Developers win, but just this round

|
()
Proposed project: The view from the street

So the developers won the first round of the 555 Washington battle -- and the role of the Recreation and Parks and City Planning Commissions said a lot about the state of local politics today. In both cases, you had the equivalent of a party-line vote: Every commissioner appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom voted in favor of the project, and every commissioner appointed by the Board of Supervisors voted against it.

And since the Rec-Park commission is entirely made up of mayoral appointees, that vote was unanimous.

The fact that there were dissenting views on the Planning Commission is a clear indication of why it's so important that the supes and the mayor both get to name members of that panel. And perhaps it's time to apply the same standard to Rec-Park.

A sign of how bad it was at planning: Toward the end of the discussion on the certification of the environmental impact report, after board-appointed commissioner Christina Olague complained about the threats to the redwood trees on the site, commissioner Bill Lee insisted on taking some expert testimony on the issue. And who did he call up? The landscape architect for the project sponsor. Guess what? She thought the trees would be just fine.

But this shady deal is not done yet. The Planning Commission was set to vote not only on the EIR but on the other various approvals the project needs, but Sue Hestor, a lawyer and project foe, pointed out that the developer had made some last-minute changes to the plans, and by law, the public needed more time to review the new material. And the City Attorney's Office, to its credit, agreed, and told the commission to continue that part of the vote for two weeks.

Meanwhile, it's pretty clear that opponents will appeal the EIR certification to the Board of Supervisors -- and the board will also have to approve the zoning changes and the sale of a public street that are necessary for the project to go forward.

And interesting twist at the commission meeting: Former Sup. Aaron Peskin pointed out that in 1992, a similar project came before the Recreation and Parks Commission -- similar except that it was about half as tall. And the commission rejected it because it would cast shadows on public parkland.

And yet, a much bigger project, which must more extensive shadows, sailed through Newsom's park panel -- with no discussion at all. "This thing was a greased as it gets," Peskin told me.