With Mayor Lee having requested that City agencies review the impact of the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act, Proposition B on the June ballot, The Port, Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Municipal Transportation Authority, Planning Department, Department of Public Works, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, and the City’s Capital Planning Committee have responded.

The executive summary of the responses and key issues raised by way of San Francisco’s Planning Department, starting with the summary of The Port’s response:

The Port of San Francisco’s Ten-Year Capital Plan identifies a total need of $1.6 billion over the next ten-year period, primarily for deferred maintenance and subsystem renewal work required on Port facilities.

The Port’s industrial southern waterfront comprising 175 acres is largely zoned at 40 feet. Prior development analysis indicates that low-rise, single-story industrial development in this area is not economically feasible.

Public-private development projects represent nearly 43 percent of the total funding identified in the Capital Plan. While it is too early to determine the true impact of a voter MEMO approval requirement for rezoning of height on either of the two existing Port development projects or future projects, the need for voters to approve height increases will likely:

1. Increase the risk profile of affected waterfront projects, and may increase the cost of developer equity for such projects, which could reduce public benefits, Port benefits or project revenues; 2. Cause project sponsors to seek voter approval early in project planning to avoid spending too much risk capital before voters approve height changes; and 3. Cause project sponsors to redesign projects at lower heights in order to increase the likelihood of obtaining voter approval, which could reduce public benefits and Port benefits or project revenues.

Summary of Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development Response:

It is difficult to know in advance the precise impact the initiative measure would have on development, including affordable housing development, on Port-owned property. What impact is inevitable, should the initiative pass, are delays to projects currently in the public planning and predevelopment phase. The extent to which private developers are willing to engage in individual public ballot initiatives in addition to existing Planning and Port processes and review will ultimately determine the impacts of the Waterfront Ballot Initiative on the production of affordable housing.

Summary of the Municipal Transportation Agency’s Response:

Through the Waterfront Transportation Assessment, the SFMTA has identified existing transportation system needs along the waterfront, as well as investment required to expand the transportation network to accommodate future growth in the area. The transportation system can most efficiently meet future demand associated with development growth if that growth is both dense and located in close proximity to transit (“transit-oriented development”).

As identified by the Mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force, the City will need to invest $10 billion in the City’s transportation infrastructure to meet current and future needs between now and 2030. With only $3.8 billion in identified funds, development contributions to transportation system infrastructure investment will be vital to fully meeting the system’s needs. To the extent that Proposition B might restrict development certainty on the waterfront, it could limit a project sponsor’s contributions, and lessen the MTA’s potential to realize the benefits of development-related transportation investment.

Summary of the Planning Department’s Response:

The complex analysis and weighing of alternatives for major land use development is difficult, at best, to resolve with an initiative that by nature reduces the choice to yes or no. Under today’s process various advisory committees, the Planning Commission and other City Commissions, as well as the Board of Supervisors seek to shape the project before them to maximize the public purpose. Under the proposed process, voters have a binary choice to approve or disapprove a height change in a ballot measure that also may include other project elements and amenities such as proposed uses, amount of parking, and/or size of buildings. In many instances, the potential developer likely would chose to craft a ballot measure that included detail specific aspects of a project in addition to height limits and those aspects of the project also would be approved by voters if the measure passes. Depending on the nature of required ballot measures that would evolve from Proposition B, such measures could enable developers to bypass otherwise mandatory environmental review, professional analysis, public response, commission hearings, and legislative review in advance of the election on the project. The layered review and public processes that exist today evolved after decades of vigorous public discourse, planning, and action, some of which is highlighted in our attached letter, resulting in the Port Lands being the most regulated lands in San Francisco. The current review and public process likely would be altered and occur at different chronological periods in the various stages of project approval.

