If the sponsors (and city officials) are right, the America’s Cup is going to be a huge event, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators, many of whom will want to be on the San Francisco waterfront to watch. But it’s never been clear to me exactly how that’s going to work — how are all those (rich) people who are used to getting around in limos going to travel from their downtown hotels to the viewing areas? If the city wanted to do this right, we should close down the Embarcadero and some of the feeder streets to all vehicles (except ambulances — always needed when rich old people get excited) and force everyone to travel by pedicab. Buy up a fleet of several hundred of the human-powered vehicles and let all the unemployed teenagers get a shot at driving them. Job creation for youth; environmentally sound transportation; potentially fun bumper-car action with well-heeled patrons screaming in fear.
Remember: The f-line, even with improvements, can’t possibly handle the necessary traffic. And the AC types aren’t going to ride the train anyway. No way private cars can all fit without massive gridlock.
So: Pedicabs. My suggestion.
In the meantime, there’s this little problem of 8 Washington.
See, the developer of what would be the city’s most expensive condos ever is planning on excavating 110,000 cubic yards of soil for a massive underground parking garage — right along the Embarcadero, and right during the America’s Cup events. The Draft Environmental Impact Report for 8 Washington indicates that the dump trucks (about 20 big trucks per day, and possibly a lot more) would be using that roadway to get to 101 or 280.
Actually, if activist Brad Paul is correct, there’s no way the developer can excavate that much dirt in the time frame that it’s supposed to happen unless the number of trucks is closer to 300 a day. Imagine all of that happening while 100,000 people are trying to get to the waterfront to watch the show. Oh, and according to the DEIR for the America’s Cup, the Embarcadero will be CLOSED during that period.
The fact is, the 8 Washington project is not only a terrible idea (just what the city needs — more condos for mega-millionaires) but would directly screw up the whole America’s Cup effort. And the amazing thing is that the AC people and the Mayor’s Office don’t seem to be paying attention.
Paul has put together a lengthy critique of the whole mess that makes great reading if you’re into this sort of thing. So I thought I’d just post it all here. Warning: It’s long. Enjoy.
August 15, 2011
Environmental Review Officer
San Francisco Planning Department
1650 Mission Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94103
Re: COMMENTS ON DRAFT EIR FOR 8 WASHINGTON STREET/
SEAWALL LOT 351 PROJECT
Case No. 2007.0030E
Dear Mr. Wycko:
I am writing to my provide my comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for this project, a document that is incomplete, inadequate and in places quite misleading. I’ve organized my comments in sections beginning with a detailed discussion of how the project’s construction schedule has been greatly underestimated. This is followed by discussions of the DEIR’s failure to address key Housing and Population issues, misstatements regarding historic obligations related to Golden Gateway, comments on recreation issues, and more. In general, I believe the DEIR fails to present objective information and analysis, it omits a number of relevant issues that are critical to the ability of public officials to make objective and informed decisions about the project and it is filled with judgments and assertions that are not supported by facts.
The DEIR is incomplete and inadequate in the following areas:
I. THE DEIR CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULE FOR 8 WASHINGTON IS BOTH INACCURATE AND MISLEADING.
The DEIR construction schedule is based on overly optimistic assumptions that are totally unrealistic; the ramifications of these erroneous assumptions need to be carefully considered as they will cascade throughout the project requiring major revisions to the DEIR before it can be considered accurate and complete.
At the bottom of page II.19 it states:
Project construction, including demolitions, site and foundation work,
construction of the parking garage, and construction of the buildings,
would take 27-29 months. Assuming that construction would begin in 2012,
the buildings would be ready for occupancy in 2014. The first phase of the
construction would take about 16 months and would include demolition
(2 months), excavation and shoring (7 months), and foundation and below
grade construction work (7 months).
While the DEIR unequivocally states the project will take 27-29 months to construct, from 2012 to 2014, facts provided elsewhere in the DEIR together with current city policies, the City’s America’s Cup Host and Venue Agreement and basic math indicate that this schedule is not tenable. The remainder of this section provides the data and analysis that lead to the conclusion that construction of 8 Washington will take much longer than 27-29 months, almost TWICE AS LONG, with excavation taking 2.5 to 3 TIMES longer.
Table 1: Requested Changes to the overall DEIR construction schedule
ACTIVITY MINIMUM MAXIMUM
DEIR’s construction schedule: 27 months to 29 months
Actual excavation schedule: 18 months 22 months
— DEIR estimate for excavation – 7 months – 7 months
+ Increased excavation time 11 months to 15 months
+ Archeology delays .5 months to 2 months
+ America’s Cup delays 2.5 months to 5 months
+ Weather delays .25 months to 1 months
ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION TIME 41 months to 52 months
To refute the numbers in Table 1, project sponsors must present additional, verifiable data supporting their unrealistic assumptions, beginning with the claim that the first phase of construction takes 16 months with a mere seven months allocated for excavation/shoring.
A. The DEIR fails to accurately ascertain and analyze the excavation/shoring schedule.
The DEIR states on page II.20 that “approximately 110,000 cubic yards of soil” will be excavated from the site for an underground garage (approximately 90,000 cubic yards) and other foundation work during the seven (7) month “excavation” portion of the projected timeline. It later states excavation will take place 6.5 hours per day with an average of 20 truck trips per day (pg.IV.D.31). Assuming the average dump truck holds 12 cubic yards of dirt (typical payload for a dump truck), that would mean:
· 110,000 cu. yards/12 cubic yards per truck = 9,166 truck trips
· 20 trucks/day X 12 cubic yards/trip = an average of 240 cu. yards/day
· 110,000 cu. yards/240 cu. yards per day = 458 working days for this task
Could this task be completed in seven (7) months as claimed in the DEIR? NO.
·5 working days per week X 52 weeks = 260 working days per year
– 11 holidays per year
249 total working days/year
·458 days to finish task/249 working days per year = 22 months (not 7)
For this to take 7 months as the DEIR asserts, the following would have to be true:
· 20 trucks/day X 7 months (145 working days ) = 2,900 total truck trips
· 110,000 cu. yards/2,900 trucks = each truck must average 38 cubic yards/trip
Empirical evidence exists, however, proving the DEIR’s claim that the excavation portion of the schedule will take seven months is inaccurate and misleading:
CASE STUDY #1: San Francisco General Hospital Rebuild Project
A recent SF General Hospital (SFGH) Newsletter reports the hospital’s contractor just finished hauling 120,000 cu. yards of dirt from the 45’ deep hole that was dug to build two basement levels and the foundation for a new hospital building. This is as close as anyone is likely to get to replicating what 8 Washington proposes, a three level 40’ deep underground garage accounting for most of the 110,000 cubic yards of dirt that must be removed from the site.
A call to the SFGH Rebuild office revealed their excavation process took seven (7) months with an average truck load of 13 cu. yards per trip. How was that possible?
“The average truck load was 13 cubic yards. Some days we had
over 300 truck loads hauled in one day. This volume was possible
through use of a paved drive that allowed trucks to enter the side, be
loaded up then tires washed to prevent dirt on road causing storm-
water pollution and dust.”
The SF General site is just a few blocks from U.S. 101 with direct access via Potrero Ave., thus minimizing potential traffic conflicts. The 8 Washington site will require driving long distances on city streets including “The Embarcadero, Harrison Street, and King Street… likely the primary haul and access routes to and from I-80, U.S. 101, and I-280 (pg. IV.D.31).” Imagine 300 trips a day on one of these streets.
CASE STUDY #2: SF PUC’s New Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Tunnel
A recent Oakland Tribune story (4/8/11) describes construction of a new 3.5-mile tunnel designed to protect the water supply from SF’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir from major earthquakes by boring a 2nd, state-of-the-art tunnel from Sunol to Fremont alongside the existing 81-year-old Irvington Tunnel. The article states:
“By the time the New Irvington Tunnel is completed in 2014, crews will have
excavated about 734,000 cubic yards of material—the equivalent of 61,000
dump-truck trips, said officials with the SF Public Utilities Commission.”
Dividing 734,000 cubic yards of soil by the 61,000 dump truck trips that the PUC says are necessary equals 12 cubic yards per truck trip. Given this job’s overall size and $227 million budget, it would seem to confirm the fact that the most efficient excavation equipment for the 8 Washington site will be 12 cubic yard dump trucks.
In light of these facts and the analysis provided above, the only way 8 Washington could meet its proposed seven (7) month excavation schedule would be to:
a) schedule up to 300 TRUCK TRIPS A DAY, over 10 TIMES the average number of trips per day (20) stated in the DEIR and 3 TIMES the absolute maximum of 100 truck trips per day (pg. IV.D.31) along the Northeast Embarcadero during a period of time that directly overlaps with the major America’s Cup events and activities, something specifically prohibited by the City’s America’s Cup Host and Venue Agreement ,
b) average 38 cubic yards of dirt per truck trip, 3 TIMES the average truck payload of both the PUC’s Irvington Tunnel project and SF General Hospital’s 120,000 cubic yard excavation project—assuming that 38 cubic yard trucks: a) exist in sufficient quantity in the Bay Area, b) would be available during that period of time described and c) would be allowed on The Embarcadero, Harrison St., King St., Washington St. and Drumm St. by the City. [see photo comparison of 12 cubic yard vs. 30 cubic yard trucks below]
Unless the project sponsor can demonstrate that one of these two highly unlikely scenarios is possible, then the EIR must reanalyze a number of impacts (e.g. Land Use, Air Quality, Greenhouse Gases) based on a revised excavation schedule, one that takes 2.5 to 3 TIMES as long as the one described in DEIR to complete excavation work, and this 22 month timeline assumes NO archeological remains are found on site and the City imposes NO stop work orders related to America’s Cup (see below).
This 15-month difference between the excavation period analyzed in the DEIR and the ACTUAL time it will take to complete the excavation (22 months vs. 7 months) is a major deficiency in the DEIR with profound impacts. For instance, some of the most significant unavoidable negative impacts described in the DEIR involve degraded air quality both during and after construction. Adjusting the environmental analysis to reflect how long excavation will actually take means significant air quality impacts related to excavation (with the greatest detrimental effect on seniors, children and people exercising) will persist for 2.5 to 3 TIMES LONGER than described in the DEIR. This flaw also requires significant revisions to other sections of the DEIR.
