Housing for the super rich approved, 8-3

Construction workers line up to promote 8 Washington. Guardian photo by Steven T. Jones

The progressive movement and the battle for housing balance and economic justice in San Francisco got walloped May 15 when eight supervisors sided with a developer who wants to build condos for the massively rich on the waterfront.

I watched it all, minus a few minutes while I was putting the kids to bed, all seven and a half hours of testimony and discussion, winding up with a series of pro-developer voters a little after midnight. It was stunning: Opponents of the project came out in droves, many of them seniors, others tenant activists and neighbors. Former City Attorney Louise Renne, who is by no means an anti-development type or any sort of economic radical, led off the arguments in favor of scrapping the environmental impact report and denying the conditional use permit that are needed for 8 Washington to move forward. They brought up so many points that by the end there was nothing more to say: This meets no housing need in San Francisco, further screws up the city’s own mandates for a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, caters to the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, is too tall and bulky for the site, offers the city too little in community benefits and is one of the great development scams of our time.

Then the other side spoke -- the city planners who defended the EIR and, briefly, developer Simon Snellgrove. His supporters lined up -- and almost all of them talked about the same thing: Construction jobs. I get it, we need construction jobs -- but is that a justification for such a bad project? As Sup. David Chiu pointed out, “apartment construction is booming.  There are 22,000 units under construction and 50,000 more in the pipeline.”

Both sides were organized, but only one paid people to show up: At least five people seated in the front row, wearing pro-8 Washington stickers, confirmed that they’d been paid $100 each -- in cash -- to show up. They didn’t even speak, leaving once they realized that they were misled about the project. One source heard a construction worker say he knew nothing about the project and had been bused in from Sacramento.

And after hearing all of that, the supervisors did what they clearly had decided to do long before a word of testimony was uttered.

The vote to overturn the EIR went like this: favoring the developer were Supervisors Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Christina Olague, Malia Cohen, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Scott Wiener. Opposing the project were Chiu, John Avalos and David Campos.

Approving the conditional use went along the same voting lines. Chiu couldn’t even get a continuance after arguing that there was no report from the budget analyst and no financial information about whether this is a good deal for the city.

That’s the lineup: Eight votes for the 1 percent. Three votes for the rest of us. I haven’t seen anything this bad in years.

Some fascinating information came out of the discussion. Chiu made clear that the developer doesn’t need the height-limit increase to make a profit off the deal. He estimated that the total sales revenue from the project would be around $470 million and construction costs about $177 million. That’s a huge profit margin, even if you add in another $25 million for upfront soft costs.

Snellgrove’s lawyer, Mary Murphy, tried to duck the financial issues, talking around in circles. Evenutally Chiu got Snellgrove to respond, and he said the costs would be higher and his profit would only be about $80 million. “The capital markets require a high return on these projects,” he said.
Still: $80 million is a lot of money. And while Snellgrove and his allies love to talk about the $11 million in affordable housing money for the city, that’s about 2.3 percent of his total revenue. Which doesn’t sound quite as juicy.

Chiu raised another good question: “Should a condo that sells for $5 million pay the same affordable housing fees as one that sells for $500,000?”
Mar, who is usually a strong progressive, was the big surprise of the night, not only voting the wrong way but teeing up softball questions for the city planners to make the project sound better. It was as if he was reading from the developer’s talking points.

In the end, he said he saw “a lot of benefits from this project,” but promised to work with the developer to advocate for “less bulk and less height.” Olague said the same thing.

But even if it’s a little smaller, this will still be a completely misalignment of housing priorities, a project entirely for the very rich. That’s not going to change.

If anything, they should push for more affordable housing money -- a whole lot more. Because what we’re getting is enough for maybe 25 or 30 units, which means 80 percent of the new housing related to this project will be for multimillionaires and 20 percent for everyone else. Keep that pattern going -- and there are few signs that it’s about to change -- and imagine what this city will be like in 20 years.

It's not over, not yet: The actual development agreement and the height-limit changes still have to come to the board early in June. And if the mayor signs off on it, opponents are talking serious about a ballot referendum that would be before the voters in November -- just when Olague, Mar, Avalos, Campos, and Chiu will be up for re-election.



What's with the piss poor journalistic ethics. It's like you went to journalism school at Fox News.

So you weren't there but someone told you that they overheard something and you think that is sufficient for print?

Well in that case, I heard someone say that the only reason Chiu opposes this project is because his campaign donors (who are also the donors of the opposition group FOGG) don't want the project built. I heard that they don't want their views blocked. And I also heard lots of the opposition group say that they didn't realize that the club was actually going to be renovated and that club members would be able to use other fitness clubs during construction.

