In three elections over the last two years, San Franciscans from every neighborhood in The City stood together.
In June 2012, a clear majority of San Francisco voters stood together to protect Coit Tower. Voters approved the Coit Tower preservation ballot measure which now requires San Francisco officials to take seriously the preservation of a symbol of our city that had sadly been neglected for decades and left to fall into a state of disrepair.
A majority of voters from the Sunset to the Bayview all said yes to fixing Coit Tower despite being faced with an extremely misleading campaign that attempted to divide neighborhoods from one another by scaring people into thinking their own parks would close if Coit Tower was fixed. The head of the Recreation and Park Department claimed Chinatown playgrounds would somehow suffer if voters backed the Coit Tower initiative while the opponent's argument in the voter handbook ominously threatened: “If passed, it would likely take funding away from your neighborhood park.”
Instead of reacting to attempts to pit neighborhood against neighborhood, voters in every neighborhood agreed that Coit Tower belongs to the whole city. The election results showed that protecting this symbol of San Francisco's independent spirit, artistic skill, and sheer beauty isn't just some trivial parochial concern.
And the consequence of voter approval was the recent reopening of Coit Tower following a spectacular $1.7 million renovation, the most comprehensive restoration of its historic New Deal murals in history, an end to plans to close off Coit Tower to the public for private parties and a whole new approach to treating Coit Tower not just as a cash cow but as the special place it truly is.
Similarly, in November, two-thirds of city voters joined together to overwhelmingly reject the Port of San Francisco's plans to increase waterfront height limits to build 134 ultra-luxury condos at 8 Washington St. that would have been nearly twice as high as the old Embarcadero Freeway that walled off our northern waterfront for decades. As in the Coit Tower campaign, 8 Washington backers tried to divide our neighborhoods from one another by asserting at community forums that if voters did not approve the 8 Washington luxury condos they would be dooming their own neighborhoods to be forced to accept huge height increases for luxury condo towers instead. Our mayor even went on television with ads claiming that the $5 million-$10 million 8 Washington condos were actually just “neighborhood housing” that would somehow alleviate our urgent affordable-housing crisis rather than accelerate it by piling on to the luxury condo glut.
But again, voters across The City saw through the attempt to divide us and instead stood together. In rejecting 8 Washington by a landslide 67 percent of the vote, people in every neighborhood agreed that protecting our waterfront from becoming blocked by a wall of high-rise condos and office towers is a shared responsibility of the whole city.
In June, the whole city again came together and voted overwhelmingly to protect the waterfront by passing Proposition B, the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Initiative. During the campaign, opponents yet again tried to divide our neighborhoods.
The head of the so-called Housing Action Coalition angrily argued at community meetings that a wall of luxury condo high-rises would have to be built in your neighborhood if height limits on the waterfront were protected. But again voters at neighborhood group meetings all over The City saw through the threats and instead spoke passionately about the value of our waterfront to them as a place for recreation, restaurants, art, baseball, or just a chance to remind ourselves that we live in a great urban city but also along a beautiful Bay.
From a cozy basement with a giant American flag in the Excelsior to staid police station community rooms in the Fillmore, Ingleside and the Richmond to a meeting room on the waterfront in the South Beach Marina, neighbors from all parts of San Francisco considered the issue and again united to strengthen a part of our city that helps keep it special.
In three elections over the last two years, San Franciscans from every neighborhood in The City rejected attempts to divide us and instead stood together. Within our colorful constellation of neighborhoods, each one has its own distinct personality and residents of each are so very proud to call their own particular neighborhood home.
But what makes San Francisco truly a city of neighborhoods is not the differences between them, but the fact that we all are united in the belief that San Francisco is a place worth living in, loving, and, when required, fighting for. That's why I'm so very proud to call this city of neighborhoods my home.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.