8 Washinton Revised Rendering: North

Having been financed by neighbors whose views would be blocked, the referendum to effectively quash the approved development of 8 Washington, or at the very least limit its height to 84 feet, has been qualified by San Francisco’s Department of Elections.

By law, the height limit must go back to the Board of Supervisors, but if the vote doesn’t change, the referendum goes on the next citywide ballot.

But the board is currently on its summer recess and doesn’t have another meeting scheduled until September, well past the Aug. 10 deadline for adding measures to the November ballot.

Unless the board votes to hold a special election, the referendum then would go on the November 2013 ballot, with any physical work on the project suspended until after the vote.

San Francisco’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors both approved of spot height increases for the 8 Washington project up to 136 feet.

8 Washinton Proposed Height

Should the upzoning be overturned, either by the Board or at the ballot box, the project might still be viable at 84 feet, but don’t expect anyone to admit to such right now.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by anonfedup

    It looks like “Team Nimby” is collecting the gold, silver and bronze medals these days.

  2. Posted by CH

    Don’t know if the timing was intentional, and I hope they lose, but well played by the opponents to delay another year.

  3. Posted by OMN

    this city is pathetic.

  4. Posted by anon

    If the voters of San Francisco decide against the project, how is that pathetic? Doesn’t the will of the people matter, or should we just let city officials do whatever they want?

  5. Posted by lyqwyd

    Because city planning by ballot initiative is a bad way to run a city. The initiative misleadingly got signatures by claiming it was protecting the waterfront, but is really about protecting a few people’s views. The fact that the city now has to potentially pay money to let the voters decide on whether or not a few people’s views should be protected is pathetic.

  6. Posted by OMN

    1. due to the ridiculous layers and layers of bureaucracy and useless laws, the people will not be able to have their voices heard until 2013. (unless the board files a motion to call an emergency meeting to hold an election on something so that it can appear on a ballot in the general election in november, after which it may then again be approved by the board and move along in the approval process – did i get that right?)
    2. the voice of the people is usually based on biased opinions. the outcome of a vote on this will depend far more about how the question is spun than the actual ramifications. there’s a reason why the people don’t vote on EVERYTHING. it’s because the people aren’t experts and are prone to making bad decisions based on emotion and whatever gets the most press/attention. one of the reasons why SF has such a bloated budget is because people vote on things without actually knowing what they are voting on, and ending up with disastrous projects that make us bankrupt.
    by the way, how do you feel about the existence of a Supreme Court? seems like it lets judges do whatever they want instead of “hearing the voice of the people”

  7. Posted by anon

    If the voters of San Francisco decide against the project, how is that pathetic? Doesn’t the will of the people matter, or should we just let city officials do whatever they want?
    Um, we’re a representative democracy. The “will of the people” was to elect the “city officials” that made this decision.

  8. Posted by sf

    I guess anon agrees with Prop 8

  9. Posted by CH

    “A survey taken by David Binder Research for the opponents of 8 Washington found voters overwhelmingly opposed to increasing the height limit.”
    Survey likely biased but I don’t think the project will survive a vote, will depend upon how the measure is written. Think the only hope is a 84-foot project pencils.

  10. Posted by curmudgeon

    These kind of votes almost always are winners, because, as mentioned above, it will be written about keeping height limits low along the waterfront. The misguided effort many years ago to keep certain kinds of uses off piers (like hotels, for instance) was all about “preserving our maritime heritage” (neglecting the fact that shipping moved to Oakland generations ago..).
    The fact is, most voters don’t read/hear more than the sound bite, and reflexively vote for anything that promises less development. They will not be sophisticated enough to realize it is purely a nimby ploy.
    Also, only the developer has the ability to fund the counter campaign. The City, obviously, needs to be hands off and will not be sending out campaign mailers defending its zoning actions. So a little bit of money on the proponents side (of the measure) goes a long way and can buy space political club slate cards. (Which most people also don’t understand are hopelessly corrupted).

  11. Posted by futurist

    Yes, this is disgusting and pathetic. Our city leaders can’t even run a city, and they get bullied by some wealthy people who refuse to accept responsible change and growth.

