The battle of 8 Washington | SF Bay Guardian

The battle of 8 Washington

Condos for millionaires approved with progressives split

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The condos at 8 Washington (center) would be the tallest buildings and the priciest housing along the waterfront

tredmond@sfbg.com

More than 100 people showed up May 15 to testify on a condominium development that involves only 134 units, but has become a symbol of the failure of San Francisco’s housing policy.

I didn’t count every single speaker, but it’s fair to say sentiment was about 2-1 against the 8 Washington project. Seniors, tenant advocates, and neighbors spoke of the excessive size and bulk of the complex, the precedent of upzoning the waterfront for the first time in half a century, the loss of the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club — and, more important, the principle of using public land to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history.

Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, calls it housing for the 1 percent, but it’s worse than that — it’s actually housing for the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, for the ultra-rich.

It is, even supervisors who voted in favor agreed, housing the city doesn’t need, catering to a population that doesn’t lack housing opportunities — and a project that puts the city even further out of compliance with its own affordable-housing goals.

And in the end, after more than seven hours of testimony, the board voted 8-3 in favor of the developer.

It was a defeat for progressive housing advocates and for Board President David Chiu — and it showed a schism on the board’s left flank that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And it could also have significant implications for the fall supervisorial elections.

Sup. Jane Kim, usually an ally of Chiu, voted in favor of the project. Sup. Eric Mar, who almost always votes with the board’s left flank, supported it, too, as did Sup. Christina Olague, who is running for re-election in one of the city’s most progressive districts.

At the end of the night, only Sups. David Campos and John Avalos joined Chiu in attempting to derail 8 Washington.

The battle of 8 Washington isn’t over — the vote last week was to approve the environmental impact report and the conditional use permit, but the actual development agreement and rezoning of the site still requires board approval next month.

Both Mar and Olague said they were going to work with the developer to try to get the height and bulk of the 134-unit building reduced.

But a vote against the EIR or the CU would have killed the project, and the thumbs-up is a signal that opponents will have an upward struggle to change the minds of Olague, Kim, and Mar.

 

DEFINING VOTES

The 8 Washington project is one of a handful of defining votes that will happen over the next few months. The mayor’s proposal for a business tax reform that raises no new revenue, the budget, and the massive California Pacific Medical Center hospital project will force board members to take sides on controversial issues with heavy lobbying on both sides.

In fact, by some accounts, 8 Washington was a beneficiary of the much larger, more complicated — and frankly, more significant — CPMC development.

The building trades unions pushed furiously for 8 Washington, which isn’t surprising — the building trades tend to support almost anything that means jobs for their members and have often been in conflict with progressives over development. But the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union joined the building trades and lined up the San Francisco Labor Council behind the deal.

And for progressive supervisors who are up for re-election and need union support — Olague and Mar, for example — defying the Labor Council on this one was tough. “Labor came out strong for this, and I respect that,” Olague told me. “That was a huge factor for me.”

She also said she’s not thrilled with the deal — “nobody’s jumping up and down. This was a hard one” — but she thinks she can get the developer to pay more fees, particularly for parking.

The battle of 8 Washington – Page 2

Condos for millionaires approved with progressives split

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The condos at 8 Washington (center) would be the tallest buildings and the priciest housing along the waterfront

Kim isn’t facing re-election for another two years, and she told me her vote was all about the $11 million in affordable housing money that the developer will provide to the city. “I looked at the alternatives and I didn’t see anything that would provide any housing money at all,” she said. The money is enough to build perhaps 25 units of low- and moderate-income housing, and that’s a larger percentage than any other developer has offered, she said.

Which is true — although the available figures suggest that Simon Snellgrove, the lead project sponsor, could pay a lot more and still make a whopping profit. And the Council of Community Housing Organizations, which represents the city’s nonprofit affordable housing developers, didn’t support the deal and expressed serious reservations about it.

Several sources close to the lobbying effort told me that the message for the swing-vote supervisors was that labor wanted them to approve at least one of the two construction-job-creating developments. Opposing both CPMC and 8 Washington would have infuriated the unions, but by signing off on this one, the vulnerable supervisors might get a pass on turning down CMPC.

That’s an odd deal for labor, since CPMC is 10 times the size of 8 Washington and will involve far more jobs. But the nurses and operating engineers have been fighting with the health-care giant and there’s little chance that labor will close ranks behind the current hospital deal.

Labor excepted, the hearing was a classic of grassroots against astroturf. Some of the people who showed up and sat in the front row with pro-8 Washington stickers on later told us they had been paid $100 each to attend. Members of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, to which Snellgrove has donated substantial amounts of money in the past, showed up to promote the project.

