April 18, 2014

Vote yes on Proposition B–waterfront height-limit initiative in SF

YESonB_ 191x300The Sierra Club urges San Francisco voters to vote yes on Proposition B–”Voter Approval for Waterfront Height Increases”–on the June 3 ballot. The measure would require voter approval for waterfront luxury-condo towers or other waterfront development projects that violate existing legal building height limits (see Feb., page 4).

A record-breaking petition drive by a coalition of environmental and community groups collected 21,000 signatures, more than twice the required 9,702 in just three weeks. The initiative is backed by the Sierra Club and the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition, who came together to defeat the 8 Washington waterfront luxury-condo towers, which were rejected by 67% of San Francisco voters last November.

“The overwhelming success of this petition drive shows just how strongly the people of San Francisco feel about keeping the waterfront a special place that is open and accessible for everyone to enjoy,” said Becky Evans, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club and the official proponent of the initiative.

Despite the overwhelming voter rejection of the 8 Washington luxury condos, the San Francisco Port Commission has proceeded to move forward with a series of other proposals to raise waterfront height limits for luxury-condo high-rises, office towers, and hotels. Waterfront height limits can currently be changed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors.

The initiative builds on a previous initiative passed by San Francisco voters in 1990 that required the creation of a Waterfront Land Use Plan to guide development along the city’s waterfront.

To volunteer in the campaign, or for more information, see www.NoWallOnTheWaterfront.com,

Vote yes on Proposition B.

SF Elections Department certifies waterfront height-limit initiative for June ballot

B

B

Update (March 4, 2014): The ballot measure has been designated as Measure B on the June 3 ballot.

After reviewing the 21,000 petition signatures submitted earlier this week by a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups (see Feb., page 4), the San Francisco Department of Elections has issued a letter officially certifying an initiative for the June 3 election ballot that would require voter approval for waterfront luxury-condo towers or other waterfront development projects that violate existing legal building height limits. A record-breaking petition drive collected more than twice the required 9,702 signatures in just three weeks. The Waterfront Height Limit Right To Vote Initiative is backed by the Sierra Club and the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition that came together to defeat the 8 Washington waterfront luxury-condo towers, which were rejected by 67% of San Francisco voters last November.

“The overwhelming success of this petition drive shows just how strongly the people of San Francisco feel about keeping the waterfront a special place that is open and accessible for everyone to enjoy,” said Becky Evans, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club and the official proponent of the Waterfront Height Limit Initiative.

Despite the overwhelming voter rejection of the 8 Washington luxury condos, the San Francisco Port Commission has proceeded to move forward with a series of other proposals to raise waterfront height limits for luxury-condo high-rises, office towers, and hotels. The Waterfront Height Limit Right To Vote Initiative would require voter approval for proposals that would increase existing waterfront height limits, which can currently be changed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors. The initiative builds on a previous initiative passed by San Francisco voters in 1990 that required the creation of a Waterfront Land Use Plan to guide development along the city’s waterfront.

For more information see www.NoWallOnTheWaterfront.com.

Sierra Club and San Francisco Waterfront Coalition to submit 21,000 petition signatures today to put initiative to protect waterfront height limits on June ballot

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

A record-breaking signature drive has collected more than twice the number of needed petition signatures in just three weeks with the help of more than 300 volunteers citywide

At 3 pm today, a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups today will submit more than 21,000 petition signatures to qualify an historic measure for the June ballot that would require any proposed height-limit increases along San Francisco’s waterfront to be approved by city voters.  The Waterfront Height Limit Right To Vote Act will require voter approval for proposals to increase existing waterfront height limits for high-rise hotels or condo towers that would exceed the current legal building heights.

The Waterfront Initiative is backed by the Sierra Club and the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition, which came together to defeat the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo towers, which were rejected by two-thirds of San Francisco voters last November.

After the 21,000 petition signatures are submitted this afternoon, the SF Department of Elections has up to 30 days to verify whether there are at least the 9,702 valid signatures required to certify the initiative for the June 3 San Francisco ballot.

Just days left to gather waterfront signatures

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

The fight for San Francisco’s future will be fought on our waterfront.

In November we defeated Measures B and C, stopping a massive highrise at 8 Washington (see Dec., page 4). Now we are collecting signatures for a new ballot measure. Under this initiative, any exception to waterfront height limits would require a vote of the people. We need your help now–the deadline for turning in signatures is Feb. 3.

This ballot measure is not aimed at just one project. A rash of projects are at different stages of planning that would require waivers of current height limits: a proposal for two 300-foot towers on Seawall Lot 337; the Warriors proposal for a multi-use event center, arena, and retail at Piers 30 – 32 (with adjacent hotel and condos on Seawall Lot 330); and Pier 70, a Forest City project.

