Concrete plans

Massive southeast development proposal moves forward despite flaws and concerns

In the fractious atmosphere that dominates meetings concerned with Lennar's plan to redevelop the economically depressed southeast sector of San Francisco, reality is relative to one's perspective on this ambitious project.

At these meetings, competing factions within the Bayview's predominantly African American community typically accuse each other — as well as the mostly white engineers, planners, and scientists that Lennar and the city hired to flesh out the details of their vaguely worded but voter-approved conceptual framework — of being sellouts and traitors.

The Jan. 28 meeting, where two local advisory committees endorsed Lennar's draft urban design plan for a 770-acre Candlestick Point/Hunters Point Shipyard development, was typical. It was held at the Southeast Community Facility, within sniffing distance of a seismically suspect sewage treatment plant.

The committee's endorsement came at the end of a meeting that was full of what critics labeled "disingenuous claims" by representatives from Lennar, the Mayor's Office, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, and the city's Planning Department; recriminatory accusations by community members; and disruptive chants of "A-B-Uuuu!" by a female member of Aboriginal Blackmen United, who claimed that ABU members have been starved for work at Lennar's development. Records show Lennar paid ABU trainees $11,300 in fiscal year 2005–06 for work at the Shipyard's Parcel A.

Fanning the flames was a report that local environmental nonprofit Arc Ecology released last month. Arc's report faults Lennar's urban design plan for not including comparisons with realistic alternatives and for failing to study the cumulative impact of the 15 developments, covering 1,500-2,000 acres, currently underway on the eastern waterfront.

"The practice of 'island' development prevents the city from conceiving a cohesive vision for the east waterfront," Arc Ecology's January 15 report states. "Moreover, the piecemeal approach cannot adequately address the practical consequences of the addition of 50,000 new residences to the area."

Noting that Lennar's proposal calls for a 60 percent increase in the neighborhood's population as more than 20,000 new residents join the 33,000 people who already live in the neighborhood, Arc's report lists alternatives that "would strengthen the economic, social and environmental benefits, while avoiding and reducing some significant impacts."

Financed by a California Wellness Foundation grant, Arc's report stressed that it does not disagree with the stated objectives of Lennar's development plan as laid out in Proposition G, which voters approved in June. In fact, the organization did little to voice its concerns before the election.

But the report has ruffled the feathers of city leaders, who seem hell-bent on moving the project forward and applying for funding from the federal economic stimulus package. The report calls for a focus on doing "bottom-up" ecological planning, creating real economic opportunities for the Bayview community, relocating the proposed football stadium, and removing the shipyard's highly contaminated Parcel E2 from the project.

Noting that Lennar's environmental impact report has yet to be completed, and that there has been no time to study Arc's report, Citizens Advisory Committee member Scott Madison argued that delaying the endorsement would have no impact on Lennar's home building or job creation schedule. "It's not going to slow down anyone getting a job by even one day if we take a few days," Madison said.