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Election 2013: Voters Reject San Francisco ‘Wall on the Waterfront’

| November 6, 2013
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 (David McNew/Getty Images)

(David McNew/Getty Images)

A few of San Francisco’s voters have spoken, and they’ve spoken loudly: They’re not crazy about big developments on the city’s waterfront.

In a major defeat for Mayor Ed Lee, voters rejected Propositions B and C, measures that would have allowed construction of a high-rise (and high-price) residential project at Washington Street and the Embarcadero, just north of the Ferry Building. Prop. B would have allowed the 8 Washington development to go forward even though the project exceeded the neighborhood’s current height limit; the measure lost, with 62 percent voting no and 38 percent voting yes. Prop. C would have affirmed a Board of Supervisors decision to increase the height limit for the project; that proposal was defeated, with 66 percent voting no. Turnout was very light — typical for an off-year election with no mayor’s race — with fewer than 25 percent of the city’s 440,000 voters casting ballots.

“We’ll have to tell the mayor his legacy is not going to be on our waterfront.”

Mayor Lee and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was mayor when the project first began winding its way through the city’s approval process seven years ago, both campaigned for the measures and appeared together in a TV ad calling for their passage. The project’s backers, led by developer Pacific Waterfront Partners, spent about $1.9 million to get the measures passed. Opponents, mostly neighborhood residents and environmental groups organized under the banner “no wall on the waterfront,” spent about $600,000.

As the Bay Guardian reports, opponents of 8 Washington celebrated results as a referendum on Lee’s aggressively pro-business policies and his campaign to build a lavish new arena for the Golden State Warriors on the Embarcadero south of the Bay Bridge.

“What started as a referendum on height limits on the waterfront has become a referendum on the mayor and City Hall,” former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the large and buoyant crowd, a message repeated again and again tonight.

Former Mayor Art Agnos also cast the victory over 8 Washington as the people standing up against narrow economic and political interests that want to dictate what gets built on public land on the waterfront, driven by larger concerns about who controls San Francisco and who gets to live here.

“This is not the end, this is the beginning and it feels like a movement,” Agnos told the crowd. “We’ll have to tell the mayor that his legacy,” a term Lee has used to describe the Warriors Arena he wants to build on Piers 30-32, ” is not going to be on our waterfront.”

The Guardian also checked in on the supporters’ non-victory gathering, held at a restaurant near the 8 Washington site. Among those in attendance: Tim Colen, executive director of San Francisco’s Housing Action Coalition and Jim Lazarus, a longtime executive with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce:

After the first round of results came in, Colen addressed the crowd. “The returns are coming in and I have to tell you they don’t look good,” he said. “It’s pretty likely we’re not going to prevail tonight.” Then went on to recognize “some really magnificent warriors” in the room, including [Pacific Waterfront Partners' Simon] Snellgrove and Alicia Esterkamp Allbin, a Principal at development firm Pacific Waterfront Partners.

“We ran a wonderful campaign we can all be proud of,” he added. “It was going to be a wonderful activation for the waterfront. I think what we didn’t see coming was how … it somehow morphed into something much larger and was defined in different ways.”

[The Chamber of Commerce's Jim Lazarus] told the Guardian, “I’m not optimistic,” when asked early on in the night what he thought about the outcome. He added, “I think this project got caught up in a lot of other things.”

“If it loses … There was a lot of I think mistaken concern about the impact.”

Election night reaction aside, what impact will Tuesday’s vote really have on Lee’s arena plan? University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook told KQED’s Cy Musiker that the result might change the arena backers’ tactics going forward:

I don’t think this would slow down the plan for the Warriors’ arena, but I think it would give advocates of that project a little bit of pause about how they go about putting this on the ballot and how voters will think about that measure. This was a low-turnout election, and again there were still specific elements of this project like height limits and things like that that wouldn’t be the same in the Warriors’ proposed pavilion on Piers 30 and 32.

Cy and KQED’s Joshua Johnson broke down Tuesday’s election results during this morning’s newscasts:

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Category: Politics

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  • Clytie S

    A little context concerning the low voter turn-out. I spoke with a poll worker last evening who stated that they were told to expect 10-22 percent of the registered voters (presumably the “low-low” and the “high-high” numbers). 25% of voters in an off-year, with only 4 initiatives and a couple of uncontested races shows an unexpectedly motivated electorate. Lessons for us all.

    • Dan

      Still sad to me that only a quarter of the city wants to have a say

  • harrydevlin

    Thankfully the evil-doers were defeated. It’s rare that developers, and the politicians that they own, ever lose in their effort to make massive amounts of money to the detriment of the city. Shame on Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom for helping developers in their efforts to destroy the waterfront.

  • Boone

    YES!! The City’s waterfront belongs to all of us. No private housing should occupy it. It should ALL be one, huge PUBLIC park.

    • Westernhero

      Sadly, much of this is the result of uninformed voters. Did you even spend time researching both sides of the initiative or just to the propaganda? While a housing project was planned, it would also include a new public park space that would be maintained without cost to the city, as well as generate jobs, tax revenue and revenue to build new affordable housing. What is the sacrifice for this? The waterfront view of already present luxury condos and some of the Bay Club’s tennis courts. They have 9 tennis courts on the waterfront…how many do you need?

  • leftoversright

    Does anyone that was in favor of these Props remember the Embarcadero Freeway. It had to come down to OPEN UP the waterfront. Only to close it up again with highrises?