The current height limits are set in the Waterfront Land Use Plan, which was prepared to meet the requirements of the Prop H initiative of 1990.

The plan states: “The Waterfront Plan also promotes low-scale development along most of the waterfront, consistent with the existing 40 foot height limits which apply to all piers, except in the Ferry Building area where there is an 84 foot height limit. Most of the Port’s seawall lots also have a 40-foot height limit, with 84 foot and 105 foot height limits for a few parcels and the planned ballpark site on Pier 46B which has a height limit of 150 feet. All of the permitted commercial uses can be developed within these existing height limits.”

WhatYouCanDo

We have just a few more days to gather signatures–they must all be turned in by Feb. 3. Come help out right away.

The campaign headquarters is at 15 Columbus Ave. (between Jackson and Montgomery. Office hours for volunteers to pick up and drop off petitions are:

  • Monday – Friday, 10 am – 6 pm
  • Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm
  • Sunday, noon – 4 pm.

You can contact the campaign at (415)410-9588 or at its web site www.nowallonthewaterfront.com.

After Feb. 3, we will need your help turning out voters for the June 3 election.

Becky Evans

San Francisco updates–Presidio and Warriors

Aerial view of former Commissary site, the large gray building to left of center, facing onto Crissy Field. Photo from RFCP.

Aerial view of former Commissary site, the large gray building to left of center, facing onto Crissy Field. Photo from RFCP.

Presidio Commissary development

On Mon., Jan. 27, the Presidio Trust will hold a hearing on updated versions of the three competing proposals for the Commissary site facing Crissy Field (where Sports Basement is now).

Nancy Bechtle, president of the Board of the Presidio Trust, has been resistant to public pressure from celebrity endorsers of the George Lucas Cultural Arts Museum proposal. Letters from the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Haas Foundation have urged caution and proposed possibly delaying a decision until completion of the Doyle Drive project, which will greatly change the site’s landscape, in particular by constructing a new bluff above it.

Rarely mentioned beyond the proposed buildings (height and mass) is the extensive parking area on the site.

Warriors proposal for Piers 30 – 32

The Golden State Warriors have released design 3.0 for their proposed megamall-event center/arena on Piers 30 – 32. The changes from 2.0 are minimal and primarily cosmetic. The arena building would be lower–but would still tower above the 40′ height limit for piers. The proposal contains no significant maritime-related uses to justify approval by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Retail space has been reduced, and sight lines in the retail area have been improved somewhat.

Becky Evans, chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

Faria development would flatten San Ramon hills

Aerial view of the two ridges that would be flattened for the “Faria Preserve” development. Note the two red symbols denoting earthquake epicenters.

Aerial view of the two ridges that would be flattened for the “Faria Preserve” development. Note the two red symbols denoting earthquake epicenters.

Lafferty Communities, a developer, has applied for approval to build 740 housing units in northwest San Ramon, on 289 graded acres of the 440-acre Faria property, just north of Crow Canyon Road and bounded on the west by Bollinger Canyon Road and on the east by San Ramon Valley Boulevard.

The developer says that the “Faria Preserve” development project would require at least 2 – 3 years to grade the existing hills and valleys into flat land for building homes and apartments. The sprawl development would permanently destroy the beauty and natural values of these environmentally sensitive hills and valleys. Oak groves would be chopped down. We are concerned about the project’s impacts on streams, drainage, wetlands, and adjacent land recently acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District. The Calaveras Fault (probably capable of M6 earthquakes) passes through the site. Grading the ridgelines into the lowlands here would mean building housing on loose fill in a significant earthquake zone.

The over 2,500 new residents would more than double the current population of northwest San Ramon, overwhelming the capacity of local roads. In particular the project would exacerbate the already terrible congestion entering or exiting I-680 at Crow Canyon Road.

The General Plan requires such a project to include 15 – 20 acres for a school, but the current proposal includes no new schools. As local schools reach their limits, students would have to be reassigned to cross-town schools.

In 2007 the Sierra Club and East Bay Regional Park District sued a previous developer over a previous proposal for this location, and in 2008 had signed a settlement agreement allowing a project that would have met environmental concerns (see January-February 2009 Yodeler, page 16; and May-June 2006, page 16). We are disappointed at this step back from an environmentally suitable plan.

WhatYouCanDo

Sign the Stop Faria Preserve petition at 3zx.org.

The Planning Commission will be holding two public hearings on the project, one on Tue., Nov. 19, and one, we expect, some time in December. Please attend and speak up against “Faria Preserve”.

If after the second hearing the commission approves the project, we expect that the project will then go to the City Council, where we are hopeful that it can be stopped.

Vineyards or trees in Sonoma County?

