Sue Hestor's 70th birthday party: "We Shall Overcome."

Everyone is singing "We shall overcome." Sue Hestor and Calvin Welch, two pillars of the development battles, are in center left. The photo was taken by Stewart Bloom, the official photographer of the Alvin Duskin anti-highrise battles.

By Bruce B. Brugmann

Plus: Tim Redmond reports on Sue Hestor and her environmental legacy on his new local  website 48  

How do you say happy birthday to a San Francisco icon like Sue Hestor?

Some 200 of her friends, allies, pro bono legal clients, political heavies, and fellow warriors against big developers and their pals in City Hall gathered Saturday at Delancey Street for a surprise party to celebrate Sue's 70th birthday.

When she arrived, she was obviously surprised to find a band playing "We shall overcome" and her friends standing, clapping, cheering, and singing  in admiration for a woman who has spent more than four decades as a citizen activist and attorney fighting for one good cause after another, usually at bad odds against the big guys, often for clients without pay. It was truly a historic moment in the history of San Francisco politics. 

I first knew Sue when she popped up as a feisty volunteer in the Alvin Duskin anti-high rise campaign of the the early 1970s. The Bay Guardian was doing an investigative book, "The Ultimate HIghrise," on the impact of highrises on the city. She pitched in on the project and was in the book's  staff photo, jauntily wearing her trademark straw hat, standing next to the hole in the ground for the Yerba Buena Center development.

 We billed a central feature of the book as "the world's first comprehensive study of the true cost of skyscrapers." Our research group demonstrated that highrises cost much more in services than they bring back in revenue,  a finding that infuriated the Chamber of Commerce because they could never effectively refute it. We also laid out in detail for the first time the power structure behind pellmell Manhattanizaton, how destructive those policies are, how they shift the tax burden from dowotown to neighborhoods and small business, who profits from them, why there are more muckmakers than muckrakers. Our talented art director Louis Dunn provided brilliant graphics that drove home the damaging points about highrises.

Our conclusion was most prophetic: "The most disturbing finding can't be quantified--but it should be shouted to the heavens.  It is this: unless the city of San Francisco reverses past practice and immediately enacts an ironclad land-use policy such as Duskin's proposed height limit, the long scoffed at 'Manhattanization' of the entire city is a surefire, 100%-guaranteed inevitability." 

I like to think this project and its results were a fitting start to Sue's career in land use litigation and terrorizing big developers, City Hall enablers, and their ever more virulent forms of Manhattanization. 

In the early l990s, I called on Sue again, this time to be the founding chair of the spanking new Sunshine Task Force. It was a new task force formed to enforce the Sunshine Ordinance, which gave citizens the right to make complaints about government secrecy and its tradition of keeping City Hall safe for PG&E, big landlords, and developers etal. The task force would, I knew, drive the bureaucrats nuts and  it thus needed a strong attorney as chair who would be smart enough and tough enough to go up against the city attorney and the crocodiles in the back bays of City Hall.

 The neat thing was that nobody could kick Sue off the task force.  She was one of two members who were "grandfathered" in by the ordinance--an attorney (Sue)  and a media rep (B3) --who were selected by the Northern Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, not the supervisors. She performed admirably and got the task force on a firm footing as the first and still the best local open government task force in the country, if not the world. 

Through the years of development battles, it was often Sue and Calvin, Calvin and Sue.  Calvin being Calvin Welch, a crafty environmental and neighborhood strategist who worked with Sue and others in developing counters and initiatives and all kinds of hellish moves to beat or slow down and mitigate development.  He said Sue's career could be summed up in two words: "cumulative impacts."  The good thing was that we all knew, when the developers brought up their heavy artillery or their sneaky back alley maneuvers, Sue and Calvin would be there to blow the whistle and take on the fight. Call Sue, call Calvin was the watchword but they usually called us first at the Bay Guardian. 

Let me call now on Tim Redmond, a Guardian reporter who covered Sue and Calvin and the highrise battles from 1982 on, to explain what Calvin meant.  Tim laid out the political points in his piece, "Sue Hestor's birthday and a lesson in SF environmental history," on his new local  website "48"  Read Tim's first paragraphs for the fun stuff on Sue and the last paragraphs for the really important contributions she has made to the city and urban planning, as explained by Calvin.

