D. 10 candidates DeWitt Lacy, Tony Kelly and progressive planners blast Lennar’s plan
Recently, I spent some time talking with D. 10 candidates DeWitt Lacy and Tony Kelly about Lennar’s redevelopment plan for the shipyard and Candlestick Point. I also attended a Progressive Planners forum that addressed the massive development proposal. Those conversations and the issues they raised seem timely in light of the city's crazily tight schedule for trying to ram final approvals for the project past government agencies this summer. And in light of three appeals that have been filed against the city's recently certified final environmental impact report for the plan, raising concerns that the city will get bogged down in expensive and time-consuming litigation if it doesn't get the plan right, while it still can.
(Lest other D. 10 candidates complain that they weren’t interviewed, too, I’d like to clarify that I’ll be covering the race between now and November, and I look forward to hearing what they all think at the Board’s July 13 meeting to hear appeals of the city’s final environmental impact report (FEIR) for the project. )
Both Lacy and Kelly are critics of Lennar’s plan, but not in a knee-jerk obstructionist way. Instead, they bring considered and informed critiques to the table at a time when the community desperately needs good advice and a workable strategy, if residents are to get needed amendments and concessions, before the developer get the green light, or before the Board puts a moratorium on the project until the city's FEIR flaws are ironed out.
Lacy is a bright and earnest candidate who learned lessons from the school of life, while growing up in San Jose in a working class family. Lacy says his father worked in an Adidas warehouse until he was injured on the job, and his mother worked as a secretary in Atari’s corporate office, but was laid off after two years.
Lacy recalls how his parents opened their own janitorial business, in the hope of making a better life for their six children. He says that it was while cleaning homes alongside his mother, that he began to recognize the need for working class improvement and growth.
In 1995, Lacy moved to San Francisco, where he has worked in the District Attorney’s office and formed his own law practice—experience that could serve District 10 well, since it’s home to many working-class residents and will be ground zero in the battle for construction-related contracts and environmental and economic justice, if Lennar’s massive redevelopment plan goes ahead,
“I know how to craft legislation for social justice,” Lacy said.
Lacy observes how Michael Cohen, Gavin Newsom’s top economic advisor in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, has repeatedly told folks that land transferred to Lennar will be subject to a “right of reverter.”
This means the Redevelopment Agency may re-take ownership of the land, if the developer fails to substantially complete the infrastructure in the time frame set forth in the city’s development and disposition agreement (the DDA)
But Lacy observes that this “nuclear option” isn’t likely to happen with so much riding on the Lennar deal, and he stresses that additional controls are needed, if the city is to ensure that the deal remains in the best interest of San Francisco, not just the developer.
Lacy’s probably right about that. (Remember how hard the community had to fight to just get an extra 15 days to read and comment on the project’s six volume draft EIR over the winter holidays?)
And how much political pressure was exerted to ram the city’s EIR for this project across the certification line on June 3, five days before Santa Clara voters decided to support a stadium for the 49ers near Great America.
“What’s needed is an impartial arbiter,” Lacy said. “The city needs regulatory controls and the capacity to fine Lennar if it breaks promises to build affordable housing, create jobs and hire locals. You’re not going to be able to hold their feet to the fire without that.”
“I’m not saying that we should be obstructionists, critics who are trying to prevent stuff for the sake of a political battle,” Lacy added. “But we need new blood. The benefit of my campaign is that I’m not downtown’s candidate. I’m a civil rights attorney, who can help the district by figuring out what battles we need to be fighting and which battles are winnable. And I want to make sure there are jobs and business opportunities for working-class folks in San Francisco. You shouldn’t have to be a doctor or lawyer to afford to live here.”
Lacy believes the Navy should remove the radiologically impacted landfill on the shipyard’s Parcel E2.
“That ground has to be taken out of there,” Lacy said. “I would hope the City Attorney’s Office would get involved and advocate for the people. But leadership is about taking a stance when no one else is.”
With the city suggesting that it can still win back the 49ers, Lacy said that he too, would love it if the 49ers decided to stay.
“But not at the cost of our health and safety,” Lacy said, referring to the city’s repeated claim that it needed to rush certification of the final EIR for Lennar’s project, if there was to be any hope of winning back the team.
“ I don’t think the solution is the rush,” Lacy said. “I say, let’s make sure we clean up the shipyard properly—and bring back the Warriors [a professional basketball team that relocated to San Francisco in 1962, until 1971, when it moved to Oakland].”
I also hung out with D. 10 candidate Tony Kelly, at an event that POWER hosted as part of a Progressive Planners Forum, the day after Lacy and I unsuccessfully tried to access the shipyard, and the same day that POWER was also blocked from the yard.
Kelly has been tracking issues in and around District 10 for years, and, much like Lacy, he's not afraid to speak his mind on the issues.
For instance, Kelly is incensed by the city’s attempt to ram through approval of the final EIR for Lennar’s development, when the Navy has yet to complete an environmental impact statement related to its proposed clean up activities at the shipyard..
“Is the EIS ever a trailer to the EIR?” Kelly asked. “It’s like planning on Mars.”
Kelly has also expressed concern over the developer’s plan to build two peaker plants in the community.