“Exporting Wine to China” was the title of a recent conference in Napa, one of many promoting sales of California wine to virtually unlimited markets. This is an indication that the making of local wines is being overtaken by big business with its characteristic disregard for the web of life. The wine industry is a growth sector that brings with it destruction of habitat and increasing demands on very limited water resources.

The environmental costs of grape growing threaten to overwhelm its economic benefit to the county. Local nonprofit groups compete for millions of dollars of public and private money to restore our watersheds and salmon habitat. At the same time, restoration efforts are swamped by business interests that are exploiting weak rules that allow the wine industry to be treated as if it consists of benign and diverse producers of healthy food. Small local winemakers that care more for the land will not benefit from the mega-expansion of industrial vineyards. It will mean less water, more competition, and the ruin of this bucolic region.

Updating the Tree Protection Ordinance

Now that more than 75% of Sonoma County valley cropland is used for growing grapes, the wine industry is turning its attention to forested land, which is poorly protected in the county code by the outdated Tree Protection Ordinance. The term protection is currently used very loosely in the ordinance. That is to say, certain types of trees are ‘protected’ unless someone wants to cut them down. This applies to even very large vineyard proposals which will require leveling of fields of oaks that have provided groundwater benefits, habitat, cooling effects, and beauty for centuries. The county’s Tree Protection Ordinance allows developers to either replace trees with small trees or to pay a fee. This was the best the county could do in 1985. These mitigations did not and do not apply to agriculture since agricultural projects (such as replacing a forest with a vineyard) do not have to mitigate at all.

Given the above facts, there must be a swift, full-court press to update Sonoma County’s Tree Protection Ordinance. This update must be based on science, including the recognition of the important role trees play in the climate, water, and habitat. Sonoma County will always be a desirable place to live and do business. It does not need to rush to convert forest, woodlands, and watersheds in the service of an unrestrained industry.

Reasonable review of highly destructive projects

Faced with the above realities, the public is attempting to mount an effort to protect more of the county’s trees and natural areas. Currently, large vineyard developments are not subject to the same environmental rules that apply to other large developments. Possible changes in public policy should include instituting environmental thresholds that will be triggered by larger developments and determine whether or not environmental review is necessary. Environmental review informs decision-makers and the public so that we can all understand potential impacts and properly avoid or mitigate them.

Kimberly Burr, environmental lawyer

reprinted from Redwood Needles, the newsletter of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter

Protecting prairie, cleaning up toxics in South Richmond

Channel at Hoffmann Marsh. Richmond is planning for development of the south Richmond shoreline, but is the toxic contamination going to be cleaned up adequately? Photos by G. Donald Bain, 360panos.com. Channel at Hoffmann Marsh. Richmond is planning for development of the south Richmond shoreline, but is the toxic contamination going to be cleaned up adequately? Photos by G. Donald Bain, 360panos.com.

Channel at Hoffmann Marsh. Richmond is planning for development of the south Richmond shoreline, but is the toxic contamination going to be cleaned up adequately? Photos by G. Donald Bain, 360panos.com.

As Richmond moves ahead with its South Richmond Specific Plan, it’s time for it to take a stand for the environment.

We worry that the city will defer to any UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley Lab request for their new “second campus”. The city also faces a confrontation with the Union Pacific Railroad over the Hoffman Marsh, especially remaining privately owned portions. The city still has not made a firm commitment to clean up the toxics at the Zeneca site. For the health and safety of Richmond residents, it’s time for the old industrial sites to be cleaned up.

WhatYouCanDo

Richmond residents, write to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the City Council at:

Hector_Rojas@ci.richmond.ca.us
City Hall
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, CA 94804.

Urge the city to:

  • make sure that the Union Pacific cannot develop the Liquid Gold site but instead must clean it up to protect the Bay and wildlife;
  • support the effort to add the rest of the Hoffman Marsh to the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park;
  • require clean-up of the toxic Zeneca site to the residential standard.

Everyone can write to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at:

Richard Philliber, Environmental Planner
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
One Cyclotron Road, MS 76-225
Berkeley, CA 94720.

Urge the Laboratory to work actively to save the coastal prairie at the second-campus site. In particular, the main access road should not be built through the prairie, but around it from the current main entrance at Regatta Boulevard. Richmond residents can include this request in their letters to the Council also.

For more information see the project web site at www.ci.richmond.ca.us/sssp.

Norman La Force, chair, Sierra Club West Contra Costa County Group

Sierra Club files brief in Parkmerced lawsuit

Park Merced, aerial view. Photo by Tom Fox, SWA Group.

Park Merced, aerial view. Photo by Tom Fox, SWA Group.

