The case against 8 Washington

Why an enclave for the rich is a bad move for San Francisco's waterfront

Wow! Look at all the rich white people enjoying their gated community!

In city planning terms, it's a fairly modest project: 134 condos, no buildings more than 12 stories tall, on a 27,000-square-foot site. It's projected to meet the highest environmental building standards and offers new open space and pedestrian walkways. It's near Muni, BART, and ferry lines. And the city will collect millions of dollars in new taxes from it.

But the 8 Washington project, which will come before the Planning Commission March 8, has become a flashpoint in city politics, one of the defining battles of Mayor Ed Lee's administration — and a symbol of how the city's housing policy has failed to keep pace with the needs of the local workforce.

Put simply, it will create the most expensive condos in city history, housing for the richest of the 1 percent on the edge of the waterfront — and will further push San Francisco toward becoming a city that caters almost entirely to the very wealthy.

So in a city where the growing divide between the 1 percent and the rest of us has become a central issue and where the lack of affordable housing is one of the top civic concerns, 8 Washington is an important test. By any rational standard, this sort of development is the last thing San Francisco needs.

But some of the best-connected lobbyists in the city are pushing it. One of the mayor's closest allies, Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, is a leading advocate — and the final outcome will say a lot about city politics in the Lee administration.

There are all sorts of half-truths and misleading statements by supporters of 8 Washington. Here are the five main reasons the project shouldn't be approved.

1. It fills no housing need. San Francisco has no shortage of housing for the very rich; the dramatic need, outlined in both regional planning documents and the city's own General Plan, is for low- and moderate-income housing for the people who actually work in this city (see "Dollars or sense?" 9/28/10). While San Francisco is getting richer by the day, the core workforce — public employees, workers in the hotel and restaurant industry, service workers, construction and trade workers, and a majority of the people in the lower levels of the finance and tech sector — are being priced out of the city. That means more people working here and living far out of town, often commuting by car, in what everyone agrees is an unsustainable situation. Meanwhile, more and more high-paid workers from Silicon Valley are living in San Francisco — again, commuting to distant jobs, either by car or by corporate bus.

The city's General Plan states that some 60 percent of all new housing built in the city should be below market rate. San Francisco desperately needs housing for its workforce. This type of project simply puts the city deeper in the hole and further from its housing goals.

2. It's a reward for bad actors. The main developer of this project is Simon Snellgrove, but one of his partners is, by necessity, Golden Gateway, which owns a significant part of the land — and which has been flouting at least the spirit if not the letter of city and state law and costing San Francisco tens of millions of dollars.

As project opponent Brad Paul has noted in written testimony, when Timothy Foo, the current owner, bought the complex from Perini Corp. about 20 years ago, he used a loophole in state law that allowed him to avoid a formal transfer of ownership. That means the property wasn't re-assessed, costing the city about $1.5 million a year. According to the Assessor's Office, the deal wasn't illegal (and these tricks to avoid reassessment are relatively common) but still: He's costing the city millions by using a loophole not available to most people.


Here is something to chew on, you will have rich people moving to SF. You will always have rich people coming here, let them buy here instead of other places, you will have 134 units of upper income places, let the 1 percent live here, instead of the Mission, the Castro or the Fillmore. The rich people will find ways to take over places in the city, just think about South of Market becoming becoming another Cow Hollow.

Posted by garrett on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 11:16 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

"Diversity" doesn't include "white males" (rich OR poor)...

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

That's an interesting perspective.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 7:57 am


people of all races that agree with progressives

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 8:10 am

The people of means who want to live in San Francisco will do so. If they're not moving into a pricey new condo, they're going to move into the next best thing they can get. This slides all the way down the housing scale. People are getting priced out of normal San Francisco rental housing in neighborhoods like the Mission, the Castro, etc., because the demand for units for "the white and rich" is way higher than supply. You can either zone as much of San Francisco as possible into affordable housing and let the rest of the market get inflated to the prices only the ultra rich can afford, or you can allow more developments to fill this demand in order to maintain the more desirable spectrum of housing availability across the city.

