Assessing the deal

Labor Council makes pact with Lennar that could save the floundering Prop. G

Mayor Gavin Newsom stood with San Francisco Labor Council executive director Tim Paulson, flanked by Sup. Sophie Maxwell and representatives from megadeveloper Lennar, the San Francisco Organizing Project, and the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) May 20 to announce "a historic community benefits agreement."

Lennar had been persuaded to promise more affordable housing and other giveaways in order to win some important new endorsements in their troubled bid to take control of Candlestick and Hunter's points and cover them with about 10,000 new homes.

"This is a very big deal," Newsom said, plugging the Lennar-financed Prop. G and bashing Sup. Chris Daly for his leadership of the campaign to qualify Prop. F, which would require that half the new units be affordable to households making less than $75,000, a requirement that Lennar casts as a deal breaker.

"Prop. F is a pipe dream that guarantees you only one thing: what you already have," Newsom said. "We have to get the message out what a Trojan horse Prop. F is." Lennar's top local executive, Kofi Bonner, added that the agreement "enables us to go forward, because now we have new allies."

The Labor Council's ability to invigorate a campaign makes it an important ally. Yet Lennar's giveaway of more than it had previously promised and the fact that the agreement comes just two weeks before the June 3 vote seem to indicate that the Prop. G supporters have grown desperate.

Lennar already has spent $3.26 million to promote Prop. G and oppose Prop. F, only to find polls showing Prop. F well ahead despite a campaign that has raised less than $10,000. The weak poll numbers clearly convinced Lennar and its backers in the political power structure that voters would be more likely to support Prop. G if Lennar came up with something that seemed legally binding.

But by supporting a deal that appears to pin down Lennar on levels of housing affordability and community investment, Newsom ironically seems to be validating the concern of Daly and Prop. F's other backers that Prop. G lacks guarantees on these fronts (see "Promises and reality," 04/23/08).

Not even Newsom could deny that Prop. F's presence on the political landscape pushed Lennar to seek a community benefits agreement with the Labor Council and ACORN, a group that had been a solid part of Daly's affordable-housing constituency.

"It probably has," Newsom told the Guardian. "That said, I don't think Prop. F should suggest the deal is better because of them. Perhaps it's worse."

Daly dismissed Newsom's attacks as more attempts to hurt Prop. F's popularity by trying to attach it to Daly's personal negatives. Daly also attacked the agreement as overstated in its promises and impossible to enforce.

"I really don't know if there is any net gain from one deal to the next," Daly said. "And how is it enforceable? We're not sure anything legally binding is on table now. If there was a development agreement then obviously we would have some surety, as we would if we had a development plan that had cleared the approval process — Lennar's financial vulnerabilities notwithstanding."

Noting that the city has had "bad luck with big order projects before," Daly recalls how Lennar reneged on building rental units at the Shipyard's Parcel A, where the developer also failed to properly monitor and control asbestos dust despite promising to do so.

The agreement, which doesn't include the city or any government agency as a party, is certainly unconventional. But is the deal legally binding?