Tale of two parties: Was the 8 Washington defeat a referendum on City Hall?

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Sups. David Campos (at mic) and David Chiu address the No on Props. B&C party.
Steven T. Jones

From tonight’s victory party for opponents of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo project, the overwhelming defeat of developer-backed Propositions B&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 tonight.

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 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. And to all those developers out there: Do not mess with our waterfront. We’re not going to stand for it,” Renne said.

Two supervisors who opposed 8 Washington – David Chiu and Davis Campos – also spoke at the event, with the latter starting to define their political differences as they each run for the Assembly seat being vacated after next year by Tom Ammiano.

“Tonight, San Francisco said we stand for affordable housing and not luxury condos,” said Chiu, who played a pivotal role in appointing Lee as mayor and ending the progressive dominance on the Board of Supervisors.

Campos followed by noting, “I’ve been criticized for saying we’re seeing a tale of two San Franciscos, but that’s what we have here,” referencing a theme that echoes (as Chiu’s campaign operatives have critically noted) that of progressive Bill de Blasio, who also won a resounding victory tonight in the New York City mayor’s race.

“We have a City Hall that, quite frankly, doesn’t get it,” Campos continued, referencing the redevelopment of Parkmerced’s rent control housing and today’s board vote to close city parks at night, both of which Chiu was the swing vote in approving. “When City Hall doesn’t get it right, the people of San Francisco step in.”

Peskin also stoked the class warfare fires by saying, “Your voices are being heard loud and clear in Simon Snellgrove's penthouse,” referencing the 8 Washington developer who spent nearly $2 million on this unsuccessful campaign. And Peskin said he had a message directly for Mayor Lee: “Wake up, San Francisco is talking!”

Judge Quentin Kopp, who fought downtown’s aggressive push for more high-rise development as a Westside supervisor back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, called tonight’s victory “history repeating itself,” mentioning the work that the Bay Guardian did in opposition to “the Manhattanization of San Francisco.”

Kopp also took a swipe at Mayor Lee, the protégé of Kopp’s old nemesis, former Mayor Willie Brown, when he said, “This is the beginning of the end of five more years of Willie Brown’s administration.”

Indeed, the current political moment is beginning to feel a little like 1999, when Brown won a narrow re-election victory against the upstart write-in campaign of progressive hero Tom Ammiano and a movement stirred by the evictions and gentrification of the last dot-com bubble. The next year, progressive candidates won a majority on the Board of Supervisors and held it for almost a decade.

One of those supervisors was Chris Daly, now political director of SEIU Local 1021, who was at the North Beach party and told the Guardian that while Mayor Lee has been trying to defend bad policies like his Twitter tax break and support for 8 Washington, the voters tonight really had their fingers on the pulse of the city: “I’d call this a referendum on Ed Lee’s policies in San Francisco.”

Meanwhile, it was a very different scene over at the Yes on B&C party:

The party was held at Coqueta, an upscale waterfront establishment just a stone's throw from the 8 Washington project site. Despite the trays of gourmet hors d'oeuvres and frothy mojitos floating past, the guests were subdued and the mood was not celebratory.

Developer Simon Snellgrove, whose 8 Washington project was essentially being flushed down the tubes tonight, 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.

Other notables included Jim Lazarus, who works on public policy for the Chamber of Commerce, P.J. Johnston, a former communications director for Willie Brown, and of course Tim Colen of the Housing Action Coalition and former planner Alec Bash, both of whom campaigned publicly for the project.

Mayor Ed Lee was expected to make an appearance but if he did, it was after the party's prime and after the Guardian had already left the scene.

After the first round of results came in, Colen addressed the crowd. "The returns are coming in and I have to tell you they don’t look good," he said. "It's pretty likely we're not going to prevail tonight." Then went onto recognize "some really magnificent warriors" in the room, including Snellgrove and Alicia Esterkamp Allbin, a Principal at development firm Pacific Waterfront Partners.

