Agnos' seminar is a political dog whistle; a savvy crowd detects its stratified layers of messaging.

And for those without deep institutional memories of development battles past, Agnos makes sure to repeat his most current — and damning — rhetorical flourish early and often: likening the proposed arena (and its luxury condos) to the vanquished 8 Washington luxury condos. Beaming his laser pointer at a serene watercolor of a waterfront basketball Taj Mahal, Agnos' diction slows to a crawl. "You could fit three-and-a-half 8 Washingtons inside this arena!"

Befitting a discussion about a stadium, the crowd goes wild.


To use language the San Francisco Giants understand, this pitch was filthy.
San Francisco, says former Mayor Art Agnos, will always be a great city — "unless we fuck it up!"
Mike Koozmin
San Francisco, says former Mayor Art Agnos, will always be a great city — "unless we fuck it up!"
The Embarcadero Freeway, seen here in its virgin year of 1959, blockaded the waterfront and helped to inspire this city's "Freeway Revolt."
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
The Embarcadero Freeway, seen here in its virgin year of 1959, blockaded the waterfront and helped to inspire this city's "Freeway Revolt."

When the Sierra Club's Becky Evans filed "The Waterfront Height Limit Right-to-Vote Act" with the city's Department of Elections in the waning days of 2013, the Major League Baseball franchise and aspiring waterfront developer was left feeling a bit like Miguel Cabrera. The Detroit slugger impotently took an unanticipated Sergio Romo fastball for a called strike three to close out the 2012 World Series.

No one saw that pitch coming, either.

Giants officials did not return SF Weekly's calls. But multiple ballot proponents and city politicos on the receiving end of invective-laced tirades attest that Evans' filing was not a pleasant surprise for the city's sole remaining professional sports team.

"Oh, they were so blindsided," says a government source. "They thought they were special."

While the Warriors long ago conceded their high-profile arena-retail-hotel-parking-condo moonshot should receive the imprimatur of the electorate, the Giants apparently hoped they could slip their development — and its 380-foot towers — under the radar. But the hubbub inspired by the former project has ensnared the latter. As such, SF Weekly is told it's difficult to understate the franchises' mutual enmity.

The height initiative was forged in this city's well-stoked and long-burning anti-development furnace. It is just the latest flashpoint of a larger, decades-long struggle. And yet, specifically and in the moment, it sets in motion a number of potentially conflicting scenarios that could compromise billions of dollars worth of potential waterfront developments yearned for by the city's powers-that-be.

How much happier everything seemed on a serene May morning in 2012, when the city and Warriors held a joint press conference on Piers 30-32. No expense was spared. Delicious coffee was dispensed from shiny tureens (with real cream!) and a platoon of laborers was deployed to place shrubberies at strategically desirable locations. Warriors co-owner Peter Guber assured the gathered luminaries, "We will play here in 2017. Take that as a promise we're going to fulfill. We're all-in."

Earlier this month, it was revealed that a peer-reviewed analysis of the substructure costs for Piers 30-32 pegged the bill at $180 million — at least $60 million higher than the figure being bandied about over coffee and shrubberies two years ago. The cost floated in 2011, when the city and Port endeavored to gift Piers 30-32 to yachting billionaire Larry Ellison prior to the America's Cup, was $91.5 million.

This, again, is the amount of money that would have to be spent before money could start being spent on an arena. Of this, the city would be on the hook for $120 million to revitalize a derelict pier whose mere removal would require an estimated $45 million. An earlier proposal for this sum to be saddled with a 13 percent interest rate will be nixed, per a city player, because "we couldn't find any way to explain it that didn't make it incendiary."


Warriors brass this month revealed a 2017 tip-off was, in actuality, a promise that they would not fulfill. That's an unpleasant development for Mayor Ed Lee, who also opted to go all-in. Referring to a waterfront megadevelopment that existed only in the mind of a watercolorist as "my legacy project" was, to put it mildly, regrettable. Lashing oneself, Ahab-like, to a waterfront proposal will, more than likely, get you drowned; there is no shortage of failed San Francisco waterfront projects and disappointed mayors. Lee also ruptured even the veneer of city oversight and impartiality. (The Giants, SF Weekly is again told, are displeased.)

Somewhat ironically considering the organizations involved, major developers aren't often team players. This, too, bodes poorly for Lee. Barring a lawsuit against the city — which certified the measure — or other unforeseen craziness, even fervent arena backers within the mayor's camp predict the June height-limit initiative "is absolutely gonna pass." This could trigger a mad dash for the Warriors, Giants, and Forest City to win voter approval of their individual projects by rushing their own measures into the following election, while clambering over one another like crabs in a barrel.

Lee's beaming visage was emblazoned on the campaign mailers flogging the 8 Washington project, a proposed tower of multimillion-dollar condos he jarringly referred to as "neighborhood housing." The mayor's whiskers were singed when 67 percent of the electorate spurned his entreaties and, in the months since, he's been singing a different tune. Lee has railed against Ellis Act evictions, pushed for construction of thousands of affordable housing units, and urged a healthy spike in the minimum wage. The mayor's office insists this was his existing agenda. But not everyone buys that: "They're running scared," says SF State professor emeritus Rich DeLeon, the dean of Bay Area political scientists.

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12 comments
Kairi Willow
Kairi Willow

Uh... Yeah... What kind of question is that?

Nancy Queenofsheba Endy
Nancy Queenofsheba Endy

I read the article and yes the waterfront belongs to the citizenry of SF. It should not be allowed to be blighted by crass commercial development.

Jeremy Baker
Jeremy Baker

This is the logical failure of "the customer is always right"....protip: they aren't.

norchris
norchris

If Agnos is serious about requiring affordable housing to be built on port property, why isn't he pushing an initiative to do exactly that?  Instead he's pushing an initiative that's solely about height limits and won't necessarily do a thing to promote more affordable housing in this town.  Of course the rich people who already live within eyesight of the shoreline and who are financing the initiative might not be so enthusiastic about funding an initiative that would require affordable housing to be built right next door.  So who's corrupt now?

SFDave4U
SFDave4U

Should the people control the waterfront and or should the people control the frontlines for social and economic justice. Tom Perkins said today the rich should get more votes proportionate to the amount of taxes they pay. Hey maybe it would be better if there were no privacy and every time someone like him stopped at Perry's they would be charged x time's more than the average worker. If Joe Shmo earns $30,000 a year he pays $9 bucks for a burger, but someone like Perkins should be soaked and pay at the point of sale $3,000,000 for a burger. Don't you think the country was founded to promote the general Welfare (preamble Constitution) and that's only fair .... .

SFDave4U

sebraleaves
sebraleaves topcommenter

Thankfully the citizens still get to decide the fate of their city, but, it is getting harder with edicts coming down from Washington and Sacramento to build, build, build for the future some don't want. We will hear about the need to green the streets and replace the single family homes with dense new housing for the thousands of new folks who are ready to invade. We will hear about the billions of dollars the SFMTA needs to build a new transit system or two. They will even promise to fix the potholes, but few people will fall for that again. In the end, this is a fight between the preservationists who love the city the way it is and those who don't.

CommonSense
CommonSense

The Mannhatanization of the city has got to stop.  Basically anyone who is not a millionaire or living in a housing project will be evicted.  It's a war about the future, from gentrification to Google buses to dozens of new 40-story towers.  What kind of city do you want San Francisco to be?  

egg-sf
egg-sf

I find it ironic that Art Agnos wants "No Wall on the Waterfront"...yet he is best remembered during his sole  mayoral term for his "Wall of Homeless at City Hall."

 
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