The future of Pier 70 rests in voters' hands 

click to enlarge Prop F
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Forest City has proposed multi-use development at Pier 70 that includes housing, light manufacturing, local retail and waterfront parks. The project is on the Nov. 4 ballot as Proposition F, which asks city voters to approve the proposed height limit increase at the site from 40 feet to 90 feet.
In a city often so contentious over potential construction that a San Francisco-based reality show called “Development Wars” might even sound feasible, one project stands out from those that typically see backlash.

Proposition F, which seeks voter approval on Nov. 4 to raise the height limit from 40 to 90 feet for a mixed-use development planned for more than a third of Pier 70 south of Mission Bay, has garnered virtually zero opposition, even from those ordinarily guarded against waterfront projects in The City.

“This is the first time a billion-dollar, major waterfront development [has] the kind of universal support across the board that Prop. F does,” said former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.

Plans for 28 acres of the nearly 70-acre Pier 70, including its waterfront, comprise up to 2,000 residential units, the majority of which will be rentals and 30 percent of which are set to be below-market-rate housing, as well as nine acres of waterfront parks, space for artists, and ground-level manufacturing, retail and services.

“In the last 50 to 60 years in San Francisco, every project that has been proposed along the waterfront has met with fierce resistance from various parts of The City or all of it because they didn’t like what was proposed,” Agnos said.

But from the Sierra Club to Potrero Boosters to longtime artists who have worked out of the historic Noonan Building at Pier 70 for decades and watched as other development projects in The City snagged precious studio space, there is essentially no resistance to what’s in store for Pier 70.

Even the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, which did not endorse Prop. F, is also not opposed to the measure, either, said Judy Berkowitz, the organization’s president.

“[Prop. F] is truly remarkable [in] that it has virtual unanimity in The City, from the left to the right, from business to environment,” Agnos said.

‘A GENUINE PARTNERSHIP’

Those who in the past have felt trampled by waterfront construction say the developers of Pier 70, Forest City, have gone out of their way to include the community in plans for the site since winning the bid to build upon it in 2011.

“It’s always good to see when you feel that the outreach with the community is genuine, and it seems to be a genuine partnership between the neighborhood and the developer,” said Becky Evans, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has endorsed Prop. F.

Developers say such community engagement has helped Forest City form its vision for Pier 70 over the years.

Involving residents in Pier 70’s plans included “reaching out to community groups from all over The City … and talking to them about the project, inviting them on tours, bringing them a sense of what Pier 70 is, where it is, and how it fits into the overall future of our waterfront,” explained Alexa Arena, senior vice president of Forest City.

Agnos pointed out that Forest City won over skeptical San Franciscans by responding to four fundamental needs in The City today: below market-rate housing, diverse and blue-collar jobs, parks and open space, and addressing sea level rise in the Bay.

“Forest City understood and listened carefully so that they could put a project together that really will respond to the basic needs of San Francisco as the people of The City define it, not the politicians and not the developers,” Agnos said.

PROP. B

Near universal support is not the only unique feature of Prop F. The initiative marks the first time San Francisco will exercise Proposition B, a measure passed in June requiring voter approval for all development projects that exceed building-height limits along The City’s waterfront.

But the Pier 70 initiative is also named in a lawsuit against The City by the California State Lands Commission, which challenges the validity of Prop. B. The complaint contends San Francisco voters cannot weigh in on measures such as Prop. F because the State of California retains ultimate authority of The City’s waterfront.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera asserts that Prop. B is legal, however, and has promised to aggressively defend the initiative. Earlier this month he asked a judge to throw out the Lands Commission’s lawsuit, stating that land-use decisions involving Port of San Francisco property have included voters for decades.

Agnos said that Prop. B, requiring voter approval for height limit increases, and Prop. F, seeking to raise the height limit along the waterfront, stem from residents’ frustration with “politically motivated” zoning changes and height changes along the waterfront.

“This is the most profound land use public policy change for a city of our size anywhere in America,” Agnos said. “What it says is, ‘If you want to raise height limits on publicly owned and managed land, you have to come to the people of The City to get permission and then go through the traditional planning process.’”

TAINTED WATERS?

San Francisco’s 7.5-mile waterfront stretch has seen a number of controversial projects over the years, such as the 8 Washington St. luxury condominium development and a former arena planned for the Warriors at Piers 30-32.

The 8 Washington plan was rejected by voters in November 2013, while the arena project has since been relocated to a parcel in Mission Bay.

Berkowitz, president of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods that did not endorse Prop. F, said Pier 70 was presented to the group without “concrete” plans, and residents are still stung from previous development plans that were altered mid-project.

“Without having facts in front of us, it’s hard, difficult or impossible to make any kind of decision on this,” Berkowitz said on behalf of herself regarding Prop. F. “So many times in the past, neighbors…have been told one thing, [like] that something would not exceed a certain height limit, or that the finished plans would look just like the conceptual art. So many times neither have happened.”

And voters may remember such previously contentious projects come the November election, said Jon Golinger, co-chair of No Wall on the Waterfront that campaigned to give voters a voice in waterfront height limit increases. Recently, Golinger said he was stopped in the street by somebody who questioned the height limit increase that Prop. F seeks.

“I think there’s a lot of healthy skepticism about rewriting the rules on the waterfront,” Golinger said. “If the voters do approve this, I think it will show that if it’s done right, then waterfront development -- even if it means a height increase -- is something that can be considered.”

Prop. F requires majority approval to pass.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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