In light of this new information, the next draft of the EIR must contain an analysis of this longer overall construction period—two months for demolition; a range of 18 to 22 months for excavation (not seven months); a built-in range of time for the shutting down of the site when archeological artifacts are uncovered, documented and extracted (something the DEIR’s archeology consultant states is “likely” ); and the building construction period. Finally, given these overly aggressive excavation schedule estimates, all other estimates for later construction phases must now to be cross checked for accuracy by independent contractors (e.g. not working for 8 Washington developer or the source of the prior DEIR excavation estimate).
B. The actual construction timeline for 8 Washington will be 41-52 MONTHS.
If the project sponsors disagree with this assessment, they must provide the Planning Department with much more detailed information on how they expect to achieve a shorter construction period given the restrictions described in the DEIR itself as well as mathematical analysis described above. For instance,
– Did the developers err when they reported that the average number of truck
trips per day would be 20 as analyzed in the DEIR? If so, what number do they
choose to use now and how does that impact various aspects of the DEIR analysis
such as air quality, conflicts with pedestrians, MUNI and America’s Cup, etc..
– Does the developer plan to raise the limit of truck trips per day from 100 (as
per the DEIR) to 300 truck trips per day? If so, how often will this happen and
how will these changes impact various aspects of the previous EIR analysis (e.g. air
quality, traffic/transit/pedestrian conflicts, America’s Cup)?
– Does the developer plan to lengthen the average workday or work six days a
week? If so, how often and how would this impact the previous DEIR analysis?
NOTE: The DEIR construction schedule (27-29 months) was not predicated on the
trucks operating 6 days a week EVERY WEEK. But even if the developer ran dump
trucks 6 days a week for the ENTIRE excavation period it would still take TWICE AS
LONG as the DEIR states to remove 110,000 cubic yards of dirt .
– Where is the project sponsor planning to route 100 to 300 trucks a day as they
leave the site, particularly during the various America’s Cup trials (2012) and
finals (2013) when vehicular traffic will be severely limited or prohibited?
Washington Street? The Embarcadero? Drumm Street? Clay Street?, where exactly?
– Have the developers located a source of 30+ cubic yard trucks and secured
city permission to use them on the specific streets described in the DEIR?
It seems fair to assume the SF General Hospital’s excavation contractor would have
done this if it were possible (and the SF PUC’s Irvington Tunnel contractor). See the
three photos below to get a sense of the size difference between a typical 12 cubic yard
dump truck and the type of tractor-trailer rig required to carry 30 cubic yards or more.
As the questions and examples (SF General Hospital) above demonstrate, the DEIR’s claim that 110,000 cubic yards can be excavated in seven months defies the laws of physics and math, not to mention the America’s Cup Host & Venue Agreement between the City and Larry Ellison’s Oracle BMW Racing Team
A thorough reading of the DEIR’s Archeology section and the America’s Cup Host and Venue Agreement indicate that additional time must be built into the construction schedule for predictable work stoppages related to both issues.
KNOWN ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES IDENTIFIED ON THIS SITE IN THE DEIR
On page IV.C.12, the DEIR’s archeology consultant, Archeo-Tec, identifies the Gold Rush ship Bethel as located under a portion of the site and states that “If discovered, the Bethel would be the oldest known (and perhaps most intact) archeological example of an early Canadian built ship (Pg. IV.C.3)”. On page IV.C.11, the archeology consultant states “Significant archeological resources are likely to exist at this site”. The DEIR, goes on to state the proposed project will destroy a portion of city’s original Seawall causing “the largest disturbance of the Old Seawall to date”.
As a result of these DEIR findings, the archeology consultant should now be asked for an estimate of the time required to mitigate the discovery of the Bethel and other likely finds (e.g. original Seawall, other Gold Rush ships, original Chinatown). This “likely” work delay should be built into the construction schedule and stated as a range. For purposes of the matrix below (Table 1) we chose a time of two weeks to two months based on anecdotal information from other similar sites. Archeo-Tec, the archeology consultant, should be able to come up with a more precise estimate.
KNOWN AMERICA’S CUP SCHEDULING CONFLICTS
Based on recent MTA staff presentations on protocols for the America’s Cup, it seems clear that traffic, particularly construction dump trucks, will be banned from Washington Street, Drumm Street and The Embarcadero during major America’s Cup events that include, at a minimum, the America’s Cup World Series warm-up races (July/Sept. 2012), the penultimate Louis Vuitton Cup Series (July/August 2013) and the America’s Cup finals (Sept. 2013).
This represents a minimum of 2.5 months that must be added to the construction schedule, something the DEIR authors should have included if they had read the America’s Cup DEIR which states there are 9+ weeks of races associated with this event in 2012/2013. The extra few weeks added to the low end range in Table 1 (below) are there to accommodate last minute weather delays and various large non-racing events held along the waterfront that will require closure of The Embarcadero, Washington Street, Drumm Street, etc.
Table 1 below lays out a more credible and realistic construction schedule based on the factors described at length above, taken directly from the DEIR or readily available from the city (e.g. America’s Cup DEIR) and the America’s Cup Host and Venue Agreement.
Table 1: Requested Changes to the overall DEIR construction schedule
ACTIVITY MINIMUM MAXIMUM
DEIR’s construction schedule: 27 months to 29 months
Actual excavation schedule: 18 months 22 months
— DEIR estimate for excavation – 7 months – 7 months
+ Increased excavation time 11 months to 15 months
+ Archeology delays .5 months to 2 months
+ America’s Cup delays 2.5 months to 5 months
+ Weather delays .25 months to 1 months
ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION TIME 41 months to 52 months
To refute these numbers, the project sponsors must not only present a verifiable and detailed plan to remove 110,000 cubic yards (9,167 truck trips) in seven months that the City has signed off on but also produce a letter from the City and Oracle BMW Racing granting a waiver from Section 10.4 of the America’s Cup Host and Venue Agreement that would allow 20 to 300 trucks a day to drive along The Embarcadero, Washington Street or Drumm Street during major America’s Cup events in 2012 and 2013.
D. Significant Transportation and Energy issues that were not addressed in DEIR.
More specific information related to the construction process needs to be provided and analyzed in the EIR, particularly regarding the far reaching impacts of those 9,166 dump truck trips, impacts that go beyond the immediate Northeast Waterfront.
The DEIR states “While the exact routes that construction trucks would use would depend on the location of the available disposal sites, The Embarcadero, Harrison Street, and King Street would likely be the primary haul and access routes to and from I-80, U.S. 101, and I-280”. At a minimum, The EIR needs to include information on where the two or three most likely disposal sites are located, based on recent experience (SF General Hospital excavation) so that one can analyze the extent of potential conflicts on the Bay Bridge or 101 South where other trucks will be transporting dirt to and/or from the Transbay Terminal project, Hunters Point Shipyard, Mission Bay, Treasure Island, etc. Without this information, the City could find itself creating significant traffic conflicts on the Bay Bridge or highway 101 that greatly increase air quality, traffic and transit problems without having analyzed these potential impacts in a flawed EIR.
Simply saying “While the exact routes that construction trucks would use would depend on the location of the available disposal sites” isn’t adequate or acceptable. Assumptions must be made regarding most likely disposal sites and routes to those sites and what additional cumulative impacts these routes (and 9,166 trucks) will create. The EIR must provide a MAP of the route to be used for hauling soil, all the way from the departure point at 8 Washington to the final destination(s) with an explanation of where trucks will drive and what restrictions there are on hours, size of payload, safety, etc. for the various streets, highways and bridges they will travel on. If the options include trucking the soil to San Francisco’s southern waterfront to transfer it to barges, then this needs to be disclosed and analyzed, including the potential routes and destinations of those barges.
In addition, to accurately compare the environmental impacts of the project sponsor’s ‘Preferred Project’ to the “No Project” alternative (energy consumption, traffic impacts, air quality degradation, etc.), one needs to know not only the destination of the approximately 9,166 dump truck trips but also the average miles per gallon of a typical dump truck. For instance, if the final destination for the soil was 100 miles away and a typical dump truck averages 8 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, then:
9,166 truck trips X 200 miles per round trip = 1,833,200 miles for all dump trucks;
1,833,200 gallons/8 MPG = 229,150 gallons of diesel fuel that would be burned.
In other words, the city’s choices would be:
229,150 gallons of diesel fuel used to transfer 110,000 cubic yards 1,833,200 miles
ZERO (O) gallons of diesel fuel used if the NO PROJECT alternative were approved.
E. Importance of accurate, detailed information re: the construction process.
Given the above discussion, it is clear that the construction schedule set forth in the DEIR is inaccurate at best and has led, in many cases, to the significant understating of major negative impacts associated with this project. The lack of a detailed discussion of some of the key aspects of the construction process, e.g. the route and destination of 9,166 dump trucks, is also highly problematic.
Without a complete and thorough analysis of the impacts of a of an overall construction schedule that is TWICE AS LONG as the one analyzed in this DEIR, city officials will be missing much of the critical information they need to determine whether or not the developer’s ‘Preferred Project’ is necessary, desirable or feasible. A complete and factual analysis of this issue must be included in the next draft of the EIR which, given this and other major inaccuracies and omissions (see below), should be recirculated in draft form.
II. THE DEIR FAILS TO DISCUSS OR ANALYZE ANY CRITICAL HOUSING ISSUES RELEVANT TO 8 WASHINGTON OR UNIQUE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ENERGY IMPACTS THOSE HOUSING ISSUES CREATE.
A. Impacts of the project on the City’s Housing Needs were Not Analyzed in DEIR. The DEIR states that potentially significant impacts to Population and Housing will not be discussed because the 2007 NOP/Initial Study found that the proposed project would not adversely affect them. Unfortunately the DEIR lacks the basic information needed to reach such a conclusion and, as we will demonstrate, an objective review of relevant 2008-2011 housing data contradicts this conclusion.
The world, particularly regarding housing, has changed radically since 2007. Relying on housing and population information from 2007 ignores the financial and housing meltdown of 2008 and is simply indefensible. In addition, back in 2007, the EIR consultants were relying on stale, seven-year-old census data while today they have access to a multitude of fresh 2010 census data. No one can dispute that the housing environment today could not be more unlike the housing environment in 2007.
