War of the waterfront

Too many projects and too little planning on San Francisco's most valuable strip of land

San Francisco's excited for the new Exploratorium -- but is there a cohesive plan for our rapidly-developing waterfront?


There's a blocky, unattractive building near the corner of Howard and Steuart streets, right off the Embarcadero, that's used for the unappealing activity of parking cars. Nobody's paid much attention to it for years, although weekend shoppers at the Ferry Building Farmers Market appreciate the fact that they can park their cars for just $6 on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

But now a developer has big plans for the 75 Howard Street site — and it's about to become a critical front in a huge battle over the future of San Francisco's waterfront.

Paramount Partners, a New York-based real-estate firm that also owns One Market Plaza, wants to tear down the eight-story garage and replace it with a 350-foot highrise tower that will hold 186 high-end condominiums. The new building would have ground-floor retail and restaurant space and a public plaza.

It would also exceed the current height limit in the area by 150 feet and could be the second luxury housing project along the Embarcadero that defies the city's longtime policy of strictly limiting the height of buildings on the waterfront.

It comes at a time when the Golden State Warriors are seeking permission to build a sports arena on Piers 30 and 32, just a few hundred feet from 75 Howard.

Between the proposed 8 Washington condo project, the arena, and 75 Howard, the skyline and use of the central waterfront could change dramatically in the next few years. Add to that a $100 million makeover for Pier 70, the new Exploratorium building on Pier 15, and a new cruise ship terminal at Pier 27 — and that's more development along the Bay than San Francisco has seen in decades.

And much of it is happening without a coherent overall plan.

There's no city planning document that calls for radically upzoning the waterfront for luxury housing. There's nothing that talks about large-scale sports facilities. These projects are driven by developers, not city planners — and when you put them all together, the cumulative impacts could be profound, and in some cases, alarming.

"There hasn't been a comprehensive vision for the future of the waterfront," Sup. David Chiu told me. ""I think we need to take a step back and look at what we really want to do."

Or as Tom Radulovich, director of the advocacy group Livable City, put it, "We need to stop planning the waterfront one project at a time."


Some of the first big development wars in San Francisco history involved tall buildings on the waterfront. After the Fontana Towers were built in 1965, walling off the end of the Van Ness corridor in a nasty replica of a Miami Beach hotel complex, residents of the northern part of the city began to rebel. A plan to put a 550-foot US Steel headquarters building on the waterfront galvanized the first anti-highrise campaigns, with dressmaker Alvin Duskin buying newspaper ads that warned, "Don't let them bury your skyline under a wall of tombstones."

Ultimately, the highrise revolt forced the city to downzone the waterfront area, where most buildings can't exceed 60 or 80 feet. But repeatedly, developers have eyed this valuable turf and tried to get around the rules.

"It's a generational battle," former Sup. Aaron Peskin noted. "Every time the developers think another generation of San Franciscans has forgotten the past, they try to raise the height limit along the Embarcadero."

The 8 Washington project was the latest attempt. Developer Simon Snellgrove wants to build 134 of the most expensive condominiums in San Francisco history on a slice of land owned in part by the Port of San Francisco, not far from the Ferry Building. The tallest of the structures would rise 136 feet, far above the 84-foot zoning limit for the site. Opponents argued that the city has no pressing need for ultra-luxury housing and that the proposal would create a "wall on the waterfront."


Seems to me that for every developer "giveaway" that we have we have an almost equal amount of bogus DR's that cut down or eliminate what private homeowners want to build because of some neighbors subjective sense of profoundly ambiguous things like "light and air"

And that groundswell of opposition for 8 washington? We will see if that translates at the ballot box.
A huge percentage of the funding for the signature gathering came from a single homeowner who didnt want to lose his view.. democracy at its finest.

There's a tempest in a teapot brewing with the Save the SF waterfront people too - led by self important super NIMBY Larry Stokus. They try and hide it but they aren't successful in disguising their ultimate goal which is to sink the Warriors arena period.

The reason that developers constantly push the envelope is because NIMBYs have been completely unable to budge on even the most modest increases.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:41 am

now we have the chance to put some real econimic engines in there. We already have the ballpark, of course - a huge success. And low-rent or low-rise just doesn't make any sense in a place where land is so short and journeys can mostly be walked (I'd walk from Market to 75 Howard, even to the ballpark.

The demand is there for business, housing and entertainment. Let's build it all. We can influence the architecture and design, without micro-managing the process, and we certainly can't have a NIMBY'ist build nothing attitude.