I also heard someone say that status quo of an expensive private club and surface parking lot doesn't help provide low income housing.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2012 @ 9:16 am

journalism, while always seriously biased, appears now to swing wildly between vitriolic stereotypical attacks at various classes of people he doesn't like, and brooding introspective narratives on how the city is going to the dogs.

It must be hard for him to have had Bruce pull the rug from under him and join the one percent. And Tim to his credit wears his liberal bleeding heart on his sleeve.

I garner no enjoyment from seeing a grown man either thrash around ineffectivly or weep into his beer. But I think his somber mood currently prevents anything that might amount to serious news analysis. Everything is a battle for Tim, and he knows he is losing it.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2012 @ 9:29 am

8 Washington: full speed ahead.

Tim: owned.

Next issue: Tim's frantic columns in support of subsidies for buggy-whip factory in SOMA.

And later: Dick Meister recounts a shiny piece of glass he saw in Sacramento in the early 1940s.

Posted by Chromefields on May. 17, 2012 @ 9:35 am

I am thankful we have so many engaged residents keeping their eye on developments, but lets use some judgment here. Not all developments are evil. San Francisco needs new housing and new sources of tax review to fund things like our schools and affordable housing. Let's build the good ones and stop the bad ones. This is definitely one of the good ones.

Posted by Jammer on May. 17, 2012 @ 10:44 am

They are, after all, just buildings. How can a building be evil? It's just a structure.

I suppose you could say the use of some buildings are evil if, say, you oppose arms factories or breweries or cigarette plants. But then for every person who thinks that, there are two who don't.

When it is claimed that 8-Wash is "evil", it's detractors simply mean that they don't like the kind of people who will likely live there. It's rather like claiming that housing projects are "evil" because they tend to attract non-whites, drug addicts and criminals.

IOW, evil is inferred from a prejudicial stereotyping.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2012 @ 11:01 am

I woud rather see the 1 percent living in these types of building instead of finding other places to buy and live. I can't afford to go home anymore why the housing market is tight and if you aren't part of the upper 10 percent you aren't going to buy a house. You will always find away to stop housing, your view, the bay, the hills, my kids, my drive, the traffic, i don't want those type of people, its big, its tall, it wil cut down trees, farms, its industrial land, ugly, we will lose our view, we want open space, we want a garden, some many people with so many units, wrong place, etc etc.

Posted by garrett on May. 23, 2012 @ 10:31 am

Come check us out at TaxTheRich2012.org - the Senate campaign of Mike Strimling. And check out our candidate statement in the voter pamphlet from the Secretary of State. You will be making a strong statement to tax the rich again, like we did in the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, 5 times the current rate, not a whimpy 4% or Buffett rule that Obama proposes.

If you are concerned about the growing inequality, concentration of wealth, and bankrupting of the country - if you are concerned about rising tuition, tolls, fees and costs - if you are concerned about foreclosures, unemployment and this sort of favortism for the 1% - you have a vote this June 5.

Check us out at TaxTheRich2012.org

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

Thank you for this article. I watched the Board of Supervisors meeting about the 8 Washington project until the bitter end and I thought how could anyone possibly vote for this project with such incomplete information about the environmental impact. David Chiu's questions about the EIR were fair and important yet they were met with stuttering and clearly nervous answers as it was apparent that the planning commission had approved the EIR incredibly flawed information.

It is so clear that Rose Pak and the deep pockets of the developer will eventually win over what's best for the citizens of San Francisco. What an incredible disappointment. I'm all for development but why not on land that isn't already put to good use and how about a building the abides by the building codes that were established to keep the city from exactly this kind of abuse. And for God's sake, we don't need a 400 car parking garage in this part of town. That is just flagrant abuse of zoning restrictions.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

At some point you have to stop the endless enviromental navel-gazing and just take a risk. Remember, people didn't like the Pyramid or the Sutro Tower at first either.

Come back in 20 years and you'll wonder what all the fuss was - it's just an apartment building, and in fact one that will bring in jobs, taxes and high-spending residents.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

OMG, San Francisco is being by people who can actually afford to live here!!!!!!!
The hooooooorrrrrrrroooooorrrrrrr!!!!

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

build these homes, and 11 million will be paid to create affordable housing. So you'd think the left would welcome all those below-market homes, wouldn't you?

Wrong. Tim and his cronies don't really want that affordable housing if the price paid is a few homes for the successful.

And in his more honest moments, he's admitted it. He just opposes any demographic change that doesn't suit his ilk. A classic NIMBY who would rather build nothing than see more people that he doesn't like or agree with.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 4:54 pm