While the Department seeks to adopt land use regulations, including height limits, that can withstand the test of time; we also understand that regulations need room to grow to support San Francisco today and tomorrow. Our letter describes the forces that led to past change and acknowledges that change will come again. It is our task to develop and stand ready to revisit, when necessary, a regulatory structure that best shapes and guides that change. From a policy perspective, it is uncertain that a single citywide vote on a ballot measure concerning waterfront development that is drafted by developers, with all its planning and zoning complexities, can adequately substitute for the intense public and substantive scrutiny offered by the existing review process.

Summary of the Department of Public Works’ Response:

The ballot initiative could impact future development potential and thereby developer funding for public right-of-way amenities. Because the initiative does not restrict what developers can place on future ballot measures to raise heights; developers may include specifications that conflict with the requirements and standards in the Public Works Code and other Municipal Codes. This may reduce DPW’s ability to ensure projects conform with established standards and maintenance practices. In addition, the public right-of-way within the “waterfront area” has no prescribed height limits, but future parcel assemblage may necessitate a vote of the people to apply existing neighboring height limits to areas without current height designations.

Summary of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Response:

Adoption of Proposition B would add delay and cost for the Seawall Lot 337 and the Pier 70 Waterfront Site projects, which intended to pursue increased height limits under the term sheets previously endorsed by the Port Commission and the Board of Supervisors. This dynamic would in turn limit the capacity of the Seawall Lot 337 and Pier 70 Waterfront Site projects to contribute towards the achievement of the targets for marketrate and affordable housing production by the year 2020 as set by the Mayor in the State of City address. The construction and permanent employment benefits to the larger San Francisco economy from these projects would be similarly delayed and potentially eroded depending on the ultimate outcome of the required ballot approval process.

Summary of The Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure’s Response:

The voter initiative would not affect the Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard Phase II Development Project because the Project received its master entitlements on August 3, 2010 and are generally not under the jurisdiction of the Port. There are a few residual lands and rights-of-way, however, that have not yet been conveyed to the OCII and some additional lands which were transferred to the City pursuant to the burton Act and thus may be subject to the Ballot Initiative.

And the Potential Effect on the Capital Plan:

In consultation with Capital Planning staff, the Planning Department believes that the Ballot Initiative may have the following impacts to capital planning: By adding another step in the process to approve development projects and the infrastructure improvements they bring to San Francisco, the measure would likely result in additional delays that can be extremely costly. Adding a year to a construction project increases costs by an average of five percent. Development projects approved by the voters could include provisions that bypass or reduce some of the important processes and agreements that enable the City to engage developers and form public-private partnerships to address critical infrastructure needs.

The use of Infrastructure Financing Districts (IFD) by the Port of San Francisco to address dilapidated piers, parts of the seawall and related publicly-owned structures may be infeasible. If the development is unable to show that is can generate enough additional tax revenue, the IFD will not be able to generate the necessary revenue to make the structural improvements that enable the development to occur.

If passed, Proposition B would prohibit increasing the existing maximum building heights for parcels under the control of the San Francisco Port Commission as mapped above, as well as any other property that the Port owns or controls as of January 1, 2014 or later acquires, unless explicitly approved by voters on a project-by-project basis.

39 thoughts on “The City’s Responses To Waterfront Building Heights Measure”
  1. Maybe if the city pushes the Lucas museum next for Pier 30-32 will be a “No Death Star on the Waterfront” initiative to look forward to.

  2. Clearly, SF is in no position to be a leader in sensible, forget smart, development. Therefore, it makes sense to turn to examples of cities that have done it right. Same for transit.

  3. I’m newer to the SF ballot process but if all of these government agencies think this is a bad idea, why can’t they just take prob B off the ballot? It’s clearly a bad idea.

  4. ^Sadly “good idea” is not part of the criteria for getting on the ballot. All you need is a batch of signatures and all you need to get that are a few bags of cash.

  5. We joyfully make the bed we sleep in.
    The best part, the people who are most opposed to this development will be out of the picture in 25-30 years. Keep planning for the future, San Francisco!

