Readers Respond to Article on SF's New Seismic Standards, or Lack Thereof

Zoning Out

Don't pick on the little guys: Joe Eskenazi's investigative piece, "Developments in Shaky Town" [News, Dec. 26], on big-moneyed downtown condo developers' ability to skirt San Francisco's traditional building codes in order to populate our skyline with seismically dubious luxury skyscrapers, is overdue. While building "green" mandates dense concentrations of urban infill housing to combat suburban sprawl, some kind of tempering, common-sense corollary must apply in dangerous, active seismic zones like ours.

It's breathtaking to contemplate that in a city where ordinary property owners find it takes years to navigate the daunting rigors and intricacies of the permit process to build a simple home addition, the height characteristics of our housing infrastructure will have been utterly transformed, in ways that materially affect all of us, without a comprehensive rezoning debate.

However, it greatly concerns me that the author's investigative skills were not sufficiently acute to ferret out more particulars on the identities of the mysterious "influential developers" who have allegedly "chilled the discussion of whether San Francisco should improve its [high-rise building] standards." Also, there is an element of unsettling innuendo when the author states, in juxtaposition with the above: "Calls to multiple developers about their position were not returned by press time. The Residential Builders Association also didn't call back."

Surely, the San Francisco Business Times' 2007 Book of Lists identified any number of the culprits in its "25 Largest Construction Projects in San Francisco." As for the much-maligned RBA, it is a small, homegrown group of residential developers who, when not locked in a stalemate by the forces of the antidevelopment activists in interminable struggles like the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning debacle, build at the opposite end of the height continuum — at most, six-story structures — which are arguably safer and more in keeping with the human scale of our traditional streetscapes.

Lauren Ladd
San Francisco

The little guys speak out: The Residential Builders Association agrees with most of Joe Eskenazi's article. We do not agree with how he portrays the RBA.

Eskenazi unfairly clumped the RBA with the "multiple developers" he claims are threatening to stop building in San Francisco if higher seismic standards are set. He then implies that these developers along with the RBA are "flexing muscle" to prevent improvements in seismic standards. True, Eskenazi did make one call to our office for comment, but it was during the rush of Christmas week and we did not have a chance to respond.

Even without our direct comment, the RBA's record speaks for itself. We led the campaign against the downtown interests to prevent high-rise hotels along the waterfront. In 2004, the RBA funded and campaigned successfully against Proposition J, which would have allowed downtown developers to build high-rises in our neighborhoods. Also, the RBA was the only group to speak out against the lowering of the affordable housing requirements for the downtown developers.

All of the buildings built by members of the RBA have met and exceeded — and will continue to meet and exceed — San Francisco's seismic standards. The members of the RBA are local, smaller developers with a long history of independent grassroots activism. The RBA opposed the positions of the high-rise developers, and should be recognized separately from the actions and interests of the high-rise developers.

Sean Keighran
President of the Board of Directors
Residential Builders Association
San Francisco

Joe Eskenazi responds: I would like to assure Ms. Ladd that my investigative skills are "sufficiently acute" to pick up a copy of the San Francisco Business Times. Yet randomly listing the city's biggest developers is not the same as identifying the specific developers who worked with the Tall Buildings Initiative — and whom TBI officials declined to name.

As for the Residential Builders Association, when I phoned them in the week of Dec. 10, I specifically stated that I wanted to talk to developers of high-rise condos. I was told such a person would contact me.

I wish someone had called back to state the RBA's position.

Van Hailin' Maerz

The softer side of David Lee Roth: I caught Van Halen's Oakland show and thought Jennifer Maerz pretty much nailed the whole feeling and vibe [Let's Get Killed, Dec. 26]. I first saw the band back in 1984, when Van Halen owned and ruled the planet. I thought they were damn good too. The song you mentioned, "Little Guitars," was a hit for them back in the day and is unique in that it shows off the very rare vulnerable side of David Lee Roth, and is a very well-written tune. Nice work, and keep it up.

Paul McCaffrey
San Francisco

 
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