San Francisco again becoming The City that Knows How 

When San Francisco turns a corner, it usually means it’s headed straight into a brick wall.
But lately, some controlling forces have taken hold that have helped The City bypass its normal route, resulting in real progress for a place that in recent years has seen reason to take a retreat.

That was in evidence in rather remarkable fashion this week when the Board of Supervisors gave approval to two major development projects that will translate into new housing for generations of city residents. The passage of plans to rebuild the 152-acre Parkmerced apartment complex and erect the equivalent of a small city on Treasure Island will move San Francisco that much closer to being the modern urban metropolis it has long claimed as a goal.

The combined plans will offer new homes to nearly 35,000 residents over the next 30 years in contrasting neighborhoods that can absorb the growth and put to an end — at least for now — the recidivist rhetoric that has held The City back on its housing expansion plans for the better part of a decade.

And the passage of the projects comes at a time when The City is doing what few municipalities have done before — willingly negotiate concessions in exorbitant pension packages that are threatening to make San Francisco insolvent.

While other cities and counties are responding to calls for pension reform with large public protests and legal battles, it’s worth noting that the recent accord among business leaders, city officials and public-employee service leaders to agree to major concessions in retirement and health plans is a rarity.

Though that plan is still being tweaked, it’s a marked difference from the past when entitlements were considered a given among members of the public sector. Union members certainly were reacting to public pressure to fix a broken pension system, but nonetheless any plan that involves months of negotiations among disparate interests should be considered something of a victory.

“I think there’s been a lack of understanding about just how much people have stepped up,” said Rebecca Rhine, the executive director of the Municipal Executives Association who helped broker the measure that is headed for the November ballot. “It may not be as sexy as soap box speeches, but the working people of San Francisco understood that they needed to be responsive.”

The same could be said of city officials who, in the space of a few hours, approved two developments that will provide millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs to San Francisco in the coming years. The $1.5 billion Treasure Island project is expected to make room for nearly 20,000 residents, finally giving life to a place that has been steeped in potential.

The $1.2 billion Parkmerced deal, while more controversial because it involves some temporary tenant displacement, will bring much-needed housing and traffic improvements to The City’s southwestern corner and remake a site that has long been San Francisco’s shining example of suburban sprawl.

The fact that the board’s majority had to rise above the standard regressive attempts to block new housing comes on the heels of its recent moves to change the payroll taxes for high-tech companies and provide incentives for them to remain in San Francisco.

Imagine — a city that wants to raise revenue, create jobs and provide parks and housing for its residents. It’s a shock to the system.

Sure, it took the worst recession in U.S. history to bring some perspective to the local political scenario. And it’s not without some grumbling that the workers of Main Street realize they are increasingly being forced to pay for the sins of Wall Street.

Yet a considerable portion of The City’s elected body has pushed the debate from one of class warfare to that of simple, everyday needs. Cities need all types of housing and all types of jobs — this is no longer the time to dissect them along political lines.

When a coalition of left-leaning organizations and individuals tried to block the Treasure Island deal on the flimsy premise of faulty planning over the past 15 years, it was rejected quickly and resoundingly by an 11-0 vote.

That’s a tsunami of a different kind ... one that is actually welcome.

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Ken Garcia

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