So, being forced to weigh in on not one, not two, but potentially three simultaneous megadevelopment ballot measures in a city where voters are, evidently, growing wary of the specter of overdevelopment hardly fits Lee's preferred narrative. He, too, has a pending return date with the electorate.


With a slim, three-page ballot measure and a $75,000 stake from donors Richard and Barbara Stewart, waterfront height-limit advocates have managed to make plenty of trouble. And the fun appears to just be starting: City sources now say it might be advisable to bifurcate the Warriors' project, holding off on the condos, hotel, and retail center planned across the Embarcadero on Seawall Lot 330.

Or, perhaps, it's time for the city to abandon plans to erect a stadium atop a crumbling pier — a scheme even onetime stalwarts now refer to as "precarious at best" — and seriously explore the possibility of shoehorning a less magnificent but far cheaper and more feasible arena onto Lot A behind AT&T Park.

Either of these scenarios would be a capitulation to development foes. Waterfront Alliance shot-caller Jon Golinger assures that having voters weigh in on every significant waterfront development will guarantee "better projects." This, again, resonates with those who feel the process has been corrupted. But it also depends upon your definition of "better."

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."

Turning over control of development to the voters means that obscenely complex and involved deals will be distilled into a simple up-or-down vote based solely on one criteria — height — and subject to political sloganeering. Additional time and uncertainty would be baked into a process already featuring plenty of both. Politicians, neighborhood groups, kingmakers, and power-brokers hoping to extract every last drop of juice from developers would wield that much more leverage.

As would those hoping to stave off development altogether. Golinger has proposed the Port issue bonds to preserve waterfront open space — a novel idea, but one that would put the cash-strapped agency deeper into debt in order to not build anything and not generate revenue.

In the meantime, broad swaths of the waterfront continue to decay. Hard-won public access to the area ensures everyone an unimpeded view of this.


Art Agnos didn't think twice when he leaped from a friend's car and half-walked, half-dragged that drug addict out of the street. Once out of harm's way, the man threatened to take a swing at Agnos and demanded $100. (He got $5.)

The one-term mayor smiles. Perhaps it was a fitting denouement for a man whose proudest legacy got him voted out of office. No good deed goes unpunished.

Agnos insists he's not running for mayor in the strongest possible terms. Instead, he explains his anti-arena barnstorming tour by neatly dovetailing his personal narrative with his chosen city's: He's a first-generation American and second-generation shoeshine boy who supported his family from age 15 after his father died, and showed up in San Francisco in 1966 in a Greyhound bus. It was a city of possibilities then. Agnos made the most of them.

The Warriors arena, however, would be "the tipping point," the death knell of a place where "everyone can have the opportunity to get off the goddamn bus and, 10 years later, represent half the city in the goddamn state assembly." But that's difficult to quantify in a city increasingly resembling Manhattan in terms of income inequality, if not skyline.

It seems a shade arbitrary to designate this particular development — and not so many others — as The Big One. It seems rather optimistic to claim "the tipping point" hasn't come and gone already.

Regardless, Agnos isn't ready to leave his city, convulsing, in the gutter. His grand solution: Publicly owned land, such as that under consideration to accommodate portions of the Warriors' development, should instead be converted, en masse, into middle-class housing. To those who'd argue waterfront property is too valuable for subsidized housing, he offers a succinct counter: "Bullshit!"

Agnos isn't finished: You can't put a price on stemming the tide of vital San Franciscans — teachers, social workers, nurses — fleeing San Francisco, he says; preventing this city from irrevocably transforming into a winner-take-all enclave for the rich is worth something, too.

So, that's one man's vision of the waterfront: a place for everyone in a city less and less apt to be described that way. A populist pitch to keep San Francisco looking like San Francisco — both physically and metaphysically. And yet, this city is changing. High-rises, condo towers, splashy retail: This is the way San Francisco looks now.

For more than half a century, battles have been waged over whether the waterfront should look as this city did, or as this city does. Whether it should serve as a public resource — or be exploited as the gold mine it is. This long-running struggle has ensured a baroque level of waterfront oversight: Development critics' arguments haven't changed a lot in 50 years, but their 50 years of arguing changed a lot.

In the realm of waterfront development, then, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The result is often inaction. But that suits many San Franciscans just fine. They'd be happy to allow the rotting piers to continue to degrade and gently sink into the bay — as long as traffic and sightlines are unaffected.

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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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