Supervisor Chris Daly portrays himself as The City’s most aggressive fighter for affordable housing. His track record includes attempts to push the Board of Supervisors into making massive budgetary set-asides for more housing, and playing hardball with large-scale housing developers to pressure for maximum concessions.
One Daly strategy has been to threaten builders with proposed ballot measures that could make deal-breaking demands. He did help finalize the expansion of Trinity Plaza on central Market Street after that deal almost broke down in 2004 when other supervisors sought more last-minute conditions. Then in 2005, he negotiated a record-setting $55 million in community impact fees — largely going to neighborhood nonprofits — from the developers of Rincon Hill’s five SoMa residential towers, after threatening to put the development on the ballot.
Now the supervisor has embarked on his most controversial move ever. He is spearheading a ballot initiative to require that at least half of all housing built in the planned 10,000-unit Hunters Point-Candlestick Point development must be affordable to San Franciscans with household incomes between 30 percent and 80 percent of the county median.
On Monday, Daly and a group of community activists submitted what they said were one-third more signatures than the 7,168 required to qualify the measure for the ballot. The Department of Elections has 30 days to rule on the petition signatures’ validity. Daly first tried to place his measure on the ballot with four signatures from Board of Supervisors members, but was unable to gain the needed support.
The director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Michael Cohen, promptly warned that even a “cursory review” would prove that a 50 percent affordability mandate “will render the project completely infeasible” and “kill what could be one of the most important projects in The City’s history.”
Project developer Lennar Corp. has already agreed that 25 percent of the 8,000 to 10,000 housing units would be priced below market rates. The massive development is also to include 350 acres of open space, a “clean tech” business campus — and a new football stadium if the 49ers ultimately do not relocate to Santa Clara.
Supervisor Daly should not be playing Russian roulette with much-needed housing and park space in the too-long-neglected southeastern corner of The City. A new major project with 25 percent of the housing units genuinely priced below market rates would already be a historical precedent for San Francisco.
Yes, it is possible that a tough political stance on conversion of the vacated Hunters Point Naval Shipyard might wring a few more concessions out of Lennar. But it might also rob the community of important potential benefits by making the developers walk away. Certainly the emerging impasse will hardly entice other top developers to attempt rebuilding other neglected areas of The City.