not conform to today’s zoning (cough ferry building).

            I would love to see at will development for any project which is 100% within zoning for its site. Enough with mandatory review of anything 40′ and over.

        • Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

          Boy, I sure hope those future generations won’t be too mad at us for depriving them of the experience of Mission Bay as a rail yard, Dogpatch as a run-down industrial wasteland, Hayes Valley as a crime-ridden cess pool, or mid-Market as a murderous shooting range for drug gangs. Not to mention the Embarcadero Freeway which they will only know as an ancient utopia paved with gold.

          Thanks to Futurist I’m now genuinely worried that in 15 years my son will spit in my face and move to Gary, IN in search of the “authenticity” of which I’ve robbed him by not chaining myself to the gates of every former crack house in the Mission when the wrecking ball showed up. Until then, thank God they still build at “human scale” in Legoland.

          • Posted by Futurist

            If you have a son that would spit in your face, then you have problems none of us can solve. for the record (once again);
            I love how Dogpatch is evolving and changing. Great new restaurants, shops and housing. all good.
            I love how Hayes Valley is evolving. Removing the freeway was a good thing (mostly).
            I am pleased how the Mission is evolving, even though the issue of gentrification is a difficult issue on both sides.
            And I can’t wait see to the development of this shipyard area: lots of new housing, retail, restaurants, parkways, art studios, etc. All good.

  19. Posted by anun

    Not even a high rise at 90. No views to block, nobody walks around there. Build more.

  20. Posted by astroguy

    I am also not a developer, but the arguments presented here do not seem to make much sense. The notion that policy will lead developers and their bankers to increase the supply of housing so that “the buyer would be in the driver’s seat” seems naive. Most developers are interested in profit, not the diversity of our city. Regardless of height limits, builders will build at a rate that benefits their bottom line. They do not overbuild if they can help it. We have seen this demonstrated many times — the second Rincon Tower was built this year, not 2006, for this reason. Consequently, one can pass laws allowing builders to build any thing any where any time, but that will not change economics and thus should not change the housing supply. It can, however, lead to a degraded city.

    • Posted by Absolut

      The second Rincon Tower was build this year, rather than 2009 because of financing. Developers can’t/won’t float the hundreds of millions of construction costs for these large projects, just like how private equity companies don’t pay the entire costs of buying a company with their own cash. They all take bank financing for most (at least 70-80%) of the cost, and just as it was hard for you to get financing in 2009, it was even harder for businesses.

      According to supply and demand, suppliers will build units as long as the “marginal profit” on an extra unit is positive. This includes factoring in price decreases due to the additional supply. Let’s say you make 200K per unit if you build 10 units, but only $190K per unit if you build 11 units. You still make more overall profit building 11 even though prices have gone down.

      There are certainly times, like 2009-2010, where you could let developers build whatever they want and they wouldn’t because it is not financially viable. But that means it’s even more important to let them build as many units as they want when it is financially viable. Or else prices would go even higher. Unless you think not building more units would actually decrease total demand (I don’t see how), then having that demand bid on fewer units will certainly result in higher prices.

      • Posted by astroguy

        Dear Absolut: Could you provide a reference for the statements made above? My source was an April 10, 2008, article in the San Francisco Business Times covering Kriozere’s statement that he had completed financing for Tower 2 (65% from Union Labor Life, 30% C B Ellis, 5% his own equity). In the same article he announces his intention to sign a maximum price contract nearly immediately, but with a delay in ground breaking from end of summer 2008 to spring 2009 due to a housing market he describes as lousy — he describes the change in market as the difference between a grand slam and a ground rule double. Subsequent articles in the same source announce further delays, because of slow sales in Tower 1. What is your source showing that financing was not available?

    • Posted by poor.ass.millionaire

      Yes you’re right. Developers are very smart and never over build so as to bring prices down. Vegas? Miami? Phoenix? Nope, no over building went on there :)

      Developers are prone to over build in markets where it’s possible to do so. Why? 1- most developers are small/mid size, and as long as they can sell their units, all is ok (never mind the 20 other developers in their market thinking the same thing.) 2- even in growth markets, it takes at least 2 years to go from dirt to finished units, so what makes sense today may not pan out 2+ years.

  21. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    So basically, people are fighting to make sure the [public housing] dwellers on Potrero Terrace will still have an unobstructed view of those lovely repair docks. Makes sense.

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