In late-June, the San Francisco Giants submitted more than 16,000 signatures from San Francisco voters to the Department of Elections to place approval of their proposed Mission Rock development, under the Mission Rock Initiative, on the November 2015 ballot. The measure needed 9,702 signatures from San Francisco voters before July 6 to qualify.
Under the initiative, a mixed-use neighborhood would be built on the 28 acre industrial site comprising Seawall Lot (SWL) 337 and Pier 48. The area is now used as a parking lot, Lot A. Mission Rock would feature eight acres of parks and open space, including a large waterfront park and a green town square in the middle of the site; 1,500 rental apartments; 1.7 million square feet of commercial space; a public boardwalk and renovation of Pier 48 to become an expanded home for Anchor Brewing; below market-rate rental space for small manufacturing businesses, set on a waterfront “Maker’s Row;” and a new parking garage to serve AT&T Park and Mission Bay. The Giants have been communicating with residents about the development since 2007.
Proposition B, passed in June 2014, requires voter approval for construction projects along City waterfront that exceed height limits, which range from 40 to 80 feet. The initiative asks for endorsement of ten apartment and office buildings that range between 120 and 240 feet, with the residential structures typically between 120 and 240 feet and commercial space from 90 to 190 feet. The initiative promises that no buildings will be built within 100 feet of the Bay; heights would step down as structures approach the water.
Affordable housing advocates insist that the 40 percent of reduced price units offered under the development plan falls short of Proposition K’s requirements. Proposition K, approved in November 2014, requires the City to construct or rehabilitate at least 30,000 homes, with 50 percent affordable for middle-class households and 33 percent affordable for low to moderate-income households. Southside residents are concerned that the proposed new parking garage and expansion of the light rail connection to Downtown won’t effectively manage traffic, with increased congestion almost certain to occur.
According to Staci Slaughter, Giants senior vice president, the initiative is supported by a host of political luminaries, including U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Ed Lee, and former Mayor Art Agnos. “Mission Bay has expanded over the years but there isn’t one central hub, a neighborhood gathering place,” Slaughter said. “There’s a strong desire for a neighborhood center with retail. This isn’t just about the Giants. It’s about the whole neighborhood, which can work together. It’s really important to create a sense of place.”
Slaughter said that although it’s a “top goal” for the Giants to win the World Series every year, the team’s mission is to serve the community. “We have the opportunity to create a very special place here on the water, and not just for the people who visit AT&T Park. This development is not going to be baseball-themed. It will reflect the values of San Francisco and the community as a whole,” she said.
The Giants expect the development to generate more than $1 billion for the City and County, including roughly $100 million in up-front development fees, and in excess of $25 million a year in taxes.
Earlier this summer, District 6 Supervisor Kim and affordable housing advocates argued that the Giant’s proposal to set aside 33 percent of the units for affordable housing was too little. Within two weeks the Giants increased the amount to 40 percent. But Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), a coalition of 23 community-based housing developers, service providers, and tenant advocates, said it’d be better to increase the amount to 50 percent. “Proposition K makes it very clear that 33 percent of the units were for low-income households, not low-income and middle-class households. When we came out against the 33 percent in June, faulty advertising is what brought us into the game,” said Cohen. The Giants haven’t discussed “the fact that they expect to get subsidies from the City” for this project, said Cohen.
“There are some organizations that are supportive and some that are opposing the initiative. We care a lot about it and we want to be talked to. We don’t want to feel that affordable housing is a bully pulpit. We want the Giants to come back to us with another model project, one like Pier 70,” said Cohen. Cohen said the Giants should forgo the use of public funds and subsidies.
Ian Lewis, research director of Unite Here Local 2, which represents 12,000 hotel workers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, said the union’s members see SWL 337 as one of the last places in the City where affordable housing could be built. “There are not many big parcels of land left in the City. What we’d like to see is this whole project to be discussed publically,” said Lewis.
Lewis agreed that 50 percent or more of Mission Rock units should be affordable. “Local 2 has had thousands of members move out of the City. We have members who commute as far away as Fairfield and Sacramento to work in hotels in San Francisco. That’s four hours away: four hours you don’t get to spend cooking a healthy dinner and spending time with your kids, the people you love, and everything else that goes into building a strong community. None of us want to see San Francisco turn into a community where working class people are only welcome when they change the sheets,” he said. “The Giants should not dictate the terms. Taking it to the ballot secures the project entitlements when none of us have seen much detail about it.”
J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, said the Giants should do more to inform Potrero Hill and other Southside residents about the initiative. “The Boosters have had two conversations with the Giants in the past four years. The first one was before Proposition B, when the proposed development had 380-foot towers. Fast forward, now we have Prop. B, which changes the conversation,” said Eppler.