By relying solely on pre-2008 housing data from the 2007 NOP/Initial Study, this DEIR lacks any of the basic information needed to conclude that this project would not have adverse effects on Population and Housing and must now revisit and thoroughly analyze these issues.
B. The DEIR fails to analyze how the type and price of housing proposed for
8 Washington determines whether or not it meets the city’s housing needs.
One of the project objectives (Pg II.14) is to “help meet projected City housing
needs.” How is that possible, given the fact that the developer has publicly stated
that these will be “the most expensive condominiums in the history of SF” ? With a
$345,000,000 project cost , 8 Washington’s 165 units will cost $2.0 million a unit
just to build . To secure financing and a ‘reasonable’ profit, each unit will have to
sell for $2.5-$5 million with penthouses selling for $8-$10 million.
Nowhere in the DEIR is ANY of this discussed. There is no analysis of how these
very high sales prices will determine who lives at 8 Washington (e.g. how many San
Francisco families could afford these prices?) and how the incomes of these new
residents ($250,000 to over $1 million/year) will dramatically change a number of
the environmental impacts of the project, with major implications for sustainability
and energy use, among other things.
The final EIR must state the average cost to build each unit and the range of
sales prices expected so that public officials can assess for themselves whether
the proposed condos will or will not “help meet projected City housing needs.”
The 2009 Housing Element, signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee on June 29, 2011, states that 61% of the housing need in San Francisco is for below-market-rate housing—serving families making 30-120% of Area Median Income (AMI), and only 39% of the city’s housing need is for market rate housing (120% to 500+% AMI).
As Planning staff and Commissioners know from their Housing Element discussions, the luxury condos proposed for this project are so expensive they will not help the city meet its current unmet housing needs. If this project objective (Pg II.14) is left in the final EIR, it should include a note explaining that the project, as proposed, is unlikely to meet this objective for the following reasons:
Condominiums selling for $2.5 million and more fall into the one segment of the city’s housing market that is currently overbuilt and has historically been over represented in relation to the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals that underpin the updated 2009 Housing Element of the city’s General Plan. An ABAG report on housing needs vs. housing production in SF (1999-2006) that came out in 2007—a report that should have informed the 2007 NOP/Initial Study for 8 Washington—states RHNA Allocations (Goal), Permits Issued (Permitted) and % of Allocation Permitted (% of RHNA Goal) by income category as follows:
Table 2: SF Housing Production (1999-2006)*
Housing Type Very Low Low Moderate Market Rate
by Income Income Income Income Housing
% of AMI: 21-50% 51-80% 81-120% 120-500+%
Annual income: [21-50K] [57-81K] [85-123K] [123K-$1million+]
·RHNA Goal (units) 5,244 2,126 5,639 7,363
·Permitted 4,203 1,101 661 11,474
·% of RHNA Goal 80% 52% 12% 156%
* from a 2007 ABAG report entitled: A Place to Call Home
A chart like this, showing housing goals by income group (based on RHNA numbers from the State Office of Housing and Community Development), must be included in the DEIR so public officials can analyze what portion of the city’s unmet affordable and middle income housing needs, if any, the proposed project would meet. It illustrates something local housing experts have long known, that the city consistently comes in well above its RHNA goals for market rate condos, and has historically fallen short of its goals in all other categories for affordable housing, the housing that serves the 61% of San Franciscans that cannot afford ‘market rate’ housing.
C. Dramatic changes to the San Francisco housing market since the 2007 NOP/ Initial Study were not acknowledged and analyzed in the DEIR. All the traditional (pre-2007) sources of funding for the city’s affordable housing programs have dried up since the 2008 housing crash. Redevelopment tax increment funds will either be significantly reduced to pay the state to avoid closure of the SF Redevelopment Agency, or they will be eliminated altogether. Proceeds from the state’s $2.8 billion Affordable Housing Bond (Prop. 1C) are all spent. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a major source of funding for affordable housing, is under attack by House and Senate Republicans and may not survive.
This indicates that San Francisco won’t come close to meeting its pre-2007 affordable housing production levels until we find a new permanent local source of funding for affordable housing. How long will that take? The DEIR must address this issue.
Another chart that must be included in the DEIR shows the city’s RHNA goals by income category combined with a summary of a recent SF Business Times (6/24/2011) chart showing all San Francisco residential projects under construction, permitted or in the planning pipeline . Such a chart would look something like Table 3 below:
Table 3: Where does the city need help in meeting its RHNA goals?
Extremely Low Very Low Low Moderate Market Rate
Income Income Income Income Housing
Below 30% AMI 31-50% 51-80% 81-120% 120-500+%
[21K-30K] [35K-50] [57K-81K] [85K-120K] [120K-$1M+]
RHNA 439/yr. 439/yr. 738/yr. 901/yr. 1,632/yr.
Goals: 10.5% + 10.5% + 18% + 22% = 61% 39%
# of units of total of total
% of goal
All Affordable Categories Combined Market Rate_
Underway: 470 units 1,557 units
Approved: 8,751 units 30,878 units
In Pipeline: 780 units 4,184 units
10,000 units 36,619 units
21.5% of all units 78.5% of all units
56% of RHNA goals 300% of RHNA goal
in all affordable categories in market rate category
Some version of Table 3 must be included in the revised DEIR to help public officials determine whether the significant negative environmental impacts this project creates are outweighed by the ‘need’ for the type of housing that 8 Washington provides given the priorities set forth in the Housing Element of the General Plan and what the above-mentioned SF Business Times chart tells us about likely housing production for each segment of the city’s housing needs (from 2011-2014).
Table 3 demonstrates that in a few years, if nothing changes, the city will have approved and built out 300% of its RHNA goal for Market Rate projects (such as 8 Washington) but only 56% of its RHNA goals for all other housing that serves San Franciscans making 30% AMI to 120% AMI. But given what we now know about the current lack of funding for affordable housing, the exact opposite of what was true in 2007 (when the city had significant amounts of Redevelopment tax increment and other affordable housing funds), many of the affordable housing projects listed by the Business Times are now on hold and unlikely to come on line by 2014. This means the mismatch between market rate (39% of need but 300% of production) and all categories of affordable will be even greater than Table 3 indicates.
To be fair, one could argue that some of the market rate housing on the Business Times chart may not be built soon either given that banks have been reluctant to lend money lately. However, a recent article in the SF Chronicle (8/11/11) entitled “Rents Go Through Roof” indicates that the city’s housing market is roaring back; Dennis Robal, property manager with Chandler Properties, reports “Noe Valley apartments that were $2,000 a month a year ago are now going for $2,400”. These kinds of increases, driven by new renters from the tech sector, are prompting major increases in investments by financial institutions in new rental housing.
Regarding the condo market, the one group of potential condominium buyers that
have not suffered financially from the economic meltdown are the very people who
caused it, the Wall Street investors, derivatives specialists, hedge fund managers,
etc. who are now making record salaries and bonuses. These are some of the people
8 Washington will be marketing to because they have the cash to spend $2.5-$10
million on a second, third or fourth home in San Francisco.
NONE of this housing analysis appears in the DEIR yet including it in the DEIR is
critical to the ability of public officials to make informed, rational decisions on this
project, particularly claims by the developer that this project will “help meet
projected City housing needs”. The information and analysis described above is
necessary to allow city officials and all readers to determine accurately and
objectively what portion of San Francisco’s unmet affordable and middle income
housing needs, if any, 8 Washington would meet.
Each year, as the City assesses how well it is meeting its RHNA (state) housing goals, the one area that has consistently over produced is high-end market rate housing affordable to people making $250,000 to $1 million+ a year.
How does building second, third and fourth homes for this demographic “help the city meet its housing needs?”
The unmet housing needs in San Francisco are for people making from 30%-50% of median income all the way up to 100-120%, not people making $250,000 to $1,000,000+ a year (200-500% or more of area median income). The DEIR needs to discuss the following questions to be considered complete, adequate and accurate, questions such as:
How does this project relate to the objectives, policies and goals of San Francisco’s recently enacted 2009 Housing Element of the General Plan?
What portion of San Francisco’s affordable and middle-income housing needs will this proposed project actually meet?
How many other projects under construction, approved or in the pipeline (see June 24,
2011 SF Business Times chart) will meet the needs of San Franciscans who can afford market rate housing vs. those that meet the needs of the 61% of SF residents needing below market housing?
What percentage of “residents” of these condos will be using this housing as their primary residence vs. as second, third and fourth vacation homes?
Given that numerous studies show transit use goes down as income goes up,
how likely is it that these new owners will use public transit?
Again, the answer to each of these questions provides critical information that public
officials need to assess for themselves whether the proposed condos will or will
not “help meet the projected City housing needs.”
Everything that’s happened since the 2008 economic/housing meltdown has made our housing problems worse, something the DEIR doesn’t attempt to analyze, arguing instead that a 2007 NOP/Initial Study—competed a year before the housing bubble burst—absolves it of all such responsibility, an argument that is factually absurd.
D. The DEIR fails to acknowledge, measure or analyze the unique environmental impacts generated by owners who can pay $2.5 to $10 million for luxury condos.
Building housing for this demographic has measurable impacts on transit and energy use that were not included in the DEIR. We know from national studies that low-and middle- income residents are far greater consumers of public transit than people with higher incomes. Imagine how much different public transit use will be when this inverse relationship includes people who can afford $2.5-10 million condos that come with 1-for-1 parking (costing almost $100,000 a space to build).
But a far greater environmental impact than driving private cars was not addressed in this DEIR, an impact resulting from lifestyle differences one can anticipate with some members of this highest of high-end demographics: owning and/or using private jets.
