Manhattanization forgotten, Transbay Tower moves without the trains


Times in San Francisco have changed since the battles in the ‘80s against increased high-rise development and the “Manhattanization of San Francisco,” which peaked in 1986 with the passage of Prop. M placing limits on the rapid development pushed by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein and her downtown allies.

Now, in 2012, the tallest building on the West Coast -- Transbay Tower, the first in a series of new high-rises envisioned for downtown -- gathered its final approvals with only scattered opposition (such as Quentin Kopp, the former judge and legislator, who derides the project as nothing but a “real estate scheme” involving lucrative publicly owned land being turned over private developers).

Whether we were all too distracted by a year of political scandals real and contrived, or whether it was the project proponents’ savvy marriage of the real estate deal to the high-speed rail project and Caltrain extension that environmentalists want to see become a reality, this behemoth building is now all but a done-deal.

Yet despite the slick and compelling interactive videos and project descriptions on the Transit Joint Powers Authority website, San Franciscans aren’t really on the verge of realizing this utopian urban vision of 21st century high-speed rail burrowing its way into SoMa over the next few years.

“The projection of that is less clear now. The delays with the high-speed rail have created some challenges for us,” said Adam Alberti of the high-powered communications firm Singer Associates, which represents the TJPA. Contributing to the delay and uncertainty is the indefinitely delayed plan for the electricification of Caltrain tracks that would be a precursor to bringing the trains downtown.

Now, even though the current Transbay Terminal rebuild (scheduled for completion in 2017) includes a “train box,” funding hasn’t yet been identified for the tunneling to get the trains there. That depends on federal allocations and the New Starts program administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“Those things take awhile. It’s a long process,” Alberti said.

But the 930-foot Transbay Tower has its approvals, with the property scheduled to be formally transferred to the Hines/Boston Properties building team in the next couple months, followed in the coming years by other parcels in the area for more high-rises.

“The other parcels will be metered out and put out when we get maximum return for taxpayers,” Alberti said. “The transit center itself is on schedule and on budget, so it’s moving forward.”

That’s great, even if it’s just going to be a glorified bus station for the foreseeable future as the high-rises that are being built as part of this trade-off for trains help inch San Francisco a bit closer to Manhattanization


and the tax revenues from a fully-letted 1,000 foot building will be significant.

HSR is out of local control, so all we can do is build this up so we're ready, and hope that our state and federal parents give us more moolah.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

There is little point in leaving those blacks as large holes in the ground, just because HSR is taking a long time to develop.

Personally I doubt HSR will ever get to SF but we have no choice but to plan as if it will arrive one day, even if you and I will no longer be around to see it.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

and slow funding. It's highly ironic Steven complains about that when he vigorously advocates for the same land use policies which promote this type of situation in the first place.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

HSR has been slowed by political infighting more so than CEQA or NEPA.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

America really doesn't do trains. We do cars and planes. The political will isn't there.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

You're just a little fountainhead of conventional wisdom, aren't you?

Posted by Greg on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:09 am

Central Subway good, HSR bad. Makes perfect sense.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:23 am

interpretation is not unreasonable.

We could do much better with the appallingly slow CalTrain system tho.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:46 am

Singer and Associates means that there is stink below that they'd prefer to make people think doesn't stink.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

I know Manhattan. I've lived and worked in Manhattan.

San Francisco, you're no Manhattan.

Manhattan is one of the world's great cities. People love it. Artists, actors, writers, businessmen, everyone wants to live there. They love their city and are proud of it.

San Francisco has morons like Steven T. Jones who throw a hissyfit because skyscrapers are being built in your downtown. He uses 'Manhattanization as a pejorative. You only WISH that your city was half as great as Manhattan.

San Francisco has hills, cable cars, decent Asian food and a bunch of other things that none of you are responsible for. But it is a 3rd rate city.

And if you listen to idiots like Steven T Jones you'll never be a great 21st century city. So enjoy 1930 or 1960 or wherever it is that you've decided to stay forever while the rest of the world races past you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

It's too smug and self-absorbed to be a world-class city, and SFBG wants to keep it that way.

As the saying goes, people in SF are "too dumb for NY and too ugly for LA"

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

I have never heard that saying. I probably have never seen you so I can't vouch for your looks (not that I care). The other half of the saying--your comments prove that part of it.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

He could be gazing down on our ugliness from the heights of Marin County.

