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San Francisco’s Proposition B takes its role in affordable housing debate

Liz Pfeffer
A model of the proposed 8 Washington Parks, Public Access and Housing District.

Once blighted and clogged with cars, the Embarcadero is now a promenade of upscale restaurants, farmers markets, and a walkable Bay Trail. As development all over San Francisco barrels forward, residents are being asked to decide what they envision for the future of the city’s frontage.

Tomorrow, San Francisco voters will cast ballots for or against a controversial luxury condo development across from Pier 3. The long-disputed 8 Washington project would bring multimillion-dollar housing to a 3.2-acre lot on the city’s waterfront.

Proponents of the development argue that it would create open space, retail, and recreational facilities where there currently is a private sports club and parking lot. But it would also require an exception to the area’s zoning height limitations, with a building rising 12 stories at its tallest point, and opponents believe that it would be the first brick in a wall along what is otherwise a fairly open waterfront. 

Although the developer, Pacific Waterfront Partners, would pay $11 million into the city’s affordable housing fund, housing advocates feel that the city has been remiss in approving dozens of costly high rise developments and that 8 Washington is emblematic of the poor being priced out by prosperity in San Francisco.

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos says, “I think the city's leadership has not been aggressive in reaching out to the kind of nonprofit housing developers who would be very happy to build affordable housing on that site.”

Agnos is a significant figure in shaping what San Francisco looks like today. In fact, there’s a monument at the Ferry Building commemorating his work to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway and free up the waterfront. He says developments like 8 Washington are not what the city had in mind when it decided to reshape that area.

But current Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Gavin Newsom disagree. The pair appeared in a commercial sponsored by the Yes on Prop B campaign endorsing the development.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors has already approved the development 8-3 through the city’s formal planning process. According to the developer’s spokesman, PJ Johnston, Pacific Waterfront Partners has spent millions of dollars and made many revisions to the plans.

It hasn’t been decided exactly how much condos will sell for, but they’ll be market rate, which in that area means at least a couple million dollars, and there won’t be any below-market-rate units on site.

“Look up and down the waterfront and tell me where affordable housing is being developed directly,” says Johnston. “It's not practical because the cost of the land and the cost of the infrastructure improvements are so high.”

Tomorrow, voters will decide if they agree. 

Crosscurrents ElectionsSan Francisco