  6. I can translate all of these municipal agency responses into plain English:
    “If this passes, the giant pot of money that flows into SF local government every year will continue to increase, but it will grow a tiny bit slower than if this measure did not pass, and therefor it is bad.”

  7. Earlier on there was talk of this Proposition, if passed, of possibly being void — if I recall, because of the Port having some state-level authority so can’t be overruled by voters of just the city. Is this not the case?

  8. Most of the World’s most appealing cities (versus rat race hell holes) are mow rise: DC, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome.
    What is being taken from San Francisco by this latest band of money grubbing sold-out liars is our future. So guess what: we’re not going to stand for any more of it. Just watch.

  9. Let’s see, many of the abovementioned cities have limited height in their historic cores. DC, in fact, is seriously considering raising the height limitation law to allow more concentrated development to meet future needs, rather than support sprawl in the ‘burbs. Speaking of sprawl and height issues, just head 50 miles south to San Jose. You do know the way, don’t you?

  10. “Most of the World’s most appealing cities (versus rat race hell holes) are mow rise: DC, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome.” -Little_Boxes
    Paris, London ,Madrid, and Barcelona all have tons of highrise buildings (and midrise buildings). Tons of European cities are building tons of highrises these days…your point of view is outdated.
    Further more, SF is not a European city. You like Europe so much? Move there. But stop trying to hold SF back in order to match some false vision you have of what European cities are like.
    And the whole reason housing in SF is so ridiculously expensive these days is because of decades of NIMBYs such as yourself holding back development of the necessary amount of housing units (which in SF’s constrained area necessitates the construction of more highrises), so that the supply never even comes close to meeting the demand.

  11. I love that this site has come along far enough that it is not trolled by anti development NIMBYS
    I could give a cr*p about the worlds most appealing cities. We have a crisis in San Francisco – a crisis that is being discussed all over the country. We haven’t built enough housing, and we continue to pass laws that make it difficult to add to our housing stock. People like Little boxes would prefer that SF become like detroit just so they can continue to enjoy their version of SF from the comfort of their homes.
    The only way to go is up for SF, and there is no way around that information.

  12. Anyone making comparisons of SF to Europe have obviously not been to Europe or are forgetting what it really looked like. Google it! No parking lots, WALLS of buildings ALL at least 6 floors tall. Narrow streets with tall buildings. People here would s*** a brick if everything in SF was zoned to 85′ (like Europe actually is). The European comparison drives me crazy. It’s holding us back as a city to think that we have even gotten to the European level. We have a long way to go and building things over 45′ is a good start.

  13. Building “things” over 45′ where they ARE zoned for over 45′ makes perfect sense.

  14. Detroit? You just sound silly. San Francisco, just as it is, is recognized as beautiful and is beloved all over the world.
    “The only way to go is up for SF, and there is no way around that information.”
    There is another option – keep things just as they are. You may not like that option, but it is a valid one. The result would be that things just get more expensive, but that is not inherently bad.
    This is a serious discussion and there is no simple answer. You can’t just say “build more towers.” What about planning for all the new schools, transit, parking, sewers, gas and electricity, social services, police, etc. that all those new people would require? How will that get provided and who will pay? City planning must be done well or you end up with a giant mess that really cannot be fixed. I have yet to see any such grand plan – that (and the fact that SF residents like our city as is) is why, imho, this measure will pass easily.
    As I’ve stated, I’m on the fence on this one. Generally, I think that bigger cities are better because heft brings both economies of scale (can afford more reliable/extensive transit) and great things (world class arts and museums). But SF government is very short-sighted and immature, and I have real concerns that if the developers have their way, they will walk away with a ton of cash but the city will end up a worse place to live.

  15. Funny that Little Boxes makes these inaccurate comparisons to great European cities, but also fails to consider that these great cities have amazing public transportation networks. Stockholm, with nearly 900,000 city residents, has a 100-station Metro system that carries roughly the same number of passengers daily.
    Back to SF..not only do we have a housing crisis, but a transportation crisis as well.

