The language of Prop. B, otherwise known as the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote act, is simple: “The existing maximum height limit on the San Francisco waterfront shall be preserved and shall not be increased unless a height limit is approved by the San Francisco voters.” Projects on Port of San Francisco land from Fisherman’s Wharf to Bayview-Hunters Point would fall under this provision.
At a time when The City is entrenched in a housing and cost-of-living crisis, there is a growing sense that San Francisco is less and less welcoming. Some of the arguments against Prop. B touch on these issues. Opponents caution against wasting time focusing on waterfront height limits when there are more pressing issues such as housing availability at all income levels. They argue that if Prop. B passes, it will threaten thousands of planned homes in San Francisco, including hundreds of below-market-rate units, and deprive The City of millions of dollars in tax revenue.
The specter of Prop. B’s passage has already had a powerful impact on high-profile projects. Last month, the Warriors gave up plans to build a new arena jutting out into the water just south of the Bay Bridge, opting instead for land in Mission Bay. This week, the Giants said they were no longer opposing Prop. B and vowed to redesign development plans next to their AT&T Park. And on Tuesday, various city departments issued a report, requested by Mayor Ed Lee, detailing potential economic and housing losses if the measure passes.
Those seeking to defeat Prop. B argue that it will embolden community groups and special interests to hold projects they don’t like hostage at the ballot box and scare away would-be developers seeking to build much-needed homes. However, both sports teams’ decisions show that they’re willing to play ball instead of walk away from the development plans altogether.
Last year, we cautioned against “ballot-box planning” in regards to another waterfront fight, which happened to also be called Prop. B. That effort succeeded overwhelmingly in killing the 8 Washington St. condo complex, and gave rise to the current Prop. B.
Part of our argument last year involved the fact that the measure targeted only one already-approved project. This time around, however, San Francisco is looking at a blank-slate future in which residents can give themselves a voice at the planning table if they so choose.
We are urging voters to stand behind the new Prop. B. Our waterfront is a place that needs careful and attentive stewardship, and if that means letting citizens be a more active part of the political process over its future, then that’s a good result.
Prop. B backers make the case that this extra level of protection — an “insurance policy,” as they call it — is needed because the waterfront is a public resource beyond compare. They contend that developers and politicians don’t always have the public’s best interest at heart.
We would like to think those concerns are unfounded, but it can’t hurt to make sure.