"We ran a wonderful campaign we can all be proud of,” he added. “It was going to be a wonderful activation for the waterfront. I think what we didn't see coming was how .. it somehow morphed into something much larger and was defined in different ways."

Lazarus told the Guardian, "I'm not optimistic," when asked early on in the night what he thought about the outcome. He added, "I think this project got caught up in a lot of other things."

"If it loses ... There was a lot of I think mistaken concern about the impact.”

Noting that the project went through months of approval but then was subject to a referendum and finally wound up on the ballot, 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 tonight, 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.

Comments

Clearly, the voters have once again overwhelmingly affirmed their stand on development, affordable housing, and neighborhood preservation. When lousy projects get rubber stamped by a servile planning commission and city government which has an all-too-cozy relationship with the 1%, we shouldn't be afraid to take it to the people.

I was disappointed that we didn't put Park Merced to a vote. We should have. Maybe we still can???

In any case, I hope that we do more of this in the future. The No Wall on the Waterfront coalition was totally right when they said this was about more than 8 Washington. This victory is a big deal. The implications will be far-reaching. On the front end, developers will be less likely to invest their money knowing they'll probably lose. The politicians will be more likely to listen to progressives on these issues, knowing that voters are on their side. And when all else fails, progressives will be more likely to put things to a vote.

No more 8 Washingtons. No more Park Merceds. We need to fight for our city again.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 1:12 am

Park Merced did not have anyone wealthy financing the referendum and the Tenants Union came up short on the sig gathering.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 5:46 am

I worked a bit on the Parkmerced campaign, and to my recollection it was a fight only at Planning and the Board. (Note that Parkmerced is correctly spelled as one word.)

There is now a lawsuit.

It is true however that Parkmerced would have been much harder to win on the ballot. Not impossible, but far more difficult.

8 Washington was easier to win because we had the clear issue of waterfront height limits to call to people's attention, and as marcos notes, some assistance from wealthy funders.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:33 am

And by some assistance you mean a total of 400k directly out of the pocket of one elderly white couple in golden gateway. The unholy alliance between SF NIMBYS and "progressive" sf continues.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:47 am

Something like 2-1. Thing is, 2-1 is not enough to fool the people of San Francisco into supporting anti-progressive policies. The natural inclination of San Franciscans is to side with progressives on the issues. Conservatives only win issue races when they totally buy the election -on the order of 10-1. They have to dominate the airwaves to the point where only their message is getting out. Unfortunately that sometimes happens. It's a failing of the American political system in general.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:03 am

Progressives win - the people have spoken

Progressives lose - the election was bought or rigged.

What's it like to be you?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:13 am

you must just be envious

so ugly

so sad

move to Wall Street where you won't be depressed

Posted by glkhjs on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:26 am

For progressives the only fair election is one they win.

This reminds me of the JROTC thing, the progressives got pounded and the significance was that they got outspent, although everyone I talked too knew all about it.

A person could go back over the years and see all the triumphalism mixed with whining and see that progressives do what works today, while they complain that the peasants have no sense of history.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:27 am

To see who's first in mouthing mindless clichés.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:33 am
Posted by glkhj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:35 am

Because the political reality is that when the playing field is equal, progressives win. They only lose when they're outspent.

It's a qualitatively different sort of campaign that progressives run from the one conservatives run. For all the hay that the conservatrolls want to make of this one 400K contribution, the fact is that it didn't represent a majority of the NO on B and C funding. The majority came from hundreds of donors, the vast majority of whom gave under $500, including my own small donation. On the other side, the majority really did come from one donor who gave several times the 400K figure, along with a few other well-heeled donors who gave more than 100K.

The progressives win by building a broad coalitions. Conservatives win by trying to manipulate peoples votes with money.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:31 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by glkh on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:45 am

and of course progressives accepted big donations from wealthy people who didn't want to see their community ruined

if we hadn't

worthless gadflies like you would have been harping at us for how stupid we were

politics takes money

pointing out that reality is like pointing out that gravity pulls things to the ground

you should work on that envy problem; of being jealous of people who have so much personal inner strength and value that they can win a campaign even when they are vastly outspent

envy is so ugly

Posted by jlf on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:10 am

Meanwhile back on planet Earth - housing prices in San Francisco accelerate upward.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:47 am

And all you have to do is own a home and otherwise not raise a finger.

