8 Washington opponents try to torpedo counter-initiative

You sir are hereby accused of circulating a petition with fatal legal flaws!

Opponents of 8 Washington, a hotly contested development project that would erect 134 new condos priced at $5 million apiece and up along the San Francisco waterfront, are seeking to thwart a counter-initiative developers have launched to solicit voter approval for the project on the November ballot.

In a July 1 letter from The Sutton Law Firm to Hanson Bridgett LLP, a firm representing the project proponents, political lawyer and fixer Jim Sutton highlights “fatal legal flaws” he claims would invalidate each and every signature collected in support of the 8 Washington initiative. It’s likely a precursor to a lawsuit. Apparently, Sutton got involved through his connection with former City Attorney Louise Renne, who opposes the 8 Washington plan.

Organized under No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront, opponents circulated petitions of their own earlier this year to challenge San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ approval of 8 Washington, asking voters to weigh in on the Board’s waiver of building height limit restrictions. Polling has indicated they'll succeed (a win in their case is a majority of “no” votes), effectively sinking the project. That prompted 8 Washington proponents to generate their own counter-initiative.

Sutton’s letter demands that 8 Washington proponents not submit the initiative to the Department of Elections for signature verification, unless they first re-circulate the petitions. Of course, that would torpedo the whole endeavor, since there’s no way proponents could gather enough signatures in time for the imminent filing deadline.

The aforementioned “fatal legal flaws,” meanwhile, seem to illustrate why high-powered attorneys like Sutton rake in the big bucks. Apparently, the initiative proponents neglected to attach a few maps detailing the height limit increases, in violation of a requirement that proponents present the “full text” of a proposal to voters. And then there’s this:

Whether it’s a photocopying error or an attempt at obfuscation, the map on the left (circulated by the pro-development camp) makes it impossible to read the height limit increase. (The map on the right was circulated by opponents.) This seemingly minute detail matters, according to No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront spokesperson Jon Golinger, because “the whole point of this is the height increase.”

David Beltran, a spokesperson for the pro- 8 Washington folks, responded to a Guardian request for comment by saying, “Our opponents are offering up yet another baseless claim.” He called it a distraction “from having to justify why they are asking our City to give up new parks, jobs, and housing and millions of dollars in city benefits that includes $11 million for new affordable housing—to protect an asphalt parking lot and private club,” referencing a recreational center that’s served a predominantly middle class clientele for years that would be razed to make way for 8 Washington.

Beltran also attached a complaint Hanson Bridgett had filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, charging that No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront had failed to meet campaign filing deadlines, and urging city officials to “immediately investigate the delay” and impose fines of $5,000 per violation.