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The Prop B Backstory

Will this Prop B pickle seal the jar shut on future waterfront development? Experts at Bisnow's Future of the Waterfront gave us the details. (See Day 1 coverage here.)

SPUR deputy director Sarah Karlinsky reminded the audience that Prop B grew from the enormous fight over 8 Washington on the waterfront, which turned into a lightning rod for the battle cry of "No Wall Over the Waterfront." That led to developers seeking height increases needing to take it to the ballot. Anything above 40 feet on Pier 70, for instance, needs to go to the voters. Seawall Lot 337 has a height limit of 0 feet, so basically building anything but "dollhouse furniture" needs to go to voters. 

Allen Matkins partner David Blackwell notes that drama continues to unfold. Two weeks ago, the State Lands Commission (which Gavin Newsom sits on) filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in attempt to "blow up" Prop B, says David. Sarah calls the lawsuit a fascinating read. The commission's assertion is that the California Legislature retains ultimate authority of the property—even over the voters of S.F. (If you sell pitchforks and/or torches, now might be a good time to move them to the front of the store.)

Wilson Meany managing partner Christopher Meany, who has successfully developed along the waterfront (Exploratorium, Ferry Building), says current conditions make it an unattractive place to develop. 8 Washington was a private piece of land proposed as residential project that had gone through 10 to 15 years of study and was a building that stepped down significantly in height from the one next to it. It's impossible to characterize that as a "Wall on the Waterfront" he says. Developers can invest extraordinary sums of money to create a project that goes through years of public transparency and engagement, but if we have to go to the ballot, it can be death by sound bite.

SF Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure exec director Tiffany Bohee says the promise of Mission Bay is just starting to be fulfilled, having gotten its entitlements back in 1998. Because plans were already approved it allows development to move forward in spite of Prop B. She thinks Piers 30-32 was a fantastic site and perhaps the Warriors Stadium could have worked there, but the long slog and regulatory soup got in the way.

Because of the port's unique status of not having access to the City's general funds, a lot of money comes from private developers. Port of San Francisco deputy director of planning and development Byron Rhett agrees Prop B would have a chilling effect on development of major land parcels, like the one adjacent to AT&T Ballpark. Bringing in private dollars will be more and more of a challenge, so Byron and the port are hoping to get more public dollars; it's working with the state to get tax credits, for example. Aspects of development the port is now starting to take on itself include open space (one is a park to compliment Forest City's Pier 70 project).

Turner Construction construction executive Steve Rule says there's great property along the port but so much of it (typically what's underneath) needs a lot of work. Even if a developer finds a perfect pier and can design/build in a way that's acceptable to politics of S.F., extra costs like strengthening new piles add to the overall price tag. (That's not something you'd see in a greenfield development.) Turner's cruise ship terminal project, which is working on getting 60 to 80 arrivals each year, is trying to get the most bang for its buck by doubling as special event space.

Above, some 400 attendees got their java on before panels started. One of the hottest topics was how the Warriors chose the Mission Bay site. It mostly includes private land, so what the Warriors purchased was certainty, says Tiffany. The Warriors project will help complete Mission Bay and enliven the area where biotech workers go home at night, she adds. When project sponsors of the Warriors Stadium ended up choosing the Mission Bay site over the Pier 30-32 one, Prop B proponents saw it as a win.