Concrete plans

Pub date February 4, 2009
WriterSarah Phelan


In the fractious atmosphere that dominates meetings concerned with Lennar’s plan to redevelop the economically depressed southeast sector of San Francisco, reality is relative to one’s perspective on this ambitious project.

At these meetings, competing factions within the Bayview’s predominantly African American community typically accuse each other — as well as the mostly white engineers, planners, and scientists that Lennar and the city hired to flesh out the details of their vaguely worded but voter-approved conceptual framework — of being sellouts and traitors.

The Jan. 28 meeting, where two local advisory committees endorsed Lennar’s draft urban design plan for a 770-acre Candlestick Point/Hunters Point Shipyard development, was typical. It was held at the Southeast Community Facility, within sniffing distance of a seismically suspect sewage treatment plant.

The committee’s endorsement came at the end of a meeting that was full of what critics labeled "disingenuous claims" by representatives from Lennar, the Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, and the city’s Planning Department; recriminatory accusations by community members; and disruptive chants of "A-B-Uuuu!" by a female member of Aboriginal Blackmen United, who claimed that ABU members have been starved for work at Lennar’s development. Records show Lennar paid ABU trainees $11,300 in fiscal year 2005–06 for work at the Shipyard’s Parcel A.

Fanning the flames was a report that local environmental nonprofit Arc Ecology released last month. Arc’s report faults Lennar’s urban design plan for not including comparisons with realistic alternatives and for failing to study the cumulative impact of the 15 developments, covering 1,500-2,000 acres, currently underway on the eastern waterfront.

"The practice of ‘island’ development prevents the city from conceiving a cohesive vision for the east waterfront," Arc Ecology’s January 15 report states. "Moreover, the piecemeal approach cannot adequately address the practical consequences of the addition of 50,000 new residences to the area."

Noting that Lennar’s proposal calls for a 60 percent increase in the neighborhood’s population as more than 20,000 new residents join the 33,000 people who already live in the neighborhood, Arc’s report lists alternatives that "would strengthen the economic, social and environmental benefits, while avoiding and reducing some significant impacts."

Financed by a California Wellness Foundation grant, Arc’s report stressed that it does not disagree with the stated objectives of Lennar’s development plan as laid out in Proposition G, which voters approved in June. In fact, the organization did little to voice its concerns before the election.

But the report has ruffled the feathers of city leaders, who seem hell-bent on moving the project forward and applying for funding from the federal economic stimulus package. The report calls for a focus on doing "bottom-up" ecological planning, creating real economic opportunities for the Bayview community, relocating the proposed football stadium, and removing the shipyard’s highly contaminated Parcel E2 from the project.

Noting that Lennar’s environmental impact report has yet to be completed, and that there has been no time to study Arc’s report, Citizens Advisory Committee member Scott Madison argued that delaying the endorsement would have no impact on Lennar’s home building or job creation schedule. "It’s not going to slow down anyone getting a job by even one day if we take a few days," Madison said. "But once we approve this — even a draft, even if folks are amenable to some changes — it has a certain kind of semi-concrete to it that’s difficult to chip away."

CAC member Diana Oertel voiced her objections to Lennar’s plan to divide the 170-acre Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, the Bayview’s only large open space that provides a place for recreation and an escape from urban living. "It’s not acceptable to me to see that area cut in half, gentrified, prettified, with housing going to edge of the park," Oertel said.

Project Area Committee member Leon Muhammad said there was no way the urban design plan should be endorsed "until we have addressed all the issues, until they come up with a complete plan that makes sense, not a half-baked plan."

But then PAC member Cedric Jackson asked to hear from folks in the audience who were hungry for jobs — at which point ABU folks yelled and raised hands. "I saw 80 percent of the community stand up and say, move this process forward," Jackson then asserted. "In 2000, we were 70 percent of the community, now we’re less than 50 percent. There is an out-migration and it’s not because we don’t like San Francisco, but we’re being forced out economically. So the longer you delay, the less of us will be there, especially with the economic conditions we’re facing."

Seconded by PAC member Gary Banks, Jackson moved to endorse Lennar’s draft design plan as-is, with only PAC members Muhammad and Kristine Enea, and CAC members Oertel, Madison, and Carmen Kelley dissenting.

