The battle of 8 Washington

Condos for millionaires approved with progressives split
The condos at 8 Washington (center) would be the tallest buildings and the priciest housing along the waterfront

More than 100 people showed up May 15 to testify on a condominium development that involves only 134 units, but has become a symbol of the failure of San Francisco's housing policy.

I didn't count every single speaker, but it's fair to say sentiment was about 2-1 against the 8 Washington project. Seniors, tenant advocates, and neighbors spoke of the excessive size and bulk of the complex, the precedent of upzoning the waterfront for the first time in half a century, the loss of the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club — and, more important, the principle of using public land to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history.

Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, calls it housing for the 1 percent, but it's worse than that — it's actually housing for the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, for the ultra-rich.

It is, even supervisors who voted in favor agreed, housing the city doesn't need, catering to a population that doesn't lack housing opportunities — and a project that puts the city even further out of compliance with its own affordable-housing goals.

And in the end, after more than seven hours of testimony, the board voted 8-3 in favor of the developer.

It was a defeat for progressive housing advocates and for Board President David Chiu — and it showed a schism on the board's left flank that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And it could also have significant implications for the fall supervisorial elections.

Sup. Jane Kim, usually an ally of Chiu, voted in favor of the project. Sup. Eric Mar, who almost always votes with the board's left flank, supported it, too, as did Sup. Christina Olague, who is running for re-election in one of the city's most progressive districts.

At the end of the night, only Sups. David Campos and John Avalos joined Chiu in attempting to derail 8 Washington.

The battle of 8 Washington isn't over — the vote last week was to approve the environmental impact report and the conditional use permit, but the actual development agreement and rezoning of the site still requires board approval next month.

Both Mar and Olague said they were going to work with the developer to try to get the height and bulk of the 134-unit building reduced.

But a vote against the EIR or the CU would have killed the project, and the thumbs-up is a signal that opponents will have an upward struggle to change the minds of Olague, Kim, and Mar.



The 8 Washington project is one of a handful of defining votes that will happen over the next few months. The mayor's proposal for a business tax reform that raises no new revenue, the budget, and the massive California Pacific Medical Center hospital project will force board members to take sides on controversial issues with heavy lobbying on both sides.

In fact, by some accounts, 8 Washington was a beneficiary of the much larger, more complicated — and frankly, more significant — CPMC development.

The building trades unions pushed furiously for 8 Washington, which isn't surprising — the building trades tend to support almost anything that means jobs for their members and have often been in conflict with progressives over development. But the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union joined the building trades and lined up the San Francisco Labor Council behind the deal.

And for progressive supervisors who are up for re-election and need union support — Olague and Mar, for example — defying the Labor Council on this one was tough. "Labor came out strong for this, and I respect that," Olague told me. "That was a huge factor for me."

She also said she's not thrilled with the deal — "nobody's jumping up and down. This was a hard one" — but she thinks she can get the developer to pay more fees, particularly for parking.