The developer of 8 Washington has taken an unusual if not unprecedented step to prevent a referendum on his waterfront condo project from succeeding: He's hired a crew of people to surround signature-gatherers and try to drive away anyone who might sign a petition to put the project before voters.
[UPDATE: Sup. Sean Elsbernd called to let me know that this isn't unprecedented -- he says opponents of his Muni reform initiative, including bus drivers, also tried to discourage people from signing petitions. ]
The pro-condo team, whose members were paid a reported $20 an hour, were visible July 14, 15 and 16 at Fort Mason Center, at the Safeway on Church and Market, at Dolores Park, at Duboce Park and elsewhere in the city, according to accounts from signature gatherers and from Guardian staffers.
The team, usually made up of several people, typically surrounds the signature gatherer, waves signs talking about jobs and parks, and loudly seeks to disuade passers-by from signing the referendum petition.
There is, of course, nothing illegal about two sides of a political debate expressing their First Amendment rights on the sidewalk. Some of the people gathering signatures for the referendum are getting paid, too.
But I can't think of another time when crews were hired to convince people not to sign a petition.
It's gotten serious enough the Simon Snellgrove, the developer behind 8 Washington, was out himself. He appeared in Dolores Park after the Mime Troupe performance, where Brad Paul, a foe of the project, saw him debate with a signature gatherer who was leaving the area. He was also at Fort Mason, where, according to one account, a person gathering signatures confronted him and complained that his workers were harassing her.
"That's their job," Snellgrove reportedly said.
I couldn't reach Snellgrove at his office. But Jon Golinger, the campaign manager for the stop 8 Washington effort, said the tactic was a sign of desperation. "They are worried about a public vote on this," Golinger told me.