January 17, 2017

Don’t darken S.F.’s waterfront parks

Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

Rincon Park with “Cupid’s Span” by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

San Francisco’s unique and historic waterfront is an immensely valuable part of the city’s character, beauty, and economic vitality. Public parks such as Rincon Park on San Francisco’s waterfront — home to the giant bow and arrow sculpture — offer space for recreation and relaxation that is free and open to all residents and visitors.

However, two new proposed luxury towers would put users of waterfront parks in the dark if City officials approve the developers’ requests for increases to the legal building height limits later this year.

The Tishman-Speyer Corporation is seeking a 100 foot-increase to the existing height limits to build a 400-foot condo tower at 160 Folsom Street, a block from the waterfront. Nearby, the Paramount Group is seeking a 92-foot height-limit increase to build a 292-foot condo tower at 75 Howard Street facing the Embarcadero. Both developers have announced their intention to seek approval of their height-limit increases this year and have engaged powerful lobbying firms who have been busy meeting with Supervisors and city officials to work out deals.

Both of these height-increase proposals are significantly greater than either the 8 Washington condo project — which San Francisco voters rejected in November 2013 — or the abandoned Golden State Warriors stadium on Piers 30-32. Each would create the overwhelming effect of a wall on the waterfront that would overwhelm the Embarcadero and diminish the pedestrian experience — just as the old double-decker Embarcadero Freeway did for decades until it was finally removed.

The San Francisco Planning Department’s draft environmental review of the 75 Howard project found that a luxury tower in that location at the proposed height would have a significant detrimental impact on users of Rincon Park. It would dramatically increase the shadows cast on the park and significantly eliminate sunlight on most days throughout the year. The study concluded that the height-limit increase would “adversely affect the enjoyment and use of the park.” The proposal for 160 Folsom has not yet undergone official environmental review, but studies are expected to show similar harmful shadow impacts on park users.

In 1984, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition K, the “Sunlight Ordinance,” to protect the City’s public parks from degradation by new shadows cast by large developments. Prop. K blocks construction of any building over 40 feet that casts an adverse shadow on a San Francisco public park unless the new shadow is found to be “insignificant.” Clearly, the shadows cast by these new developments would not be insignificant. However, a loophole in the law exempts parks from Sunlight Ordinance protection if they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department. Rincon Park — along with every other one of San Francisco’s waterfront parks — currently fall under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco.

Concerned by this loophole, neighborhood organizations and citizen groups have begun working together to protect the waterfront in an effort called “Save Rincon Park.”

In April, the Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group unanimously adopted a resolution opposing height-limit increases for the 75 Howard and 160 Folsom luxury tower projects and encouraging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to reject them. The Sierra Club further supports limiting parking at these developments to .5 parking spaces per unit and requiring the developers to mitigate for impacts on public transit by contributing meaningful funds to the City’s public transit system.


Sierra Club members in San Francisco are urged to contact Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the District that includes these proposed development projects. Urge her to stand up for parks and our waterfront by rejecting these height-limit-increase proposals.

Supervisor Jane Kim
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
City Hall, Room 244
San Francisco, CA 94102-4689
(415) 554-7970

— Dave Osgood, Rincon Point Neighbors Association


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