Will the Giants rush to a new Wall on the Waterfront?

In June, on the heels of voters’ rejection of luxury waterfront condos at 8 Washington St., San Francisco overwhelmingly approved Proposition B, which gave voters the right to approve increases in building heights on public waterfront land.

Five months later, 70 percent of voters approved a doubling of heights at Pier 70 — proving that neighborhood engagement, coupled with a well-conceived, publicly vetted plan, could achieve broad electoral support from San Franciscans suspicious of waterfront development.

Unfortunately, the Giants’ property development team may be ignoring the lessons of Pier 70. The Giants have been noticeably silent about their development plans for Seawall Lot 337, the publicly owned waterfront land south of AT&T Park now used for parking.

Press inquiries about the Mission Rock development project have been rebuffed, and there has been little outreach to nearby neighborhoods that have worked closely with the Port of San Francisco, The City and private developers on waterfront issues in past years.

When we finally got a chance to meet with the Giants last week, it became clear that the neighborhoods most affected, for better or worse, by the Mission Rock development will not have any real chance to weigh in on the project before the Giants decide whether to submit a proposed high-rise waterfront development for voter approval on this November’s ballot.

While we celebrate the on-field exploits of our local team, this lack of community engagement by the Giants’ front office is concerning because the Mission Rock proposal would build a far taller wall on the waterfront than either 8 Washington or the abandoned Warriors development on the piers. The draft Mission Rock plan includes:

Eleven buildings in total on publicly owned waterfront land, all of them as tall or taller than the 90 feet voters approved for Pier 70 last November;

Five high-rises of at least 190 feet, taller than the buildings of Mission Bay (160 feet), and what was proposed at 8 Washington (136 feet) and by the Warriors on Piers 30-32 (125 feet); and

Three towers of at least 240 feet (or more than twice the height of the ballpark), including one tower of 280 feet.

All of this development is proposed for a site zoned for 14 acres of badly needed public parkland. The Giants want to reduce the amount of publicly accessible open space to 5 acres, something a majority of voters in a recent poll said they would oppose.

The lesson of Pier 70’s approval in November shows the right way for developers to respond to Prop. B and earn voters’ trust. Forest City worked closely with the community surrounding Pier 70, testing different concepts and making adjustments to its plans based on neighborhood response.

It cut the height of its original plans by more than half and reduced the overall scale of the project, perhaps leaving some private profits on the table in exchange for a more livable neighborhood in the decades to come.

As a result, the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association and other neighborhood groups led the way to a citywide consensus vote that supported an increase to the building heights on the waterfront at Pier 70.

So we have to ask: Why are the Giants considering a rush to the ballot in less than seven months instead of taking the time over the next year to work with the community to get this right? There are two elections scheduled next year: one in June and another in November. Going to the ballot at either time would give the Giants the opportunity to seek voter approval for a revised plan that works for the developers and the community.

The Giants should know that engaging with the community is to their benefit. Before voters approved the ballpark at China Basin, the Giants first rushed to the ballot with an ill-conceived stadium initiative that voters soundly rejected. By opening up and working with their neighbors, the Giants put together a carefully revised plan that earned broad support, and that built a stadium considered by many to be the jewel of Major League Baseball.

San Francisco voters have repeatedly supported their neighbors on issues of private waterfront development on public land, whether to block it (as with 8 Washington) or to allow it (as with Pier 70).

The latter case shows how developers can avoid a contentious fight by engaging neighborhood stakeholders and actually addressing their concerns. We urge the Giants to have the patience to work with their neighbors and the broader community to ensure that Mission Rock achieves the same standard of excellence as we have come to expect of the Giants on the playing field.

J.R. Eppler is president and Tony Kelly is development committee chair of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.

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