BEHIND THE SCENES

But the real action was behind the scenes.

Among those pushing hard for the project were Chinese Chamber of Commerce consultant Rose Pak and community organizer David Ho.

Pak’s support comes after Snellgrove spent years courting the increasingly powerful Chinatown activist, who played a leading role in the effort that got Ed Lee into the Mayor’s Office. Snellgrove has traveled to China with her — and will no doubt be coughing up some money for Pak’s efforts to rebuild Chinese Hospital.

Ho was all over City Hall and was taking the point on the lobbying efforts. Right around midnight, when the final vote was approaching, he entered the board chamber and followed one of Kim’s aides, Matthias Mormino, to the rail where Mormino delivered some documents to the supervisor. Several people who observed the incident told us Ho appeared to be talking Kim in an animated fashion.

Kim told me she didn’t actually speak to Ho at that point, although she’d talked to him at other times about the project, and that “nothing he could have said would have changed anything I did at that point anyway.” Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ho was heard outside afterward saying “don’t worry, she’s fine.”

Matier and Ross have twice mentioned that the project will benefit “Chinatown nonprofits,” but there’s nothing in any public development document to support that assertion.

Chiu told me that no Chinese community leaders called him to urge support for 8 Washington. The money that goes into the affordable housing fund could go to the Chinatown Community Development Corp., where Ho works, but it’s hardly automatic — that money will go into a city fund and can’t be earmarked for any neighborhood or organization.

CCDC director Norman Fong confirmed to me that CCDC wasn’t supporting the project. In fact, Cindy Wu, a CCDC staffer who serves on the city Planning Commission, voted against 8 Washington.

The battle of 8 Washington – Page 3

Condos for millionaires approved with progressives split

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The condos at 8 Washington (center) would be the tallest buildings and the priciest housing along the waterfront

I couldn’t reach Ho to ask why he was working so hard on this deal. But one longtime political insider had a suggestion: “Sometimes it’s not about money, it’s about power. And if you want to have power, you need to win and prove you can win.”

Snellgrove will be sitting pretty if 8 Washington breaks ground. Since it’s a private deal (albeit in part on Port of San Francisco land) there’s no public record of how much money the developer stands to make. But Chiu pointed out during the meeting, and confirmed to me later by phone, that “there are only two data points we know.” One is that Snellgrow informed the Port that he expects to gross $470 million in revenue from selling the condos. The other is that construction costs are expected to come in at about $177 million. Even assuming $25 million in legal and other soft costs, that’s a huge profit margin.

And it suggests the he can well afford either to lower the heights — or, more important, to give the city a much sweeter benefits package. The affordable housing component could be tripled or quadrupled and Snellgrove’s development group would still realize far more return that even the most aggressive lenders demand.

Chiu said he’s disappointed but will continue working to improve the project. “While I was disappointed in the votes,” he said, “many of my colleagues expressed concerns about height, parking, and affordable housing fees that they can address in the upcoming project approvals.”

So what does this mean for the fall elections? It may not be a huge deal — the symbolism of 8 Washington is powerful, but if it’s built, it won’t, by itself, directly change the lives of people in Olague’s District 5 or Mar’s District 1. Certainly the vote on CPMC will have a larger, more lasting impact on the city. Labor’s support for Mar could be a huge factor, and his willingness to break with other progressives to give the building trades a favor could help him with money and organizing efforts. On the other hand, some of Olague’s opponents will use this to differentiate themselves from the incumbent. John Rizzo, who has been running in D5 for almost a year now, told me he strongly opposed 8 Washington. “It’s a clear-cut issue for me, the wrong project and a bad deal for the city.” London Breed, a challenger who is more conservative, told us: “I would not have supported this project,” she said, arguing that the zoning changes set a bad precedent for the waterfront. “There are so many reasons why it shouldn’t have happened,” she said. And while Mar is in a more centrist district, support from the left was critical in his last grassroots campaign. This won’t cost him votes against a more conservative opponent — but if it costs him enthusiasm, that could be just as bad.

Comments

Such a sad sorry broken record. Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.
If we absolutely have to allow something to be built, we must extort as much money as possible from the developer (even though those costs are just transferred back to the buyer) or we must knock a story or two off the building.

What do you people have to offer San Francisco other than being the token opposition to everything proposed?

Posted by Greg2 on May. 23, 2012 @ 9:51 am

irrelevant. Opponents of this development are the same few dozen activists who show up for many of these meetings. Attend any city meeting and, if you believe only the crowd, you’d think this city is well to the left of Lenin.

The simple fact is that most residents don’t have a few hours to spare, especially during the day, to attend these borefests. The supes know that and routinely ignore the speakers. I actually feel sorry for them having to listen to hours of this droning before they can actually make the important decisions.

