Sunday, February 13, 2005

Now he tells us!

John King, the SF Chronicle's architectural critic, evidently takes a jaundiced view of what's being built in the city:

Again and again, what's built here follows the path of least resistance. You sense no higher aspiration than getting a green light from a planning commission. After that, let the public beware (SF Chronicle, Feb. 10, 2005).

This wasn't what he told readers a few years ago, when he wrote a series of articles praising the shocking Rincon Towers and the Vancouverization of San Francisco. And his sappy piece last October 20 on the at best mediocre and at worst disastrous Octavia Blvd. project allowed the city's progressive community to slumber on in ignorance of what the Planning Dept. has in store for city neighborhoods. 

And his reference to "a planning commission" is disingenuous. Any particular planning commission in mind here? How about the San Francisco Planning Commission, a collection of dim bulb political appointees who rubber-stamp whatever the Planning Department's staff puts in front of them? Sounds like King is beginning to have second thoughts, but the damage is done: the four neighborhood-destroying Rincon Towers are a done deal, as is the freeway bisecting the Hayes Valley neighborhood Planning calls Octavia Blvd.

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At 10:02 AM, Blogger JJ said...

I think you need a fact checker, King NEVER praised the rincon hill towers. In fact, in his last article before they were approved he recommended that the projects be cut in half, reducing the amount of housing accordingly.
Your blog is full of misrepresentations regarding projects in SF. Might this have anything to do with you being a super NIMBY? I'm glad you were not elected.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I refer you to King's June 16, 2003 piece in the SF Chronicle that told us that SF too can have residential high-rises, if we do it the Vancouver way. And the July 23, 2003 piece that praises the changes developers made to the street-level design of the towers: "The future of Rincon Hill now looks a lot more enticing---at least on the ground." Not a word in that piece either about cutting the towers in half. Nor was there any hint of King dissenting in his July 26, 2003 piece. Ditto for the Sept. 5, 2003 article after the Planning Commission approved the towers, wherein he gives the last word in the piece to an approving opinion by someone from Planning. Could you provide a citation for your claim? And please cite other "misrepresentations regarding projects in SF." How can I ever see the light if you won't help me?
I'm a "super NIMBY"? I just think development in such a small city has to be done a lot more carefully than the Rincon Towers, UC Extension, Market/Octavia Plan approach. Other correspondents have also mentioned my losing run for D5 Supervisor, as if that's relevant to what's being discussed. These comments are evidently meant to wound, but, hey, off a duck's back, pal! I didn't run with the idea of actually winning---I'm not delusional---but in an attempt to influence the political dialogue and the issues discussed. Of course I failed at that, too, more or less, like I did in 2000. I ran against Matt Gonzalez and others then in an attempt to get the progressive community interested in the homeless issue. Alas, Matt, who, much like Ross in 2004, everyone knew was going to win, never showed any interest in the issue. Too bad for him Gavin Newsom eventually did show an interest in homelessness, because it made him Mayor of SF.

At 11:38 PM, Blogger JJ said...

In the article entitled "ANALYSIS
Challenge to supervisors: Meddle, but meddle well, towers...."
on Jan 11th 2004 John King suggested the following "If the main concerns are aesthetic, the worst thing the supervisors could do is lop 10 or 15 stories off the top of each tower. The result would still be four towers blocking nearby views. They'd just be stunted and squat, more of the same of what's already there.

