Big-Money Condo Tower Presents Itself as a Champion of Working-Class San Franciscans

NIMBYs will want to re-up on their blood pressure meds, because San Francisco’s ever-growing skyline may be about to grow a little more.

Tishman Speyer, the developers behind the Studio Gang-designed condo tower planned for Folsom Street — you know, the one that looks like a twisted accordion — are asking the city for an extra 10 stories. The building was designed at 400 feet, but the lots are presently zoned for only 300.

In exchange for the exemption, the developers say they’ll throw in an additional 44 below market-rate units, upping the total to 40 percent of the project. And rather than pile them all into the bottom floors, as planned, they’ll spread them through levels 1-26 of the tower. They’ll even chip in some of the homeowner’s association fees for the BMR tenants.

(For the purposes of this development, an affordable unit costs between $217,000-$384,000.)

But before any of that happens, they’ve got to get the golden ticket from the city, starting with yesterday’s pitch to the Office of Community Infrastructure and Investment (the successor to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency that originally cooked up the Transbay plan).

Going to bat for the developer, OCII project manager Jose Campos pointed out that the 10-year-old zoning plan is out of date. “We didn’t understand the growth the city would witness” back when the original zoning was put in place, Campos said.

[jump] The lot that will soon be Salesforce Tower was originally zoned for only 550 feet, rather than the 1,070 it turned into, and a dozen other 400-foot plus buildings are already in the works. Compared to that, an extra 100 feet here hardly matters, says Campos, especially if we get 44 new homes for working people .

But, in this town, you can’t put one brick on top of another without stirring up some hornet’s nest. Jon Golinger, formerly a big wheel in the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign, came to speak on behalf of a group called Save Rincon Park. The 100 foot extension would throw a shadow over the nearby park on certain days, which normally would be illegal, since in the ‘80s San Francisco outlawed developments that overshadow public parks .

But Rincon Park is owned by the port rather than the city, meaning the law doesn’t apply to it — which steams Golinger, who said the city is being suckered by developers’ “rhetoric and deceptiveness” and noted that the project is required by law to be 35 percent affordable units, so kicking in an extra 5 percent is maybe not such a grand gesture.

Also nettled are residents at nearby Lumina, the twin-towered, 400-foot (on one end, anyway) condo complex at 201 Folsom, who complain that the Gang-designed building will block their million dollar view. (Lumina is also a Tishman Speyer building.) One Luminarian testified that he bought a unit on the top floor specifically on the promise that the neighboring development would rise only 300 feet, and a deal is a deal.

But OCII commissioners found gripes from cozy condo owners about as sympathetic as toenail fungus.

“I’m offended by that kind of elitism,” said Commissioner Miguel Bustos. “You’re complaining about your view while I’m watching people pushed right out of this city.”

“My view is my neighbor’s gate,” added Commissioner Leah Pimentel, a third-generation Bayview resident). Pimentel noted that the 44 households that will move into the extra BMR units might not find anywhere to live in the city, or will just displace someone else if they do. “These are human beings. They deserve a chance.”

It seems like a crazy world when a big-money condo tower frames itself as a champion of working San Franciscans while painting activists as silver spoon snobs, but TS managed exactly that, and in the end the commission endorsed the zoning exemption.

There are plenty more opportunities for foes to throw up roadblocks to the extra stories, with a Planning Commission meeting set for February and final approval from the Board of Supervisors in March. Maybe leave the Lumina buyers at home for those?

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