Thursday, June 09, 2005

John King and "slender" residential highrises

No matter where they are, Chronicle columnist John King likes "slender" highrises. In today's Chronicle he refers lovingly to "a slender glass pyramid that will rise 1,000 feet smack next to London Bridge" ("Lessons to be Learned from London's Mayor," SF Chronicle, June 9). He especially likes the residential highrises in downtown Vancouver and wants more of them in San Francisco.

King thinks he has a kindred soul in London's Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has supposedly trod the highrise path in London: 

Let developers thrust towers into the sky. Let new housing spill through a revered old city. But do so in a way that makes society and the urban fabric---the world we live in---stronger as a result.

How specifically do you do that? For one thing, King thinks you have to get the right architect to make his residential towers acceptable. Incredibly, he offers as an example the small, two-story art gallery on Maiden Lane designed by Frank Lloyd Wright!

Along the way, King takes his usual swipes at unidentified city politicians who "equate big with bad" and who "want to meddle in the details and show off their clout." Why the coyness? Could we have some names and some specifics?

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How to destroy a city

It's shocking how delusional supposedly progressive leaders in SF are about housing. The Rincon Hill Area Plan, which will overdevelop 12 blocks south of Market St: Five residential high-rises up to 550 feet high are planned for the area. Progressives like Supervisor Chris Daly think they are slick when they sanction these atrocities, because they require developers to pay higher fees ("Builders Blast Extra Fees for Rincon Hill Project," SF Examiner, June 9, Justin Jouvenal). 

If those greedy developers want to destroy San Francisco, we'll just make them pay higher fees. That will show them San Francisco is no push-over! This 12-block area will house up to 8,000 new city residents. 

In the understatement of the year, Daly: 

"They are asking for major concessions on density and height, and they are going to have to share the wealth. There are significant neighborhood and social impacts to building a high-impact development in a dynamic, working-class neighborhood." 

No shit! But why give them the concessions in the first place? What's wrong with the existing city rules on density and height? In fact, these residential high-rises will destroy that neighborhood, making it into still another enclave for the wealthy, as progressives grease the skids for the city's gentrification.

As I've pointed out before, the greatest threat to the city's neighborhoods isn't from greedy developers but rather from the powerful alliance of developers and progressives who constitute the city's We Need Housing movement. 

Progressives have adopted a Free Market approach to housing in the city. The classic, right-wing theory: build enough housing and housing prices will go down. The flaw in the argument? Building housing for rich people won't produce housing for Daly's constituents in the Tenderloin. Or for those of us who work in the hotels and kitchens of San Francisco. Instead, it will just bring more well-off people into the city to buy condos with a view of the bay and the city.

Oddly, ultra-leftist Daly finds himself in alliance with centrist Mayor Newsom on this issue. Jouvenal cites a study from the mayor's office that shows that the Rincon Hill atrocities will bring $117 million into the city's coffers out front and $11.5 annually. Michael Cohen, director of the mayor's Development Office: "There is a fiscal gold mine if we can get this plan adopted today." Money for the city's coffers in exchange for destroying neighborhoods? Doesn't sound like a good trade-off to me.

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