From the Election Night victory party for opponents of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo project, the overwhelming defeat of developer-backed Propositions B and C seemed to go beyond just this project. It sounded and felt like a blow against Mayor Ed Lee’s economic policies, the gentrification of the city, and the dominion that developers and power brokers have at City Hall.
“What started as a referendum on height limits on the waterfront has become a referendum on the mayor and City Hall,” former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the large and buoyant crowd, a message repeated again and again at the Nov. 5 gathering.
Former Mayor Art Agnos also cast the victory over 8 Washington as the people standing up against narrow economic and political interests that want to dictate what gets built on public land on the waterfront, driven by larger concerns about who controls San Francisco and who gets to live here.
“This is not the end, this is the beginning and it feels like a movement,” Agnos told the crowd. “We’ll have to tell the mayor that his legacy,” a term Lee has used to describe the Warriors Arena he wants to build on Piers 30-32,” is not going to be on our waterfront.”
Campaign Manager Jon Golinger also described the victory in terms of a political awakening and turning point: “We are San Francisco and you just heard us roar!”
Campaign consultant Jim Stearns told the Guardian that he thought the measures would be defeated, but everyone was surprised by the wide margin — the initiative B lost by 25 percentage points, the referendum C was 33 points down — which he attributed to the “perfect storm” of opposition.
Stearns cited three factors that triggered the overwhelming defeat: recent populist outrage over the city’s affordability crisis, concerns about waterfront height crossing ideological lines, and “a tone deaf City Hall that didn’t want to hear there were any problems with the project.”
Among the key project opponents who have sometimes stood in opposition to the city’s progressives was former City Attorney Louise Renne, who blasted City Hall and called the Planning Department “utterly disgraceful,” telling the crowd, “Get your rest, more to come, San Francisco.”
Both progressive and political moderates often share a distrust of the close connections between powerful developers and the Mayor’s Office, and that seemed to play out in this campaign and at the polls.
“San Francisco, this victory is for you,” Renne said. “And to all those developers out there: Do not mess with our waterfront. We’re not going to stand for it.”
Meanwhile, it was a very different scene over at the Yes on B and C party.
Developer Simon Snellgrove, whose 8 Washington project was soundly rejected despite his spending almost $2 million on the campaign, was in no mood to comment. “I’m having a little private party tonight,” he told us, “and I don’t want to talk to the press.”
Rose Pak, a consultant for the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce who is well-known for her ties to powerful interests in the city, had a small circle of guests around her throughout the night and spent some time catching up with Snellgrove. Asked to comment, Pak said, “I don’t know the Bay Guardian,” and stopped making eye contact. At previous events, Pak has lectured Guardian reporters about what she sees as the paper’s shortcomings.
“I think this project got caught up in a lot of other things,” Jim Lazarus, the vice president for public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, told us. “There was a lot of I think mistaken concern about the impact.”
He criticized the focus on building heights and the idea that it was about something more than just a waterfront development project. But this was the outcome, he said, because “an unholy alliance of people got together to oppose the project.”
Perhaps “unholy alliance” is in the eyes of the beholder, but the voters of San Francisco seemed to prefer the alliance that opposed 8 Washington and all that it has come to represent in San Francisco.