Thursday, April 22, 2021
Uncategorized SF Democratic Party sides with developers on waterfront

SF Democratic Party sides with developers on waterfront


The DCCC listens to testimony at its endorsement meeting

By Tim Redmond

March 12, 2014 — To the surprise of some political observers (um, me), the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee voted tonight to side with the real-estate developers and reject Prop. B, a measure that would require a public vote for any project that exceeds existing height limits on the waterfront.

The vote was 13-12, and it included some surprises: Sup. Malia Cohen, who is facing a re-election challenge from a Prop. B ally, voted to support Prop. B – and Sup. David Chiu, who was a leader in the fight against 8 Washington, abstained, in effect giving the developers the edge.

“This shows that the real-estate industry now controls the San Francisco Democratic Party,” Prop. B author John Golinger told me after the vote.

Both sides had plenty of support in the room, and combined with a contested judicial race, public comment on the party’s endorsements took up more than 90 minutes. The building trades unions were out in force, arguing that Prop. B would hurt job growth.

Golinger, in his remarks to the panel, noted that the measure wouldn’t actually stop any projects: It would just require a vote of the public if that project (like, for example, the Warriors arena) required a special exemption from the height limits that the city has established over the years. “There have been lots of votes on waterfront projects,” he said, including AT&T Park. Now, of course, the Giants, who won that election, want to stop this measure, which would mandate another public vote on the team’s ambitious development plans for a lot near the ballpark.

Tim Colon, who is suing to take Prop. B off the ballot, handled the No argument, and he started off by decrying the vote on 8 Washington. Not what one might call a good tactical message, since the DCCC opposed that development, as did a huge majority of the voters.

Then he ran off a long list of all the waterfront development that would be threatened by the measure – an impressive list. In all, $8 billion worth of projects on Port land would be “delayed, reduced, or abandoned” if Prop. B passed.

Which I could only take to mean that all of those projects that don’t meet current height limits and will need spot zoning.

He also said that the measure would undermine housing construction: “We have to produce housing to keep this a diverse city.” But nobody with any sense thinks that the luxury highrise condos that developers want to build on the waterfront will do much of anything for diversity in San Francisco.

Let’s be honest: When the Port and developers wanted 8 Washington, they were all for ballot-box zoning. When they want the freedom to go through a planning process that DCCC member Rafael Mandelman noted “people in the neighborhoods think is rigged” – then they don’t want the voters to have a say.

Chiu said he wasn’t prepared to vote either way on the project, because “there hasn’t been enough analysis” of the impacts the measure would have. Under the rules of the party, it takes a simple majority to prevail on an endorsement – and an abstention lowers that threshold because it doesn’t count as a vote. So his abstention made the 13-12 vote possible.

Alix Rosenthal, who often votes with the progressive, also abstained.

Through proxies, both State Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano voted yes. Assemblymember Phil Ting voted No. State Sen. Leland Yee was absent and had no proxy.

Leah Pimentel, who had opposed 8 Washington, voted No.

It was odd, coming the day after the state party chair, John Burton, announced his support for the measure. But it’s clear that, under local party chair Mary Jung, the progressives no longer control the Democratic Party in one of the most progressive Democratic cities in the nation.

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at), follow @supermarke on Twitter.


  1. Get in line to record the last remains of San Francisco’s famous hilltop views, from Potrero Hill to Diamond Heights. There is an animation of the future views of SF from a number of angles, and they all have one thing in common, A lot of towering buildings with patches of sky showing through, and shadows on all the streets. That is what tall towers do best. Kill views and increase shadows. This is the future of SF unless the courts support voter’s rights, and voters demand height limits. If the courts fail to allow this ballot measure to go through, the next step is a major overhaul of the Democratic party or the return to Republican rule.

    California Democrats may have already lost the super majority. San Francisco is not the only city in California with a major objection to over-development. A group of citizens in Santa Monica just filed suit against the city and the developers of a major project there.

    This is a national issue that is so far getting little press. The new Democratic party line, that claims stack and pack housing is the solution for global warming, may hand the country back to the Republicans who are taking the other side of the issue.

    Florida has been handed a really bad case of housing over-supply and rising insurance rates that has tanked their economy for decades. Floridians will never support legislation that limits property rights, which is how Republicans and libertarians are selling green transit corridors.

  2. The unions are acting like only a special interest group. Never mind whether projects are good for the city; it’s all about jobs for their members. But that’s the same position they take on other dumb projects, like the Central Subway and high-speed rail.

    Chiu’s stand is understandable if you look at his construction union endorsements. As a
    Democrat, I won’t vote for either of the Davids.

  3. Numerous retail/commercial/restaurant spaces sit empty in Embarcadero Center buildings 1-4, just as one example, which spans Battery to Drumm between Clay and Sacramento Streets. Maybe the “progressives” can negotiate using all UN-RENTED commercial space in the financial district for homeless shelters. The reason the number of homeless people has grown is because it has turned into a city livable only by the very wealthy. This might make the “progressives” feel more kindly toward the (self-interested/greedy) developers. Just an idea. No NIMBY nonsense would get in the way since there are relatively few residential back yards down in the FiDi. Just an idea. Unless and until some palatial buildings are constructed specifically for those without homes I’m not keen on approving ANY housing for the ultra-rich. It is a slap in the face to all the unhoused folks.

  4. Business as usual. They’re all a bunch of corrupt self-serving bastards. To hell with ’em.
    Just my 2c.

  5. A lesson that the Dems still don’t get: If their candidates want progressives’ votes, they have to earn them. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. This is not good. Unless these property development heights are subject to voter approval, many of our uninterrupted waterfront views and magnificent bay vistas along the Embarcadero will only be available to a privileged few. The rest of us will have to make due with only a fading memory.

    I fear this is an another example of the corrosive influence of property developer money on local politics.

  7. I love how you confuse the terms “progressive”. You use it interchangibly. You use it to mean what most Americans understand it to be vs. what it means in San Francisco. In SF a “progressive” is a member of a wing of the Democratic party or left leaning movement who aligns with Arron Pekin, Chris Daly and the like. vs. what the word actually means. The fact that you can’t differentiate the two speaks volumes about your inability to be a unbiased reporter.
    BTW, the woman in your picture was speaking in favor of a judicial candidate & not about Prop B.

  8. A shameful night for the San Francisco Democratic Party. A particularly awful vote for Phil Ting, David Chiu, and Alix Rosenthal!

  9. One thing about Republicans, and this is what makes them so frightening, is that they will do whatever it takes to win; including calling themselves Democrats. These people are not actually civic leaders, they’re politicians. If it helps them pull off a caper like this vote, or getting the District 8 seat, they will do it.

  10. Tim –
    This is a heavier lift for the Party than 8Wash.

    The tenant’s “union,” leadership is lined up against the Building Trades Unions on building housing. It’s pure political alignments. What we’ve been advocating for for years now with our progressive friends is good jobs for local residents, while those same friends find every way possible to restrict sustainable growth that would tend in part, to address our current crisis and create those good union jobs.

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