  12. Posted by wc1

    SF and to some extent CA, legislating by popular vote is getting out of hand.
    We are a representative democracy. I don’t want some low info voter always making the big decisions based on lies from special interests and those who have the money to get things onto the ballot.
    The SF voter is a soft touch who will give away every nice sounding piece of legislation. More money for parks! More money for pot holes! Save the murals! Who will protect the Embarcadero from development?!?
    /rant

  13. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    Well, “responsible change and growth” would have been for the area in general to have been upzoned to allow for building heights up to up to 136 feet, not for the developer to try and get a special spot zone established. But the developer couldn’t wait for that for some reason.
    And that’s not the only variance the developer was asking for. When you overreach, you tend to fall.

  14. Posted by OMN

    There you go again, Brahma, thinking that legislation, approvals, and bureaucracy are the responsible answer to a problem.
    Sheesh. I swear I think some of you people have never made a decision in your life.

  15. Posted by JD

    SO glad we might preserve the parking lot and chain link fences currently occupying the lot. Not to mention the unobstructed view of that hideous (and even taller) condo building directly behind it. Who wants nicely designed buildings in this city anyway?

  16. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    The problem with the proposition system is that it amplifies one of the weaknesses of democracy: idiots get to vote too. In a representative democracy idiots can still vote in clowns. But those clowns at least have the time and are supposed to thoroughly understand the legislation.

  17. Posted by redsec2

    In this day and age, even a proposal to build the Ferry Building wouldn’t survive a vote. “Hey its blocking my view!”

  18. Posted by lol

    I agree. A few more things that would be demanded if they were to be built today:
    “Sutro Tower should be scaled down or at least look like the Eiffel Tower to be visually pleasing and remind everyone of the European influence.”
    “Upper Market should be wiggly like Lombard Street.”
    “Union Square should not have palm trees because they are a non-native species”
    And for all of this: “More bay windows. Always more bay windows.”

  19. Posted by Huh?

    I wonder what Paris would look like if it weren’t for Haussmann and Napoleon.

  20. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    OMN, it’s not a matter of “made a decision”. The reason we have legislation, approvals, and bureaucracy in The City (or any other city, for that matter) is that some folks (who no doubt see themselves as real world Howard Roarks or self-realized Nietzscheian ubermenschs) want to force their decisions on others. And while they’re at it, they usually want to externalize significant costs and privatize significant gains.
    I, too would like to see a nicely designed building here, and I’ve said before that a surface level parking lot + athletic courts + pool combination isn’t the best or highest use of scarce land in this location.
    The developer could have played by the rules which were in place and well understood before they started and won fairly. They decided to take a short cut, and I am not surprised at what happened.
    Welcome to San Francisco, Ms. Esterkam and the rest of San Francisco Waterfront Partners. See you at the polling place.

  21. Posted by grumpy

    the petition gatherer I ignored was stating that the signatures were to protect affordable housing. A little misleading I think.

  22. Posted by Mole Man

    The genuinely democratic thing would be to agree on development rules and then stick to those. By renegotiating the possible with every proposal the result is that game players have a chance at getting what they want and relative outsiders can’t even tell where the lines are.

  23. Posted by James

    “I wonder what Paris would look like if it weren’t for Haussmann and Napoleon.”
    It would look like the Marais neighborhood. You should visit it sometime, it’s nice.

  24. Posted by lol

    ^^^ Not all of Paris was like the Marais in the 1850s. Many areas that were gored by Haussmann were not close to deserve preserving. Shoddy construction, poor foundation work, lack of proper modern amenities. A lot of it can still be found in the backyard of the Haussmannian manses and some do cost a lot to keep from collapsing (yup, I speak from experience). Other areas were blank slates, like the Plaine Monceau and were ripe to be developed.
    Sometimes we need politicians to be strong enough to steer the people towards the future. Micro-managing at the voter level doesn’t always preserve the common interest. We vote representatives specifically for that purpose.

  25. Posted by Huh?

    “It would look like the Marais neighborhood.”
    You have a very poor understanding of French history my friend.
    [Editor’s Note: And now back to 8 Washington, the waterfront or even just San Francisco…]

  26. Posted by rubber_chicken

    The developer did play by the rules. The original proposal for the site complied with the 84′ height limit and resulted in a banal, ponderous design that had little support anywhere. Bad zoning.
    http://socketsite.com/archives/2009/01/the_8_washington_swl_351_development_website_new_and_im.html
    The current design shortens the buildings along the embarcadero to 59′ & 70′. In exchange, the compensating height at the rear was granted fair & square, approved by the supes even.
    This is smart planning and resulted in a better design: less impact on the embarcadero, and a nicer profile that screens the hideous golden gateway apts.