Of course. Tim only cares about one thing. He doesn't want more people living in SF that won't vote the way he thinks they should. SOMA development meant that Walker got her backside kicked by the more moderate (and much cuter) Kim, and he sees the writing on the wall for his hope of a socialist city.

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 11:15 am

The only way to have any meaningful impact on this is to win elections. Progressives and neighborhood folks used to win perhaps half of the elections we'd contest. Until progressives and neighborhood folks figure out how to win elections, candidate, measure or referendum, this out of control development will only get worse.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 11:44 am

The more new development gets built, the more the demographics make progressive election victories less likely.

That's the real reason Tim opposes new build. He's all about power, not ideology. His "housing by seniority" idea shows how weak his policy thinking is.

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

A policy that Marcos has also consistently advocated for as well

New housing should be for San Franciscans!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

and/or anyone who just happens to be here. So he's really advocating "housing for all", which is a nice tagline, but hardly a policy.

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

No, he specifically means that we should not build housing for people to come here but for people who are already here.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

It sounds more to me a self-serving policy to enable those who want to live but cannot afford to without highly restrictive and redistributive housing policies.

So it's not a matter of "what's best for SF" but rather "what's best for those whow ant to live above their station".

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

Powell, 16th/Mission, Balboa Park? Or are you referring to one's place in the economic hierarchy cemented by the lowest social mobility among the "rich" nations? Your comment confirms your belief in that lack of social mobility in contrast to the American Dream mythology you sometimes express.

As the English say, "A place for everyone, and everyone in their place."

Typical classist prejudices.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

merely like the idea of being in SF but really lack the financial means to do so?

How many should we allow to live here on the cheap? how would you know where to stop?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

The out of control development that allowed the TIC you currently occupy in the neighborhood that you gentrify should never have been allowed.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

Your comments are sociopathic, maybe psychopathic. I fear escalation from anti-social, pathological, stalking internet behavior to actual violence.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

Who are you talking to?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

anonymous handle? The whole point of this place, surely, is that it is a safe place to say things that you might think twice about saying in public for fear of reprisals, threats and abuse.

Nobody here is known except for Tim and Steven, and nobody takes them seriously enough to ever deem them worthy of an assault.

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

I'm not seeing anything about violence.. what is he talking about??

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

someone who posts here.

Ignoring the fact that everyone is anonymous here. So how would the putative violent felon find his prey?

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

The "violence" (same quotes as for "jobs") we're seeing here is directed against San Franciscans in general and progressives here in this forum in particular. Dominance over and eventual exclusion from the City and this forum is the goal of their intervention. Either we are "civil" and do nothing and lose, or we grow a pair and begin to fight back again and have a slim chance of winning.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 3:01 pm
Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

1. Write about the glories of the past
2. Talk to Aaron Peskin
3. Bemoan the wealthy

Rinse and repeat

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

I was thinking the exact same thing except that you left out 2.5, which is to bring up the mistake made 50 years ago regarding the Fontana Towers, and then try to equate those structures with 8 Washington.

Tim just keeps putting out the same tired old formulaic stuff while Joe Eskenazi actually does somewhat objective journalism and offers new information. Like when Tim endorsed Julian Davis despite knowing of his sexual indiscretions. Then Eskenazi did the journalistic work and Tim's new boss made him pull the endorsement.

Hmmmm...useful journalistic information from Eskenazi or the same recycled propaganda from Redmond....

Which one would you keep?

Posted by Troll on Jan. 10, 2013 @ 11:20 am

They provide homes for hundreds of people, and with Bay views as well. A friend of mine lives there and loves it although, as he says, he doesn't have to look at the Towers.

If we built a hundred more towers like that, we'd start to see affordable housing again.

Posted by anon on Jan. 11, 2013 @ 7:52 am

Muni plans to start up the E-Embarcadero streetcar line in the next couple of years, running from Caltrain to the Wharf, sharing the T/N and F line tracks and using a connector track between Folsom and the Ferry Building that's already built. The streetcars for it are being delivered now. They are fully ADA compliant (as are all the F-line cars). They are no more expensive to buy or operate over their lifetime than a bus. Radulovich has a heat on for modern, low-floor surface streetcars like Portland has, and has an open prejudice against the F-line because of that. 23,000 daily F-line riders disagree. But that's never stopped Tom before.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

Might you point me to the waterfront transit plan so that we could figure out what the MTA, TA, MOEWD and the Planning Department have in mind?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

I take it 75 Howard would be not at all profitable if the developers adhered to the existing height restriction?