As Tim concludes, "In 1964, Hestor, representing San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, sued and won a stunning decision in the California Court of Appeal mandating that the city start studying the cumulative impacts of development. As Welch noted, 'there was an obligation for developers to prioritize mitigations.' That's where the affordable housing program, the transit-impact fees--and the entire concept of analyzing development on the macro, not the micro level emerged.  That was the idea behind the 1986 measure Prop. M, which included no height limits at all--but did include programs and policies designed to protect neighborhoods from the effects of unlimited growth." 

Well, the Hestor faithful may not have "overcome" the big developers and their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans.   But they have come pretty damn close. On Sunday, the day after Sue's party, the Warriors caved on its waterfront project and Matier and Ross did a Chronicle column with the head, "Warriors call for timeout on Waterfront arena plan." And on Monday, the waterfront warriors marched triumphantly into City Hall and, as the  Chronicle's John Cote reported,  "turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the June 3 ballot that would require voter approval for any development on the San Francisco waterfront to exceed existing height limits."

That could kill the massively inappropriate project.  "If passed," the Chronicle continued, "the measure would put a check on high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay and require voter approval for height increases for three major waterfront development plans, the Golden State Warriors' proposal for an 18,000-seat arena complex, the San Francisco Giants' plan for an urban neighborhood on what is their main parking lot and the development of the industrial Pier 70 area."

Whew! That's what I call a nifty bit of Hestoring and Calvinizing.   b3

If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own. (Wes "Scoop" Nisker on KSAN radio during the dark days of the Vietnam War.) 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, from 1966 to 2012.)










The best thing that could happen to San Francisco is that Sue Hestor goes the way of another equally as annoying gadfly, H Brown.
How much money has Hestor made over the years opposing developments in SF? Yes I know she works 100% pro bono - so shes just independently wealthy?

Lets take a look at the success of Sue's decades of efforts. Is SF more affordable?
Is the middle class in a better place than before she devoted her life to making it more difficult to build housing in SF? Are there more children/families in SF? How is the African American community doing?

Yes, lets all celebrate the success of someone who has done more to guarantee gentrification in SF than a thousand greedy developers.
Lets celebrate the mindset of the me me me baby boomer that moved to SF, declared it perfect on day two, and worked the rest of their lives to make sure it never changes.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 10:54 am

more than Hestor and Welch, I cannot think who they are.

Of course, they were both careful to invest in SF RE before most of the impact of their NIMBYism, thereby handsomely profiting from the lack of development while earning fees by obstructing the construction of thousands of homes for working city residents.

A pox on that pair of hypocrites.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 11:09 am

Name one such project that was actually for workers.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

Why doesn't the city or sfgate produce a list of the assessed value of every for-profit housing unit built over the past 10 years. I'd be surprised if many of them are under $600K. Most are likely over $1 million, with a good percentage far higher.

Mayors Brown, Newsom and Lee have built housing only for millionaires (aside from a few non-profit units that few people can qualify for), which is the best evidence that Mayor Lee only wants millionaires as residents.

Private developers, Mayor Lee and the BOS are not building the mix of housing SF needs for an inclusive city. Private developers are not solving any of SF's housing problems and they shouldn't be allowed to continue building units in the city. The city should take over the building process and build a mix of units that cater to all income ranges, with 100% of them being built for occupants under 150% of AMI since the city has primarily built units catering to the over 150% AMI over the past 20 years.

When the city tears down the 280 stub, all of the units should be for residents only, with limited-equity restrictions so that they stay affordable for future generations. No more million-dollar condos. The city already has plenty of those.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 12:07 am

resident, so clearly there was sufficient demand for them, and therefore it was right to build.

I get that you cannot afford the home you would live in SF, but how is that our problem? And why would it be a tragic loss for us if you had to move to Oakland or Stockton?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:33 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:33 am

After all the lefties were stuffed with booze and self-satisfaction, Sheriff Ross rode in on a Shetland pony, clad in his signature pink hot pants and Stetson, and grabbed Sue Hestor by the arm as he shot his cap gun into the air. The bruise left behind (as he explained to her later) was "just a bruise."