It’s reasonable to assume that five of the 165 condo buyers at 8 Washington (just 3% of all buyers) are Wall Street hedge fund managers, derivatives traders or venture capitalists using these condos as second, third or fourth homes. It’s also reasonable to assume that these five buyers will use their condos 1.5 times a month on average and commute to and from SF aboard private business jets, a perfectly rational assumption for Wall Street executives making tens of millions in salary and bonuses each year. Why would they fly private jets rather than take Southwest…because they can. The fact that a handful of people that are this wealthy will buy units at 8 Washington must be factored into any environmental analysis of a project that will explicitly market to this high-end demographic. That analysis must include, among others, the following:
Table 4: The Jet Fuel Burn Rate for Luxury Condominiums
Mid to large size business jets used to fly cross country (e.g. Hawker 800XP, Gulfstream G2/G3, Bombardier Global Express) average 400 gallons of jet fuel per hour and take six hours to fly New York to SF and five hours to fly back for an 11 hour round trip :
· 11 hours X 400 gallons per hour = 4,400 gallons of jet fuel per trip
a typical family car burns 1,200 gallons of gas per year so one flight from
NYC to SF equals almost four years of driving a typical family car.
· 1.5 trips/mo. = 6,600 gallons/mo. X 12 mo. = 79,200 gallons of jet fuel/year
Using our example of 5 residents, the numbers over one year and 20 years are:
· 5 X 79,200 gallons/per year = 396,000 GALLONS OF JET FUEL A YEAR or
equivalent to driving a family car 330 years, A THIRD OF A MILENNIUM, per year.
· 396,000 gallons/year X 20 years = 7,920,000 GALLONS of jet fuel in 20 years
equivalent to driving family car 6,600 years, OVER 6 MILLENIUM, in 20 years.
Given these condos cost $2+ million to build and will sell for $2.5 to $8 million or more, it seems quite reasonable to assume a mere 3% of these buyers—just five (5) buyers out of 165 —will be part-time residents wealthy enough to commute to San Francisco by business jet. If this is a reasonable assumption , then the DEIR must include the mathematical calculations above to show the true energy costs of this project. In fact, it would also be reasonable to assume a few other buyers will use private business jets to commute from LA, San Diego, Denver, etc. The only way to prevent this, forbidding buyers to own or use corporate jets, is of course impossible.
This is just one example of how housing prices—and who lives in that housing—greatly changes environmental impacts and why this analysis must be included in the DEIR for 8 Washington. As condo prices reach $2.5-10 million, it’s reasonable to assume a number of buyers will use them as a second, third or fourth homes and that some of those buyers will travel here by jet, not car or public transit. On the other hand, if units at 8 Washington were affordable or market rate rental or affordable-by-design condos (80%-150% AMI), it’s very unlikely any of its residents would own or use business jets. Price does matter with regard to energy consumption and transit use.
Given these facts, the 8 Washington DEIR must analyze such questions as:
How many solar panels do you need to make up for 396,000 gallons of jet fuel per year?
How many low flow toilets make up for 396,000 gallons of jet fuel per year?
How many double pane windows make up for 396,000 gallons of jet fuel per year?
How many on-demand hot water heaters make up for 396,000 gallons of jet fuel per year?
Looking at the longer term impacts of this excessive consumption of energy resources:
How many solar panels compensate for 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel over 20 years?
How many low flow toilets make up for 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel over 20 years?
How many double pane windows make up for 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel over 20 years?
How many on demand water heaters make up for 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel over 20 years?
Having this information in the DEIR is necessary for the Planning Commissioners or Board of Supervisors to make informed decisions about 8 Washington, especially when the project sponsor keeps touting it as state-of-the-art, sustainable, LEED certified (at Gold or Platinum level), etc. When added to the project sponsor’s insistence on building a 420-car underground (below sea level) garage, one has to question how one can call this a model of sustainable development or let the DEIR include sustainability as a project objective.
Unless the DEIR seriously and objectively addresses questions of how the price of housing and who lives in that housing impacts environmental sustainability, we risk creating a backlash against things like LEED certification and terms like “sustainability”. They could easily become just another example of slick marketing and “greenwashing”. Everyone agrees that building 10,000 s.f. McMansions in the Sierra Foothills on 2-acre lots—even if they’re LEED certified at the highest level—is NOT sustainable development. Why is it any less absurd to use “green” and “sustainable” to describe $2.5-$10 million condos built as second and third homes for extremely wealthy part-time residents, some of whom commute from their primary residence by private jet?
The DEIR must provide public officials with the data and information they need to analyze all the significant impacts that units this expensive have on the environment. With this information, decision makers might choose to require a much smaller garage or no garage at all (insisting on more efficient use of nearby existing garages). They might also choose to support a much smaller project or no project at all, based on the lack of demonstrable need for this housing type and all the other negative impacts described above. But they cannot make any of these decisions in a rational and objective manner without all the facts, many of which are missing from this DEIR.
E. The DEIR confuses project “objectives” with city mandated requirements with regard to Inclusionary Housing, then fails to discuss any of the relevant issues around this city policy.
The project objective (Pg II.14) that talks about the project’s ability “to help meet
projected City housing needs” reads in full:
“To develop a high-quality, sustainable and economically feasible
high-density, primarily residential, project within the existing
density designation for the site, in order to help meet projected
City housing needs and satisfy the City’s inclusionary affordable
Satisfying the city’s inclusionary affordable housing requirement, for this or any market rate housing development, IS NOT an Objective, and stating it as such is misleading. It is, in fact, legally mandated by city ordinance. The developer doesn’t have a choice in the matter and it should be stricken from this Objective. However, this reference to inclusionary housing leads one to ask several questions that are never addressed in the DEIR but should be. An Inclusionary Housing section must be added that answers questions such as:
What are the specific requirements for including permanent below market rate (BMR) units in all market rate projects and how many would be required on-site for this one?
Did the developer ever consider building on-site BMR units and if not, why not?
If the developer did consider and reject on-site BMR units, why?
If the developer has decided to pay the in-lieu affordable housing fee, what would it be and how and where (e.g. within a 1-mile radius of the project) would it be spent?
Given that the in-lieu fee charged developers to buy out of providing BMR units on-site is based on construction costs and sales prices for “average” condos, how will the extraordinarily high construction costs and sales prices for these condos impact the in-lieu fee? If it doesn’t impact the fee, would an appropriate mitigation measure be amending the Inclusionary Housing policy so that it does?
Mentioning the inclusionary requirement as part of an objective stating that the project seeks to “help meet projected City housing needs” is misleading and inaccurate. It tries to infer that the funding for 30 affordable units provided by the developer’s inclusionary requirement is helping to meet this objective when, in fact, relying on inclusionary payments to advance the city’s affordable housing goals will only drive the city further out of compliance with its state mandated RHNA goals. The following example clearly demonstrates the validity of this claim:
TNDC’s proposed affordable family apartment project at Eddy and Taylor Streets is typical of the projects now stalled in the city’s affordable housing pipeline due to the lack of affordable housing funding from traditional sources. But the Eddy and Taylor project is a 150 unit development, not 30 units. For it to go forward, you would need the inclusionary housing funds from FIVE market rate projects like 8 Washington. What would that do to San Francisco’s RHNA goals:
If: 165 market rate units are needed to fund 30 affordable units,
Then: 825 market units (5X) are needed to fund 150 affordable units (975 total units).
If: out of a every 975 new housing units, 825 are market rate & 150 are affordable,
Then: for each new 975 units built in SF: 85% are market rate, 15% affordable.
But the 2009 Housing Element of San Francisco’s General Plan (based on the state RHNA goals) calls for 39% OF NEW HOUSING TO BE MARKET RATE (NOT 85%). Relying on Inclusionary Housing off-site payments to fund affordable housing clearly runs counter to the housing production goals set forth in the 2009 Housing Element in the General Plan as well as the RHNA goals for San Francisco established by the state of California. Furthermore, as SB375 Sustainable Development funding criteria begins influencing state funding decisions, by driving our RHNA numbers toward 85% market rate, projects like 8 Washington could jeopardize San Francisco’s ability to apply for and receive state and federal infrastructure and transit funding.
The only way to bring San Francisco’s housing production numbers back into line with the goals in the Housing Element (and RHNA numbers) is to create a new local permanent and dedicated source of funding for affordable housing. These relevant facts regarding the impacts of inclusionary housing must be included in the DEIR.
III. THE DEIR IGNORES THE GENTRIFICATION/DISPLACEMENT IMPACTS OF THIS PROJECT THAT WILL RESULT IN THE LOSS OF HUNDREDS OF RENT CONTROLLED UNITS IN THE GOLDEN GATEWAY BY ENCOURAGING THE FURTHER HOTELIZATION OF ITS 1,200 RENTAL APARTMENTS
The other ‘partner’ in this project is Timothy Foo, who bought Golden Gateway from Perini Corp. about 20 years ago. Only 20% of the 8 Washington site is on Port land, while 80% of the site is on land owned by Mr. Foo and currently occupied by Golden Gateway’s community recreation center. However, Mr. Foo’s only mention in the DEIR is in a footnote to the first sentence of the Introduction which states: “On January 3, 2007, an environmental evaluation application (EE application) was filed by San Francisco Waterfront Partners II (the “project sponsor”) on behalf of the Golden Gateway Center*”. That footnote says “*Golden Gateway Center, Authorization Letter from Timothy Foo, December 27, 2006”).
In addition to violating the original Golden Gateway development agreement that required Perini (and future owners) to preserve the recreation center in exchange for deep discounts in land prices charged by Redevelopment, for some time now Mr. Foo has also been converting rent controlled apartments in the Golden Gateway to short term rental use (e.g. on one floor of a high-rise tower, a third of the units are rented this way). These conversions have been documented by the Golden Gateway Tenants Association, the Affordable Housing Alliance and the San Francisco Tenants Union. While such conversions are not unique to the Golden Gateway Center (see attached Bay Citizen article), they are illegal and violate city zoning, rent control and apartment conversion ordinances.
The DEIR must address this issue by posing the following questions to Mr. Foo and incorporating his answers into the DEIR. He must provide this information because as the owner of 80% of the underlying land that comprises the 8 Washington site, he has had and continues to have a direct financial stake in this project. He must be asked the following questions:
How many of Golden Gateway’s 1,200 rental apartments are currently being used as hotel rooms and/or short-term rentals and/or rented to persons other than those using them as primary residences or directly related to the person residing there (e.g. corporations, business organizations, apartment brokers).
Has Mr. Foo consulted with either the Rent Board or the Planning Department as to the legality of his use of apartments in Golden Gateway as hotel rooms or short-term rentals under applicable city zoning codes, the San Francisco Rent Control ordinance or the city’s Apartment Conversion Ordinance?