Reached after the meeting, ARC Ecology’s Saul Bloom acknowledged that many of the problems people face in the Bayview are related to "tension over jobs." Yet he was surprised by the strong-arm tactics by proponents of a project that won’t generate jobs for at least another year.

"There’s this blind panic, this belief that if you hold up anything, you are going to stop the whole plan," Bloom told the Guardian. He hopes that now that the vote has passed, the city and Lennar will make good on verbal promises, made before and during the Jan. 28 meeting, to review Arc Ecology’s report.

"As Scott Madison pointed out, if we’d listened to these same we-have-to-vote-yes-now voices the last time around, when we were asked to endorse Phase A, we’d never have gotten the community-benefits program," Bloom said, adding that many of the current committee members are new and inexperienced. "So it’s hard for them to see through the rhetoric and pain."

"None of us want to derail the plan," continued Bloom, whose group also receives funding from the SFRA, which is overseeing the project. "What incentive do we have? Do we want to piss off the developers, contractors, and commissioners when our contract is up?"

"The city is under the impression that there is a broad base of support for this project, by virtue of Prop. G," Bloom said. "But they are unaware of the depth of dissatisfaction citywide with this project. People are saying, ‘this is insane.’<0x2009>"

Bloom believes ARC’s report raised the ire of city leaders because they feared it would fall into the wrong hands and be used in a political campaign. "But I believe the city has let the community down by not facilitating a dialogue," Bloom observed.

In addition to questions about location of the stadium, the design of the park, the bridge over Yosemite Slough, and plans to cap a radiologically impacted landfill on Parcel E2, Bloom says the hidden story in all of this is the "unstudied cumulative impacts of the all the city’s development projects on the eastern waterfront."

Together, these projects will create 30,000 new units and attract 50,000 new residents, with Lennar’s CP/HPS development creating 10,500 units, 75 percent of which are slated to sell at market-rate prices, with condos beginning at the $500,000 mark.

"Lennar can’t possibly think they can build this number of houses and sell them at these prices, at least not for the next four years," Bloom said. "The city should have had a public dialogue about the stadium options instead of pulling a plan directly off the shelf that a reliable stadium development firm did. They say they’ve studied all these other options, but where are the studies?"

Bloom notes that Prop. G was not a mandate to build a bridge over Yosemite Slough, and that the city is currently miscounting the parks and open space acreage.

"You wonder why people have no faith," Bloom said. "To whom did the city make the overwhelming case about the park, or about putting a bridge over the slough? It seems their attitude was, ‘Bayview is a crummy neighborhood, so let’s bulldoze and rebuild it,’ whereas we look at the park and say it’s a promise unfulfilled."

He believes that Arc’s recommendation to remove Parcel E2 is a no-brainer: "You are protecting public health and the environment, creating jobs that help people pay their mortgages, and you are making the property more marketable, so value increases."

With the city having publicly committed to reviewing Arc’s material, Bloom is hopeful that the city will put the results of that study into the EIR. "We are not promoting any particular outcome," Bloom said, observing that if Lennar builds 10,000 units, BVHP will no longer be a predominantly African American neighborhood. "We are trying to be the entity that raises the difficult questions that people in city have felt, but [have] been afraid to voice, because they fear those questions will be used to stop the project in its entirety."

Reached by phone, Michael Cohen of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development noted that Lennar’s draft urban-design plan was completed five months ago, has been vetted extensively, and now includes 32 specific modifications based on those hearings.

"These are issues that will be addressed further," Cohen said of Arc’s report. "Some are infeasible, based on extensive technical studies. But we believe that if there is a stadium, it’s in absolutely the right position and that ARC doesn’t have an alternative plan. They haven’t done the necessary studies and they haven’t presented alternative plans that actually work."

As for Arc’s contention that Parcel E2 could be dug up and hauled out, Cohen notes that the city is in a legally binding agreement with the United States Navy, which is obligated to clean up the shipyard to a standard consistent with the city’s intended use. "We don’t control what the remedy is…. [If state and federal environment regulators] say the Navy has got to dig and haul so we can safely use it as a waterfront park, then that’s what they’ll do."

Cohen insisted that the Alice Griffith public housing project will be rebuilt, whether the 49ers stay or not, and that Lennar’s project will invest $10 million to turn "a grossly underused state park into a site comparable to Crissy Field."