The case against 8 Washington - Page 3

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

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

4. It will wipe out what is mostly a middle-class recreation facility. The Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club will be closed for three years, then (possibly) reopened later as a smaller facility. The club — with two outdoor pools and six tennis courts — sounds like something for the elite, and it's managed by the upscale Bay Club, but a lot of the users are longtime Golden Gateway residents and seniors. "I would say 30 or 35 percent of the users are seniors," Lee Radner, chair of Friends of Golden Gateway, told me. Most, he said, are middle-class people, and the expense isn't that high. "My wife and I pay $3 a day to use the pool," he said. "I swim every day, and it would cost more than that to use the public pools in the city." He added: "There are some wealthier people, of course, but many of us are retired and on fixed incomes."

We're talking about 90,000 total square feet of outdoor recreation space — which dwarfs the 20,000 square feet of open space the developer promised to provide.

5. The city doesn't get much out of the deal. In exchange for upzoning the waterfront, creating a big all of buildings and screwing up the city's housing balance, what does the San Francisco general fund get? Not a lot. The estimates for new tax revenue run about $1.5 million a year of the next 60 years — and when you translate that to what economist call "net present value," the cash equivalent today of that revenue stream, it's about $30 million. The Port of San Francisco is talking about creating a special infrastructure financing district — sort of the equivalent of a redevelopment area — to pull that money out in advance, which may not even be legal (since part of the land is a former redevelopment area, the state law that allows these special finance districts may not apply). But even so, a Jan. 14 Port memo suggests that the agency has plans to spend all that money on its own infrastructure — setting up a potential battle between the supervisors and the Port Commission over where the money, if it actually can be collected up front, will go.

Like any developer, Snellgrove will pay into the city's affordable housing fund — in this case, about $9 million to pay for the equivalent of 27 units. No affordable units will be on site, of course; that would detract from the uber-wealthy ambience of the place. And it's not clear when those units would be built. "Nobody builds 27-unit buildings any more," Paul, a former deputy mayor for housing, said. "We'll have to wait until there's enough money for a bigger project, somewhere, sometime down the road. That's what we're getting here."

Either way, it's not a huge benefit for allowing this disaster of a project — and it's a terrible statement for San Francisco to make. At a time when the mayor has cleared the Occupy protesters — who are talking about how little the rich pay in taxes — off the waterfront, the city is preparing to move in the exceptionally rich, who aren't paying anywhere near their fair share in tax revenue to local government.

(Nobody knows for sure whether the costs of servicing high-end residential exceed the revenue the city gets from property taxes. In 1971, the Guardian put together the first-ever cost-benefit study for highrise office development, which showed that commercial buildings cost the city more than they paid; that's been confirmed and demonstrated over the years to the point where it's hardly even an argument any more. The supervisors ought to ask the city economist or the budget analyst to do the same sort of analysis for luxury condos.)