“The height of the towers had been reduced somewhat. But none of the materials we were shown showed us what the buildings would actually look like. We’re hoping that now the Giants come and do a project presentation to our membership. I’m a little concerned because the mailings are showing a lot of open space. It’s uncertain right now what we’re voting on besides the height,” said Eppler. Eppler said the Giants need to visit the Hill “and have an open and honest conversation about what they’re planning.”
Eppler is concerned that the current project description doesn’t adequately address transportation issues. “Transit is going to be a mess, between growth in Potrero Hill, UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, Pier 70, and redevelopment at the power plant. It still seems that each piece is looking at the world right now in devising its transportation plans. That’s not how the world’s going to look five or ten years from now,” said Eppler.
Mimi Silbert, president and chief executive officer of the Delancey Street Foundation, said the Giants have a long history of caring about low-income housing and Mission Bay. “When they first came to us, they talked about exciting things like the parks and the retail and the affordable housing. Then I talked about low-income housing. Graduates can’t afford housing. They’re kids coming out of foster care and people who lost their way. They said, “Great!” They started looking at what we meant. I love people who respond like that. It’s not like they’re after their own. They’re listening,” said Silbert.
Silbert said that the Giants are progressing carefully. “They’re not trying to stick themselves in everybody’s space until they talk to everyone. You can go slowly and talk to people as you get them to sign up. That’s what they’re doing. They’re not saying, “This is what we’re doing, like it or not,”” said Silbert.
Sunny Schwartz, an attorney, restorative justice advocate, and Mission Bay resident, said she thinks the development will solidify the neighborhood. “When I came to Mission Bay about 13 years ago, one of the very few things that was there was AT&T Park. I have a lot of respect for how the Giants engage and give back to the community,” said Schwartz.
Schwartz is on the Board of Directors of the Giants Community Fund, an organization that collaborates with the Giants to support undeserved youth and their families. “I’m really excited about the initiative,” Schwartz said. “Living in Mission Bay is just wonderful, but the area lacks a real center. It doesn’t have the kind of community feeling. What comes with that is…better transportation, public works, and a commitment to local retail: hardware stores, grocery stores, everything that makes a community vibrant. To me, the development’s a win-win-win. It really brings the best of all possible worlds together. I’m hopeful that they will develop mass transit to meet these needs.”
Matt Springer, a University of California, San Francisco professor of cardiology and a member of the Board of Directors of the South Beach, Rincon Hill, Mission Bay Neighborhood Association, said that, speaking from a personal perspective, he thinks the initiative is proceeding in the right direction. “The entire time the Giants have been talking to the residents in a very resident-serving way. We have made mistakes in Mission Bay. The blocks are too large. They want to make smaller blocks and make them pedestrian-friendly,” said Springer.
“I think the Giants see they need to put in something, but not something so big that it scares people from waterfront development. Right now, if you walk around Mission Bay North, you don’t feel like you’re in San Francisco. The restaurants are chain restaurants. King Street is more of a glorified off-ramp for the freeway,” said Springer.
Corinne Woods, chair of the Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee and co-chair of the Port of San Francisco’s Central Waterfront Advisory Group, said the Mission Bay CAC approves of the initiative. “The project…includes a 3,000 space parking garage, which would replace Lot A,” said Woods. “But there will never be enough parking in this neighborhood. There’s no public parking garages and the streets aren’t set up for traffic. The answer is to keep people out of single-occupancy cars.”
Woods agreed with Eppler that redevelopment at the Potrero power plant site and “all the development up and down Third Street means you’ve got to improve transit.” Woods said it’s critical that the initiative generate enough money to provide revenue to the Port. “That was the whole point of doing this project: giving the Port revenue to fix crumbling piers,” said Woods.
Phil Williamson, project manager of the Port of San Francisco, agreed that his agency needs funding. “There’s a rock sea wall over 100 years old underneath portions of the Embarcadero. We need to study it. We’re talking four or five miles of sea wall that may need repair.” Williamson said funds from Mission Rock could help pay for this work. California Senate Bill 815, passed in 2007, allows the Port to use new lease revenues to accomplish its goals.
Williamson said building Mission Rock would require that the Port insert new rock columns along the perimeter of SWL 337 to contain the site in case of a seismic event. “Mission Bay is all fill, much of it from the 1906 earthquake. This is some of the deepest fill in the City. It’s not the best fill. We have to drive piles 270 feet deep through the fill material to get to the solid rock below. The cost is high and there are a lot to be driven. No matter how tall the building you want to put on top of them, you have to have piles of this length,” said Williamson.
“We believe the project is well-designed and well thought-out. There was support for the project, and that has driven planning. There’s been so much community input and support. I’m optimistic that the project was initially good and has gotten better. What I see is a project…that will make it through the entitlement process,” said Williamson.