  27. Posted by Joe

    In general, the voting populace is not smart.
    They have no understanding of urban design, or of what works for a city. They have a weak and sentimental idea of what works for SF and lots and lots of money to make sure not a single thing ever changes.
    Why have elected officials at all? Why not have everything decided by “the will of the people” ?
    I am sure the analysis paralysis we already experience would be MUCH better if the people were just asked to decide on everything.

  28. Posted by futurist

    Exactly Joe: well said.
    The City hires skilled professionals in all capacities, from urban design to health care to mass transit, because THEY do have the knowledge necessary to make policy and decisions. And that’s why we have elected officials as well.
    You may not always agree with these officials and professionals, but they represent us. You can always vote them out of office when the next election occurs.
    But yes, as one example, and I have said that many times before here, the general public does not have the skills to determine what is good urban design, good architectural design and good urban planning. The armchair critics are everywhere. They can rarely see past their own, little personal agendas or personal “likes”, or even their own neighborhood, to have a larger vision of the future for San Francisco.
    And yes, many people in this city have a love for architectural nostalgia and the past, preferring SF to never change.

  29. Posted by Rex

    In general, I am all for representative democracy, etc.
    But the fact is: SF Supes are bought and paid for. They will only listen to the well-heeled in the City (or slick operators like Willie Brown etc.). So a ballot initiative process gives the voters _some_ control of decisions.
    Consider, for example, the Coit Tower initiative. When it qualified for the ballot, suddenly the Mayor’s office found $1M to help clean up Coit Tower. Really?? He couldn’t find the money earlier, and suddenly found it under the cushions?
    Yes, there will be abuses (and I don’t know much about 8W to comment either way), but I’d rather have the ballot of last resort, than leave everything in the hands of corrupt supes.

  30. Posted by wc1

    @Rex
    Any proof that the supervisors are all “bought and paid for” and “corrupt”?
    Not flaming, I’m genuinely curious. I think my supervisor is doing a fine job (Wiener). I don’t agree with him 100% of the time, but overall I think he is looking out for the city and his district’s best interests.
    However, if he’s corrupt I’d like to see proof of that before I support him again in the next election.

  31. Posted by anon

    ^The ballot initiative process is more polluted by special interest money than elected representatives. It isn’t even close, really.

  32. Posted by LD

    Remember our corrupt former Zoning Administrator Gerald Green and his Olympic Club membership? Tip of the iceberg.

  33. Posted by lol

    wc1 +1
    Wiener is my supe too. He has tons of good ideas, and he’s defending them.

  34. Posted by abseed

    A small and wealthy minority are trying to abuse the ignorance of the common and misinformed voter by labeling this project with all of the cliche go-tos such as: view blocking, shadow casting, waterfront development for the 1%, etc. In reality, it’s just an expensive and selfish “NO” courtesy of your typical (see the Pagoda Theater, North Beach Library, Central Subway, 555 Washinton, froyo shops, etc, etc.) NIMBYs in the Telegraph Hill/North Beach neighborhoods.

  35. Posted by be_right

    I don’t live in the area but I’m glad this development is stalled and hopefully the developers will give up. The SF waterfront looks better with mostly low rise buildings north of Market which gives unobstructed views from the Embarcadero and the Bay of Telegraph Hill and the Transamerica Building. South of Market is where taller buildings make more sense.

  36. Posted by anon

    Anyone who thinks that The City (and unelected officials such as the Planning Dept) will always act in the best interests of residents is just out of their minds. Follow the money and promised votes. It’s all about what happens behind the scenes.

  37. Posted by alps

    Does anyone know the height of the Hotel Vitale? Seems that project got built in front of another (albeit commercial) building.

  38. Posted by James

    be_right, you cite the Transamerica Bldg as a reason why tall buildings belong south of Market? Do you realize that’s contradictory? Transamerica is the tallest building in the city, and the farthest north. What argument would you have made in 1968 when Transamerica was being debated?

  39. Posted by kg

    My god, this makes me want to see it developed more than ever out of spite. These [people] deserve to have views of a city dump by the time we’re done with them.

  40. Posted by futurist

    When someone says an area “looks better” with low rise buildings they really lend no credibility to the discussion. What exactly does that mean? Looks better? How?
    And then when they say that SOMA is where taller buildings “make more sense”, please share with us more of your thoughts. How do they make more sense?
    I really would like to know.

