by JIM MEKO
Last fall, voters rejected 8 Washington, an over-sized condo project on the waterfront that would rise to 136 feet in an area zoned for 84 feet. The Planning Department didn’t get the message. They’re still supporting a large housing and retail project proposed by the San Francisco Giants at Pier 48/Seawall Lot 337 and a sprawling office, residential, and retail project that Forest City wants to build at Pier 70. Each project violates parts of the Waterfront Land Use Plan, which just so happens to be the law.
I dislike ballot box planning as much as anyone but Prop B is an effective response to a Planning Department that doesn’t respect its own rules.
Why not revisit the current zoning for the area and change it where appropriate through an open, inclusive and fair community planning process? That’s what I asked one of the opponents of Prop B. Because that would restrict their ability to wring extra concessions out of the developers, she said. Oh c’mon, what she rally meant was they prefer the “let’s make a deal” kind of development that’s become predominant in recent years.
As I understand it, the current zoning reflects what was appropriate for the minuscule Embarcadero we had when the freeway dominated the area, “An accident of history,” the opponent of Prop B calls it. Wrong. It was zoning that acknowledged existing conditions at the time. And times have changed. Are they afraid to open this discussion up to the light of day?
The flat earth society which developers deride conducted an open community-driven rezoning process here in Western SoMa that resulted in a plan that just about everybody supports. While the Planning Department’s typically top-down Eastern Neighborhoods process hearings often dragged on past midnight (oh kill me if I have to approve one more variance, one commissioner said), in Western SoMa, where the rules were debated and decided in a participatory and democratic way, we were finished at the Planning Commission in time for dinner.
It’s pathetic to see a Planning Department that’s such an enemy of good planning. I honestly don’t think this is what Mayor Lee would want. It’s the proles in city government who make these undemocratic decisions in the mistaken belief that that’s what Ed Lee would want. And that’s why we need to have a Prop B every once in a while.