  16. “There is another option – keep things just as they are. You may not like that option, but it is a valid one. The result would be that things just get more expensive, but that is not inherently bad.”
    Oh, okay.

  17. Well, not sure of your point, but a lot of great cities are extremely expensive to live in – London, Tokyo, Paris, Copenhagen.
    I don’t particularly want SF to just get increasingly expensive as I think our culture is enriched by the presence of people and places that simply would get priced out at higher costs, but it is not inherently bad and to be avoided at any cost.

  18. Remind me how this ballot measure which appears to affect about .5% of the city’s land area will prevent the construction of tall buildings and housing units that everyone on this site is so convinced are necessary? Sure, there are plenty of NIMBY’s in SF, probably as many as there are vulture developers, but if they lock up high rise construction at the edge of the waterfront, is our prosperity really at risk?

  19. “Anyone making comparisons of SF to Europe have obviously not been to Europe or are forgetting what it really looked like”
    Yeah it sounds like we either have a lot of WWII veterans on socketsite or people have only seen Europe from old movies.
    EU cities much more dense than SF. we are like a seaside tourist town.
    I dont personally support high rises in every area, but these undeveloped areas that are industrial make perfect sense.

  20. High rises will not help the housing crisis. Because they are expensive to build, high rises exacerbate the housing crisis.
    High rises are unpopular. Developers and their flunkies like high rises for obvious reasons. The Mayor’s report, at least from the extract above, suggests that the developers got their say in first.

  21. The initiative gives voters the right to be the final approval in regards to increasing heights on Port properties from existing zoned limits.
    I guess I can understand the politicians and others who sell their influence to lobbyists getting bent out of shape because the PEOPLE will have the final say instead of their crooked butts, but the City departments giving these “sky is falling” assessments is just sad.
    Vote YES on B folks – let the people have the final approval instead of pay-to-play politicians.

  22. Jamie, If politicians are selling “their influence to lobbyists” we’ve got bigger problems than tall buildings on the waterfront. We need a new system or better controls on the existing system.
    The problem is that the voters have no interest or concern in how the city’s bills get paid, only in their own narrow interests and conveniences. That’s why we have a representative democracy rather than a pure democracy, the issues of development and city revenue and obligations aren’t so simple.

  23. JB10- the size of a building has nothing to do with the cost of the housing. That’s why in Asia all the poor people flooding the city are getting crammed into small cheap to build towers. Taller buildings are actually cheaper to build- think “buying in bulk” (on a very basic level). It’s SF’s lack of housing that lets people charge an arm and a leg for new housing- big or small. Blocking tall buildings which greatly add to the supply only make it worse.

  24. In regards to the Giants Lot A/SWL337, I’ve been scratching my head about what the height restrictions really are for the lot. So I went hunting on the interwebs.
    According to the planning department’s zoning map of the city, map HT08, SWL337 (lot 8719) is zoned as “OS,” (Open Space). Looking all over the general zoning provisions on the American Legal Publishing web site, the only thing I can find in regards to “Open Space” is this definition from Article 1 General Zoning Provisions, Sec 102.19 : “Any front setbacks, side or rear yards, courts, usable open space or other open area provided in order to meet the requirements of this Code.” There’s nothing called out in the Mission Bay specific section of this document on open space that I could find to better clarify OS in Mission Bay.
    To me, a non-legalite, it seems like any lot zoned as OS is basically undefined in regards to height. If true, then how can SSL337 be up for debate on a height restriction violation by the Giants if there is no height even defined for the property? Wouldn’t you first have to define a height before debating if its the “proper” height for that property at that location?
    Can anybody shed any light on this one?

  25. MarketSt – the supposed ethics controls do not work. See: http://www.sfweekly.com/2013-12-18/news/lobbyists-bundling-fundraising-campaign-rules/full/
    AT&T Park, The Ferry Building, exploratorium, the new cruise terminal at Pier 19. Good projects will get voters support.
    As an aside, I believe the Port should receive City general revenue funds and focus on open space uses instead of selling piers off to private entities. San Francisco does not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.