This isn't about values. It's thinking rationally about our city's economic (the balance of incentives, costs, demand, supply) reality.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

An intelligent post, I'm kind of surprised.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

Wow. A few corporate jet trips is the best you can come up with? Like your arguments, you guys are getting old. Maybe it is time to retire to a gated community of your own....

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

I don't think they have gated communities for old hippie commie radical types, even though I did cut my ponytail. And I won't live anyplace that doesn't have Bud Light for lunch. So I think it's the trailer park for me.

You missed the point, though: These units will not be marketed for people who were going to move here anyway. These are second and third homes for the elite. They aren't going to move to the Mission or the Castro, ever. No competition there. It's an entirely different market.

Posted by tim on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

We were all out-of-towners once. Or most of us anyway.

Aren't you really just trying to meddle in what type of people can own homes here? If so, why?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

type of pariah? I guess I missed the memo.

Why do you always have to play the race card and the class card? Is identity politics that crucial for you?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

"If five of the 165 residents of 8 Washington fly in a private or corporate jet from, say, New York to their SF pad once a month, the project will cause the use of jet fuel equivalent to what a normal family would use driving a car for 330 years, Paul noted."

Why don't you just make up some more stats that can't ever be proven?
If ten of the 165 residents of 8 Washington are werewolves, feeding say ten times a month, the project will cause the loss of silver bullets to the community requiring more silver mines in the amazon.

I mean honestly, can you come up with something intelligent? Something besides all white people are evil? How many people of color are on the sfbg payroll?

Posted by Greg on Mar. 07, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

look at the mundane treatment of the buildings, the lack of inventiveness

its straight out of a developer/bank project......

whats needed there is essential housing, not million dollar pied-a-terres.......

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 10:09 am

these condo's will not cost the taxpayer anything in subsidies and, indeed, will provide tax revenues and affordable units.

You might want to build an SRO on the waterfront but, luckily, you'd never get funding for it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 10:13 am

Wow BG is stooping very low. The rendering is old. Where's the new design as posted by planning. Hypocrites complaining that the new condo would upstate their own million dollar condos at the commons.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 6:23 am

Uh yeah guest, the picture above is not a rendering of the proposed project - its something that the author pulled off the internet because it represents his fantasy about the 8 washington project

Posted by Vibral on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 10:19 am

Wait, I'm confused... so the developer wants to demolish private tennis courts and a parking lot, not homes, to build 134 condos for rich people, and in exchange is going to shell out cash for the city to ALSO build 27 units of affordable workforce housing. And somehow this is bad for affordable housing?

The alternative isn't "build affordable housing instead" because no one has the money. The alternative is "build no market rate or affordable housing at all, and hope those 134 rich people just disappear instead of buying houses in gentrifying areas of the city and pricing others out."

Posted by Rick on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 11:09 am

The progressive intelligentsia agrees. This is our playground. We don't need or want poor people living here. We should accelerate their removal. No more affordable housing. If they can't find a job or pay their way we can house them in internment camps and use them as slave labor.

Posted by h. Brownnose on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 11:27 am

Recently the progressive intelligentsia were meeting down at the Buck, united in our diversity of thinking and believing in all of the same thing, when we discussed this issue. It was decided that the entire progressive intelligentsia should oppose this development and all housing developments in San Francisco, until SEIU members received long-overdue raises equaling 50% of their last year's pay + 50 hours per year flight time on a pre-paid Net Jets card. San Francisco residents can afford it - they're all rich.

Shanti my friend. Shanti.

Posted by Gabs Haaland on May. 09, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

Isn't most of it just a giant, weed-filled lot surrounded by green plastic fencing?

Anything sounds better than that.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 11:54 am

What a specious argument! What is it like to be unable to make one's way through a city without being stricken by panic attacks at the absence of luxury condos?

What's really going to happen is that 8 Washington and the fall through of the America's Cup billionaires giveaway pier deal is going to create a critical mass of blight that is going to suck San Francisco down into the pits of hell.

That is, unless boosters convince San Franciscans to continue to bear gold bricks on red velvet pillows with golden tassels in procession towards our billionaire betters.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

and there was me thinking mid-Market was blight.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

I'd rather see condos with nice grounds and public space than I would weed-strewn, gravel-filled lots surrounded by plastic fencing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

nothing that they actually prefer windswept, litter-strewn, crime-infested, homeless-ridden cesspits like mid-Market than an iconic, signature state of the art architectural gem on our beautiful waterfront.