Posted by Chromefields on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 11:07 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 11:14 am

would have been for her to leave feet first - in a pine box.

Posted by Esther Rabinowitz on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 11:53 am


Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

Yes, Sue Hestors' personal crusade to encase the entire city in unchanging amber is certainly worthy and emblematic of the turmoil encountered in the civil rights marches in Selma and Montgomery and MLK Jr's speech in 68.

To reiterate, some entitled white woman dedicated her life toward making SF a less affordable place to live. Dedication which has contributed profoundly to SF being one of the least affordable places in the entire United States, and another large group of all white people want to celebrate.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

I think it is time for the 60's and 70's generation to step aside, can they not see the damage they have done to the city?

Time for new ideas and policies, lets learn from the past and make this a better city.

Thanks for nothing

Posted by Chris on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

So all of you anonymous folks would allow the developers and the landlords and the Chamber of Commerce and PG&E et al to reign supreme, without opposition or dissent. They are the ones doing the damage, not Sue and Calvin and their many many allies. b3

Posted by bruce on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

Hestor has probably added 10% to rents and home prices in this city.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:44 am

10%? She has added much much more than 10%.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 10:06 am

pursuing policies that were guaranteed to inflate the value of those investments.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 10:32 am

"We shall overcome." Seriously, this made me want to vomit. Too bad there's no voting in the Guardian comments, but I want to echo the others' sentiments.

Posted by odm2 on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 2:33 am

There is a difference between "reigning supreme, without opposition" and devoting your entire life towards making sure that development in SF is prohibitively expensive. The balance is tipped entirely in Sues favor, and she has ensured that San Francisco has become the woefully unaffordable place that it is now.

Are we in a better place now for Sues efforts? No. Was this her intention? Probably not, but SF is set up in such a way that a single effective gadfly can do tremendous amounts of damage. If I were Sue, I would hang my head in shame for what I helped to create, but I can just imagine her speaking in that sanctimonious eyes narrowed way, boobing her head, talking about how she was the one who wanted more housing blah blah blah.
The happy reality of this is that people like her, and Bruce, are not much longer for the world of SF politics. Maybe 30 years from now, we will talk about how profoundly destructive these policies were..

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:28 am

sometimes, when accompanied with a basic intelligence and some zealotry, they can be effective despite that. She has ruined many lives.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:43 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:46 am

Ah, the rugged anonymous speaking from their privileged sanctuary of secrecy.
do you really want to see the waterfront lined with massive developments and highrises? sue and her allies put their names on their causes and cases and they have done a world of good for San Francisco. you are speaking in PG&Eese and Chamber speak. b3

Posted by bruce on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 10:27 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 10:47 am

at all. How about full name, phone and street address?

No, didn't think so.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 10:48 am

You should join up with the tea party, since they are also apt to show up with pitchforks at the home of anyone who opposes their doctrine

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:20 am

I'm just pointing out that everyone here is anonymous

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:23 am

An anonymous yammering that someone using their name isn't actually identifying themselves was idiotic the first time, yet amazingly, gets even stupider with repetition.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

Why allow anonymous posting if you are going to complain about people choosing that option?

Sue and her allies (the THD, Napoleon Peskin, Richard and Barbara Stewart) have done tremendous harm to San Franciscos affordability, diversity, and long term economic health.
If you look at a chart for when prices exploded in SF, it dovetails nicely with the start of the build nothing anywhere crowds' rise to power.

I challenge any of you to say we are better off now, with worldwide attention being paid to our complete inability to manage our own housing affairs.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:19 am

activists, advocates, non-profits and various hangers-on who profit from the current dysfunctional system. Hestor is hugely to blame but, in fact, she is one of the more transparent miscreants.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:25 am

In the past 25 years as technology jobs have skyrocketed in the Bay Area, SF has built far more housing units than the cities where many of the jobs have been created: Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Redwood Shores and North San Jose. When those cities build out to the density of SF - or even to 75% of SF's density level - then we can talk about adding more million dollar condos to SF's skyline.