  26. Mr. Dobbs, I have news for you having lived in 3 of the bigger cities you list. SF is just as expensive already, if not more. Must be nice to be living in a rent control place the past 20yrs.

  27. RE SWL337:
    Since at least 1991 SWL337 has been zoned to be open space and promised to made into a park when Mission Bay was eventually developed.
    Various $$$ interests have been trying to change that for their own benefit for years.
    One of the arguments against the original plan to build the ballpark on public land adjacent to an existing park was that with all the planned development the neighborhood needed more greenspace and that would be a better use of the lot and the Giants should build further south (similar to the Warriors).
    The Giants got their preferred lot for their ballpark and SWL337 was leased to them for 10 years as a parking lot, but it was still promised to be made into a park when the area got developed and only used as a parking lot until then.
    Some of this history is in this port doc:

  28. Jaime Whitaker is the very definition of the SF NIMBY. Lives in a rincon hill condo and actively campaigns against other people having the same opportunity that he has had.
    As someone who has regularly engaged the planning commission process to block construction, he is well aware of the effect the passage of prop b will have on construction in SF on the waterfront parcels.

  29. If voters decided they don’t want much development on the waterfront that’s their choice. But they must take direct responsibility in aggravating the housing problem in San Francisco. When 8 Washington was voted down, it is not only the luxury condo that was gone. About 12 million dollar fund to affordable housing, or about 50 BMR units, are also voted down. This is just one project. Now prop B want to do this is a large scale to restrict the entire waterfront. Hundred to thousand of affordable housing are also at stake. The impact will be huge and last well into the future.
    There is no blaming of other people. You say no to development. You will take direct responsibility of the housing problem.

  30. No Wai: let’s be clear. You’re distorting the facts.
    Prop B is not saying no to “development”, it’s saying NO to a particular LOCATION FOR DEVELOPMENT. Please be clear about that. Not all development, as you seem to be implying.
    And I supported 8 Washington.

  31. @Futurist, isn’t it more about the *type* of development (in the case of prop B, a proposed development on port property requesting a height variance) at a particular location?

  32. @futurist, my comment maybe beyond the scope of this proposition, but it apply equally to all the NIMBY fight. There is a direct consequnce to of ones choice. You jave to connect the dots.

  33. My question was swept under in the latest NIMBY debate, so I’ll repost in hopes that someone has some insight on this:
    Earlier on there was talk of this Proposition, if passed, of possibly being void — if I recall, because of the Port having some state-level authority so can’t be overruled by voters of just the city. Is this not the case?

  34. IANAL, but it seems a stretch to argue that the people who elected the mayor who appointed the port commissioners are prohibited from instructing the mayor and commissioners by direct exercise of their franchise (voting).
    I’m not aware of anyone who has said the details of prop B somehow violate the legislation that created the port commission.
    Also, if this does pass overwhelmingly, then whoever goes to court to oppose it can expect even more vehement opposition to their own development projects. Notice the Giants recently dropped their opposition.

  35. Let’s see …. there are about 2,200 dwellings under construction within 3 blocks of my circa-1991 studio condo at BayCrest Towers, and I did not appeal/protest a single one of them BOB. Perhaps you should keep your delusional bullshit to yourself?

  36. sanfranciscan – “Earlier on there was talk of this Proposition, if passed, of possibly being void — if I recall, because of the Port having some state-level authority so can’t be overruled by voters of just the city. Is this not the case?”
    Yeah, the courts tossed this argument out on its ear. Prop B does not conflict with BCDC or State Lands Commission authority because, in my opinion, it is another layer of approval on the local level – where we already have layers of approval on the local level. Prop B just puts the final approver power in the hands of voters (instead of the Board of Supervisors) for the specific purpose of changing height limits on Port owned land compared to where they existed as of January 1, 2014. The BCDC and State Lands Commission still have to approve things on the Port properties.

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