The effort to curb real estate development along San Francisco’s waterfront suffered a setback Wednesday when the local Democratic Party voted to oppose a June ballot measure that would require voter approval for any development exceeding the existing height limits.
Facing pressure from a strong turnout of building trades union members, the Democratic Central Committee voted 13-12 not to endorse the measure. The endorsement is considered one of the most significant in San Francisco’s elections.
Here’s how they voted:
Yes vote to endorse: John Avalos, David Campos, Malia Cohen, Petra DeJesus, Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman, Eric Mar, Carole Migden, Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano, Kelly Dwyer, Hene Kelly
No vote against endorsement: Kat Anderson, Bevan Dufty, Zoe Dunning, Bill Fazio, Tom Hsieh, Mary Jung, Meagan Levitan, Trevor McNeil, Leah Pimentel, Arlo Hale Smith, Scott Wiener, Kamala Harris, Phil Ting
Abstain: David Chiu, Leslie Katz, Alix Rosenthal, Diane Feinstein, Jackie Speier
Building trade members decried the measure as a job killer and a needless hurdle that could block the creation of more below market rate housing.
Others criticized the measure as being self-serving. “I just view this as an attack on the working class by a bunch of rich folks who have nice views,” said Arlo Smith.
“I do not believe Proposition B is an enemy of the building trades,” said Hene Kelly. “I do not believe it’s ‘we got our and we don’t give a goddamned about you.’”
Some decided to take no position on the controversial measure. Committee member and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is running for an assembly seat against Supervisor David Campos, abstained. Chiu said he was not ready to take a position. Campos voted to endorse the measure. Chiu noted three concerns he had: “There’s been very little analysis” of the impact on the Port, developers could be spending money on campaigns that may take revenue away from community benefits, and the legal challenge to knock Proposition B off the ballot has yet been resolved.
Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said after the vote, “I was pleasantly surprised. It was touch and go all the way.”
Jon Golinger, who is running the campaign to pass the measure, blamed the outcome of the vote on lobbying efforts. “It’s a sign that the real estate lobby is fully in control of this Democratic Party,” Golinger said, pointing blame at committee chair Mary Jung, who is a registered lobbyist of the San Francisco Association of Realtors.
Golinger argued before the committee that the measure is about “making the procedure clear and giving developers the incentive to reach out to the community.”
San Francisco's prized 7.5 miles of waterfront, stretching from Fisherman's Wharf to Bayview Hunter's Point, has garnered increasing interest from developers of high-rise hotels, commercial space and luxury condos. But residents concerned over the impacts of such development have fought back.
Last November, concerned citizens opposed the 8 Washington luxury condo development project. Even though the Board of Supervisors had approved the project, voters soundly defeated it.
This June’s Proposition B, the Waterfront Height Limit Right To Vote Initiative, would require voter approval of any development that would exceed existing height limits, which range from 40 feet to 105 feet.
The effort has cast uncertainty on major projects planned for the waterfront, such as the San Francisco Giants high rise development or the Warriors Arena.
Proposition B was placed on the ballot through a signature gathering campaign.
The official proponent of the measure is Becky Evans, a member of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco chapter, which supports the measure. The campaign is being managed by Jon Golinger, who helped run the No Wall On the Waterfront campaign that killed the 8 Washington development. Last year, the DCCC endorsed the anti-8 Washington ballot measure.
But before voters have a chance to decide on Proposition B, it will have to survive a legal challenge. On Monday, San Francisco Superior Court judge Marla Miller will preside over a lawsuit seeking to strike the measure from the ballot. The lawsuit was filed by Michael Theriault, a leader of the Building and Construction Trades union, Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and Corrine Woods, a nearby resident of the project site. The lawsuit is also being underwritten by the San Francisco Giants, which has proposed a high-rise development on an existing parking lot.
The lawsuit argues that it is not legal to add the restriction since it would interfere with the state’s authority over the lands, which were turned over to the Port Commission in 1968 to manage.
But supporters of the measure say the legality of such regulations is evident in the fact that, since the transfer, as many as 18 ballot measures have been approved impacting the port property in some way, including a 1990 measure that created the height limits.