Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Chris Daly: Shakedown artist

Supervisor Daly's latest blog rant is a two-fer: We get a puerile attack on Mayor Newsom and his staff and a defense of the indefensible Rincon Towers, highrise condos for the rich to supposedly meet the city's chronic housing shortage.

Daly claims that 2200 highrise condos on Rincon Hill is a "responsible development," while sneering at "Team Gavin's" lack of aggressive leadership on "housing production" in the city, even though Newsom too supports the Rincon Hill atrocity. Maybe the Mayor just didn't think the city could shake the developers down for so much. Daly insists that we need 20,000 units of affordable housing "right now." 

He doesn't say where that number comes from, but, even if it makes sense, surely development should be done more carefully in what is, after all, a small city geographically. 

To provide a sense of how large the Rincon Hill project is, consider that the large, circular housing tower on Cathedral Hill has only 100 units, and Fox Plaza a mere 200 units. What the city is allowing with 2200 new housing units in one project is really a Neighborhood Prevention Plan, wherein one mega-development will both obliterate whatever previously existed there and prevent a real neighborhood from emerging within normal city regulations and planning.

Residential highrise development is evidently a bad idea whose time has come, since Planning wants to put more residential towers in the Market/Octavia neighborhood, the crucial part of which, unfortunately, is also in Chris Daly's district, not that Supervisors Mirkarimi and Dufty, who represent the neighboring districts, have shown much concern about this shocking planning concept.

Chris Daly is the de facto leader of the alarming We Need Housing Movement---an alliance of progressives, the Planning Dept., and, of course, developers---that wants with a reckless urgency to build housing in the city. Daly and Mayor Newswom, alas, essentially agree that encouraging massive amounts of new housing quickly is good planning, that somehow all this new housing for the rich will trickle down some benefits for the rest of us. What this movement really does is threaten the city's neighborhoods, infrastructure, and quality of life.

Daly sneers at the Mayor's staff as "Team Gavin" and "Gavin and his gurus," and the Mayor's Communications Director is a "hotshot." This is a Daly tendency I've written about before. When I call Supervisor Daly a "Punk Progressive," it's not a mere insult; it's an analytical category that defines a gratuitous, in-your-face political incivility. Daly jeers that a press release from the Mayor's office is "one of the worst written I've seen..." Yet Daly's blog entry reads like a 12-year-old trying to imitate Hunter Thompson.

An SF Chronicle editorial gets the Daly scam right:

Daly has strong-armed developers hoping to build a half-dozen giant condo towers in his South of Market district to put up $68 million for affordable housing...Deals of this dubiousness usually happen behind closed doors. The outrage is that no one at City Hall is stepping forth to stop it ("Shakedown at City Hall," Aug. 10, 2005).

Maybe Daly was worried that a private shakedown would get him in trouble with the Sunshine Commission. Yes, it's an outrageous deal: First, raffle off a large section of your district to developers with the lure of waiving height and density regs for a huge luxury housing project. Then shake down the chosen developer for huge development fees for the privilege of trashing your district and your city. How's that for "progressive" leadership?

A so-called community leader in the neighborhood that will soon be obliterated, April Veneracion, is under the delusion that this massive project can somehow be "mitigated":

A well-funded, properly developed infrastructure in the SoMa area, which is targeted for new high-density development, will ultimately mitigate the effects of the Rincon development citywide (SF Chronicle, Aug. 1, 2005).

No, it won't. No matter how many millions the city gets in the shakedown and/or future tax revenues, a project this large can't really be mitigated, as an artist's rendition of the project accompanying Veneracion's opinion piece clearly shows.

The real outrage is that encouraging massive residential highrises is considered good planning in "progressive" circles. And exactly who is "targeting" the South of Market area for "high-density development"? Our own Planning Dept., with the crucial help of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and Chris Daly's We Need Housing movement.

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Public Comment on city's plan to trash the Market/Octavia neighborhood

Paul Maltzer
Environmental Review Officer
S.F. Planning Dept.
1660 Mission St., Suite 500
S.F. CA 94103

Public Comment on the Draft Environmental Report for the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, Case No. 2003.0347E

1. The DEIR presents no justification for this project, which essentially involves encouraging housing development in the project area. According to the Planning Dept., there are already 10,500 housing units and more than 23,000 people living in the project area (Draft of the Market/Octavia Plan, page 45). For reasons unexplained, the Planning Dept. now proposes 4,440 new housing units for the area (1-2, DEIR), which would mean more than 40% more people living in that area. Since the “project sponsor” is the Planning Department itself, the final EIR needs to justify encouraging such a dramatic population growth for one neighborhood of San Francisco. The DEIR itself notes that, even without this project, the area will add 1,520 new housing units (4-43) in the same time frame. Why isn’t that enough housing growth for the area?

As the DEIR notes, there are already 800-900 new housing units planned for the old Central Freeway parcels. The proposed Plan recklessly proposes, without justification, encouraging more housing development in the area. Nor does the DEIR count of 4,440 new housing units by 2025 include the additional 450 housing units proposed for the old UC Extension site, which is in the center of the Plan area.

