Holiday snowjob

Why are officials seeking to limit public review of the city's biggest development proposal?

Shortly before Thanksgiving, San Francisco city officials announced that the draft environmental impact report for Lennar Corp.'s massive Hunters Point Shipyard-Candlestick Point redevelopment proposal was finally available, and that the public has 45 days — until Dec. 28 — to read and comment on the 4,400-page document.

Envisioned to include more than 10,000 homes (most of them market-rate condos) spread over 708 acres in southeast San Francisco, the project — whose vague outlines city voters affirmed by approving Prop. G in June 2008 — is the centerpiece of the city's housing strategy for the next 25 years.

At a Nov. 5 presentation, Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom's top economic advisor, told the city's Planning Commission that the DEIR was a "milestone." But critics warn that this milestone could become a millstone around the city's neck if it fails to extend the DEIR review period, as a coalition of environmental groups and a state agency are requesting. Cohen did not return repeated calls for this story.

These groups are concerned that the city of San Francisco, Lennar's partner in this billion-dollar deal, is trying to rush through a controversial project before anyone can review its details. Forty-five days is the minimum required under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines for a project that also needs to be reviewed by state agencies and the groups want the deadline extended to mid-February.

The southeast sector has historically been home to low-income communities of color, and fears are running high that this project will continue the destructive, gentrifying legacy of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which shares lead agency responsibilities for this project with the Planning Department.

After Redevelopment Agency projects in Western Addition and Yerba Buena displaced much of San Francisco's African American population, there is concern that if this project isn't carefully considered, it could finish the job in the remaining parts of town with significant black populations: Bayview and Hunters Point, which are both in the plan area.

"People would have to read 130-plus pages per day since the DEIR's release to complete it by the first public hearing," said Kristine Enea, who sits on the board of the India Basin Neighborhood Association and is a candidate in the 2010 race to replace termed-out District 10 Sup. Sophie Maxwell.

Downloadable at the Planning Department's Web site, the Shipyard-Candlestick DEIR envisions an influx of 24,465 new residents and the possible building of a new 49ers stadium on a site that is radiologically contaminated, seismically vulnerable, and will undoubtedly be adversely affected by climate change-induced sea level rise.

As such, it requires significant chunks of time to digest and comment on — something folks are urged to do at two public hearings in mid-December or in writing by Dec. 28.

"The timeline is incredibly short," Arc Ecology's executive director Saul Bloom told us. So a coalition that includes Bloom, Enea, Arc Ecology, the Urban Strategies Council, the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club is urging Mayor Gavin Newsom to extend the DEIR public review period to 90 days.

"We believe that a public review period totaling 90 days ending on Feb. 12, 2010 is necessary and of appropriate length for the public and our organizations to review, discuss, and comment on this complicated tome," the coalition wrote in a Dec. 7 letter.

Also seeking a time extension is the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency charged with reviewing large projects that may impact the bay, although the agency did sign onto the coalition's letter.