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:10 am

I am a proud San Franciscan who loves BOTH cities. Imagine that! In fact, the only thing I hate are idiotic online rants.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 2:56 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

Buh-bye, don't let the Bay Bridge hit your ass on the way back east.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

>"Buh-bye, don't let the Bay Bridge hit your ass on the way back east."

I've lived here for 20 years and aren't going anywhere. Divergent opinions are allowed, Marcos, even if they clash with yours. And I'm not sure for what bizarre reason you think that you get to decide who gets to live here and who should leave.

Sorry, I know it must be hard for you but you're just going to have to deal with it.

Posted by The New York Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

Feel free to leave - now. We don't like holier than thou a-holes from NYC, and we don't want to be like NYC. East Coast loser transplants like you are the ones making our town more like NYC, and that is why SF is getting worse as a city.

Posted by Richmondman on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 7:49 am

I just wanted to correct that part of your hatefest.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

It's what most people think of when they think of New York City.

Also, the poster's comments were hardly a "hatefest" (how do you get out of bed in the morning being so sensitive?). I love SF, but it is certainly true that it can be deadly provincial at times, such as when the silly alarm of "Manhattanization" is thrown out every time a tall building is proposed downtown, or when anything over 2 stories is planned for any neighborhood outside of downtown. It is a dumb and woefully inaccurate expression, it was a stupid phrase in the 1970's, and it is even more idiotic now.

It's high past time people in this town learned to have reasoned discussions and dropped the histrionics and emotional appeals.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

In fact, the Bay Area is a lot more balkanized than NYC or any other major city. Why does one large urban area like the Bay Area have 9 counties and dozens of cities? It makes no sense.

Nobody does narrow provincialism like San Francisco.

Just build the damn thing already.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:45 am

Looks like the RS developers' lobby have sicced their dogs (the usual shills) on this site. You might want start making people register under their own names to cut down on this little infestation of yours.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

any debate here? Is that it?

How convenient for those who want skewed, baised, prejudicial news websites.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

No, I want to hear from real people, not paid shills, thank you very much.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

here to discredit anyone who isn't brainwashed by the extreme left stormtroopers.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

We hear your side of the debate loud and clear. It is present as the dominant ideology in the media. It is not like we don't know what you think. We've heard it, thought it through and rejected it. We get to do that without suffering incessant harassment.

You remind me of proselytizing Christians who don't realize we've all heard "the good news" many times but can't not try to convert us over and again.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

criticism of your position as "harassment" is highly revealing of a fixed, rigid and inflexible outlook.

The fact that your ideas and policies are rarely if ever implmented should be all the evidence you need to clearly see that they are not convincing or persuasive arguments at all. I'm just trying to help you fully grasp that.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

No, we hear your ideas all of the time and this is a place to discuss other ideas because we're aware of yours and not interested. Far from prejudice, this is postjudice, thanks, but no thanks.

30 years of your ideology speaks for itself. Things were better in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter than they are now.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

Or that you're living hopelessly in the past. SF is a city for people who don't grow up and who wouldn't survive anywhere else..

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 8:57 am

and have nothing of value to add here.

A prime example of your trollery is taking mention of how things were much better in the days of Carter as a claim that he was a "great Prez."

Do you think anybody is fooled by your idiotic nonsense?

(And yes, by today's standards -- note the caveat! -- Carter was a *great* president.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:26 am

such a success, wasn't it?

He couldn't even win a second term, unlike most recent incumbents.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

Hi "Guest," I suppose you are completely blind to the hypocrisy of criticizing others for posting anonymously while you post anonymously.

Also, are you honestly stupid enough to think the "real estate lobby" cares about or would waste time trying to convince a handful of NIMBY extremist readers of the SFBG that being pro-development is good? It would be sort of like flying to DC to visit Tea Party-nutcase Michele Bachmann and trying to convince her that communism is a great political ideology--i.e. a waste of time.

It would seem the only infestation is the paranoia that has gripped your troubled mind.

Posted by Chris on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:58 am

Focus on the message, not the emssenger.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:39 am

with messages of communism so that her K-Street lobbyist friends couldn't get through.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:49 am

The delays in building the high-speed rail system have nothing to do with CEQA or political infighting. In fact the High-Speed Rail Authority has never had a plausible business plan showing where they're going to get the money to build it. There are several lawsuits challenging the project, but they haven't delayed it at all---yet. The farmers in the Central Valley, not suprisingly, aren't keen on the idea of train tracks plowing through their lucrative farms. Obstructionists! Ditto for the folks on the Peninsula.