And he is worried about the consequences of the city’s plan to turn the entire Bayview into a project survey area for Lennar’s Candlestick/Shipyard plan.
“How do you pay for any other improvements in the Bayview, when the shipyard redevelopment plan sucks all the air out of the room?” Kelly said
But Kelly’s biggest concern right now is that once Lennar gets its final approvals this summer, “the developer will never talk directly to the community again.”
At the Progressive Planners Forum that Kelly attended, speakers also voiced measured criticisms of Lennar’s plan.
“The plan has some important elements, especially in the job areas, but I think it adds up to gentrification, which is disruptive to the surrounding community, families and the last bastion of the black community in San Francisco,” said Chester Hartman, who has authored over 18 books on race and urban planning, including the acclaimed City For Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco.
“There is a need for a response in terms of an alternative approach,” Hartman advised.
“It doesn’t have to be a detailed, but it should include a basic philosophy and goals, and retain good parts of the original plan.”
Peter Marcuse, Professor of Urban Planning at Colombia University, said the situation at the shipyard reminded him of the ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf.
“Cap the land sounds like cap the spill,” Marcuse said, noting that in both cases the community is fighting to get folks who dumped toxins to clean them up.
Marcuse criticized the privatization of the planning process, as illustrated by the City’s claim that it has entered into a “public-private” partnership with Lennar, and the community's experience that the city and the developer keep ignoring or dismissing the public’s feedback and opinions.
“There should have been a range of alternatives open for discussion,” Marcuse said. “Instead, there is a sense, of this mega project’s inevitability. And once the developer has title to the land, the city has to negotiate what should be a public matter.”
Marcuse critiqued the use of tax increment financing, which will use increased taxes on property throughout the Bayview to finance improvements in one relatively small area, the 770 acres of land that, as Marcuse put it, "got sold to Lennar for $1."
"This is a form of government subsidy," Marcuse warned.
“There have been some negotiations,” Marcuse continued. He pointed to the community-led Prop. F, which in the spring of 2008 sought to establish 50 percent affordable housing in the development. And the community benefits agreement (CBA) that the San Francisco Labor Council hammered out at in May 2008, in an attempt to nail down benefits for the community in exchange for the Council's support for the Lennar-financed Prop. G in June 2008.
“But these negotiations with Lennar start on basis that Lennar’s interests have to be protected equally with those of the City and its residents,” Marcuse commented. “It ought to be a public responsibility to show the community what the alternates to Lennar’s vision are.”
Marcuse concluded by suggesting a moratorium on Lennar’s plan to allow for a community-based visioning process, in which residents could express their desire for housing, diversity, open space and protection against environmental hazards
‘The City should then come up with an alternative to Lennar’s plan—and listen to Lennar,” he said. “But this is a public responsibility, rather than a private negotiation with a corporation that has been a beneficiary of a huge subsidy and starts to make a huge profit, the minute its housing units begin to sell.”
Miriam Chion, who works for the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), also expressed concerns with Lennar’s massive plan, which proposes to build thousands of mostly luxury condos at Candlestick Point, with a smaller number on the shipyard.
“We are in the 21st century, how can we continue to use same mechanisms of displacement?” Chion said. “And how can we do that to the African American community, which we have displaced over and over, and which has managed to build a community here, in spite of everything?”
According to Lennar’s plan, 68 percent of its proposed 10,000 units will be built at market rate. Of the remaining 32 percent of units, only 15 percent will be built at truly affordable rates, with an additional 15 percent geared towards the working middle-class income levels, such as those enjoyed by police, fire fighters, nurses and teachers.
But two Bayview residents who attended POWER’s progressive planners’ forum expressed frustration at what they perceived as outsiders trying to tell locals what’s best.
“If you haven’t lived here, you don’t know about the Bayview,” one resident said. “If they are going to do what they are going to do, they should do it all the way, and change things for the better. I’m tired of seeing kids under 12, playing outside at 11 p.m. So, if you are not from here, you can’t come on my ground and pass judgment. If you’d been and lived here, I don’t think you’d see this negatively.”
“$700 million has been spent on cleaning up shipyard, and producing highly technical reports on it,” another local resident said. “Highly intellectual discussions are not helping, we need some action today.”
"No one here is against development," countered long-term Bayview resident Espanola Jackson, while a Bayview resident named Nyese resurrected longstanding concerns that the developer fatally broke community trust when it failed to control asbestos dust at the site, when it began grading the shipyard's Parcel A .
“Four years ago, I found out that they were sending home workers at the shipyard, without informing the surrounding community,” Nyese recalled. “My son was having excessive nosebleeds, so it was phenomenally insulting that they didn’t not notify us.”
“Lennar is just a name, a conglomeration of shareholders,” Nyese further noted. “We need development. But we don’t need it on chemically toxic land.”
These competing concerns indicate that all the candidates in the D. 10 race are going to have to be asking critical questions as they track the progress of Lennar, the city and the Navy’s plans this summer. Failure to do so will cost them credibility within the community—and possibly the supervisor’s race this fall, though downtown money will pour in to support whichever candidate is deemed most likely to rubberstamp present and future development and contracting plans. Stay tuned. It's going to be a (politically) hot July.