The deal is done

Lennar's massive redevelopment plan gets the green light despite unaddressed concerns

Members of the building trades strongly encouraged the Board of Supervisors to approve Lennar's development plan on July 27

Mayor Gavin Newsom was quick to frame the Board of Supervisors' 10-1 vote for Lennar Corp.'s massive redevelopment proposal for Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard on July 27 as a sign that plans to revitalize the Bayview are about to begin.

"Now we can truly begin the work of transforming an environmental blight into a new center of thousands of permanent and construction jobs, green technology investment, affordable housing, and parks for our city," Newsom claimed in a prepared statement after the board (with Sup. Chris Daly as the lone dissenter) approved Lennar's 700-acre project.

The proposal calls for 10,500 residential units; 320 acres of parks, retail and entertainment facilities, green-tech office space; and a San Francisco 49ers stadium if the team decides not to move to Santa Clara.

But Kofi Bonner, who worked for Mayor Willie Brown before becoming Lennar's top Bay Area executive in 2006, said the vote means he can start shopping the plan around. "Now we have to find some money to move forward with the project," Bonner told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Given the stubbornness of the recession, Bonner's revelation that Lennar has yet to find all the necessary investors means local workers and public housing residents could be waiting a long time for jobs and housing in Bayview. If and when the project finally breaks ground, it will involve building condos in the Bayview's only major park.

These realities undermine the claims of Lennar, which used the mantra of "jobs, housing, and parks" in 2008 to sell Proposition G but made no mention of a bridge over environmentally sensitive Yosemite Slough or selling state parkland for condos.

Also disturbing, says Sierra Club local representative Arthur Feinstein, is the lack of any economic analysis to support Lennar's claims that the bridge is needed.

Indeed, the only thing clear to longtime observers of the plan is that the much vaunted jobs won't happen soon, most of the housing will be unaffordable to current Bayview residents, and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, the only major open space in the Bayview, will be carved up so Lennar can build luxury condos on waterfront land.

These concerns have led the Sierra Club to threaten a lawsuit over issues on which Board President David Chiu was the swing vote in favor of the Lennar and Redevelopment Agency plan. Yet Chiu told the Guardian that the process got him thinking that it might be time to reform the redevelopment process.

"Now might be a good time to address concerns about the potential for inconsistency between Redevelopment and the city when it comes to land use and planning visions," Chiu said. "And I have concerns about the tax increment financing process." Tax increment financing allows the Redevelopment Agency to keep all property tax increases from the project, up to $4 billion, to use in redevelopment projects rather than into city coffers.

Chiu says the amendment he offered July 12, which narrows Lennar's proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough by half, was based "on the belief that having a connection between jobs and housing is important. And I had understood that it would cost the developer an additional $100 million if the bridge was removed."

But Feinstein counters that it's hard to imagine that building a bridge over an environmentally sensitive slough will attract investors that support green technology. He is concerned that the development is expected to attract 24,465 new residents but that the Lennar plan fails to mitigate for transit-related impacts on air quality. "The Bayview already has the highest rates of asthma and cancer in the city," Feinstein said.

Chiu says the supervisors can introduce separate legislation to address this concern. "It's my understanding that an air quality analysis could be implemented by the board," he said.