Upon receiving and analyzing this information from Mr. Foo, the DEIR must then answer the following questions:
Is the ‘hotelization’ of Golden Gateway and other large apartment complexes likely to increase with the approval of 8 Washington, a development that:
a) builds 165 high-end luxury condos ($2.5 – $10 million each)
on Mr. Foo’s property—creating a much more upscale
environment adjacent to his Golden Gateway apartments;
b) provides Mr. Foo with $10-15 million (what he’s likely to
be paid for his 80% of the site) that can be used to upgrade
his rent controlled apartments at Golden Gateway in order to attract even more higher paying hotel users; and
c) if no mention of these conversions is made in the DEIR, after these written comments have been submitted, will send a clear
message to Mr. Foo and others that the City has no intention of
enforcing its own zoning, rent control and apartment conversion
ordinances, thereby encouraging even more conversions.
If conversions like those at Golden Gateway are not stopped soon, the city is at risk of losing thousands of residential apartments in its downtown neighborhoods.
What kind of mitigations would prevent the further hotelization of the Golden Gateway’s 1,200 rent controlled apartments?
With larger apartment complexes such as Golden Gateway, Parkmerced and Fox Plaza, owners get around the current prohibition on renting residential apartments for less than 30 days as hotel rooms (an action that is legally prohibited by the San Francisco Apartment Conversion Ordinance) by leasing them for more than 30 days to third parties (e.g. corporations, apartment brokers). These intermediaries then rent the apartments for anywhere from a day or two to a few weeks to a month or two.
A simple amendment to the Apartment Conversion Ordinance that changes “you cannot rent an apartment for less than 30 days” to “you cannot rent or occupy an apartment for less than 30 days” would prevent Golden Gateway and others from renting apartments for anywhere from a few days to up to four weeks. Preventing 30-60 day rentals would be a more complicated matter.
The DEIR must address how constructing 8 Washington could encourage, help fund and accelerate Mr. Foo’s conversion of the 1,200 units at Golden Gateway from rent controlled apartments to hotel use as well as the impacts this would have on the city’s housing goals as set forth in the San Francisco’s 2009 Housing Element and its RHNA goals. For instance, if we’re converting housing to non-housing (hotel) uses as fast or faster than we are creating new housing units, we will never dig ourselves out of our current housing crisis and that outcome would have catastrophic impacts on the environmental and economic sustainability of San Francisco as a city.
The DEIR must also describe, in detail, the kind of mitigations (see above) that, if enacted, could mitigate the potential impact of losing more that 165 rent controlled apartments at the Golden Gateway, erasing the gain, on paper, of 165 luxury condos.
IV. FREQUENT USE OF THE WORD “PRIVATE” AS A MODIFIER OF THE GOLDEN GATEWAY RECREATION FACILITIES THROUGHOUT THE DEIR IS BOTH MISLEADING AND INNACCURATE IN LIGHT OF THE RECENT PRIVITIZATION AND FEE STRUCTURES IMPOSED ON THE CITY’S “PUBLIC’ RECREATION FACILITIES AND SWIMMING POOLS.
The current fee structure for public recreation facilities in San Francisco results in situations where the cost of attending ‘public’ pools can often exceed fees charged by the “private” Golden Gate Tennis & Swim Center (GGTSC).
The use of the term “private” in this context throughout the DEIR appears to be an attempt to justify the loss of GGTSC facilities for the 3-4 years that it would be shut down if the “preferred project” were approved (see section I.A for actual construction schedule) as well as the permanent loss of five of nine tennis courts, the basketball court and the current, family-friendly ground level swimming pools, Jacuzzi and open space.
In the past, the city’s public recreation facilities, including its swimming pools, were “public” in every sense of the word—open long-hours, open 6-7 days a week and “free” to residents. In recent years, however, the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department has increased resident user fees, reduced hours and increased the privatization of its facilities in response to ongoing budget deficits. Today, both the ‘private’ Golden Gateway facility and ‘public’ pools are open to anyone, anyone who is willing to pay the fees that they charge. Neither is free.
A. The DEIR fails to discuss the privatization of the City’s recreation centers: According to a 7/9/11 SF Chronicle article, the city is now leasing 23 of its 47 recreation centers to outside interests (e.g. nursery schools, private classes) with the city staffing only a dozen (12) of the 47 former “public” recreation centers. Seven (7) of the remaining recreation centers are under renovation and five (5) are vacant, unavailable for any kind of use “because no one has leased them and there is no money for city workers to run them”. Out of a total of 47 city recreation centers, only 12 are staffed by city workers who run programs for residents, many of them for a fee, during reduced days and hours.
The City also runs nine “public” swimming pools in neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Mission, Bayview, Visitacion Valley, etc. These pools used to be open five or six days a week and were free for residents. Today, residents pay $5 for each swim and $7 for adult swim lessons/water exercise. Children under 17 pay $1 per swim and $2 for swim lessons/water exercise ($3 for a swim & a class together).
Active Recreation Facilities: Public vs. Private… is there a difference anymore?
Each time a family of two adults goes to a city pool it costs $10 per visit to swim and up to $14 per visit if they participate in swim lessons or water exercise. If that family went three times a week, it would cost them $120-$168 per month depending upon how many times they took a swim vs. participated in swim lessons/water exercise. That comes to at least $1,440 dollars per year. Additional swim lessons/water exercise classes drive costs of using a “public” pool even higher.
Now imagine a family of two adults living at the Golden Gateway who currently swim every day at the Golden Gate Tennis and Swim Center. At the city’s North Beach (public) pool, it would cost them $200 a month ($10/swim X 20 days) to swim Tuesday through Saturday (the pool is closed Sunday/Monday) and their schedules would have to match specific windows each day when the pool is available for adult lap swimming. Compare that to the two pools at the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Center—one just for swimming laps; one for kids, families and seniors that are open seven days a week for longer hours.
B. Comparative Costs. Because our hypothetical couple live at the Golden Gateway Apartments they automatically receive a discounted membership of about $170 per month ($85 each) to use the two pools, full gym across the street and have the ability to reserve tennis courts at $20 per use. Since the Golden Gateway was built (1960’s), residents have always received discounted membership at this facility, one of two community benefits Redevelopment required, along with Sidney Walton Square, in exchange for entitlements to build both the Golden Gateway (1,150 rental units) and the adjacent Gateway Commons (condominiums). Redevelopment felt both amenities were needed to meet the open space and active recreation needs of what was to become one of the densest residential communities in San Francisco and discounted the land for the GGTSC and Gateway Commons in exchange for the owner maintaining an active recreation facility at the GGTSC in perpetuity.
Even for those who don’t get the Golden Gateway resident discount, memberships to the Tennis and Swim Center that don’t include automatic access to the tennis courts cost about $220 a month to swim 30 days a month, the same price two adults would pay to swim only 20 days a month at the North Beach pool, a facility with no gym and only one pool and therefore greater restrictions on when they could swim laps. It should also be noted that over 300 “guests” are admitted free to the Golden Gateway recreation facility each month, a total of 3,000 to 4,000 guests each year. We are not familiar with a similar policy for free guests at the North Beach pool (or any other city pools).
Clearly, the recent privatization and escalating fee structures at the city’s “public” recreation centers/swimming pools have erased any real distinctions between public facilities and private facilities as viewed by local families and residents. But one of 8 Washington’s main justifications for closing the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Center for 3-4 years during construction—and downsizing the replacement facility—
is that it is a “private” club maintained for the selfish interests of the few.
Putting aside the fact that 8 Washington’s condos will cost $2 million each to build and will sell for $2.5 to $5 million each and up (for upper floors), making them unaffordable to 97% of all San Franciscans (talk about catering to “the few”), the issue of who uses the current recreation facilities on this site is an important one that the DEIR must address. The similarities outlined above between today’s Golden Gateway recreation facilities and the City’s current “public” recreation centers/swimming pools contradicts the impression created by the DEIR in its current form with so many derogatory references to GGTSC as a ‘private’ club.
It is imperative that public officials have the information outlined above regarding the current costs of “public” recreation in front of them so they can decide for themselves what distinctions, if any, exist in today’s world between this ‘private’ club and so called “public” alternatives. This information is precisely what an EIR is suppose to provide to officials charged with making these kinds of decisions.
For these reasons, we must insist that you provide—in the Comments and Responses document—a clear, complete explanation of this issue, with a chart (see attached for potential template) that compares the facilities, hours, programs and costs to San Francisco residents of the city’s nine (9) “public” swimming pools with the current Golden Gateway recreation facility fee structure. Without such an analysis critical information will be lacking, information that Planning Commissioners, Park and Recreation Commissioners, Port Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors will clearly need as they assess the validity of the developer’s claims about who is served by the current facilities (and what environmental impacts they have) versus those who’ll be served by the proposed project (and its environmental impacts).
Without this information, it will be difficult for these public bodies to make informed decisions as to whether to grant or not grant the conditional use authorizations, upzonings and dozens of separate approvals and permits needed for this complicated and controversial project to proceed.
V. THE DEIR FAILS TO ADDRESS OR ANALYZE ANY OF THE MAJOR ECONOMIC ISSUES RELATED TO THIS PROJECT, ISSUES THAT HAVE SIGNIFICANT ENVIRONMENTAL AND FINANCIAL IMPACTS ON THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE CITY.
Several of the project sponsor’s and the Port’s objectives for this project speak to the “economic” benefits of the project for the developers, the Port and the City. The DEIR and other Port documents talk about the need to develop SWL 351 in order to generate revenue for badly needed Port infrastructure work. But the Port’s financial term sheet for this project is unrealistic, misleading and relies on depriving the city of $32 million in general fund dollars as part of a proposed Infrastructure Financing District.
