Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Now that it's all over, here are a few pointless thoughts about the whole 8 Washington thing

The usual disclaimers, I'm hopelessly ill-informed, don't know all the background, etc., &c.

In case you're just joining us, 8 Washington was a waterfront condo project along the Embarcadero in San Francisco.  There are height limits controlling how tall buildings along the Embarcadero can be, because it's on the waterfront, and so the developers had to put a variance to these limits on the ballot.

I THINK.  I'm not 100% sure but I think that's what happened.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say the whole thing seemed shady.  The public faces of the pro-Prop B & C forces were Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom, who I think it's safe to say are both loathed by the city's progressives and also are widely believed to be crooked as hell.  So the Bay Guardian dutifully came out against it.

But wait!  There's another line of thought on this.


As it turns out, some of the opposition to this whole thing was funded by Boston Properties, which owns 4 Embarcadero Center, whose views would be blocked by the new thing. I guess those are the "rich people" Olu means.

So great.  It's like the baseball strike all over again.  Who are you for, the millionaires or billionaires?

I wasn't really convinced one way or another.  In the end, I ended up voting "no" on it, but for my usual wacko reason, which is this: I DON'T THINK THE CITIZENRY SHOULD BE VOTING ON ROUTINE CITY PLANNING DECISIONS.

We hire people with advanced degrees in City Planning and pay them what I assume is a lot of money to figure this shit out!  Don't put it on me.  If we put the citizenry in charge of city planning, every block is going to have a Giants Dugout Store, a Gold Dust Lounge, and a Chuck E Cheese.  Golden Gate Park will be replaced by a huge Go Kart track, and every single store in the Mission will be required to stay exactly the same forever.

My idea is this: We have a city planning system in place.  If the SYSTEM is broken, let's fix that, instead of voting on fucking INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS one at a time.  I suggest, and not from a place of snobbiness, that ordinary citizens do not have the information necessary to decide whether or not most building projects should be built.  People go to school for years ans years to figure that out.  So let's let the system work.  If we don't like the outcome, change the system.  But Christ, let's don't start planning our city by voting on each building.

In the end, it lost.  Now the developers can still build something there, just not as tall.  Yay?

7 comments:

Stephen said...

My even more ill-informed understanding is that they did not *have to* put this on the ballot. It's much worse than that. All the governing bodies in charge had approved it - it was a go. But then the millionaires (not just Embarcadero complex, but "I was here first" condo owners - the worst) who wanted their views maintained went out and got signatures to *put* this on the ballot, to override/veto the City officials who signed off. Essentially, they said, "oh, representative democracy didn't get us what we want, so let's go buy some direct democracy."

I really can't imagine the impact this is going to have going forward. Think how delighted all the NIMBYs citywide are right now. I guess we just have to hope there's not enough money to fight smaller developments with ballot measures.

Jessica said...

Ha - I agree with you 100%, but I voted yes, for basically the same reasons you voted no. This development went through the regular planning process - it was in the process for year, with many public hearings, an EIR, etc. And then it was approved by the people we pay to figure all this shit out. And approved by BoS (although they probably didn't know more about it than you or I). And then the rich people who live right around there (people who belong to the club that's there now, and people who own the $1-$3 million condos which are right behind where this would be built) got mad, got signatures, and put it on the ballot. They didn't want construction, shadows and a big development right next to them. So I voted yes... but I don't really care. Really - how many people, outside of the developers and the neighbors, actually do care?

Tamagosan said...

Indeed, like the baseball strike all over again, except developers are sorer losers, although one could argue that both sports are equally entertaining in this town. Should be interesting to see what happens next...

I would totally vote for a block with a Giants-themed taqueria that serves excellent Gin Fizzes and NEVER CHANGES EVER.

girl said...

I think they had to vote on it due to the fact that some of it would of been built on public land, I am not sure though, I could be wrong.

Michael Strickland said...

Actually, yay.

San Francisco's Planning Department is currently as crooked and dysfunctional as the SF Sheriffs at San Francisco General who couldn't find a dying woman on a stairwell for close to a month. On this project, the wheels were originally greased by huge doses of Mr. Snellgrove's money, probably through Willie Brown, Jr., who insists on a cut of everything involving political money that happens in this city. Lee is completely owned by Brown, and I'm sure the Board of Supervisors were well compensated with campaign contributions too. That would include the lugubrious undertaker that is Scott Weiner who was busy on Election Day at City Hall making it criminal for you or me to walk through a park after midnight.

So this wasn't so much about spot zoning as huge swaths of the city population saying, "Fucking enough! The corruption at City Hall is awful AND old fashioned."

The best thing that has happened to San Francisco since I've lived here was the 1989 earthquake, which knocked down two horrifyingly ugly doubledecker freeways, one out my window in the Hayes Valley and the famous Embarcadero horror which cut the entire city off from downtown. San Franciscans are still just getting to know their own waterfront. It's new for all of us and yes, we feel protective of its lack of density and almost park-like atmosphere, with the added bonus of not having that asshole Phil Ginsburg of Rec & Park involved.

The other good thing about the spot zoning election was it brought a lot of people together from the left and right who used to be enemies in this town. As a lot of people have pointed out, the entire feud has been a case of rich people vs. rich people, but that's always been the case when it comes to property. On a citywide basis, this was more about people who value a place as a community vs. people who value a place for how much money they can make out of it. That's also a very old story.

Sorry to go on at such length, but really, it is a yay moment. It's given some of my smartest friends some hope, which is always a good thing.

generic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
generic said...

Planning commissioners are political appointees. Committee and Board approval of 8 Wash was political. So was the election. It's just votes against votes.

"Advanced degrees"
"Governing bodies"

Um, ok.

"Election Pits Big Money Against Even Bigger Money" is news, I guess?