Monday, December 27, 2010

The "development wars" straw man

In a recent column, C.W. Nevius revives the great straw man of development in San Francisco, the "growth wars":

The tired old rant that any development, anywhere, is a plot against true San Francisco values is shortsighted. Cities need to grow and build updated structures. That's how they stay fresh and vital.

If opposing "any development anywhere" is such a familiar idea and/or occurence in SF, could we have a single example of the individuals and organizations that believe that? Nevius didn't provide any examples because there are none. It's odd that Nevius, who's so skeptical on quality-of-life issues, buys into this straw man notion.

The reality is that there's been little opposition to the dumb, trendy "smart growth," dense development, and transit corridors ideas that dominate our Planning Department's approach and threaten city neighborhoods near major traffic corridors.

A 15-story hotel for tourists on a blighted part of Mission Street is a trivial---and welcome---project compared to 50-story highrises with luxury condos on Rincon Hill, 40-story residential highrises proposed for Market and Van Ness, and the massive housing development allowed on the old UC Extension property on lower Haight Street. The theory is that San Francisco is supposed to degrade its quality of life with highrises and dense development to prevent suburban sprawl in other parts of the state.

(Interesting that Nevius's article provides a link to a page that tells us that San Francisco "is the most densely settled large city (population greater than 200,000) in the state of California and the second-most densely populated large city in the United States.")

Nevius quotes bike guy Gabriel Metcalf, who of course supports all these trendy, destructive ideas:

"The growth wars have been really divisive," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. "But I think now we are reaching the point where we say yes to positive additions instead of no to everything...I know there are still people who oppose everything new," he said. "But I hope that this is a generational change where people get their minds around the idea that change can be good."

What "growth wars"? Like Nevius Metcalf doesn't name any individuals or organizations that believe this bullshit because there are none. In fact in the last ten years there has been little dissent on development in SF. Chris Daly and Gavin Newsom both support the highrises on Rincon Hill, and the only thing that has temporarily stopped more from being built there is the bad economy. Supervisor Mirkarimi, the left-wing supervisor from District 5, has been point man for both the awful Market/Octavia Plan and allowing UC to hijack the old extension property for dense development.

City progressives are allied with the Planning Dept. and developers in the movement to overdevelop and densify city neighborhoods based on nothing but fashionable, half-baked planning ideas.

Like City Hall Metcalf has long thought that all the new residents dense development will bring to SF won't be bringing cars with them. They will presumably use an already inadequate Muni system and/or ride bikes. Metcalf several years ago:

People love to live in highrises. Rincon Hill and Transbay are the first attempts to create a whole new neighborhood on that concept. I think it's absolutely the right thing to be doing for the environment. Instead of sprawling outward and making people drive, we're going to build homes for people at extremely high density, where they can walk to work and walk to the store and finally grow up and embrace their urbanity.

Note the anti-car assumption---of course Metcalf is a bike guy---since the Bicycle Plan and the city's anti-car policies are based on the dense development theory, along with the assumption that the city knows how to create new neighborhoods. Metcalf invokes the development at Mission Bay as a planning achievement, but so far that area is pretty ugly, and it's hard to see how more development is going to make it look any better.

The environmental impact reports on both the Market/Octavia Plan and UC's development on lower Haight Street lack adequate traffic plans for all the new residents the city is encouraging in that unfortunate part of town. Both of those projects discourage developers from providing adequate parking based on the if-you-don't-build-it-they-won't-drive theory. And neither of those projects provide more money for Muni.

Nevius's colleague on the Chronicle, John King, has also invoked the mythical development wars on occasion, and over the years he's been a consistent highrise booster, who assured us a few years ago that the huge, ugly Intercontinental Hotel "could have been worse."

Some of our leaders have been surprisingly candid about their nimbyism. Aaron Peskin thinks highrises are fine for other parts of the city but not for his lowrise North Beach.

Only the recession has spared us so far from the consequences of the dense development delusion, since developers have had a hard time getting loans for projects. Progressives on the Board of Supervisors have been too busy waging the class struggle and instructing us in what to eat and what to smoke to take a critical look at the city's planning policies.

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