In the meantime, it's the politicians' jobs to protect exisiting residents from financial predators, such as Ellis evictors and greedy private landlords.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:42 am

yes, because its at all realistic to imagine that these overwhelmingly suburban cities will ever morph into urban, dense environments like SF.

What is more realistic?
That SF continues to densify?
Or that Silicon valley becomes SF south?

SF has even built enough housing to house its existing residents, much less whatever you imagine has been added by the tech companies.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

More commuters come into SF each day than commute out.

So SF is not pulling it's weight in providing homes.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

SF as the city rather than the Bay Area.

Rookie error.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

Bruce used to hit that, and it was good, if a bit ripe and unclean. But it was still groovy, because they were just two crazy hippies chasing a dream. They got high, blissed out on art, ate some hummus, and stuck it to the man. Now they're old, and the woodchipper awaits...

Posted by Chromefields on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:34 am

so gross. I assumed she was a lesbian.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

together. She has that "Debra Walker School of haute couture" feel about her.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

She dresses like a luddite. I imagine she has a rotary dial telephone at home, doesnt have call waiting, and has an answering machine with a tape.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

But I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

he made from selling the SFBG's former headquarters to real estate speculators? More than a year after that deal was closed there are many deserving non profits awaiting his donation...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

whines again that people don't agree with him.

Having had to deal with union types I have to agree that it is a nightmare, but union buster Brugman speaks for the people, so listen up peons!!!!

Posted by guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

"We shall overcome"?

Is this some kind of joke?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

and ageing hippies are allowed to get all nostalgic too.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

Wake me up when the overcoming part starts.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

"San Francisco’s high home prices are extreme – but so is the lack of construction. Since 1990, there have been just 117 new housing units permitted per 1,000 housing units that existed in 1990 in San Francisco. That’s the lowest of the 10 tech hubs and among the lowest of all the 100 largest metros (see table 3), even with the recent San Francisco construction boom."

A pox on Sue Hestors house

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 7:20 am

I'm surprised that people question who Bruce or B3 is after all these years.
I always put my name on everything i write. And, since I am a reporter and editor, I have always as a matter of principle put my name, phone number, and address in the phone book.

The conclusion to the 1971 Bay Guardian study is alarmingly prophetic, as quoted above in an addition I just put in.

"The most disturbing findings can't be quantified--but it should be shouted to the heavens. It is this: unless the city of San Francisco reverses past practice and immediately enacts an iron-clad policy such as Duskin's proposed height limit, the long scoffed 'Manhattanization' of the entire city is a sure-fire, 100% guaranteed inevitabiity." Sue and Calvin and tens of thousands of others are standing against this trend. Why not join them instead of astroturfing for the Manhattanizers? Bruce B. Brugmann B3

Posted by bruce on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 9:36 am

pro-growth, pro-development, pro-jobs, pro-homes platform rather indicates that your viewpoint is a minority one.

The cranes around the city support that assessment. not Manhattan, but not freezing this town in time like some hippie theme park either.

We need more homes a lot more than we need Hestor.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 9:43 am

Yes, the only option to deal with the housing crisis in SF is to enact an immediate moratorium on building along with greater restrictions on height.

ON WHAT PLANET? SF has done little to nothing to address housing for people who are already here, much less the ones that continue to come - and Bruce's answer is to DO LESS.

BTW, Alvin Duskins height limit citywide of 7 stories is three stories higher than the current citywide height limit over most of SF of 40 feet.
Stupid people.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 10:09 am

He has a vested interest in suppressing construction.

Hestor, Welch, Redmond all have done very nicely out of real estate.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 10:15 am

Hey Bruce, the crowd at this event has gotten paid, some for decades, to advance a policy agenda that is now in tatters.

They made a go of it, one has to assume with the best intentions, but they came up short.

Have they learned or are they going to bring a water pistol to a nuclear war again and is the east side doomed?

You are right on the policy agenda, but I do not see how that crowd can get there from here given their past performance.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

and that will always doom any agenda.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

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