Gotta love America.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:28 am

A Thousand Troll Walls Today!

A Thousand!

Revel In The Victory!

Posted by racer さ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:14 am

More like Fontana East/West. This was not a political decision, but strictly a referendum on blocking of views.

Posted by Richmondman on Nov. 09, 2013 @ 11:56 am

All I can say is suck it fat cat wealthy developers, SF' s working and middle class havespoken...this is a City for all not just those aspiring 1 percenters. Shame on you Ed Lee for selling out the middle and working class, your wealthy bedfellows lost tonight, take heed your ggentrification policies of displacement wont be tolerated. Scott Weiner are you listening? continue to sell out those of us that work for a living and well defeat your agendas with a vote.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 1:18 am
.

El oh el.

Posted by generic_ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 1:22 am

This unholy alliance of which Mr. Lazarus speaks includes tenants and homeowners, low-income and middle-class families, small business owners, Sierra Club members, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and moderates. In a democracy there is a term for this 'unholy alliance'... its called 'the electorate'.

Congratulations San Francisco!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:14 am

When boosters hate on San Franciscans, San Franciscans return the favor at the ballot box at every opportunity.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:25 am

Don't you ever get tired of listening to yourself talk? You add zero insight to these comment boards yet you're one of the most obsessive posters. Funny how that works for you and lilli and racer and Brooks. Well, at least Brooks has an occasional decent insight about public power issues, although his insight to smog ratio is still very low, not even 5%.

Growth and change are hard. Really hard. And probaby too hard for you, especially if you're over 35 and lack any self-awareness.

Do the community (and yourself) a favor. Disconnect your internet connection for a few months and try to find some meaning in life besides endlessly droning here with your trite and simplistic slogans. The broad community of groups and individuals that defeated B & C have some difficult work to do in the next couple of years. You have nothing to offer them other than trite internet mewlings that will make their work even more difficult since you insist on calling yourself a progressive, another one of your blatent misrepresentations.

Life is not a binary world: hate/love; progressive/regressive; conservative/liberal. People and issues are much more nuanced and complex, but it seems pretty clear that you and racer and lilli will die before figuring out that basic life lesson.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:06 am

because we are so much better at organizing than you are

don't envy

it's ugly

if you can't be happy in a community that values grassroots democracy, you should probably move somewhere else where it would be easier for you to live and be content without becoming hateful, angry,

and full of

envy

;)

Posted by jlfkdjgl on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:41 am

I love "grass roots organizing" when its majority funded by one wealthy couple with a view to lose.
Its really so different than the Koch brothers buying elections!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:54 am

And if that couple is like the Koch brothers... then Simon Snellgrove is the Koch brothers, the Waltons, Richard Mellon Scaife, Sheldon Adelson, and Ron Conway all rolled into one.

I'm sooooo glad he lost his millions on this. He sounded so bitter at his "private little party" last night.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:07 am
Posted by jl on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:14 am
We?

No organizer from the No on B & C groups posts here. They're too busy working on one project or anothrt to concern themselves with a bunch of no-life losers who have nothing better to do with their time than post snark and simpleton soundbites on the SFBG comment board.

The value of the SFBG publication and website are the thoughtful and advocacy-tinged articles written by the SFBG journalists. It's their willingness to listen to advocates and write an article or two that helps organize and motivate others in the community.

Maybe you're not from SF, but within the "progressive community" the SFBG comment board is considered a joke, where a few no-influence posters with nothing better to do with their lifves are found. Only the anti-progressives are the smart ones who post here, realizing that the no-lifers will take their bait and reply in all seriousness, making progressives look foolish just by the fact they are so stupid to reply to the troll bait.

