Michael Theriault participated in an Urban Land Institute forum on Prop B. To his left is Tim Colen, Executive Director, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.

  • Measure Would Slow Waterfront Development

The nonprofit education and research organization Urban Land Institute hosted a forum in April titled “Development, Voter Elections, and the Future of the San Francisco Waterfront.” At the center of the discussion was Prop. B – the ballot measure that would mandate that any increases to height limits along the waterfront would be put to a citywide vote.

Proponents of Prop B were represented by Art Agnos, former San Francisco Mayor; and John Rizzo, Political Chair of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter. Representing the “No On Prop B” side were Tim Colen, Executive Director, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition; Tom Lockard, Vice President, Real Estate Investment and Institutional Sales for Fundrise; and Mike Theriault, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council. San Francisco Chronicle Urban Design Critic John King served as moderator and asked questions of the panel.

King highlighted what would be a major theme of the evening by asking the former mayor why he thought it was a good idea to reduce a complex political issue like land use and development to a simple ballot argument. Agnos summed up the pro-Prop B argument by insisting that he trusted the democratic process and supported the citizens’ right to vote.

Lockard pointed out that there is already an “advise and consent” process for planning that includes the Port, the City, the Bay Conservation and Development Corporation, and CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). He asserted that the Board of Supervisors as representatives of the people already has a role in planning, and allowing a small faction to take control of development would be undemocratic.

Affordable housing activist Colen said Prop B would delay, if not kill, the planned housing for the waterfront.

“Prop B is a de facto down-zoning of what is now derelict industrial land,” he said.

Asked about the views of the Building Trades, Theriault said the efforts to stall development does not stop at the waterfront. Theriault said there is also a political motive for Prop B proponents who want to pressure candidates and elected officials supported by the building trades unions to vote against projects in their districts. “This is a wedge issue politically,” he said.

Theriault reminded the audience that the ballot measure against 8 Washington was put on the ballot through a paid signature gathering campaign funded by a wealthy couple living on the hillside behind the 8 Washington project. “The irony is that the only developers who can engage in planning a project and then have to pay for a political campaign will be the most well to do developers” who critics rail against.

Theriault also addressed a concern overlooked by those who claim Prop B is a good way to protect the environment. “If everything is put to a vote, it opens up unintended consequences and undermines state laws that protect the environment.”

Colen said housing is less affordable than before 8 Washington was defeated by a ballot measure and that 55 affordable homes that would have been built with funding from 8 Washington would not be built.

“Instead, we preserved a parking lot for another 10 years,” Colen said.

Prop B will appear on the June 3, 2014 ballot. It is opposed by the San Francisco Building Trades Council.

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