The DEIR talks about creating “a dense, vibrant and transit-oriented neighborhood” in the project area. Yet there already is just such a neighborhood in that area. The final EIR needs to make this counter-intuitive case: Specifically how will encouraging up to 10,000 more people to live in the project area improve that neighborhood/area?

2. Even though the Planning Dept. proposes a huge growth in the project area’s population, it wants to discourage developers from providing parking spaces for the new housing units. The theory behind this is that, since the project area is near the Market St. transit corridor, residents of the new housing units won’t need cars/parking. They can simply take a streetcar or a bus, or, even less plausibly, ride a bike. But it defies common sense to think that anyone who can afford an apartment in the project area---especially the market-rate housing units, which the DEIR notes at 4-209, will be 90% of the new units---will not own a car. The final EIR needs more than a dubious interpretation of selected census data to justify the irrational parking policy proposed in the DEIR.

3. Octavia Blvd.: “The new Octavia Boulevard (approved and under construction) would be the centerpiece of the neighborhood, accommodating both regional and local traffic” (1-6). Octavia Blvd. will carry six lanes of traffic through the heart of the project area. According to Caltrans and the US government, the Central Freeway used to carry 100,000 vehicles a day over the project area (“San Francisco Central Freeway Replacement Project: Environmental Assessment,” 1997, page 3). How many of those vehicles will be using the new Octavia Blvd. when the new freeway ramp opens up on Market St.? It’s irresponsible of the Planning Dept. to encourage development in an area that already faces serious traffic problems without this project. The final EIR must contain an honest appraisal of the area’s traffic both before and after implementation of this plan and, in particular, after the new freeway ramp becomes operational on Market St. later this year.

4. “San Francisco does not consider parking supply as part of the permanent physical environment” (4-204). The city invites litigation on this issue if this assumption is included in the final EIR. Indeed, in the very next paragraph the DEIR back-pedals, as it notes that the “social effect” of deliberately encouraging inadequate parking for new housing units “may lead to physical environmental impacts such as increased traffic congestion at intersections, air quality impacts, safety impacts, or noise impacts caused by congestion.”

5. Travel Demand, Methodology/Approach (4-205): This section of the DEIR does not include any realistic assessment of the impact of the new freeway ramp on Market St. across from Octavia Blvd. Since the ramp will open up before the end of this year, the EIR should include a specific study of the impact the ramp is already having on the project area.

6. The DEIR is basing its analysis of the project’s impact on public transit on 2002-2003 SF Muni data, which was collected before the recent round of cuts in Muni service due to budget problems (4-196). It should be noted that all of the transit lines in the area are already standing room only during commute hours.

7. Residential highrises: The Plan also rather casually proposes an undetermined number of “elegantly designed” residential highrises up to 40 stories high for the area, which would mean a radical change in demographics (many more wealthy people), physical character, and population density in general for the area. This is not prudent planning. Rather, it is reckless social engineering that will be impossible to undo once it is done. Again, as in the Plan in general, there is no justification even attempted for this radical change in the physical and demographic character of that part of town.

8. A note on style: Everyone in the Planning Dept. should be prohibited from using the overused word “vibrant” in all public documents. Its use in this DEIR is particularly inappropriate, since that part of town is already “vibrant” enough, thank you, without any misguided “enhancing” or “improvements” from the Planning Dept.

In short, the big question unanswered---in fact, no answer is even attempted---in the DEIR is, How will radically increasing the population density and altering the physical makeup of this area “enhance the neighborhood character of the Project Area”? (4-337) The final EIR should at least try to answer that question.

Rob Anderson

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Public Comment on Scope of UC's EIR

Comment on Case No. 2004.0773E, Laguna Hill Residential Project
Scope of Environmental Impact Report

By Rob Anderson
1516 McAllister St.
SF CA 94115

Mr. Maltzer:

1. The most crucial question about the former UC Extension site is about the zoning. What UC is proposing will take that property out of the Public Use classification for a for-profit housing development on which they would stand to make millions of dollars. UC’s public statements to justify the project claim that the huge institution can no longer afford to maintain the site are not credible. According to Jeff Bond, planner for UC, who announced the information at the May 23 HVNA meeting, UC is now paying $2,106,000 a year to lease space at 425 Market St. and 95 Third St. to house the extension operation that used to be at the Haight/Laguna location. Hence, UC’s plea of poverty is simply not credible, since that money could be spent to bring the old site up to a useable standard.

What the EIR should include is a plausible justification for taking this valuable parcel out of Public Use zoning. If, as I suspect, there is no credible justification, except for UC’s desire to cash in on a property they have had tax-free since 1958, all other issues are rendered moot: no zoning change, no housing project.

2. Since there is evidence that UC has deliberately allowed the property to fall into disrepair (see an interview I did with a former UC employee), the EIR should include an opinion from the City Attorney on a legal strategy to reclaim that parcel for the City of San Francisco.

3. The EIR needs to include an extensive traffic and parking study, since Octavia Blvd., the new freeway ramp on Market St., the many housing units already planned for the old freeway parcels, and the increased density advocated in the Market/Octavia Plan make any large new development in that area problematic.

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