  41. Posted by cui bono

    Yeah, it’s always the neighbors who are selfish.
    All you guys who make money out of real estate development – you’re just disinterested parties, pure as the driven snow, no selfish motives at all.
    Ha ha.

  42. Posted by anon

    ^Let’s see what we get under the two scenarios:
    1. Stays as is – “Berlin Wall” along the waterfront. We’re told that there are tennis courts back there, but who knows? It’s just a blank ugly wall with some ugly-as-can-be asphalt next door full of blowing trash, tumbleweeds, and the occasional car.
    2. Luxury condos built – city receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenues EVERY YEAR! Nice activated streetscape to walk by instead of a Berlin Wall of inactivity.
    If we had a rational property tax system and the private tennis gang were required to pay hundreds of thousands in taxes per year, I might be a little more accepting – but as it is, keeping an area underdeveloped explicitly means that I’m either having to pay more in taxes than I should OR I’m receiving fewer city services than I should. It’s coming right out of my pocket, in order to subsidize some highfalutin rich guys playing tennis and enjoying their views from above.
    Enough with subsidizing the 1%! At least the 1%ers that sell or buy properties in the new development would be paying fair taxes.

  43. Posted by anonanon

    “some highfalutin rich guys playing tennis”
    “Enough with subsidizing the 1%!”
    Hey anon,
    I don’t know if you are a developer bot or just a real estate wannabe (both of which tend to post heavily here in favor of this development), but really, the issue about the tennis club being a place for “highfalutin rich guys playing tennis” or “the 1%” is pretty easily refuted.
    I mean, if you are part of the 1%, why would you want to hang out at a club that doesn’t even have a cafeteria when the Olympic Club, the Cal Club, and SFTC have nice full bars and a much more upscale clientele to hang out with.
    Or why would you want to mingle with the middle-class riffraff that can afford the Gateway’s monthly fees when there are so many exclusive country clubs that wouldn’t allow just anyone to walk off the street and become a member for a few hundred bucks.

  44. Posted by anon

    ^Are you denying that their club is being massively subsidized by me because of their ridiculously low property taxes because of the underdevelopment of the site?

  45. Posted by be_right

    James, my point is that the Transamerica building is a SF icon and should remain visible. The skyline looks better without taller buildings north of Market. Look at the illustrative picture above. The late day sun is blocked partially by the proposed development. This building would be fine anywhere near the ballpark.

  46. Posted by Agendaless

    The sun is blocked by Russian and Telegraph hills, actually. Putting this on the ballott, next year no less is a disgrace. And it’s planning’s fault. Someone should lose his/her job over this. They’ve cost the City a lot of money.

  47. Posted by Rillion

    Futurist – I’m personally fine with this development but I found be_right’s statement to be simple to understand. When I have been out on the bay I’ve enjoyed the view of the waterfront, getting to see Coit tower rising up on the hill. The Transamerica building standing tall above the buildings around it (at least on the north & northeast sides). Do I think that would look better then a wall of tall buildings along the Embarcadero? Yes. Meanwhile south of market there is not a couple of iconic SF images that would be blocked by additional tall buildings.
    So I think be_right’s post was fairly straight forward and easy to understand. Even if I don’t believe that this particular development would ruin those views (after all its being built where there are already taller buildings, ie golden gateway, behind it). If this is on some future ballot I will vote to allow to development.

  48. Posted by futurist

    Thanks, but I’d really enjoy hearing from be_right and their opinion.

  49. Posted by Turin

    Am I being overly pessimistic in considering this basically dead? I can’t envision the developer waiting around another year for a ballot measure that is sure to be worded in a way that is broadly appealing in a general sense but that dooms this project anyway. Between this and the previously killed 555 Washington, it’s amazing that the Telegraph Hill Dwellers now have the power to basically stop any development on the north side of the FiDi

  50. Posted by Daveter

    So people are really trying to argue that 136′ is a tall building? Anyone who attempts that arguement needs to visit NYC or Chicago more.

  51. Posted by xbuilder

    There are jobs that won’t be created this year because of the screwed up process on this project. Sad.

  52. Posted by Chris McMahon

    If you cannot build a mid-rise in the Financial District, we might as well adopt Orinda’s Planning Code. This city is pathetic. There was a paid signature gatherer at Castro and 18th after the approval. I asked him about the project and he was completely ignorant.
    I hope the developer immediately installs 80′ high bamboo in the meantime.

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