But SF did get some money to build its white-elephant-in-the-making of a terminalm but no high-speed trains will ever arrive or depart there.

And the project description has morphed significantly since voters passed Prop. 1A way back in 2008. The litigation making that claim has a good chance of scuttling the whole project---or sending it back to the ballot for voter approval.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

practice, it just doesn't capture the public spirit or consciousness in the way that it would have to in order to overcome it's many obstacles.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

Mother of all real estate disasters.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

We liberals like nothing more than blight and underuse of land.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

1 Rincon is a desolate scar on the landscape.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

Most people i know think 1 Rincom is an elegant tower.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 8:58 am

I'm glad you qualified that with "people I know."
That damn thing (1 Rincon) is hideous,
and ruins the entire Southeastern skyline.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 7:17 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 9:25 am

There's nothing iconic about it. It looks just like every other rectangular skyscraper. It's the most uninspired design there is. This is how I know you're being insincere. It's one thing to disagree, but when you call a cookie-cutter skyscraper that looks like every other skyscraper "iconic," when it's clearly exactly the opposite, then it's plain to see that you're just disagreeing for the purpose of being disagreeable.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

structure that is clean, linear and (in this case) presents a lean profile can look beautiful to some and not to others.

I get that. But even if you don't think it is an architectural gem, it's a fairly neutral building. So why hate on it?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 02, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

It destroys neighborhood character, it increases traffic and congestion, it obstructs views of the bay, it deprives people below of sunlight, it gentrifies San Francisco, it's unaffordable to all but the very rich... you want more?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:01 am

you're advocating building and changing nothing, the same applies. Moreover, a transit impact fee was paid, and a tower close to downtown will not generate so many car trips.

It generates views of the bay for those who live there, while being so slender that nobody's view is blocked. Indeed, it becomes part of the view, just like the pyramid or coit tower,

And you don't have to be that rich - some apartments there were priced under a million - that's peanuts for SF.

Sorry, but I like it and look forward to the pending erection of it's twin tower.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:42 am

...a humidifier from the Sharper Image catalogue.

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

Most San Franciscans I know like to live in homes with windows and doors that open out into the air, often times leading to a quiet garden instead of inside of a hermetically sealed amalgamation of glass, steel and concrete that is completely isolated from the environment.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 8:28 am

city this crowded. If you want housing to be affordable then you have to build high when land is so precious. Planners and developers get that; you do not, evidently.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 9:26 am

On a thread with many inane comments, yours is one of the most laughable, Guest.

No one in city government, including the Planning Department, cares about affordable housing (other than supporting a few gated commmnuties built and owned by non-profit corporations for the 5-10% of the public that is either far too poor or mentally/socially/physically disabled to afford housing anywhere.)

Whether a developer builds 20 units or 250 units on a particular parcel, the top leaders of the Planning Depatment know they will be sold to the highest bidder, often approaching 7 figures or more, plus high monthly HOA fees.

If they cared about building any housing for the 70% of us who don't fit the "very rich" or "very poor" segments, they would require all new housing projects to be sold to match the entire ranges of income levels, with permanent deed restrictions so that the units could only be sold to the same income level when the curent residents leave the units.

The Planning Director and his top mangers know full well that every new housing unit will be sold to a speculator or landlord, or to the very high income groups, who will continue to gentrify the city, similar to how these same groups buy and convert rent-controlled apartments to TICs/condos with the exisiting rental stock.

The economic war aginst those in the 60% middle income levels has been waged for a few decades now, with real estate the main weapon to channel more money into banker, speculator, and developer pockets, with some of the profits funneled back to favorable politician's campaign war chests. San Franciso mayors beginning wtith Diane Feinstein have been relentless in using the "market'" and "entitlements" to push poorer and middle income people out of the city into the vast sprawl suburbs of the surrounding counties.

No solution is possible until we tell Apple, Oracle, Facebook, HP, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and all the rest of these tech companies, and the hundreds of highly paid legal and consulting companies that cater them, to move their operations far out of California since they've already caused enough economic destruction and environmental degradation to the state, city and region.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 11:26 am