Proposition B, which requires that voters approve any changes in currently zoned height limits on Port land, passed with more than 58% of the vote in the June 2014 low-turnout election. Our fight against it succeeded in reducing its winning percentage from the 75% at which it had polled earlier this year. Given more time to reach voters and an election turnout more robust than this month’s record low, we might have stopped it. Politicians willing to make the case for representative democracy instead of direct democracy, the same case made by James Madison and the framers of our Constitution, would also have helped.
But it is too late for what-ifs. 58% in this election translates to less than 17% of eligible San Francisco voters, but this tiny group has nonetheless laid down the law. What comes next?
A legal challenge remains possible. The State Lands Commission will be the best source of this. The measure’s passage means that the San Francisco City Attorney’s office must defend it, and the State will have more resources to do battle with the City than would I and the two private citizens who joined me in the suit to keep Prop B off the ballot. As of this writing, the Commission hasn’t signaled its intentions.
As strong a case as the commission may have, its success is not guaranteed, and we cannot know whether or not the commission would pursue any appeal after a possible initial setback.
Forest City has already announced it will go to the ballot in November with a project for Pier 70 much reduced from what it had planned, with lower buildings and less room for housing.
The Giants will no doubt follow suit with a ballot measure also for a reduced project at Seawall Lot 337.
Already, then, Prop B has resulted in less housing and an exacerbation of the City’s housing crisis.
With smaller projects and therefore smaller returns, and now with the added expense of ballot fights, both Forest City and the Giants will certainly tell the Port that it must give them more favorable leases and expect much less in revenue. The Port will struggle more to meet the accelerating maintenance needs of its nineteenth- and early twentieth-century infrastructure.
And voter approval of either project is not at all sure, and at the very least will require more time and work from Building Trades members to pass.
The Warriors have already fled Piers 30 and 32 for Mission Bay. Those piers will therefore continue deteriorating for the foreseeable future. Instead of providing public access to the Bay, as they would have with an Arena at their heart, they will become more of an eyesore and a danger.
More disturbing for anyone who cares about the future of working people in the City is the likelihood that the backers of Prop B will take something like it citywide in a future election.
Prop B was never just about waterfront construction. To many of us, it was clear that Prop B was intended also to affect the races for Board of Supervisors in District 10 and for State Assembly in District 17 in this election and the race for Board of Supervisors in District 3 in the November 2016 election.
In 2016 Supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar, who have often sided with opponents of home construction, will be termed out in Districts 11 and 1. Both Avalos and Mar voted for amendments that would have killed the Lennar project at Hunters Point. That project right now is offering homes for sale at a price achievable for working-class San Franciscans of middle income. It is also providing us work. Both Avalos and Mar voted also against the ParkMerced project, which because of its remoteness from the trendier parts of the City will offer both rental homes at a price achievable for workers such as ourselves and the work by which we can pay for it.
The outer stretches of Mission Street in District 11 and Geary Boulevard in District 1 are being considered for midrise development that will at once provide needed housing and leave intact the basic neighborhood character of single-family homes. Distance from the more fashionable neighborhoods will again mean that this housing is for us and workers like us. Increases in zoned heights will be needed for these homes to be built.
We can far too easily imagine a campaign against “high rises” on Geary and Mission – even though no one is contemplating high rises there – as a way of helping elect politicians in those districts who are as dependable as Avalos and Mar have been in opposing new homes and our work.
We can hope that we don’t see such a campaign, but we should be prepared for it. The opponents of new homes and our work will want to replicate their success in yet another low-turnout election, and in combination with their effort to elect new allies this points to June 2016.
And if they succeed on either count, more of us and of our children will be forced from the City.