The SFBG comment board is similar to the sfgate comment board - an entertaining outpost that convinces no one of anything other than there are lots of people who post lots of comments and who have no lives and nothing better to do than make snarky comments and shadowbox with people pulling their chains.

The easiest way to become an irrelevancy in local politics is to be known as someone who posts on either sfgate or SFBG.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:04 am

to be known as someone who posts on either sfgate or SFBG."

you mean

like you do....

your bitterness and envy is causing you to say headslap stupid stuff

you should calm down a little there

and tone down the hate

envy is so ugly

Posted by jl on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:19 am

Lilli won this election for the progressives, by posting all those troll walls on SFBG!

This is just the first of his many victories!

Posted by racer さ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:22 am

for the no on b & c campaign

i am just a progressive who is joining in celebrating a victory for our side

your enviousness is effecting your memory of who posted what

Posted by glkhj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:41 am

And I've been too busy working in tech to work on the campaigns against B and C. Besides, they had real cash money and could pay professional campaign operatives with experience winning elections to do it up right.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:49 am
.

Word.

Posted by generic_ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:08 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:22 am

for the no on b & c campaign

i am just a progressive who is joining in celebrating a victory for our side

your enviousness is effecting your memory of who posted what

Posted by glkhj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:42 am

Hey - I'm a leading political figure in San Francisco.

I am, I am, I am, I am!

Posted by racer さ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:35 am

stop being so envious of basic, happy, progressive san francisco citizens

Posted by glkh on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:44 am

The fact is that the policies that I've proposed over the past ten years and which were shot down by developers and their cooped nonprofit allies are going to be warmed over, rehashed, watered down and moved forward over the next year.

This will be a tacit admission by action that I was correct and that the professionals were wrong when they cut crappy development deals that have San Franciscans subsidizing the windfall profits of developers.

The record is clear. San Franciscans object to a corrupt government that caters to developers and puts San Franciscans on the catering menu. They object to spot up zoning for outrageously priced luxury condos. They object to a corrupt land use entitlement process and the they realize not all housing is created equal.

What you want is for noncombatants to return to their couches, work places and families and allow the professionals to "get things done." That is why you masquerade as a progressive to diminish one of the few voices who was out there saying what this election proves a supermajority of San Franciscans think when it was not popular.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:29 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by glkh on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:47 am

have to endlessly whine about those who sidelined you.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:29 am

I feel vindicated by events, not bitter.

I told you so.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:42 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:03 am

The TIC and CEQA victories were back-to-back indications of the tide starting to turn against real estate interests and developers, and this 8 Washington victory simply reinforces that the trend is quite real and still growing.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Why are we spending billions on the Bay Bridge and the Doyle Deive redo, both of which are only for auto traffic.

You probably hate the Central Subway because all lefties do, but that's going in anyway.

Lee won by a mile.

You win the little things and lose the biggies.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:56 am

...for nearly a decade, until these recent victories. The CPMC hospital fight started the tide turning in our favor and we've been building our own momentum ever since.

And it is also important to reiterate that progressives do not oppose all development, but just particular development projects that we have identified as harmful.

So some of those cranes are projects we were ok with accepting.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

You should welcome dense development if you care about carbon emissions.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

Look up the subject of housing density, tall buildings and carbon emissions and you'll find that the reality is a lot more complex.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

The Sierra Club doesn't agree with you:

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/social_engineering.asp

In fact, the only people I have ever heard that line from are Heritage Org types. I have researched this extensively, when you include transportation emissions, dense housing wins in a country mile.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Nov. 10, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

that you are happy with, as you just claimed?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

- TransAmerica Pyramid

- Nearly the entire business section of the financial district (a beautiful walk late at night - hopefully they won't make walking there at night illegal)

- I can live with Rincon

- I am ok with the Transbay project because there will be a massive transit hub right underneath it (which is why neither I nor any other activists put any serious effort into fighting it)

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

Only Marcos deserves windfall real estate profits!

Just wait and see how much unearned profit he makes when he sells his condo!

Posted by LOL Barrier on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:35 am

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