This section addresses the DEIR’s lack of analysis or scrutiny regarding the ‘alleged’ financial benefits of the project as described in the Port’s Term Sheet for Seawall Lot 351 with San Francisco Waterfront Partners (“Term Sheet”) and how that Term Sheet, if executed, would have very real environmental impacts with regard to transit, open space, recreation, housing and population. An examination of the Term Sheet demonstrates that the stream of income on which the term sheet’s finances rely cannot be achieved. An objective analysis of “payments” described in this Term Sheet leads one to a much more pessimistic set of income projections than those presented in the September 23, 2010 Director’s Recommendation to the Port Commission. That report describes three payment sources as follows:
(1) a land lease with annual payments of $120,000 per year;
(2) future payments triggered by resale of condos created by the Project;
(3) a to-be-established Infrastructure Financing District (IFD) that allows
a portion of growth in property taxes to be reinvested in public facilities;
That third source of funding is particularly troubling since it requires a sizeable appropriation of City General Fund revenues ($32 million) by the Port for its own purposes. We will now examine each of these proposed “payment” schemes to determine how realistic they are as well as the potential environmental and economic consequences they create for San Francisco’s residents and taxpayers:
1. Lease Payments. It is easy to refute the likelihood of the $120,000/year lease payment for parcels to be used as open space with related facilities. The second paragraph of Director’s Recommendation (page 5) states: “If engineering and cost analyses deem additional funding is needed to finance agreed upon public improve- ments, the Port agrees to designate some or all of the $120,000 per year park rent to augment financing of these public improvements.” If the developer produces “engineering and cost analyses” showing “additional funding is needed to finance agreed upon public improvements,” the Port will “designate some or all of the $120,000/year in park rent to finance public improvements,” improvements that the developer is responsible for. Suddenly this $120,000 of alleged “rent” could become no rent. Is that likely to happen? You be the judge:
A Little Recent History
The developer of 8 Washington is San Francisco Waterfront Partners, a partnership between Pacific Waterfront Partners and CALSTRS, the same partnership that developed Piers 1½, 3 and 5 across the street. According to the Port’s rent rolls, San Francisco Waterfront Partners makes rent payments for Piers 1½, 3 and 5 of $41,666.67 per month or $500,000 annually. But 90% of this is wiped out by a rent credit of a $450,000 annual rent credit ($37,500.00 per month). This means that the actual rent for Piers 1½, 3 and 5 paid by San Francisco Waterfront Partners isn’t $500,000/year, but $50,000/year or 1/10 of the original rent. Knowing this, it seems highly likely that the Port will grant a similar rent credit to 8 Washington, a credit that it has already offered in the Term Sheet approved last year.
The DEIR needs to discuss this and ask the following questions to help establish for public officials whether or not 8 Washington has the possibility of generating resources to fix up the Port’s historic infrastructure.
Was the $450,000 rent rebate given Piers 1½, 3 and 5 given for “public improvements” in the same way the 8 Washington Term Sheet proposes to give 8 Washington an up-to-$120,000/year (100%) rebate for “public improvements?
How much of this $120,000/year lease payment to the Port is guaranteed?
Based on recent history with this developer (see above box), it would appear that claiming a $120,000 per year lease payment is, at best, a gross overestimate.
2. Future payments triggered by resale of condos (aka increased transfer tax). The second source of payments (around $25 MILLION over life of the lease) involves the developer recording covenants “committing all owners to transfer payments to the Port of ½ percent of sale value for all sales of the residential condominiums and all re-sales of commercial condominiums” (from Director’s Report, Page 4), in other words, a ‘voluntary’ increase in the transfer tax.
This idea of obligating future owners to a special transfer “fee” was already tried, unsuccessfully, several years ago by then Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office as a way to provide ‘stimulus’ for large condo developers with approved projects who were trying to get financing. In exchange for agreeing to binding future condo owners to ‘voluntarily’ pay a 1% increase in the real estate transfer tax (but not calling it a “tax”), the Mayor’s Office proposed relieving the developers of 1/3 of their affordable housing requirement. That idea failed to get off the ground for both legal and political reasons. Regarding this proposal:
How does the Port plan to argue this increase in the real estate transfer TAX is not really a tax and do so in a way that convinces the Pacific Legal Foundation, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and SF Board of Realtors not to sue?
Mayor Newsom’s failed proposal did trigger an multi-stakeholder discussion of a broader, legally defensible strategy, going to the voters for a permanent, across the board increase in the transfer tax on ALL real estate transactions (above the median home price) generating tens of millions of dollars a year for affordable housing. A portion of this new money would fund traditional affordable housing built by non- profit housing development corporations, but a portion would also be available to for-profit housing developers to buy down their affordable housing obligations. All sides agreed to this compromise and to place it on the November 2010 ballot, because it HAD to go to the voters, just as the ½% transfer tax increase proposed in this Term Sheet would need voter approval.
NOTE: The reason that this proposal was not on the ballot that November, as reported in the New York Times, was because Mayor Newsom refused to support it or ANY tax increase, no matter how much support it had, for fear of giving his Republican opponent in the Lt. Governor’s race an issue to use against him in the 2010 election.
If the best legal and political minds in the city couldn’t figure out a way to “voluntarily” increase the real estate transfer tax without going to the voters then, how does the Port propose to do the same thing for 8 Washington now?
3. New IFD Funding Mechanism. The third weak link in this financing plan is the as yet “to-be-established Infrastructure Financing District (IFD) that will allow a portion of growth in property taxes to be reinvested in public facilities.” Port Director’s Recommendation, page 2. While the concept is an interesting one, it is in its infancy in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors is in the process of setting up a pilot IFD with seven or eight property owners on Rincon Hill to test this model.
To date, citywide discussions about the use of tax increment financing tools, such as the IFD, have linked their use to funding a larger set of neighborhood infrastructure needs and public benefits previously identified through adopted Area Plans such as Eastern Neighborhoods, Market Octavia and Rincon Hill and not for the specific needs of individual projects or developers (e.g. 8 Washington).
Looking ahead, it isn’t hard to imagine the kind of criteria the Board of Supervisors might adopt to determine what developments could avail themselves of IFDs. Those with significant legal, political and financial challenges, such as 8 Washington, would not score well. Nor would projects that dramatically reduce and eliminate active recreation facilities serving middle-income families and seniors for over 45 years. Finally, projects that undo decades old community benefits agreements, provided as part of a Redevelopment plan (e.g. Golden Gateway’s permanent active recreation center), probably wouldn’t pass muster .
Assuming the city eventually creates IFDs in certain circumstances, how does the Port make the case for THIS project, given the growing political and legal opposition to it, the long standing community resource that it destroys and the fact that the Board of Supervisors won’t give up $32 million for it (see below).
4. Diversion of property taxes from the General Fund to the Port. The majority of the 8 Washington/SWL 351 site is NOT Port property, but under the jurisdiction of the City and County of San Francisco. Exhibit A of the Term Sheet shows the boundary of the 0.64 acre under Port control (SWL 351) and the 2.51 acres portion currently privately owned by Golden Gateway on AB168, 171, 291 (80% of the site). SWL 351 (the Port land) is only 20% of the total development site.
While these blocks were under the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Agency, the property tax increment was diverted from the City’s General Fund to that Agency. Following termination of the Redevelopment project area several years ago, however, ALL property tax revenue from this land flows to the General Fund. The Port now proposes to divert the property tax increment from the portion of this site NOT UNDER PORT JURISDICTION away from the General Fund and to the Port.
The Port Director’s Term Sheet Recommendation on page 6 proposes “a new Port IFD” covering both SWL 351 and the Golden Gate Tennis and Swim Club (WHICH IS NOW ENTIRELY UNDER THE CITY’S JURISDICTION AND TAXING AUTHORITY). Under the “new Port IFD” all the property tax increment from development on non-Port property would be diverted FROM the General Fund TO the Port. Toward the end of the Term Sheet recommendation the Port Director does state that the Board of Supervisors would have to agree to this arrangement, which prompts several questions that should have been asked and answered in the DEIR:
Who from the city, not the Port, agreed to including these IFD financial terms in the Term Sheet?
Which members of the Board of Supervisors were consulted regarding this planned appropriation of property tax revenue from the city’s general fund?
What would lead the Port to think ANY current or future Board of Supervisors would ‘voluntarily’ turn over $32 million in General Fund dollars to the Port, providing a $32 MILLION CITY SUBSIDY FOR LUXURY CONDOS when the Board is struggling with massive budget deficits, layoffs and cuts to vital city programs?
The DEIR must address whether or not this project is financially viable because if it is not, then the public facilities and infrastructure the project has promised to provide cannot be built. The DEIR must also assess the likelihood of the Board of Supervisors turning over $32 million in General Fund monies as a subsidy to the Port for this and other Port projects and analyze what environmental impacts this loss of $32 million to the city would create over time: what parks wouldn’t be maintained, which parks and recreation centers closed, what transit lines discontinued or run less frequently, etc.; actions that would not have been necessary had the city kept that $32 million. Specifically, the DEIR must answer the following questions:
Can 8 Washington’s public facilities (e. g. Jackson Commons, other open space) ever be built with IFD funding, given that:
a) the IFD is predicated on the Port capturing 100% of the tax increment generated by 8 Washington even though the Port only owns 20% of the site, and
b) according to recent testimony before the Planning Commission by Michael Yarne (OEWD), under state law IFD’s are prohibited on land that “is currently, or was previously part of a redevelopment area”?
Under what circumstances does the Port anticipate that the current (or a future)
Board of Supervisors would voluntarily give up its 80% of this tax increment
($32 million out of $40 projected by the Port) to fund public improvements for
LUXURY CONDOS at 8 Washington or other Port projects?
Has the Port had any discussions with the Board of Supervisors regarding this?
If so, what was the Board’s reaction?
Has the Port or project sponsor had state legislation passed (or introduced) that
provides the necessary waivers from the current state prohibition against
setting up IFD’s in former redevelopment areas?
Again, this is information that public officials must have to make informed, objective
decisions about the impacts of this project.
VI. THE DEIR FAILS TO DISCLOSE THAT 8 WASHINGTON IS THE FOURTH ATTEMPT TO CONVERT THE GOLDEN GATEWAY TENNIS & SWIM CLUB FROM CITY MANDATED ACTIVE RECREATION USE TO CONDOMINIUMS. IT PRESENTS VERY BRIEF AND MISLEADING INFORMATION REGARDING THE HISTORIC RECORD SUPPORTING THE REQUIREMENT TO PRESERVE THE CURRENT ACTIVE RECREATION FACILITIES ON SITE IN PERPETUITY.
