Saturday, February 05, 2011

Progressives and preservation: Symbolism and hypocrisy

The kerfuffle over the appointment of Richard Johns to the Historical Preservation Commission is another example of how city progressives prefer symbolic political battles to real battles. Being president of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for four years doesn't qualify Johns on the issues? Ridiculous. Progressives are simply posturing on the issue, since for the last ten years their political movement has been responsible for aggressively pro-development policies in the city.

Without mentioning Johns, Marc Salomon rails against the political influence of developers in San Francisco:

The primary reason why residents leverage CEQA and HP[Historical Preservation] law to the hilt is because land use planning in San Francisco is based on the premise that San Franciscans and the neighborhoods into which we breathe life and vitality are problems that need to be solved. The solution, invariably, is to entitle more, denser, higher rising luxury condominiums that disrespect the existing built environment.

Okay, but why doesn't Salomon mention any specific projects? The answer: his political allies on the Board of Supervisors have been aggressively pro-development in SF since district elections gave them a majority on the board in 2000. Some major projects supported by progressive supervisors I've been writing about for years: the Rincon Hill luxury highrise condos pushed through by Supervisor Daly and approved by a majority on the board, including Supervisor Mirkarimi and Supervisor Peskin; UC's massive housing development on the old UC extension property on lower Haight Street. Supervisor Mirkarimi took the lead to push this huge---450 housing units on six acres---traffic-snarling housing development that will damage a state and federal landmark; and the Market and Octavia Plan---Mirkarimi was the point man again---that rezones thousands of properties in the heart of the city as an incentive for developers, eliminating set-backs and backyards, and raising height limits to encourage population density---40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness!---in an already densely-populated area. 

Speaking of preservation, the city did no landmark study of the Market/Octavia project that's required by CEQA before the supervisors passed this destructive project with no progressive dissent.

Salomon absolves uber-progressive Daly from any responsibility for the city's aggressively pro-development policies:

When The San Francisco Planning Department rezoned neighborhoods over the past decade, it deployed precisely such a toolkit. Not satisfied with marginalizing neighbors, Planning took care to draw planning area boundaries within 150 feet of former District Six supervisor Chris Daly’s home, conflicting him out of participating and disenfranchising residents, citizens, taxpayers and voters in District Six, ground zero of luxury condo development.

Again, Salomon fails to mention any specific projects, but Daly recused himself from voting on Market/Octavia because his condo was within the project's extensive boundaries.

Now that he's out of office, there's nothing to prevent Daly from speaking out against these projects. He won't because he doesn't disagree with the the Planning Department's trendy, transit corridors, dense development doctrine.

Daly's justification for supporting the Rincon Hill highrise luxury condos? Development fees were somehow supposed to mitigate that massive rezoning, but there's been little accounting of how much has been collected or where the money has gone. (The project never included any affordable housing.)

Former president of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin is on record as supporting highrise development, as long as it's not in North Beach, where he lives. Mirkarmi, too, voted for the Rincon Hill highrises, calling them "a fine deal."

The Bay Guardian piles on in the pseudo-controversy over the Johns appointment:

Progressives and preservationists opposed the nomination on the grounds that Johns isn't a historian and that he has close ties to former Mayor Willie Brown, a friend of developers whose longtime chief of staff was Johns' wife, Eleanor. And they're suspicious of Brown's support---both overt and stealthy---for [Jane]Kim's supervisorial campaign...Kim didn't explain her vote at the full board meeting, and her comments at the Rules Committee (which she chairs) and to the Guardian that Johns "was qualified" and she could "see no reason not to support his nomination" irked many of her progressive supporters who consider development the big issue.

If the Guardian considers "development the big issue," why don't they write about it more? They evidently care more about the great, anti-car bicycle movement than development in SF. Recall that during the approval of the Rincon Hill highrises, the Guardian editorialized lamely that five highrises was too many, that two would be enough!

The silly fight over this appointment can't hide the fact that San Francisco progressives have been rolling over for developers for years.

When city progs do support preservation, they often get it wrong, as they did with the Harding Theater, which was "saved" by Mirkarimi and the supervisors---The Grateful Dead once played there!---from being turned into housing and retail space so that it could continue blighting the middle of Divisadero Street in District 5.

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At 1:15 PM, Blogger Nick said...

What is wrong with higher density? Does it make it more difficult for you to drive you car through or park?

It feels like you just wanted to complain about a few supes possible political foibles, without any semblance of a real solution.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

After New York, San Francisco is the city with the highest density in the country. Population density raises quality-of-life issues, especially traffic. Two of the "progressive" development projects I mention encourage more population growth while limiting parking and providing no money for a Muni system that's already maxed out and struggling with a chronic budget deficit. That's a prescription for gridlock in the middle of the city.

The Joel Kotkin article I linked provides an analysis of the fashionable "dense development" planning trend that shows it's essentially a development scheme that favors the well-off.

I haven't owned a car in more than 20 years.

The "solution" to the progressive line on development and preservation issue in SF is for city progs to stop being such lemmings on development and to stop being phoney's on perservation. But that's like asking a leopard to give up its spots.

Its' the grandiose, Stalinoid projects that do the most damage, like the Market/Octavia Plan, the Central Subway boondoggle, and the Bicycle Plan. What's really delusional about city progs is they clearly think they are great visionaries, when they're really nothing but lemmings, chasing after a lot of trendy planning crap that's going to do a lot of damage to San Francisco.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Nick said...

So you propose sprawl vs density so that OTHER people can drive their cars?

You might understand the role the Bicycle Plan has in San Francisco if you bought a bike and tried to ride around on some of these streets.

Just because something may be fashionable or trendy, doesn't mean it is the wrong thing. It does make it easier to talk trash about though.

Light rail projects bring more higher density higher value real estate development likely because it is a transit route that is fixed and can be invested in. A bus route is hardly fixed or a reason to base an investment decision on.

What damage are these projects going to do to San Francisco besides make it harder to park? Shifting subsidies away from parking will drive more money into our transit systems both within and in and out of the City.

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think about this issue in context of bikes, however, and I think the answer is more clear.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Now that the Third Street streetcar line is done, no one is planning any more "light rail" in SF, unless you include the Central Subway boondoggle. That isn't the issue. The M/O Plan and the UC project, for example, encourage population density without any provision for the increased traffic congestion that will cause and the strain on an already stressed Muni system. The 10,000 new residents encouraged in the heart of SF by these projects are presumably going to walk or ride bicycles!

The great thing about buses is that they are much cheaper to operate than rail systems.

San Francisco's largest industry is tourism, so making it harder to park downtown and in the neighborhoods discourages visitors, most of whom rent and/or driver their own cars to the city. Not to mention the huge inconvenience to the 400,000 people in SF who own motor vehicles.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The 10,000 new residents encouraged in the heart of SF by these projects"

The heart? Maybe the kidneys, or pancreas. Even the lungs would be a stretch.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No stretch is necessary. Look at the map of the project area.


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