War of the waterfront - Page 2

Too many projects and too little planning on San Francisco's most valuable strip of land

San Francisco's excited for the new Exploratorium -- but is there a cohesive plan for our rapidly-developing waterfront?

Although the supervisors approved it on a 8-3 vote, foes gathered enough signatures to force a referendum, so the development can't go forward until the voters have a chance to weigh in this coming November.

Meanwhile, the Paramount Group has filed plans for a much taller project at 75 Howard. It's on the edge of downtown, but also along the Embarcadero south of Market, where many of the buildings are only a few stories high.

The project already faces opposition. "The serious concerns I had with 8 Washington are very similar with 75 Howard," Chiu said. But the issues are much larger now that the Warriors have proposed an arena just across the street and a few blocks south.

"Because of the increase in traffic and other issues around the arena, I think 75 Howard has a higher bar to jump," Sup. Jane Kim, who represents South of Market, told me.

Kim said she's not opposed to the Warriors' proposal and is still open to considering the highrise condos. But she, too, is concerned that all of this development is taking place without a coherent plan.

"It's a good question to be asking," she said. "We want some development along the waterfront, but the question is how much."

Alex Clemens, who runs Barbary Coast Consulting, is representing the developer at 75 Howard. He argues that the current parking garage is neither environmentally appropriate nor the best use of space downtown.

"Paramount Group purchased the garage as part of a larger portfolio in 2007," he told me by email. "Like any other downtown garage, it is very profitable — but Paramount believes an eight-story cube of parking facing the Embarcadero is not the best use of this incredible location."

He added: "We believe removing eight above-ground layers of parked cars from the site, reducing traffic congestion, enlivening street life, and improving the pedestrian corridor are all benefits to the community that fit well with the city's overall goals. (Of course, these are in addition to the myriad fees and tax revenues associated with the project.)"

But that, of course, assumes that the city wants, and needs, more luxury condominiums (see sidebar).


Among the biggest problems of this rush of waterfront development is the lack of public transit. The 75 Howard project is fairly close to the Embarcadero BART station, but when you take into account the Exploratorium, the arena, and Pier 70 — where a popular renovation project is slated to create new office, retail, and restaurant space — the potential for transit overload is serious.

The waterfront at this point is served primary by Muni's F line — which, Radulovich points out, "is crowded, expensive, low-capacity, and not [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant."

The T line brings in passengers from the southeast but, Radulovich said, "if you think we can serve all this new development with the existing transit, it's not going to happen."

Then there are the cars. The Embarcadero is practically a highway, and all the auto traffic makes it unsafe for bicycles. The Warriors arena will have to involve some parking (if nothing else, it will need a few hundred spaces for players, staff, and executives — and it's highly unlikely people who buy million-dollar luxury boxes are going to take transit to the arena, so there will have to be parking for them, too. That's hundreds of spaces and new cars — assuming not a single fan drives.

The 75 Howard project will eliminate parking spaces, but not vehicle traffic — there will still be close to 200 parking spaces.

And all of this is happening at the foot of the Bay Bridge, the constantly clogged artery to the East Bay. "Oh, and there's a new community of 20,000 people planned right in the center of the bridge, on Treasure Island," Peskin pointed out.