The fight over Proposition B, which goes to a vote on Tuesday, June 3rd, has been fairly one-sided thus far. After crushing the 8 Washington development, which would have allegedly erected a “Wall on the Waterfront,” the unlikely alliance between mega-rich property owners and progressives have enjoyed popular support against waterfront development. And because of that support, the opposition has been relatively silent regarding the ballot initiative which would require all development over 40 feet on Port property to be approved by voters—so quiet that ordinarily pro-development Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Scott Wiener aren’t fighting it.
But what makes the situation weird is so many progressives will privately admit that it’s terrible legislation, even if their clubs, employers, or candidates support it. So why is this a done deal? Are progressives really concerned about the Giants turning their sprawling parking lot into a public park and housing development?
Planning at the ballot box doesn’t make sense because the typical voter doesn’t have the time or background to analyze urban design, land use planning, or the tradeoffs involved in various options. A lot of people walk into the voting booth, read the one line description on the ballot, and vote. The current process for exceeding the height limit on a parcel takes years of meetings (public meetings for anyone interested in attending), approval of the Planning Commission, and approval of the Board of Supervisors. Changing a height limit cannot simply be done with an exception to the planning code: it involves rezoning that piece of land at a taller height, and it is not a simple process.
Our current planning process also has a number of public benefits built in. Developers must comply with affordable housing laws (either through a fee or providing on-site units), fees to pay for infrastructure and they are held to public scrutiny at numerous meetings where public comment is collected.
What is Proposition B proposing? Proposition B would require proposed projects to skip the typical approvals process and instead go to a vote of the people. Why does the City’s Planning Department think this is a bad idea? “There is a potential for developers to circumvent required City review and craft subsequent ballot initiatives that combine height increases with other aspects of project approval.”
How often to voters read the full text of things they are voting on? Not very often, I can assure you. Developers could hypothetically skip many steps of project approval by spending enough money to get a project approved at the ballot box without having to comply with all of the other rules that have been put in place to ensure a good outcome for the City and the residents of the area.