Affordable Housing, Bayview / Hunters Point, Election Coverage, San Francisco, Third Street Corridor

June 2008 Election Recap: Propositions F and G

3D Visualization of the Hunters Point Conceptual Plan
Courtesy San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

If you read the two previous posts about this past election, you probably noticed one rather glaring omission from the discussion: the two San Francisco measures that were actually about city planning, Propositions F and G concerning the massive redevelopment of the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point. Unfortunately, after writing those other two election posts, there was no time to write a post about Hunters Point as well. But one thing is pretty certain: there will be opportunity in the future to discuss the landmark redevelopment of this area of the City. As you have likely already heard, 62% of San Franciscans voted “No” on the 50% affordable housing mandate in Prop F, while an almost equal number of San Franciscans voted “Yes” on Prop G, signalizing a desire to move forward with the cleaning up and redevelopment of this Superfund site. (Link to SF Election Results, scroll down to the bottom for city measures.)

Very little of the content of either Prop F or Prop G should have appeared on the ballot at all, particularly because this redevelopment project is so massive, complex, and still quite early in the process despite the fact that discussions have been ongoing for the past several years. The highly politicized Prop F vs. Prop G battle essentially became yet another example of San Francisco political theater at its finest: Daly v. Newsom, Progressives vs. “Progressives,” and any other iteration you can think of. As has been repeatedly raised by Prop F supporters, Prop G, as it pertains to the plan of the developer Lennar Corp., is not legally binding — it is filled with words like “encourage” and “should,” rather than “shall.” But then again, it could not be legally binding. The potential environmental impacts of cleaning up and redeveloping this area must be documented, and changes to the current plan will have to be made in response to the findings of the EIR when that document has been prepared. In addition, the plan is centered on the construction of a new 49ers stadium, but it is anything but a certainty that the team will remain in San Francisco. (The plan is not dependent on the stadium, and can be redrawn without it; the plan merely encourages retention of the 49ers “as a source of civic pride.”) The only binding part of Prop G — and really, the only part that should have appeared on the ballot at all — was the statements repealing Propositions D and F in 1997, in which voters approved the bonds and zoning that would have facilitated the construction of a new stadium and shopping center. Last month, Lennar did agree to a deal to increase affordability from an encouraged 25% affordable to a legally binding one-third affordable if Prop G were to pass, putting the Shipyard roughly in line with 55 Laguna and the Transbay redevelopment area in terms of affordable housing levels. The Chron reported about the deal, but at the time that article was published, Lennar and the San Francisco Labor Council had not formally agreed to the deal, and I think that was the last we heard of this in the mainstream media.

The inclusion of vague details about the plan, combined with local distrust of Lennar (not only in response to the asbestos scandal from last year and Lennar’s own in-house troubles, but also the “false promise” of rental housing on Parcel A) spurred Prop F’s momentum. As for the plan itself: it does bring much-needed homes, jobs and open space to an economically depressed neighborhood and an environmentally hazardous site, but given that this is one of the last major plots of land in San Francisco that remains unaccounted for, we can do even better. A strong argument can be made for higher levels of affordability on City land, although the exact amount to include is a determination best honed through hearings at the Board of Supervisors, rather than mandated by a ballot box initiative, where feel-good emotions and politically charged rhetoric tend to sweep aside logic and serious analysis. A lightly-used stadium is a poor use of scarce urban space — the parking is also a poor use, even with turf — and the land that has been set aside for the stadium and its associated parking would be better utilized if it housed a still greater density of residents and jobs, provided that the right transit infrastructure is put in place to accommodate the extra people. A spur/loop off the T-Third light rail line could connect the site to downtown, the Bayview commercial core along Third Street, the growing job center at Mission Bay, and the future Caltrain/Muni Metro joint hub at Bayshore Station. The current plan is rather geared towards automobiles, improving circulation access for vehicles, but it has a less firm grasp of how transit should link the redevelopment area to nearby districts to ensure that we do not simply add thousands of housing units inhabited by drivers who pile onto Highway 101. The layout of the neighborhood and its transportation flow should be designed so that transit is the natural and most attractive mode of travel, despite the somewhat isolated location, and despite the presence of a freeway near to at least the southern Candlestick portion of the redevelopment area. This was a guiding principle of the Market-Octavia Plan, and it is a principle that should guide any large-scale rezoning or redevelopment plan. The tools that can be used to plan a dense, truly livable and transit-oriented neighborhood at Hunters Point are well-established, and while lip service has been given to these concepts, the commitment to build in this way is not quite there. It remains now to coax the plan into fulfilling this vision.

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