San Franciscoís anti-development types realized a long time ago: They donít have to win every battle to win a war.
Even when their arguments are threadbare, even when there’s little to support them apart from rank NIMBYism and reflexive animus, the city’s entitlement process offers them plenty of buttons to push and levers to pull to slow progress to a snail’s pace — knowing every time they do, they are running up costs for the developer. When all else fails, there’s always an appeal to the Board of Supervisors, in hopes that the careful deliberations of lower levels of city government will be sacrificed in service of on-the-fly politics.
In other words, delay isn’t just a result of the process. In the right (or wrong) hands, it is the whole point of the process.
That’s the vortex in which the condo proposal for 8 Washington St. finds itself. Last week, seven years in, it finally received Planning Commission approval — four months and four delays later than expected, as opponents turned one wrench after another to slow the movement of the planning gears. Opponents immediately appealed the Environmental Impact Report to the Board of Supervisors. This introduces still more delay before 8 Washington is considered by the supervisors on its merits.
Those merits are considerable, and have been recognized by a lengthening roster of San Francisco organizations, from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) to the Housing Action Coalition to the Labor Council to the Bay Area Council to several nearby neighborhood organizations and the group that runs the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.
They grasp, even if project opponents do not, that this project would represent a continuation of the waterfront renaissance begun when the Embarcadero Freeway was removed 20 years ago. That it will provide a windfall to the cash-strapped city — about $16 million upfront and more than $1 million annually in taxes and fees — and more of one to the desperately skint Port of San Francisco. The port would receive $60 million in rent, fees and other payments over the next 66 years.
And, crucially, that persistent carping that 8 Washington St. should be devoted almost entirely to affordable housing, or spitefully rejected purely on the belief that its residents will be too wealthy, is misguided in the extreme.
First, nestled near the Ferry Building and across the Embarcadero from the water, this is a prime site where the economics work best for upscale housing: That’s what turns it into such a cash generator for the city and port.
Second, and even more important, market-rate (or, in 8 Washington’s case, way-above-market-rate) housing vs. affordable housing is a false dichotomy. They’re not enemies. In fact the opposite: Under inclusionary rules, market-rate development is how the city in the main pays for affordable development. It’s the engine that pulls the train. In this case that means $9 million toward affordable housing, equating to 8 Washington’s inclusionary responsibility for funding 27 affordable units.
(As for opponents in the Telegraph Hill Dwellers — a largely overprivileged bunch focused solely on preserving their existing water views — complaining that new condo owners would be too wealthy? That’s, in a word, rich.)
It’s no credit to district Supervisor David Chiu that he has thrown his lot in with this coalition of the narrow-minded. So it is up to the other 10 supervisors to do the right thing. There are always close calls and difficult choices in city government — but this one is easy and obvious.