Posted by Alexandra Jones on Jan. 10, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

profitable. He hates profit, hates success, hates growth and hates prosperity.

He wants the site to remain a down-at-heel waste or prime RE for no other reason that he hates everything.

Posted by guest on Jan. 10, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

As Planning Commissioner Antonini has declared, it is the job of the City to ensure that entitlements are profitable for developers. Heads developers win, tails San Franciscans lose.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 11:20 am

The profit exists to encourage those who have funds to invest in SF to do so, and to compensate them for the risk that they take.

Your suggestion that SF somehow "loses" because swanky new structures and buildings get developed is naive. In practice the people and voters of this city love developments like the waterfront enterprises we are seeing (ballpark, Warriors stadium), Ferry building, Pier 39 etc.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

Idiot Troll. The government has no business picking winners and losers yet it picks developers to win over residents every time by bending the rules of the game to make marginal projects profitable.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

somehow residents "lose".

That makes no sense. I don't "lose" because the ballpark is fabulously successful, is at a more convenient location for me to watch the game, and brings in tax revenues and extra business and jobs for the city.

I win. you won. They win. We all win. It's a win-win.

You just hate the private sector, success, growth, prosperity and progress.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

the assumption that something that is a "win" for you is a "win" for all San Franciscans. You actually appear sociopathic enough to believe that assumption.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

How are you disadvantaged by the renovated Ferry Building?

How does Pier 39 harm you?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

planned than the ones you list. The residents whose lives are most impacted are those who live near the waterfront, not a Mission resident. That is to whom you should pose your incomplete questions.

Even though I rarely go to Giants games, I like AT&T Park fine (although it is terrible for soccer.) But I do miss the lower ticket prices and the hardiness of the die hard Giant fans at the Stick.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

And further that I should "ask others" if there are any ill-effects of other new developments because, evidently, you cannot think of any?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

It's not clear what Mr. Redmond or marcos are referring to when they state that there's 'no plan for the waterfront.'

A lot of people seem to forget that Planning Department has produced two extensive studies. The first was the "Northeastern Waterfront Area Plan" (http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/General_Plan/NE_Waterfront.htm) that took years and many hundreds of community hearings to produce . There was NO shortage of community input on it. It was subsequently updated.

The problem is what happens when some folks disagree with some of the conclusions of the study, as happened with 8 Washington.

Because of the outcry from NIMBY neighbors, Planning, at the request of Sup. David Chiu, took 15 months, a lot of resources to produce a second study, the "Northeast Embarcadero Study" (http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=1662). Again, thousands of people were included in the "process", yet some still disagreed with the conclusions that recognized that a mixed-use development at 8 Washington was a preferable land use than preserving a surface parking lot.

Are the conclusions of these public documents invalid? Did the hundreds of meetings and thousands of people who gave input now be ignored and a new "process" be commenced?

The problems Mr. Redmond refers to result from people who will NEVER accept any change on the waterfront, NOT because there's no plan.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

sure to be unhappy. If that ends up being Tim and Marcos, well, they love misery so that's a form of justice.

The simply fact is that very few things of great beauty or function are created by a vast committee riddled with NIMBY's, activists and cynics. Sometimes it's better to trust one person or entity with a passion and a vision, than try and design thigns be committee. Consensus can just lead to mediocrity.

The waterfront is orders of magnitude better than it was 25 years ago. Most of the reason for that is due to enterprise, vision and an earthquake. You can near guarantee that if instead the waterfront was designed by Tim, it would like a cold, wet day in Bulgaria.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

comments about your own comments now? Hard to tell if you hide behind the default "Guest" name.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

person here might be a "Guest"?

Or might even post as "Eddie"?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

The lowest form of internet behavior. Considered therapy? A lobotomy would probably increase your intelligence.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 14, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

Living on the waterfront has become more and more pricey, I don't see anyone building low income housing on this prime piece of the city. Heck most of the city has become prime real estate, people like cab driver, waitpersons, artists, you know know it won't be able to buy let alone rent.

Pick up one of the major newspapers from SF, look at the Sunday sections and tell me do you think it carters to average Joe.

We have become a food city, a shopping city, we have become a place to stay or just somehow a place in the world to do the above.

Posted by Garrett on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 10:28 am

You can buy a house in parts of Detroit for a dollar, but you don't.

Not even Oakland - just 10 minutes away and half the price.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 10:55 am