Saturday, January 31, 2009

Spot Zoning Part II - A strange series of events

Advocates of the community planning process were happy to learn that Sandoval’s spot zoning legislation died at the Board of Supervisors. We believe Sandoval’s legislation died because the merits of raising the heights on just two properties were never vetted through the planning process. Interestingly enough, one Supervisor who supported his legislation at committee did not support it at the Board. This would be the first strange event in a series of strange events.

On Monday November 24th, the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was passed by the Land Use Committee. The height limits along Mission Street are an aspect of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. While the Committee voted to keep the height limits along Mission Street as they have been, but nor below 55ft, the text of the actual legislation had the height limits set at 85 feet. The text carried a previous proposal, rejected by the Committee, to set the height limits along Mission Street at 85 ft.

On Tuesday November 25, the Plan was scheduled to be heard at the full Board of Supervisors. Given that the Plan was approved late Monday evening, there was not enough time to change the actual text of the legislation for the Board meeting to reflect what was passed.

The Board followed the Committee’s recommendation on height limits along Mission Street. As for the the height limits on both the El Capitan and New Mission theatre, they stayed where they are at, 55 feet and 65 feet respectively.

Are you with me so far?

The next strange event happened sometime in the week of the 24th when the Planning Department staff in charge of actually changing the text in the legislation to reflect the Board’s decision made a typographical error. They were making the changes they did not have time to do on the 24th.

The height limits on paper for the New Mission Theatre remained unchanged @ 85 ft instead of 55ft, but the height limit for the El Capitan Theatre was amended to reflect the Board’s decision at setting it at 55ft.

So of all of the parcels to get wrong, the planning staff gets wrong the one that is owned by a well connected restaurateur/developer. A part of me believes that it was an honest mistake because there is no evidence to the contrary.

When the Board approved the heights along Mission Street on the second reading on December 9th, as I stated in a previous post, they did not know that there was a typo regarding that one parcel.

This is where the problem begins. The planning staff made a typo that is caught too late, and the Board essentially votes the typo into law.

In a not so strange event, at the same hearing another Supervisor again tries to assist the well connected restaurateur /developer by trying to exclude his parcel, and that of the El Capitan Theatre, from the legislation. At this point the Supervisors are still unaware of the typo in the legislation. This move, if supported by the Board, would have essentially allowed the well connected restaurateur /developer to circumvent the planning process.

The centrist block of the Board of Supervisors supported the move to sever the two parcels from the height limits legislation in an effort to give the well connected restaurateur /developer his desired height. I guess they are not really into the idea of a community planning process and are ok with bypassing the planning process for well connected individuals.

Fortunately his efforts failed.

During all this time parcel 3616-007 had the incorrect height limit. On December 16th, the Board voted to correct their mistake. The Board passed the issue on the second reading, fixing the typographical error. Supervisors Carmen Chu, Dufty, Elsbernd, Alioto-Pier opposed fixing the error. Why would four otherwise rational law makers vote against a non-controversial issue such as fixing a mistake?

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the Mayor vetoed the legislation fixing the issue before he left to Washington DC. For President Obama’s Inauguration.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spot Zoning Part I

Where did all the trouble with parcel 3616-007 (the site of the New Mission Theatre) begin? It really started with former Supervisor Geraldo Sandoval.

Under the guise of historic preservation, former Supervisor Sandoval introduced legislation that would have excluded the parcels where the El Capitan residential hotel and the New Mission sit from the height requirements, essentially giving the developers a variance.

Sandoval introduced legislation during the last Land Use Committee Hearing on the Eastern Neighborhoods on November 24th. Scores of hearings were held at both the Planning Commission and the Land Use Committee on the Plan, where proposed amendments were, for the most part, thoroughly vetted. The height increase proposed in Sandoval’s legislation was never discussed during the process.

The last minute introduction of this piece of legislation was an insult to the hundreds if not thousands of individuals who attended the Eastern Neighborhoods hearings at the Planning Commission and Land Use Committee. Only a few concerned citizens had the opportunity to comment on the legislation at the last minute.

Sandoval argued that any proposed developments on those two parcels should be allowed to go up to 85 feet, by right, in order to preserve the facades or marquees. We were not necessarily opposed to the merits of his legislation; we were opposed to the manner in which it was introduced.

It was our contention that Sandoval’s action to introduce legislation at the final hearing went against the spirit of the Eastern Neighborhoods planning process. While we have reservations about the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, it had unlike Sandoval’s legislation, been vetted during the last year by community organizations, community residents, the development lobby, the Planning Department, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors.

At best we considered the legislation to have been spot zoning, and at worst, to be a mockery of the planning process in San Francisco.

We argued for it to be treated as trailing legislation to allow for more community input and a more measured analysis by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors.

Luckily for the community, the Board recognized the legislation as spot zoning and turned it down.

Unfortunately, other Supervisor were not content with its defeat, leading to a strange series of events that brings us to the February 3rd vote.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Irony

Over the years MAC has fought against displacement, evictions, speculation and gentrification in the Mission District. We have organized to keep out big box developments, supported the formula retail ban, fought the Walgreens on Cesar Chavez, Home Depot on Bayshore and have worked to protect neighborhood serving and locally owned small businesses, so it would seem like a no-brainer that we would oppose the American Apparel outlet proposed for Valencia Street.

