Shrugging off healthy redevelopment 

It’s wearying, all the unceasing and manifold ways in which The City thwarts progress. The mainspring of progress, as we’ve known for centuries, is the free play of the market economy. And yet, down on Market Street, irony of ironies, the Board of Supervisors could block a market response to one of San Francisco’s most acute needs.

Ken Garcia, The Examiner’s columnist, told the story most compellingly in Thursday’s edition. It seems developer Angelo Sangiacomo, long reviled and envied as successful individuals often are, has for nearly 20 years wanted to build a dream complex of housing units on Eighth and Market.

For most of that time the targeted neighborhood has steadily deteriorated; in Garcia’s word, it’s "gritty." Another word comes to mind: blighted. But that word, beyond the pages of conventional dictionaries, has been taken over by the nation’s municipalities, which seem to have trademarked it as a legal designation.

City governments, you see, under a host of state and federal laws pertaining to redevelopment, must officially designate an urban area blighted before they can bring in the bulldozers and throw up new structures that win the nods of various approved architectural interests. Sangiacomo couldn’t waitfor all that.

He unburdened himself to our columnist: "It’s agonizing having to fight City Hall when the bottom line is we’re trying to do something good for San Francisco." But too many community activists and politicians can’t accept that a developer, acting in what the moral philosopher Adam Smith 230 years ago called "enlightened self-interest," can actually do good.

Sangiacomo acted in the entrepreneurial spirit; his success came because he found human needs and filled them. This time, in order to replace a decayed motor hotel with 1,900 new apartments, he appeased The City by dedicating 360 of them to rent-control leases. As well, he promised 185 — as many as he calculates he can afford — at below-market rates.

The Planning Commission has signed off, but Sangiacomo is hearing noises from the supervisors that still more exactions are expected. Already some have demanded he cut back on space allotted to parking. Unless they come to their senses, the supes could easily make one demand too many and this vital addition to San Francisco’s housing stock could be smashed on City

Hall’s authoritarian anvil.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick holds out hope for the project’s survival, couching his prediction in infelicitous language. "I think something will come out of the sausage-making machine …," he says, meaning city government. "We just need to find out what’s the public give-back benefit here." Memo to the supes: Sangiacomo is performing redevelopment, properly understood. No need for legalized extortion or help from Washington. A hospitable climate for business will do.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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