With “Friends” like this, San Francisco hardly needs enemies.
That would be the “Friends of Golden Gateway,” a most unfriendly marriage of convenience between Telegraph Hill NIMBYs, narrowly self-interested members of a private tennis club and perpetually befuddled members of San Francisco’s progressive wing. They’ve banded together in an attempt to derail a proposed condominium project at 8 Washington St., across the street from the San Francisco Ferry Building.
In doing so, they’ve ordained that their private recreational facility and a large, decrepit parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence should be preserved as the highest public good that should come from this property. And they stand a darn good chance of winning, with backing from a roster of San Francisco’s most successful anti-development campaigners (like Aaron Peskin, Brad Paul, Sue Hestor).
That would represent a huge lost opportunity. Not for would-be buyers of the eye-poppingly expensive condos that San Francisco Waterfront Partners hopes to build at 8 Washington. Rest assured: If you can drop $2 million and up on a condo, you have options. They’ll be fine.
It’s the rest of us who should be concerned. Jettisoning this project on the basis that the owners would be too rich — the frankly acknowledged position of many San Francisco progressives — would jettison a huge number of public benefits that are part and parcel.
Start with the biggest: millions of dollars in revenue that would flow to the city and Port of San Francisco. The port estimates that the payments for the land, transfer fees on sales and resales of condos, leases and rent payments would bring it more than $50 million. And an innovative tax structure could generate $1.3 million per year.
The city, which owns part of the site, would reap $15 million — $10 million of it as payment toward the 33 affordable units the developers will be obligated to fund. San Francisco development opponents persistently fail to grasp that market-rate housing typically doesn’t “squeeze out” affordable housing. More frequently, it pays for it. In other words, those who believe San Francisco needs to build more affordable housing (that includes us) should be advocating for this project.
There are other benefits, too: completion of the last big piece of urban renewal surrounding the Ferry Building, a process in progress since the Embarcadero Freeway came down two decades ago. New public parks and recreation areas. Expanded parking, but all hidden underground. This site reconnected to the waterfront.
None of this, we realize, will be persuasive to the tennis players, who resent moving a few blocks to a new facility. Nor to the privileged Telegraph Hill people aligned behind former Board of Supervisors President Peskin; they simply want their pristine water views, damn the cost to the rest of us, and are used to getting their way.
Fortunately, this is not a one-sided fight. Groups from SPUR to the Housing Action Coalition to Livable City to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have registered their support for 8 Washington.
Almost inevitably, a process that has now begun with the Planning Commission will end at the Board of Supervisors. And there, eyes will turn to current board president and recent mayoral candidate David Chiu, shaping up as potentially the deciding vote. To his credit, Chiu has supported other controversial housing measures and taken the flak — but he also represents Peskin’s querulous old district. This will be a test: Stand up for good policy, even if it’s unpopular? Or take the usual San Francisco politician’s easy way out, and cave in to the NIMBYs?