Housing for the rich moves forward -- fast

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A proposal to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history will come before the Board of Supervisors May 15 -- and then before the Port Commission May 16, and then before the Board's Finance Committee May 16, a jumble of hearings and votes that may make it more difficult for critics to be heard.

The 8 Washington project will be one of the most critical votes the board will face in 2012 and will make a lasting statement about the city's housing policy. And it's on an odd fast track.

At the board's May 15 meeting, the supervisors will consider an appeal to the certification of the project's environmental impact report, and will vote on approving the conditional use authorization for the building complex. If either of those is rejected -- that is, if project sponsor Simon Snellgrove can't line up six votes to approve the EIR and the CU -- then the whole thing goes down in flames. The project would still exist in theory, but in practice it would be another two years before it could come back again.

If both of those approvals get through, then the actual development agreement and the financial documents for the project come before the Port Commission the next day -- May 16 -- at a highly unusual special hearing set for 9am. That's a tough time to get people to come out and speak against a project, but the Port says it's necessary, and here's why:

One hour later, at 10am, the board's Budget and Finance Committee will consider the same thing. And the Port wants this to get through Budget and Finance before that panel is entirely consumed with the next city budget.

So there will be two nearly simultaneous hearings, both at City Hall, on the same topic, early in the morning. A little difficult for people who want to testify at both. What if the Port hearing goes on until, say, 11:30 or noon (there have been plenty of three-hour hearings on contentious land-use issues in this city)? What if the Budget Committee starts discussion on the item before the Port is through with it?

Brad Benson, the Port's special projects director, told me that his agency was "in touch with the chair of the Budget Committee. We get the point that people can't be in two places at the same time." 

But still, it all seems awfully rushed -- particularly since, according to project opponent Sue Hestor, the state Lands Commission also has to sign off on this, and that won't happen until July.