A better approach, albeit more audacious, would be for the board to double the zoning as requested from 200 to 400 feet -- but require that one tower be removed from each complex. "
"Paradoxically, such a change might also be good business"
As you can see this is hardly the rubber stamp praise which you portray in this blog.
In another entry in your blog you mention the safeway site on market street and issue an ominous warning to the people who live in the area that planning "wants to take away your safeway."
A very large amount of your time on this blog is devoted to the evil rincon hill towers - and the oversized UC development- again and again. SF may be a small city to you, but it needs to do some large growth. The cities diversity is threatened and its middle class base has been all but decimated. SF, the "small city" has more than 750k+ people - more than boston, seattle, vancouver etc.
The quaint san francisco of yesterday is really just a romantic notion now - and you do a disservice to all when you continue to rail against development.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The Jan. 11, 2004 article by John King actually helps my argument, not yours, since King is saying that it's a bad idea to just make the towers shorter. Instead, he thought that eliminating a few of them and making the remaining towers taller was preferable. Nor was that article has last on the Rincon Towers. In a June 17, 2004 piece, he throws a bouquet to the redesigned towers, which he finds "more slender and distinctive, with more light and air between them..." John King simply likes residential highrises. I understand the problem we have in SF: we're damned if we do and damned if we don't on the housing issue. If we don't built any new housing---which is not what I advocate---we limit the supply in an already pricey market. If we do as we're doing now, we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water, destroying the very things that make the city a good place to live, including its neighborhoods. We just need to grow a lot more carefully than Planning and the We Need Housing movement approach. You also bolster my point with the population numbers. San Francisco is a small geographic area that already has 750,000 people. How many is enough? Planning thinks SF is obligated to make up a regional deficit in housing. Do you agree? Who do you think is going to buy the Rincon Towers condos? Probably well-off people from other parts of the country/world. How does that help the city, except for its tax base? Can I infer from your comments that you think the UC proposal for the extension site is good for that neighborhood and the city? And you like the Rincon Towers?

At 6:40 PM, Blogger JJ said...

I'm not going to argue with you on the point of John King and the rincon towers. He has never been celebratory of them, and had spoken about them disparigingly in almost every column he has written.
The only positive stuff he has written can best be described as "since we have to have these ugly monoliths, lets make the best of it."
By the way, by eliminating a few towers, one would be cutting out 800 homes.
John King does not like highrise housing - that you make that assertion is totally laughable. You might want to read some real urban architecture critics in papers like the LAtimes or the NY times if you think King loves any kind of skyscraper.
I think the plan for the UC site is entirely within the boundaries of what is appropriate for the neighborhood. I am not of the opinion the properly utilizing sites to their potential are harmful to neighborhoods. I dont believe in preserving underused or vacant lots so people can drive around their neighborhood quicker and find parking easily.
The only people who are damned if we build are the people who's interest is the status quo, or their hyper inflated property values, or their cars.
San Francisco is obligated to take on a PORTION of the regions deficit in housing. It is not required to take it ALL on.
More housing for SF - even on the luxury level reduces demands on all levels. There will be less gentrification pressures on existing neighborhoods if we build even high end apartments.
It is a no brainer that adding to its tax base is a great thing for SF to do - its more money for the city!
I think the rincon hill towers are ok designwise. From a city planning perspective I think they are the perfect thing for the location. There is no existing "neighborhood" (they are being built on lots) and the general area is full of surface parking lots. I find it more important to have a family invest in SF by owning a home here, then being able to sip their latte from an area peak and stare at the bay bridge.
Your piecemeal process towards development (slow, steady, small) wouldnt affect SF in any real way.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's simply not true that John King has "spoken disparagingly in almost every column he has written." Quite the contrary. Interested readers can decide for themselves by checking the SF Chronicle's online archives. Why does "utilizng property to its potential" necessarily mean commercial potential? What that part of town really needs is a real park and a branch library, not an over-large commercial housing development---424 housing units on five acres---for the increasingly imperial University of California. That parcel is also zoned for Public Use and has been for 150 years. I understand that Supervisor Mirkarimi spoke out against the project in a public meeting last night. Good for him!

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Readers can go to the archives of John King's Chronicle columns to judge whether he ever spoke "disparagingly" of the Rincon Towers ( In fact he likes residential towers, especially if they are "slender and distinctive," as he put it in his June 17, 2004 piece.


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