Showdown over a downtown highrise

Do we really need another condo tower?

The battle over 555 Washington -- the too-big highrise that will house 248 luxury condos that San Francisco doesn't need -- is going on right now, and you can watch it on sfgtv. 

Supporters and opponents have been testifying for more than two hours. Sue Hestor mae one of the key points toward the end of the testimony: Does "new urbanism" say that we have to fight suburban sprawl by putting 400-foot buildings everywhere in San Francisco?

She also pointed out that the building has so much parking that the lines to get in and out of the underground garage will impact the only downtown fire station, a block away.

Already, Planning Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya is arguing that the EIR on the project is completely bogus and invalid (although he carefully avoiding saying he will vote against the project).

This is one of the major development battles of the year, and will demonstrate whether the Planning Commission and Recreation and Park Commission have the independence and integrity to reject a project the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce support.


UPDATE: The hearing ended in the strangest way. After more than two hours of testimony -- most of which showed the inadequacy of the EIR, which has to be certified as complete before a final vote on the project itself -- Sugaya moved NOT to certify the document. That motion failed, 3-2. At that point, the commission secretary said that the matter would be put off until March 18th.

The strange thing is that if the motion had been in reverse - a motion TO certify -- that also would have failed (either way, four yes votes were needed, and two commissioners weren't there). And then the matter would be over; the EIR would not be certified, and the developer and city planning dept. would have to go back and redo it. In this case, since a motion to reject failed, and there was no motion to accept, it's not clear where the EIR is.

Aaron Peskin, a foe of the project, told me just now that he doesn't see how the commission can legally continue the hearing. "There's nothing to continue," he said. "There's no certified EIR." That, in the end, will be up to the city attorney. I'll keep you posted. 

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