Yet, MAC and other long-time residents who have seen the changes on Valencia Street, Mission Street and 24th St. corridors, we cannot overlook the irony and contradictions that the “locally owned businesses on Valencia “Your Mission” campaign present. Many of the displacements have been at the hands of non-neighborhood serving boutique shops, or destination restaurants or just plain expensive shops that many Mission residents can not shop at. I noticed a comment on the No American Apparel site that stated that it was these shops that had saved the Mission from 99 cent stores and, I assume, other lower-end businesses. It is this short sighted analysis from the group that makes us pause. It is because many locals cannot afford to buy from shops on Valencia and we see the forcing out of Latino owned and operated business on 24th that are being replaced by Valencia like businesses that we are hesitating on our position on American Apparel.

It also bears mentioning that AA hires workers of color from within the community their production plant is located within and pays them a fair wage, a practice that our local businesses should but often don't follow. The knee-jerk "no" to chain stores would make a lot more sense if our existing Valencia St. shop owners committed to hiring young people from the neighborhood and providing price points that we all could afford. It would also sense if local businesses coming to the Mission partnered with community-based organizations to train and recruit a diverse work force that had opportunities to work in all aspects of their businesses and not just as janitors, or dish washers.

In the end we oppose formula retail on Valencia, but not because we want to protect the businesses that displaced the community-serving businesses in the hood. We only hope that the Your Mission Campaign takes a moment to reflect on their role in displacing the previous group of small businesses. It might also be a good time for them to figure out what "Your Mission...Not Theirs" means when this same group of shop owners do not provide goods and services for the working class and lower-income residents of the neighborhood that make up the majority of the residents in the Mission District.

MAC opposes formula retail because it allows landlords to speculate and dispense of long-time sustainable businesses that cannot afford the outrageous rents that are currently charged for commercial spaces in our neighborhood. It is not about American Apparel, it's about landlord greed and how they keep spaces empty waiting for formula retail or the next fancy restaurant while not providing long-term leases for real neighborhood serving businesses.

One final but important point, after the passage of the Eastern Neighborhood Plan the conditional use process will be more important than ever for the community to have some handle on how deveoopment occurs in the Mission. The precedent setting impact of allowing new formula retail on our NC corridors is something that we should be very worried about and is another critical reason why are saying no to American Apparel.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Say It Ain't So

According to post on the City Insider’s page, Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed a piece of legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors that would have corrected a typographical error in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that was recently approved by the Board. Why would the mayor veto something that is essentially a non policy issue, but is just correcting a mistake? Before I answer that question, let me give you some history on the matter.

In December the Board of Supervisors voted to maintain the maximum allowable heights of buildings along Mission Street at their current levels, a change from the proposed allowable heights in the Eastern Neighborhood Plan.

In order to do this every parcel, several hundred if not thousands, had to be listed in the legislation at their correct heights. Every parcel has the correct height listed except for one. On that parcel happens to sit the New Mission Theatre and Giant Value store. The Supervisors believed that they voted to maintain the height of that parcel at 65 feet (approximately 6 stories), but the legislation carried the typo. The Board with out knowing voted to approve the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan with the allowable height at that particular parcel at 85 feet.

To their credit, the mistake was owned up to by the Planning staff. When informed of this error, the Board of Supervisors drafted and passed legislation to correct the mistake. What is funny is that some supervisors (Dufty, Alioto-Pier, Elsbernd and Carmen Chu) voted against correcting the mistake. Why would they vote against correcting a mistake? It is not even a policy issue.

The owner of the site, Gus Murad, (who is politically well connected and happens to assist with fundraising for a variety of San Francisco politicians) plans to build an eight story tower that would contain high-end condos and a nightclub. If the heights were correctly set at 65 feet he would need to apply for a zoning variance to be allowed to build an eight story tower. To my knowledge, he has had these plans in the works for years, but has yet to apply for a variance. We hope he develops a project that is an asset to the community.

The problem is that he has circumvented the planning process that all other developers have to abide by, most likely because he is politically connected. The Newsom veto allows him the additional height to build his project without having to provide any additional benefits for the community. In this day and age of Change, shouldn’t the politicians be called out for appearances of out-right voting under the influence of money.

No one is outright opposed to an eight story tall tower along Mission Street, but the developer should go through the proper channels to do it. Otherwise, this is spot zoning by the Mayor and the four Supervisors who supported the original amendment. This winter the community and the Planning Department completed a decade long planning process, just to have the Mayor allow one special character exempted from its requirements because of a mistake. All San Franciscans should be outraged at such blatant pay to play politics and call Supervisors Chu, Elsbernd, Alito-Pier, and Dufty to demand that they support the override of the Mayor’s Veto that is scheduled to be considered at the Board of Supervisors February 3.


Signed, sealed and delivered!

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor in December. The Plans became effective on January 19, 2009.

We will provide some analysis as to how the Plan will affect the Mission District in future posts.