As for 8-Wash, I suspect 8/11 of the city residents want a prime architectural jewel to bedeck our waterfront, and want the jobs, tax dollars and affordable housing setasides that comes with it.

Again that, ideological whimpering by the usual suspect NIMBY’s doesn’t really matter.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2012 @ 10:09 am

If you think this is going to be an “architectural jewel” you may want to look at the video that the Planning Department commissioned to show what the project would look like (see YouTube, “We Tore Down the Embarcadero Freeway for This!”). The project narrows the sidewalk along Embarcadero from current 16′ down to 15′. The sidewalk along the Embarcadero in front of Sue Bierman park, one block south, is actually 18′ wide. The devil is in the details.

The much touted Jackson Court, which extends Jackson to The Embarcadero, allows the bulky residential towers to project 10-12 feet into the public right of way. If this project ever gets built, you may be surprised by what it actually looks like, particularly after the design gets ‘value engineered’ to reduce construction costs.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 10:27 am

Let me know when someone even notices or cares.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

If you think this is going to be an “architectural jewel” you may want to look at the video that the Planning Department commissioned to show what the project would look like (see YouTube, “We Tore Down the Embarcadero Freeway for This!”). The project narrows the sidewalk along Embarcadero from current 16′ down to 15′. The sidewalk along the Embarcadero in front of Sue Bierman park, one block south, is actually 18′ wide. The devil is in the details.

The much touted Jackson Court, which extends Jackson to The Embarcadero, allows the bulky residential towers to project 10-12 feet into the public right of way. If this project ever gets built, you may be surprised by what it actually looks like, particularly after the design gets ‘value engineered’ to reduce construction costs.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 10:29 am

If you think this is going to be an “architectural jewel” you may want to look at the video that the Planning Department commissioned to show what the project would look like (see YouTube, “We Tore Down the Embarcadero Freeway for This!”). The project narrows the sidewalk along Embarcadero from current 16′ down to 15′. The sidewalk along the Embarcadero in front of Sue Bierman park, one block south, is actually 18′ wide. The devil is in the details.

The much touted Jackson Court, which extends Jackson to The Embarcadero, allows the bulky residential towers to project 10-12 feet into the public right of way. If this project ever gets built, you may be surprised by what it actually looks like, particularly after the design gets ‘value engineered’ to reduce construction costs.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 10:29 am

If you think this is going to be an “architectural jewel” you may want to look at the video that the Planning Department commissioned to show what the project will look like (see YouTube, “We Tore Down the Embarcadero Freeway for This!”). The project narrows the sidewalk along Embarcadero from current 16′ down to 15′. The sidewalk along the Embarcadero in front of Sue Bierman park, one block south, is actually 18′ wide. The devil is in the details.

The much touted Jackson Court, which extends Jackson to The Embarcadero, allows the bulky residential towers to project 10 feet into the public right of way. If this project ever gets built, you may be surprised by what it actually looks like, particularly after the design gets ‘value engineered’ to reduce construction costs.

Posted by Brad Paul on May. 24, 2012 @ 10:33 am

It’s, like, so much more persuasive that way.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

How can anyone possibly call this ugly boxy monstrosity an “architectual jewel”?!?!

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 10:08 am

that is hoping to be marketed to high-value buyers will look like crap.

I propose that you divorce form from substance. If this were a new center for the homeless, or a medical pot dispensary, you’d probably be singing its praises.

Class envy has no place in architectural critiques.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 11:29 am

These people are so incredibly myopic and selfish.

Myopic because they obviously don’t understand what 1% means. If you create more housing it’s not like there’s more 1%. It’s a fixed ratio of people, meaning, if they buy at 8 Washington they probably won’t buy somewhere else. Inventory opens up elsewhere, where it’s more affordable based on market demand. That’s a free market folks.

Selfish because they’re obviously protecting their own best interests. They could care less about affordable housing. If they did, they’d want to see more housing inventory. Let’s see if they prefer an exclusively low income development next door.

As for “too bulky”, I don’t know what to say. Give me a break. You live in the heart of one of the most dense areas in the state, if not country. If you want quaint, you’re in the wrong place.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2012 @ 11:45 am

What are you talking about? If we cannot afford the $3 million to buy one of the 143 apartments at 8 Washington, what makes you think we will be able to afford the former homes of the new buyers? These apartments are for the richest of the rich. They will contribute nothing to the city. They are not providing jobs (except for their poor servants). The probably own several homes and will not spend much time here.

The trickled down theory has been discredited. The city’s plan admits we have an affordable housing crisis and yet they build luxury housing? We need smart development not shortsighted gifts to their political donors.