Correction (Sep. 27, 2013): the previous version of this article said, “The proposed project was to include improvements to the Muni J-Church line, but those improvements remain unfunded.” This should have been the M-Oceanview.

 

The Sierra Club and the California Preservation Foundation have jointly filed an appellate brief as amici curiae in support of a lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s approval of the proposed Parkmerced project.

The proposed project would require tearing down over 1,500 rent-controlled residential units in historic Parkmerced, at the southwest corner of San Francisco next to Lake Merced and the San Francisco State University campus. Parkmerced, built during and just after World War II by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with the assistance of the federal government, was the first large-scale residential community on the West Coast made up of affordable rental units. The proposed project would also destroy the existing landscaping designed by famed San Francisco designer Thomas Church. The proposed project was to include improvements to the Muni M-Oceanview line, but those improvements remain unfunded. While the proposed project is touted as reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, that wouldn’t happen until roughly 2035 or later. In the short term, the demolition and construction would actually increase CO2 production.

The submitted amicus brief touches on two subjects.

  • Is the city’s interpretation of Proposition M, a General Plan initiative passed by city voters in 1985, entitled to “great deference” by the court?
  • Would destruction of 1,500 housing units in a historic complex violate Prop M’s policies for conserving and protecting existing housing and neighborhood character, and preserving landmarks and historic buildings?

The Club is uniquely suited to submit this amicus brief because it signed on to a ballot argument in support of Proposition M in 1985. By contrast, San Francisco’s then-mayor and much of the city’s political establishment opposed Proposition M. Why should the court give “great deference” to the city’s interpretation of a measure it neither wrote nor supported? This would be like letting England decide the interpretation of the Declaration of Independence.

Assuming that the Club’s brief is accepted by the court, the city and the developer will get to file responses. Then the case will be ready for oral argument, probably in the next few months.

The brief was written by the prominent environmental law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carsten. The case, now on appeal in Division Two of the First District Court of Appeal, was filed by San Francisco Tomorrow and the Parkmerced Action Coalition. The Sierra Club’s San Francisco Group voted to oppose the project and support the litigation.

Stu Flashman, attorney representing the appellants

San Francisco strengthens CEQA protections

240x320_sf-city-hallThe Sierra Club has won a key victory for defending public rights under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in San Francisco (see August-September Yodeler, page 5).

On July 23 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation on city procedures for implementing CEQA. The bill, originally intended to weaken CEQA, had been transformed to actually strengthen public access and protections under the law.

CEQA is designed to ensure that decision-makers and the public are well-informed on potential environmental impacts of projects. After almost a year of politics, the Sierra Club and its allies beat back efforts to gut local CEQA protections. We won a lot.

  • Appeals of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) will continue to be heard by the full 11-member Board of Supervisors. Legislation originally proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener in the fall of 2012 would have restricted such appeals to a three-member committee of the Board and constrained the timeline for an appeal, making appellant errors more likely. Errors in filing appeals can forever jeopardize the right of appellants to appeal in court. The Sierra Club has either appealed itself, or supported the appeals, of numerous EIRs, including those for Treasure Island, Hunters Point, the Beach Chalet soccer fields, and Parkmerced.
  • When city departments, including Planning, exempt a project from environmental requirements, they will give a more timely and informative notification. The public can now find out about all environmental determinations from a Planning Department map at www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=3447As an example of former problems, early in 2007 the San Francisco Planning Department declared that the Beach Chalet soccer-field project (see “New information supports opponents of Beach Chalet soccer-fields project“) was categorically exempt from the requirement to prepare an EIR–but this was not publicly confirmed until December 2009. 
  • City staff will no longer have to make subjective decisions about CEQA requirements. In 2003  the state revised CEQA, but local law was not amended to conform. The new law sets clear strong rules for public notification and appeal rights.
  • We retained the right to an administrative appeal of environmental determinations when modifications are made to projects that have already received environmental approvals. In such cases, if the Planning Department’s environmental-review officer has not required a new environmental review, members of the public can ask for the officer to hold a televised public hearing to review the decision and potentially reverse it.

A weakness in the changes, however, is that this appeal will take place at the Planning Commission, not the Board of Supervisors. It is considered only an administrative appeal, so that a developer is allowed to continue work while the appeal is pending.

Another loss is that the legislation locks in a shorter time limit for appealing environmental exemptions. After a project has been determined not to have significant environmental impacts and once it receives its first project-wide permit or approval, appellants will have only 30 days to appeal. The Sierra Club and allies had sought to retain a later and longer window.

Even considering these limitations, Sierra Club and its allies were able to reverse a dramatic attack on CEQA protections, and to transform it into a strengthening of the law–to give the public much better notification and information on development projects in San Francisco.

Sue Vaughan, secretary, Sierra Club San Francisco Group