Rumors fly that Board can't amend Lennar deal, after all

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For the past month, fireworks and deals have been going on at City Hall as the Board prepares to vote on Lennar’s massive redevelopment plan for Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard. And recently, the Board vowed to make a slew of amendments to the plan, even as they approved the project's environmental impact report.

But now it’s beginning to look like the only winners could be the developer—and perhaps those folks at city hall who are staking their political careers on jamming this deal over the finish line, come hell or high water, before the November election comes around and they go into the private sector as real estate developers.

I say this because two weeks ago, the progressives on the Board were saying that they had been told that they couldn’t amend the EIR July 14, but that they could amend the actual redevelopment plan when it comes before them on July 27. It was for this reason, they said, that they decided to vote to accept the EIR in an 8-3 vote, with only Sups. John Avalos, Chris Daly and Eric Mar, voting to reject the project’s key environmental document.

But today, with less than two working days before the Board’s July 27 meeting, I’m hearing rumors that the Board will only be able to take an up and down vote, when they consider Lennar’s actual redevelopment plan.

In other words, the only way the Board would be able to change anything would be to reject the plan in its entirety.But everyone knows that this is a pigs-may-fly scenario, given the massive pressure the Mayor’s Office, labor and Lennar have been exerting on the Board.

So, if these “up-and-down-vote only” rumors turn out to be true, folks who care about environmental and economic justice better start sounding the alarm. Because there is a plethora of unresolved issues that Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi identified July 13 as needing shoring up, before the actual redevelopment plan would ever pass their sniff test.

These concerns included fears that the project’s financing plan amounts to daylight bank robbery, that the proposed bridge across the Yosemite Slough is unnecessary, and that the amount of projected air pollution related to the development is unacceptable.

And then there’s the fact that the Controller’s “economic benefits” report only used averaged figures, and therefore did not give any details about how many jobs and benefits the project would create in this economically depressed community in the next few years.

And did I mention the part about liquidated damages and watershed concerns? Or the fact that there are no maritime uses in the current plan, even though these uses could translate directly into relatively unskilled jobs, if old ships were broken up at the shipyard.

But despite the hours of discussion on July 13 that the Board sat through last week, I do not recall anyone from the Mayor’s or City Attorney’s Office advising the supervisors that they would not be able to amend the actual plan when it comes before them July 27.

Right now, a lot of confusion is swirling as folks point to the fact that Board President David Chiu introduced five amendments at a July 12 Land Use Committee hearing that eight supervisors subsequently voted to accept. This move led the rest of the Board to believe that they too could make amendments to the final plan.

But a review of Chiu’s amendments and the project’s EIR suggests that these changes are in fact repackaged pieces of the EIR, and that the move misled other supervisors into believing that that they would have a chance to amend the actual redevelopment plan.

So far, no one from the Mayor’s Office has returned my calls seeking clarification on this process. But if it turns out that the only way the Board can have input is to kick the plan to the curb, or ask the Planning Commission to make new findings, then democracy in San Francisco has been replaced with an empty charade.

“The Board can make changes along the line that David made in the Land Use Committee, “ Chiu’s legislative aide Judson True told me today. But he wasn’t clear on the process next week, and suggested that I call Cohen’s office, which I did (only to find myself shunted to Cohen’s voice mail.)

So, what gives? And why would the Board allow an out-of-town developer in partnership with the Mayor’s Office to sidestep its responsibility in this way?

“We were told we could not make amendments to the EIR, but could make amendments to the plan that we will be voting on this Tuesday,” Campos told me today, noting that he and Mirkarimi were prepared to make changes July 13, but were then told they could not do that.

“The biggest fear I have with this project, and any project this size in this economy, is that a lot is promised, but will anything get developed, or will we be stuck holding the bag,” Campos added.

Similar questions led the Alameda city council to kick developer SunCal to the curb last week. Ironically, the move could open the door to a developer like Lennar to try and swoop in and pick up the pieces in the island city across the Bay from San Francisco.

But folks in Alameda are pointing to San Francisco as an example of how difficult it is to nail down developers, noting that Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top financial advisor, recently admitted that investment money is scarce, even though the city’s EIR for the project has been approved.

Actually, Cohen went a step further by intimating that all the benefits that the community wants out of the plan would deter investors even more—comments that were perhaps just a precursor to this potential bombshell that the Board won't actually be able to amend the deal, after all? Stay tuned.