Denizens of landlocked District 5 may not be able to locate 8 Washington Street. But, wherever it is, they're against it.
A poll commissioned by the group that qualified a referendum against the proposed luxury waterfront condo tower claims city residents oppose the development by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. But in left-friendly, tenant-heavy District 5, 8 Washington is reviled at a 5-to-1 clip. “It's political dynamite citywide,” says former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, a fervid 8 Washington opponent. “But it's nuclear dynamite in District 5.”
This begets an appropriately explosive political dynamic. District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague voted in favor of the “upzoning” decision that made 8 Washington possible — handing her progressive opponents a luxury-condo-sized political gift.
Candidate Julian Davis is the San Francisco Bay Guardian's fair-haired boy and the choice of the progressive establishment. That paper has made opposing 8 Washington its raison d'être, and Davis has been politically astute enough to tell the paper what it wants to hear and grab some political manna. Asked if he planned to make a major issue out of Olague's yes vote, he told SF Weekly, “That is very correct.” We saw as much firsthand, when Davis buttonholed would-be voters at a campaign event and decried the notion of erecting fortresses for “the 1 percent.” Politics is complex, but 8 Washington needn't be: It's a progressive litmus test — and Olague fails it.
She tells us that “the project merited a yes vote” and “the Labor Council people need jobs right now.” They always do; that's certainly why Eric Mar and Jane Kim voted along with Olague.
It's more than just unions pushing for this development. Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak has adamantly lobbied for the project; flanked by Willie Brown and Mayor Ed Lee, she also hosted a subsequent Chinatown fundraiser for Olague that raised thousands of dollars. Finally, in a theme you'll likely be seeing plenty of in the ensuing months, as a planning commissioner, Olague was adamantly against upzoning the waterfront: “The city's general plan says buildings can go to 84 feet on the waterfront,” she said in 2008, “so you don't just start granting exceptions just because it's a green building.”
Perhaps the most jarring element about Olague's vote for 8 Washington, however, was its uselessness. Eight supervisors supported the project — meaning Olague could have strategically voted against it. But that didn't happen. Olague's meaningless vote may have made pro-development forces happy, but it also empowered her opponents to run on a populist, anti-development platform and could help propel an anti-development candidate into office.
“For Davis, 8 Washington is all he's got,” says moderate political consultant David Latterman. “This is his Hail Mary — and it may work. Hindsight may prove that was a bad vote.”