The DEIR addresses this issue very briefly in a footnote on page II.3 that states:
2 The original development agreement governing the Golden Gateway Center Lots required the developer to provide non-profit community facilities as part of the overall development with the Golden Gateway Center. In Section 4 (a) of the Agreement for Disposition of Land for Private Development (“Agreement”) between Perini-San Francisco Associates (the “Developer’) and the Redevelopment Agency, dated August 27, 1962, the Developer agreed to maintain “community facilities of a permanent nature… designed primarily for use on a nonprofit basis” (page 25 of the Agreement). Subsequent to the Agreement, the Agency and Golden Gateway Center (the successor to the Developer) entered into a Second Supplement and Amendment to the Agreement (“Second Supplement”) on March 14, 1976. Section 1(d) of the Second Supplement deleted Section 4(a) of the agreement (page 12 of Second Supplement) and thereby removed the requirement to maintain community facilities on the property in exchange for the dedication of Sydney Walton Park for perpetual use as a public park.
This interpretation of those documents contradicts evidence previously by individuals with intimate, first hand knowledge of those Golden Gateway redevelopment agreements. Those comments are attached as:
Exhibit A: A May 9, 1984 letter from then Mayor Dianne Feinstein that begins:“As a supervisor and as mayor, I have a long history with the redevelopment plan and agree with those who maintain that this site has always been considered set aside for recreation and open space.”
Exhibit B: An August 8, 1990 letter from Robert Rumsey to then redevelopment director Ed Helfeld that states:
“I happened to be Deputy Director of Redevelopment in the late 1950’s and early
1960’s when the Golden Gateway redevelopment plan was adopted by the city and
when Perini Corp. was subsequently selected as the developer of the Golden Gateway
over eight other competitors… I feel it is important to place on the record the view of
the staff and commissioners of the agency at the time of selection: The provision of that
open space and recreational space was a significant factor in the selection of the
Perini proposal. And clearly, the space was presumed to be kept that way in
perpetuity” (underlining Mr. Rumsey’s).
Exhibit C: A January 24, 2003 letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein reiterating that:
“I have a long history with the redevelopment area at Washington and Drumm Streets
and concur with those who believe this space was intended for recreation and open
space. Please oppose further development of the Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club.”
These letters came in reaction to THREE previous unsuccessful attempts to develop the Golden Gateway Recreation Center as condominiums. Those attempts included:
1. Perini Corp. (early 80’s). The original developer of the Golden Gateway project proposed replacing the Golden Gate Tennis & Swim Club (GGT&SC) with a 9-story condominium project, in violation of its original approvals for the larger project that called for the GGTSC to serve as one of two major community benefits (along with Sidney Walton Sq.) in perpetuity. NOTE: This took place after the Second Supplement and Amendment to the Agreement referenced in Footnote 2 (above) was executed. Clearly, then Mayor Feinstein, had a very different interpretation of the Second Supplement than that of the author of Footnote 2 when she says in her letter that “I agree with those who maintain that this site has always been considered set aside for recreation and open space.”
2. Perini Corp. (early 90’s). Again the owners of the Golden Gateway proposed replacing the project’s active recreation center with a condo project. This time, a letter from former Redevelopment Director Robert Rumsey date 8/8/90 provides extensive evidence that the interpretation of events contained in Footnote 2 is neither complete nor accurate. His detailed first hand description of that transaction which took place in the 1970’s is quite instructive. In addition to his comment that:
“I feel it is important to place on the record the view of the staff and commissioners
of the agency at the time of selection: The provision of that open space and
recreational space was a significant factor in the selection of the Perini proposal.
And clearly, the space was presumed to be kept that way in perpetuity”
his letter states that “if it is now proposed that there is a loophole permitting that space to be invaded by condominiums, I would consider that to be most unfortunate for the city” and describes the land use negotiations that allowed Perini to substitute 155 low-rise condos for the four remaining high-rise rental towers that were suppose to be built as Phase III of the redevelopment plan. According to Rumsey, the agency finally, “albeit reluctantly” agreed to let Perini make this change “because some seven years had elapsed since completion of Phase II and there was otherwise no prospect for building on those long-barren blocks”.
Rumsey then states that the Agency’s October 28, 1975 minutes show the debate over what the Agency should charge Perini for the land that made up Phase III (now Gateway Commons condominiums) focused on “whether it should be $8.45 a square foot, the price established 15 years earlier, or a more realistic 1975 price of $15-$20 a square foot”. He then states:
“My new successor, Arthur F. Evans, said he might agree with the higher number if
the land was offered without restrictions, such as requirements of open space. And
he added: Amenities such as Sidney Walton Square and the Golden Gateway tennis
courts were on land that was not income producing, and since no one could build
highrise buildings on this area, its value could be considered zero.”
As a result of this discussion, according to Rumsey, “Evans and the commission agreed to hold the land sales price to the original $8.45 a square foot, as the agency continued to view the open and recreation space to be in perpetuity.”
Based on Rumsey’s letter and substantial community opposition, this second attempt to replace the GGT&SC was defeated.
3. John Hamilton, developer (2003-04). In the mid-90’s Perini sold Golden Gateway to Timothy Foo and a group of investors. In 2003, developer John Hamilton proposed another condo tower on the site. Senator Feinstein’s January 24, 2003 letter was responding to that proposal. After reiterating her conclusion that “this space was intended for recreation and open space”, she goes on to say, “increasing the height of the Club would drastically change the picturesque panorama of the Bay and would create shadow effects on the newly constructed Embarcadero. Further, development of more residential units would increase traffic noise and pollution, and disregard the original understanding between City officials and area residents that open space and recreational amenities should be preserved.”
4. Current 8 Washington Street/SWL 351 proposal is the 4th Attempt (2006-present) to develop condos on this site and demolish the Golden Gateway’s active recreation center, a facility that’s successfully fulfilled its intended purpose for almost 50 years.
In his written comments on 8 Washington’s DEIR dated August 11, 2010, Mr. Edward Helfeld, Director of the Redevelopment during the second attempt to demolish the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club speaks to the original purpose of the facility, how it has successfully served San Francisco’s recreation needs for over four decades and how relatively inexpensive it is compared to other tennis facilities in the city. He also writes that “As Executive Director (1987-1994) I was in total support of retaining Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club”.
Any public official or member of the general public reading the current DEIR would have no knowledge of these three previous attempts to build on this site, their outcome and the role former city officials have played in confirming that the Golden Gateway active recreation center was meant to be preserved as an active recreation center in perpetuity. The Comments and Responses to the 8 Washington Street/SWL 351 DEIR must include this historic information in order to be considered accurate, complete and objective.
VII. ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ON THE 8 WASHINGTON DEIR
A. The DEIR’s Introduction presents confusing and conflicting information regarding how, when and by whom environmental review for this project was initiated. The first two paragraphs of the DEIR’s Introduction (pg. Intro.1) raise some troubling questions about how environmental review for 8 Washington was carried out that need to be addressed more completely and forthrightly. The timeline for environmental review is described as follows (quoting from the DEIR):
1. “On January 3, 2007, an environmental evaluation application (EE application) was filed by San Francisco Waterfront Partners II (the “project sponsor”) on behalf of the Golden Gateway Center for a project at 8 Washington Street and the adjacent Seawall Lot 351, which is owned by the Port….(the Port is not a co-sponsor of the proposed project, but has authorized San Francisco Waterfront Partners II to submit an EE application that includes Seawall Lot 351).”
2. “On August 15, 2008, the Port issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of Seawall Lot 351. Two parties submitted timely proposals: SF Waterfront Partners II and a development group led by Dhaval Panchal (which later withdrew its proposal).”
3. “On November 10, 2008, the Port reissued the RFP for this project.”
4. “On February 24, 2009, the Port Commission authorized Port staff to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with SF Waterfront Partners II, finding that the proposal submitted by SF Waterfront Partners II meets the requirements of the RFP and meets the Port’s objectives for Seawall Lot 351.”
It appears from this timeline that the ‘project sponsor’, SF Waterfront Partners, was selected to carry out the 8 Washington project on January 3, 2007 when they were “authorized” (by the Port) to submit an Environmental Evaluation (EE) application officially beginning environmental review. However, there’s no explanation in the DEIR as to why, 18 months later (August 2008), the Port decided to issue an official RFP to select a developer for Seawall Lot 351.
This makes no sense given that Seawall Lot 351 was included in the January 3rd EE application submitted by SF Waterfront Partners (if not as designated developer, then in what capacity?). Then three months later (November 2008), we’re told the Port reissued the RFP with no explanation as to why. Finally, on Feb. 24, 2009, twenty five months after SF Waterfront Partners filed the EE application and began the environmental review process, the Port Commission authorizes staff to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with SF Waterfront Partners (SFWP) to develop SWL 351. This raises troubling questions that need to be addressed in the DEIR to give public officials (and the general public) a clearer sense of the appropriateness, completeness and legality of the current environmental review process.
The DEIR must explain:
1. Is this how environmental review is normally sequenced? Is it routine for a developer that has not yet been selected by the Port to undertake a specific project, let alone negotiated an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the Port for said project, to submit an EE application to Planning for this project that they haven’t yet been selected to develop and then for the Port, eighteen months later, to issue the first RFP to select a developer for the project and have a developer other than the one who submitted the EE respond to the RFP—then drop out (with no explanation why in the DEIR), then have the RFP reissued six months later and then finally,
25 months after the current developer of 8 Washington submitted the EE, the Port finally selects said developer (SFWP) as the official developer of 8 Washington and begins negotiating an ENA? Is this NORMAL procedure?
2. How could the Port authorize SFWP’s EE application without a written agreement designating SFWP as the approved developer of SWL351? Is this standard procedure in these matters?
3. If this EE process was, in fact, legal prior to August 2008, why did the Port reverse course on August 15, 2008 and issue an RFP for SWL 351 (a site already included in the EE application filed 18 months earlier)? Doesn’t the initial applicant in the EE process have to be either the property owner or his designated developer and be able to demonstrate site control? How would that have been possible back in January 3, 2007 for SWL 351?
4. What role did SFWP play in drafting the RFP (and Port’s objectives for SWL351)?
5. What reasons did the second respondent to RFP give for “withdrawing his proposal?”
6. Why was the RFP reissued on November 10, 2008?
7. When on January 3, 2007, the Planning Department accepted an environmental evaluation application (EE) “filed by San Francisco Waterfront Partners II (the “project sponsor”) on behalf of Golden Gateway Center for a project at 8 Washington Street and the adjacent Seawall Lot 351”, was Planning aware that San Francisco Waterfront Partners had not been and could not be legally designated as “project sponsor” for SWL 351 at that time?
