Labor's Lennar deal isn't good enough
EDITORIAL In the late 1980s, Mayor Art Agnos put forward a plan for development at Mission Bay, which at that point was an underused plot of land that used to be a Southern Pacific railroad yard. He negotiated with the developer, Catellus Corp., and cut what he insisted was the best deal the city could possibly get. He insisted that any more demands for, say, increased affordable housing would have so damaged the project's finances that nothing would ever be built.
Development opponents took the issue to the voters and the mayor's plan lost. Catellus promptly came back with a much sweeter deal.
It's worth remembering that lesson, because next week voters will be faced with a stark choice for a massive Hunters PointBayview redevelopment plan. Mayor Gavin Newsom and his allies say the city has squeezed major concessions from the developer, Lennar Corp. The San Francisco Labor Council and two community groups have forced Lennar to sweeten the pot even more (see "Assessing the deal," page 11). At this point, the city's supposed to have the best deal it can possibly get.
But with all due respect to the Labor Council, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), and the San Francisco Organizing Project, it's not good enough.
The battle which is shaping up as a very close contest involves dueling ballot measures Propositions G and F. Prop. G is the deal Newsom and Lennar are pushing; it would give the financially troubled developer the right to build 10,000 new housing units, office and retail space, and a new football stadium, along with 300 new acres of parks, in one of the city's most economically depressed areas. Some of the new housing would be available at below-market rates. Prop. F raises the ante a big notch: it would require that half of all Lennar's housing be available to people making less than the median area income, which is $75,000 for a family of four.
For the record, it's worth noting that the new concessions labor got would never have happened if Sup. Chris Daly and a group of BayviewHunters Point activists hadn't placed Prop. F on the ballot. In fact, organized labor wasn't terribly involved in the redevelopment project until a couple of months ago. That's when Lennar's team of political consultants realized that they might be facing a shellacking at the ballot June 3.
The polls show that Prop. F is very popular and for good reason. It's a simple proposal that makes excellent intuitive and practical sense. As housing activist Calvin Welch likes to say, San Francisco doesn't have a housing crisis the city has an affordable-housing crisis. Multimillionaires don't have trouble finding places to live. And unfortunately, much of the new housing being built in this city is targeted to the very rich: typical market-rate one-bedroom condos start at around $500,000 and soar quickly into the millions. The rest of the city is getting forced out, and the dramatic, profound gentrification is transforming San Francisco.
Even the city planning department recognizes what's going on: the Housing Element of the city's General Plan states that 64 percent nearly two-thirds of all new housing ought to be affordable.
But the vast majority of the residents of BayviewHunters Point could never afford the vast majority of the new housing units Lennar wants to build. Prop. F seeks to address the deep imbalance in the proposed housing mix.
Lennar is squealing, saying it can't possibly make the project pencil out with that much affordable housing. The company's political team pushed the Labor Council to side with them, and in exchange for endorsing G and opposing F, labor got some worthy goodies. The level of what Lennar calls affordable housing is now higher than 30 percent but when you actually look at those numbers, only about half of the 30 percent is truly affordable to the neighborhood residents who face being forced out of town. There's also a new job training program and a mandate that new businesses allow their staff to unionize through a simple card-check process (although the city would almost certainly mandate that anyway).
But the bottom line is that the deal labor cut doesn't meet what ought to be the standard for all new housing in San Francisco. Even after all the concessions, roughly 70 percent of the new units will be available only to rich people. That's not acceptable in a city that is rapidly losing its artists, writers, musicians, immigrants, students ... just about everyone who makes San Francisco such an exciting place to live is now an endangered species. And labor's deal fundamentally does nothing to change that.
Vote yes on F and no on G. And if Lennar won't build enough affordable housing, let's scrap this deal and find someone who will. *