Lennar's massive redevelopment plan gets the green light despite unaddressed concerns
Although the board's July 27 vote was a relief for termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, its failure to support the no-bridge alternative, increased affordability standards, and an air quality analysis could result in expensive and time-consuming litigation, Feinstein warns.
And although Sups. Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, John Avalos, and Eric Mar supported all three of these amendments, they were ultimately thwarted by a redevelopment law that limits the city's control of such projects.
During the meeting, Daly acknowledged that it would be impossible for Lennar to meet his 50 percent affordability amendment. But he noted that if the project becomes too expensive "there's going to be a pretty new neighborhood with lots of white folks living in the Bayview."
But after Michael Cohen, Newsom's top economic advisor, said the project would not be financially viable with 50 percent affordability, Sups. Chiu, Maxwell, Bevan Dufty, Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd voted against Daly's amendment.
These same six supervisors voted against Mirkarimi's proposal to eliminate plans for a bridge across Yosemite Slough, even though Cohen was unable to point to any economic analysis to support Lennar's claims that the bridge is necessary.
Arc Ecology owner Saul Bloom, whose nonprofit did studies indicating that an alternative route wrapping around the slough is feasible, says Lennar's plan illustrates the problem that San Francisco has with development. "Elected officials couldn't do anything," he said, except give the nod to a plan he describes as "developed by a mayoral administration and approved by that mayor's political appointees [on the Redevelopment Agency board]," Bloom said.
"The message that the environmental community takes away from all this is that it doesn't pay to play well," Bloom continued. "No matter how much you spend to try and ensure that litigation is not the only way to obtain the desired outcome, ultimately the message that comes back from the city and the developer is 'sue us!' That brings out the worst political conduct, not the most appropriate."
Feinstein wouldn't confirm that a Sierra Club lawsuit is imminent, but predicted that if the coalition — which includes Golden Gate Audubon, the California Native Plant Society, and SF Tomorrow — goes to court, it's likely to win. "If we do litigate, we'll probably do it on a wide range of issues," Feinstein said. "They approved a fatally flawed document, and they could provide no documented evidence of the need for a bridge — and admitted that publicly."
Feinstein contends that Lennar's plan has been a runaway project from the get-go. "The idea was to march it through before the mayor is gone with little regard for process. And despite all the much vaunted public meetings, little in the plan has changed," he said.
Feinstein added that he was disappointed in Chiu's stance on the bridge. "There were five supervisors in the Newsom camp, but as board President, Chiu had a responsibility to be more vigilant," he said. "We told him what's wrong with the bridge plan, but he didn't share our view."
"This is a rare opportunity," Maxwell said before the board's final vote. "It focuses public and private investment into an area that has lacked it in the past. It's unmatched by any development project in San Francisco. This project is large and complicated, no doubt. But let us not be fearful of this project because of its scale, because how else can we transform a neglected landscape?"
But project opponents say everyone should fear a deal that required the board to ask Lennar's approval to amend a plan that was pitched by the Newsom administration and approved by a bunch of mayoral appointees on the Redevelopment Commission with little chance for elected officials to make changes.