The fight over the 8 Washington St. development project on The Embarcadero has been pitched in several ways — including as luxury housing vs. affordable housing, height limits along the waterfront and park space.
Those discussions are important to have in San Francisco, a land-constrained city that is bursting with new workers looking for places to live and those already here, some of whom are struggling to stay.
Now, when San Francisco voters are being asked to weigh in on the merits of the project with Propositions B and C on the November ballot, there is another discussion point that has been bandied about but not delved into enough: ballot-box planning.
The 8 Washington project has been in the planning process for seven years, and there is a reason for that: it’s complicated. The project — which calls for the construction of between 121 and 141 residential units, a private fitness facility, and ground-floor retail and eateries — includes changing the height limits on parts of the parcel and other nuances, such as how the building heights step down toward the Bay to mimic the nearby hills.
City residents are being asked to be pseudo-city planners by voting on the project in its entirety — a dangerous precedent that should be rejected.
The planning process in San Francisco includes a number of checks and balances. A debate about whether those are too laborious could be of merit, but Props. B and C are not the way that should be done.
San Francisco needs more housing for every income level — a reality that can be seen in the current prices for rentals and homes. But future developments need to be approved through the proper channels.
Prop. B especially goes too far in setting the stage for an alternative planning process that could be used by future projects to bypass too much of the discussion in which the public can take part.
Props. B and C could approve a housing project that The San Francisco Examiner has supported. But the long-range damage done by the measures’ ballot-box planning is too great of a risk for this city in the long run, wiping out the benefits of this one project.