8. Why didn’t the fact that SFWP had no legal basis to claim that it was the “project sponsor” for SWL 351 invalidate the EE application? The DEIR states that the Port “authorized San Francisco Waterfront Partners II to submit an EE application that includes Seawall Lot 351” but wouldn’t that imply SFWP would eventually be selected as the developer and discourage other developers from submitting responses to the Port’s August 15, 2008 RFP given that SFWP had been working with Planning staff on the environmental evaluation for 18 months already?
9. Is what happened in January 2007 legal? If not, when did the Planning Department become aware of this problem and what did it do about it?
10. Having now publicly described this chronology in the DEIR, what legal impact does this have today on the environmental and project review process?
11. Would any other developer be allowed to begin the environmental review process on a project for which they had neither been designated developer nor had site control?
These questions MUST be answered in the DEIR given the bizarre and confusing chronology that now appears in it regarding how environmental review was initiated for this project.
B. In other Port documents related to 8 Washington, San Francisco Waterfront Partners II is described as a partnership between Pacific Waterfront Partners (PWP) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). However, the involvement of CalSTRS in this project appears nowhere in the DEIR. Given that CalSTRS has already spent over $23 million dollars in predevelopment funds for 8 Washington, the DEIR must contain some mention of CalSTRS as a member of this partnership and the fact that the same partnership (PWP and CalSTRS) developed Piers 1½, 3 and 5 across The Embarcadero from this site.
Finally, the first sentence of the Introduction to the DEIR refers to the fact that “on January 3, 2007 an environmental evaluation application (EE) was filed by SF Waterfront Partners on behalf of the Golden Gateway Center for a project at 8 Washington”. That footnote references “Golden Gateway Center, Authorization Letter from Timothy Foo dated Dec. 27, 2006.”
For this DEIR to be complete and accurate it must address several key questions including:
1. Who is developing this project? Pacific Waterfront Partners? CalSTRS? Golden Gateway Center (Timothy Foo)? What are their relationships to each other and the proposed project?
2. What precisely is the relationship between these three entities and the Port?
3. What was the understanding between SFWP, Timothy Foo and the Port when SFWP submitted its EE application on behalf of Golden Gateway Center? All three are mentioned in the relevant discussion in the DEIR.
C. The DEIR is inadequate and incomplete due to its failure to include A Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront. The DEIR is inadequate and biased in discussing the Planning Department’s Northeast Embarcadero Study (NES), while failing to include an equally detailed discussion of the background and recommendations of the study prepared by Asian Neighborhood Design entitled A Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront, dated February 2011, which was presented to the Planning Commission on July 7, 2011.
The second sentence in the third paragraph of the Introduction states that the purpose of the Northeast Embarcadero Study (NES) was “to foster consensus on the future of Seawall Lot 351 and at other seawall lot properties on the northern waterfront” and leaves the reader with the impression that it succeeded in this goal by stating how many public workshops were held (five) and “on July 8, 2010, the San Francisco Planning Commission adopted a resolution that it ‘recognizes the design principles and recommendations of the Study’ and urges the Port of San Francisco to consider the recommendations of the NES when considering proposals for new development in this area”.
To be accurate and truthful, the DEIR should mention the level of anger and frustration expressed by the majority of the public that attended these five workshops who felt the Port, who was paying for the NES, was dictating its conclusions in order to facilitate the approval of the
8 Washington. For example, when 30-40 people at a workshop opposed the notion advanced by Planning staff that The Embarcadero needed a “hard edge” and that “higher heights” were appropriate for the 8 Washington site and only 6-8 people expressed support for these ideas, the notes from that meeting would later say that opinion was divided on these matters. To its credit, the Planning Department states clearly in the final draft of the NES that they failed in their goal of achieving consensus on the future of SWL 351.
The DEIR needs to include this information to provide a more accurate representation of the outcome of the NES process.
People were so upset by what they perceived as a transparent attempt to ‘justify’ 8 Washington, that they began their own community-based planning process to address the larger issues of reconnecting Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill to the Waterfront; healing the wounds left by the ramps to the Embarcadero Freeway by making Broadway, Washington and Clay Streets more pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly; and fostering consensus on the future of Seawall Lot 351 and at other seawall lot properties on the northern waterfront.
Four major community organizations representing thousands of local residents, small businesses and property owners became the primary sponsors/organizers of this “Community Vision for the Northeast Waterfront” and hired Asian Neighborhood Design to assist them in developing it. These organizations included: Friends of Golden Gateway; Golden Gateway Tenants Association; Telegraph Hill Dwellers and Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association. Stakeholders from Chinatown, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf and other neighborhoods also participated.
On July 7, 2010, when the Planning Department staff presented the NES to the Planning Commission, AND and the four sponsors of the “Community Vision for the Northeast Waterfront” were invited to present a summary of their planning work to date.
The DEIR fails to make any mention of the alternative plan created by these four community groups with AND’s help. It needs to describe this study, how it differs from Planning’s NES and include it in the final EIR so public officials can evaluate the merits of both studies for themselves.
The DEIR must describe the reasons why this alternative community planning process was undertaken and include a detailed discussion how the proposed project would or would not conform to each of the recommendations contained in A Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront?
I am attaching a copy of the AND Study: A Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront to these comments and ask that it be included in the EIR so that readers and public officials can gauge for themselves if it was more successful in “fostering consensus on the future of Seawall Lot 351 and at other seawall lot properties on the northern waterfront” than the Planning Department’s Northeast Embarcadero Study (NES).
D. The DEIR tries, unsuccessfully, to minimize the loss of iconic views of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill from in front of the Ferry Building with its argument about ‘episodic’ views and a new claim that “trees” already obscure the views of Coit Tower from in front of the Ferry Building, views enjoyed by millions of tourists, residents and office workers each year. As demonstrated in Figure IV.B-3: View B (page IV.B.7), the height and mass of the proposed project would completely obstruct views of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill currently seen from the Embarcadero Promenade at the northern end of the Ferry Building. This significant adverse effect on the visual quality and scenic vistas enjoyed by the public puts the project in direct conflict with a number of city and Port planning policies. The DEIR’s conclusion that this would not create a substantial adverse effect on a scenic vista because “Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill would continue to be visible from numerous vantage pointes in the vicinity of the Project site and the City” is a biased and subjective judgment that is not based on fact. This ‘episodic’ argument could be used to claim that NO building ever blocks an important view because if you walk far enough past the offending structure, you might get the view back.
The comment about trees blocking the view of Coit Tower from in front of the Ferry Building must be stricken from the document. I just came from standing at the main entrance of the Ferry Building and I could clearly see Coit Tower and most of Telegraph Hill. While several trees in front of the F-line stop across the street did impede the view around the edges, these trees could easily be pruned to eliminate the problem.
E. The DEIR’s Traffic and Transit Data is Seriously Out of Date.
The traffic data relied upon by the DEIR in reaching its conclusions is incredibly stale, having been based on surveys done in 2006-2007 and with 2000 census data (page IV.D.5 of the DEIR). These studies must be updated. For example, the assumptions made in the DEIR that the existing conditions at the Embarcadero/Broadway and Embarcadero/Washington intersections are “satisfactory” (at LOS D) defy logic. Anyone familiar with the real time conditions at these intersections knows that this assessment could not be based on a factual analysis of current conditions at peak periods which, by the way, often occur on weekends (not studied in DEIR).
Also out of date is the transit information relied upon by the DEIR in reaching its conclusion that the project would not result in significant transportation impacts to transit systems (Impact TR-2), having been based upon data on capacity and utilization of individual MUNI lines from 2007 (page IV.D.9 of the DEIR). This data should also be updated. For example, whoever was responsible for the assumption in the DEIR that the F-Line is not at capacity during peak periods has never ridden the F-line at peak periods. The America’s Cup will only make this worse.
F. The DIER belittles Pedestrian Safety Issues. The DEIR states that: “Conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles could occur at the project garage driveway, which could cause the potential inbound vehicles to queue onto Washington Street. Outbound vehicles would queue inside the garage and would not affect street traffic. Conflicts between outbound vehicles and pedestrians could still occur, but their effect on pedestrians would be reduced because pedestrians on the sidewalk have the right-of-way.” (page IV.D.25). I’m sure the fact that pedestrians have the right-of-way is of great comfort to families of children and seniors who’ve been struck and killed by cars. This statement is insulting and MUST be stricken from the DEIR. It’s also not true.
In the very next paragraph the DEIR makes the following statement about these potential vehicular and pedestrian conflicts at the garage driveway:
“The number of vehicles and pedestrians per minute are relatively small (about one vehicle and three pedestrians every 30 seconds on average) and it is therefore not anticipated that the proposed project would cause any major conflict or interfere with pedestrian movements in the area.” (page IV.D.25)
These numbers translate to 2 cars and 6 pedestrians every minute or 120 cars and 360 pedestrians an hour (or approximately 1,440 cars and 4,320 pedestrians coming into potential conflict in any given 7 am to 7 pm period). The DEIR’s conclusion that such conflict between vehicles and pedestrian movement would be “less than significant” makes no logical sense and is simply not supported by the facts presented in the DEIR.
G. The DEIR must include a new fence around the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club in its NO PROJECT Alternative. Finally, the comments often heard about the “ugly green fence” around the GGTSC reminds us that the DEIR must let the reader know that it is the owner of the property, Mr. Timothy Foo, who is responsible for the ugly “green fence”. First, he has put the GGTSC operator on a month-to-month lease making it difficult for them to make a substantial investment in a nicer fence. Second, Mr. Foo himself stands to gain financially if 8 Washington is approved, so he has no incentive to fix the fence since its unsightliness is being used as an argument for demolishing the current facility. This simplest way to correct this bias would be to:
Include a rendering of the site with a new, attractive fence in the NO PROJECT alternative .
For the reasons stated in this letter, I believe this DEIR is seriously incomplete and inadequate to address the potentially significant impacts of this project. I urge you to revise the document and re-circulate it in draft form.