San Francisco builders meet on anti-development wave

by J.K. Dineen : bizjournals – excerpt

A high-powered group of developers is meeting today to discuss the emerging anti-development movement that is taking root across San Francisco.

A month after voters rejected a condo project at 8 Washington St. by a wide margin, market-rate housing and office developers throughout the city are facing heavy opposition from residential groups concerned that the city is changing too fast and that the current wave of luxury building is catering to high-rolling tech workers rather than regular folks.

This week Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the urban think tank SPUR, sent an email to leaders at commercial and residential developers responsible for the bulk of the new housing and office structures currently transforming the city skyline.

These include Tishman Speyer, Kilroy Realty Corp., Shorenstein Properties, TMG Partners, Related of California, Prado Group, Strada Investment Group, Forest City, Lennar, Build Inc., Wilson Meany and the San Francisco Giants. It also includes Michael Theriault, who heads up the San Francisco Building Trades Council.

The email states: “I think we all can see the forces are gathering. I’d like to invite you to a closed session meeting to talk about 2014, the anti-growth backlash in San Francisco and what we need to be doing.” (more)

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Projects that are front and center for anti-development forces include 75 Howard St., the Warriors arena at Piers 30-32, the Mexican Museum (and condo tower) at 706 Mission St., and a variety of housing developments proposed for Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch.

Metcalf told the Business Times that the meeting is nothing unusual. He has held similar meetings with tenants activists, affordable housing builders, and labor groups. “That’s just me sitting down with my members,” he said. “I do it all the time — pull people in to see what everyone is hearing.”

He said that the backlash against the manner in which San Francisco is growing is “what everyone is talking about.”

“It’s not just anti-development,” he said. “It’s anti-tech. It’s anti-job growth. It’s anti-shuttle bus. It’s anti-chain stores. It’s anti-gentrification. It’s anti-anti.”

In a story last week the Business Times wrote about opposition to 1601 Mariposa St., a proposed 320-unit development in Potrero Hill. That project is faces opposition from neighborhood homeowners, long-time renters, as well as families from the neighboring Live Oak School, which costs $23,550 per year. In that story Related of California’s Lydia Tan said that the group is considering doing a more thorough environmental review than is required under the Eastern Neighborhoods zoning controls that apply to the neighborhood. “There is an enormous amount of discomfort on the hill about accommodating all the growth that is coming,” she said.

Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, said “the backlash is real and it’s growing.” He said he plans to attend the SPUR meeting tomorrow, although the issues have already been discussed at the last few meetings of SPUR’s housing policy board.

“The backlash tends to confuse things — I think intentionally on some part and unintentionally on others,” said Theriault. “It takes the questions of evictions and foreclosures and confounds them with the question of development and new construction. They are different responses to the same economic pressure. If you want to reduce evictions and foreclosures, you need to build. As a council we need to be more active in the fight against evictions and foreclosures to help draw that distinction.”

Theriault said that even projects that are consistent with neighborhood plans like Eastern Neighborhoods — the result of a decade-long exhaustive community planning process —are not safe in the current environment. “If the powers that be find it is in their interest to kill a development, they will find a way to do so,” he said.

He said an unusual coalition is forming between wealthiest city residents who don’t want San Francisco to change or to have their views blocked and progressives fighting eviction and gentrification.

“It’s an unholy alliance,” he said.

Theriault said that a detailed analysis of the 8 Washington St. project shows that working class parts of the city like Visitation Valley and the Tenderloin tended to support the development, while the most affluent neighborhoods — the Marina, Presidio Heights, and Telegraph Hill and Pacific Heights — all voted against it… (more)

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