Posted by Sigmarlin on May. 24, 2012 @ 4:29 pm
MANY OF THE COMMENTS ON THIS POST, LIKE THIS ONE, ARE OBVIOUSLY MADE BY CORPORATE TOOLS
Tim, the fact that “two to one” at the meeting opposed it is

Mirrelevant. Opponents of this development are the same few dozen activists who show up for many of these meetings. Attend any city meeting and, if you believe only the crowd, you’d think this city is well to the left of Lenin.

The simple fact is that most residents don’t have a few hours to spare, especially during the day, to attend these borefests. The supes know that and routinely ignore the speakers. I actually feel sorry for them having to listen to hours of this droning before they can actually make the important decisions.

As for 8-Wash, I suspect 8/11 of the city residents want a prime architectural jewel to bedeck our waterfront, and want the jobs, tax dollars and affordable housing setasides that comes with it.

Again that, ideological whimpering by the usual suspect NIMBY’s doesn’t really matter.

The top 2% pay 50% of all taxes, according to the IRS. Plus all the sales tax and jobs their spending creates. That’s why every city on the planet tries to attract them and SF doesn’t even really have to try. Do you have any idea what an incredible benefit that is?

And if I pay a million or two for a new condo, then I’m not buying a condo in SOMA, which means the next leg down the hierarchy can, which means they are not competing for that TIC in the Mission that you want. And so on.

That’s the funny thing about the free market. It works, like an invisible hand, without some faceless over-paid city bureaucrat in a cheap suit meddling at all.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

The laws of supply and demand are held in abeyance by the Progressive school. Tim explained their platform in an earlier post. That the people who would live in 8 Washington would NOT otherwise buy an expensive condo in Soma. He seems to believe that they would not live in San Francisco if not for 8 Washington. I remember, in one of the highlights of the post, he calculated the environmental cost of them flying here once a month from New York in their private jets, all because of 8 Washington (I’m serious, I’m not making that up. Search for it).

And your economic arguments are quite logical but the Progressive movement has no innate interest in the tax revenue that the rich pay, other than that they want to spend it on social engineering. If the wealthy could just mail in checks from New York or the Caymans without actually owning property here the Progressives would be perfectly happy.

Posted by Troll on May. 24, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

One might ask, “why would I vote to re-elect a Supervisor who, even though they know a deal is completely out of compliance with zoning laws and the public trust, does not fundamentally support the deal and which may even be something their “normal” constituency does not support, vote for it anyway?”. I don’t’ want to vote for a Supervisor who is weak, and stands for nothing at all.

Thanks to Chiu, Avalos and Campos for doing the right thing for the City.

Posted by Guest observer on May. 23, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

vote the exact opposite, and support a project that will bring vital tax dollars to the city.

Envy is not a viable political strategy.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

>”I didn’t count every single speaker, but it’s fair to say sentiment was about 2-1 against the 8 Washington project.”

Several of us pointed out last time that the opponents of the project were allowed to speak in a time slot that ended around 8PM. The proponents of the project didn’t get a chance to speak until about 11:30PM, on a Tuesday night. Many people obviously had to leave the Civic Center area as midnight was approaching.

I just point this out in case there is anyone new out there reading this who might falsely assume that Tim Redmond is an honest journalist. He is not. He’s aware of this significant factor that dampened the opponents response but deliberately ignored it because it didn’t suit his agenda.

Just a reminder to everyone — Redmond is pure propaganda, you’ll see for yourself if you read this stuff for awhile. Good for a laugh now and then but if you are looking for information to base an opinion on you obviously need to look elsewhere.

Posted by Troll on May. 24, 2012 @ 11:05 am

against this project shows that even the “usual suspect” activists were struggling to get any numbers out to oppose this.

Frankly, I don’t even know why the supes have to vote on every new building. A bigger city would surely delegate such low-level decisions to those with expertise in building and development.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

I’m more concerned about the sleazy, rent-a-mob corporate lobbyists and corporate hacks and their corrupt politicians working for the 1% for their right-wing elitist agenda (they call it “moderate” to deceive people). I appreciate the “usual suspect” activists who are part of the 99%. They are not usually bought-off through corruption.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

In small town San Francisco, the people with the “expertise” are the endless neighborhood groups who have to make sure that nothing changes ever. We’re provincial and we know it.

Posted by Greg on May. 24, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

parochialism and provincialism more than the way any and very new building is considered “controversial”, requiring endless debate.

Just build the damn thing. The natives will always find something else to whine about.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 11:31 am

But you’re whining too….about the “natives.”

That’s called being a hypocrite.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

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