So sad.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

the picture could never be seen as an architectural gem, it looks like a masuoleum, or federal building with little understanding of tower or housing design on the waterfront....

even the architectural images of the proposed towers, looks poorly designed.

how can anyone allow such "pied-a-terre"s to be built non-ending while essential housing and services crumble. allowing private developers the rights to say what our city should look like....

take a look @ the BofA tower, and many other eye-sores in the investment tends to look poorly in relation to real community based, and inventive architectural concepts.

to get a winning building, you need to open the site to open competition and design entries and let the public decide what would succeed in terms of visuals....

Posted by goodmaab50 on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

The San Francisco public would pick provincial claptrap. We, on the whole are not a worldly, sophisticated group when it comes to architectural innovation.
The general feeling is that our best days are behind us, and the most we can hope for is to produce a facsimile of something we enjoyed 25-30-45 years ago.

Posted by Vibral on Mar. 11, 2012 @ 10:25 am

This here's a story about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue
Two young lovers with nothin' better to do
Than sit around the house, get high, and watch the tube
And here is what happened when they decided to cut loose

They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso
That's where they ran into a great big hassle
Billy Joe shot a man while robbing his castle
Bobbie Sue took the money and run

Go on take the money and run
Go on take the money and run
Go on take the money and run
Go on take the money and run

Posted by marcos on Mar. 11, 2012 @ 10:42 am

No hard feelings eh Marcos. See you in the steamroom Monday? Clean the kitchen a little better this time ok?

Posted by Vibral on Mar. 11, 2012 @ 11:21 am

The progress sought by the developers will utlimately prevail. It always does - their ability to stay the course for a decade through transient populations and administrations ultimately works to their favor. Better to force the development meet your needs (tax, open-air, recreation, parking, access, etc) and compromise now, accelerating development, than to foster a decade of bitterness.

Build your 12-14 story tower, attach the lower structure (4-5 stories) that includes the 140 parking spaces for tenants, 210 parking spots for the public and 70 parking spots for the health club. Let the top two floors of the parking lot house the athetic club that has 6 indoor courts (plus another 6 outdoor on the roof), an Olympic-sized heated indoor swimming pool, an indoor track, the aerobic studios, weight and exercise machines, 1-2 squash courts, a restaurant, a little family room and an open garden area. Grandfather the existing members in at lifetime reduced rates, GG and 8 Wash. residents in at discounted rates. And let's get on with life.

Posted by David S. on Mar. 11, 2012 @ 3:16 am

Which is why the SFBG will ignore you, not that that matters.

Posted by Anonymous on Mar. 11, 2012 @ 8:57 am

70 parking spots for the health club, eh? So "a lot of the users are longtime Golden Gateway residents and seniors", but let's make sure the city uses its power to make the developers spend millions to encourage people to drive in from next door and keep seniors driving instead of taking icky public transit.

Now that's good public policy!

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

70 parking spots for the health club, eh? So "a lot of the users are longtime Golden Gateway residents and seniors", but let's make sure the city uses its power to make the developers spend millions to encourage people to drive in from next door and keep seniors driving instead of taking icky public transit.

Now that's good public policy!

Posted by Alai on May. 09, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

Has the SFBG headquarters been sold to Union Property Capital yet?

Posted by sfbg going down on May. 09, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

I'd be a lot more impressed if there was a counterproposal that actually helped improve the housing situation: say 200 somewhat smaller condos, much less parking, and maybe even a taller building that focuses more on maximum housing than maximum views. Until then, I'm going to assume that the main drive behind this is maintaining the exclusivity that already exists, and covering it in a politically-acceptable veneer of "not doing enough for affordable housing". It's not as if the developer would refuse: you can make as much money building for a larger number of lower-income people as a smaller number of higher-income people.

Posted by Alai on May. 09, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

There was a plan to build a higher condo development which would have included more middle-income housing. THD and the SF Bay Guardian got it shot down. Now they have to live with the consequences of their obstructionism.

San Francisco is tired of your NIMBYism Guardian. It is time to find another shtick.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2012 @ 9:17 pm