Wiener goes after historic preservation

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Sup. Scott Wiener is pushing a bill that would make it more difficult to create historic districts in San Francisco, and it’s already cleared the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

UPDATE: Milk Club calls on Sup. Olague to drop her support for the bill.

The measure hasn’t received a lot of news media attention, but it could have a far-reaching effect on development in San Francisco.

In essence, the Wiener bill amends two parts of the city planning code to tighten the requirements for designating a part of the city as a protected historic area -- a designation that makes it harder to demolish or substantially alter buildings.
Developers and some property owners dislike the historic designation. Perservationists see it as a way to prevent the destruction of buildings and neigbhorhoods that are a part of the city’s heritage.

Classic example: In the 1980s, members of the Residential Builders Association were tearing down vintage Victorians in the Richmond district and replacing them with boxy, multi-unit apartments that were worth more money than a single-family home. The builders made a lot of quick cash; the city lost some elegant old houses that can never be replaced.

They couldn’t do that as easily in Alamo Square, which is a historic district.

On the other hand, the owners of those stately well-protected houses in these special districts have to go through increased Planning Department scrutiny any time they want to make any substantial alteration in the structure.

Context: Less than 1 percent of the developed part of San Francisco is currently in a historic district. It’s not a huge deal, and most people don’t pay any attention to this stuff.

But it’s important, and here’s why: One, this city doesn’t care enough about its past -- but more important, preservation is a tool that can be used to prevent very bad things from happening.

If we’d had good historic preservation laws in the 1970s, the International Hotel could have been designated an historic structure and wouldn’t have been demolished. Same, possibly, for the Goodman Building. Preservation laws could have been used to fight some of the horrors of redevelopment, which mowed down African American and Filipino neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s.

Some of Wiener’s suggestions are relatively benign. He wants to exempt affordable housing units from the laws that apply to historic districts, and Sup. Christina Olague, his co-sponsor, wants an economic hardship exemption so that the owners of buildings, particularly in communities of color, can avoid expensive battles over minor repairs and alterations.

I’m fine with all of that. I’m all for it. Good idea. Although it’s not fair to say that this process was driven by a concern for affordable housing; I spoke to Peter Cohen, at the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and he told me that the idea didn’t come from his crew. Not one affordable housing activist showed up at the Land Use hearing to support the Wiener bill.

But the measure also adds more burdens to the process of designating an historic district. It mandates a written survey of all property owners and occupants in an area proposed for historic designation -- an expensive and cumbersome thing that isn’t required for commercial development, demolitions, zoning changes, massive market-rate housing projects, full-on gentrification, or anything else that screws up neighborhoods.
It requires the Planning Commission to consider whether historic preservation conflicts with “the provision of housing to meet the city’s regional housing needs allocation,” which is odd because the commission didn’t consider that when it approved 8 Washington, which directly conflicts with the city’s housing needs allocation, or when it’s allowed 20,000 units of mostly high-end housing over the past decade without any provision for the proper corresponding amount of affordable housing.

In short, it gives opponents of historic preservation more ways to stop new protections. That’s going to make developers very happy.

I asked Wiener why he decided to do this, what the problem was that this law is meant to solve. His answer: There are lots of potential new historic districts (including where he lives, in the Duboce Park and Dolores Street areas) and he wants to be sure that there’s a “robust community process.” Excuse me, Supervisor: There’s a robust community process every time anyone does anything in this town, and designating a historic district is no different.

Also: “A lot of people believe that in some situations, historic preservation can be taken to the extremes. This is a real hot topic for the city.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting (and even more complicated). There’s a neighborhood group called the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association that’s been trying for almost seven years to get the area between Market and 20, Valencia and Sanchez designated a historic district. Peter Lewis, a musician who has been leading the battle, told me that he got involved because developers were tearing down some important old buildings (a Willis Polk building on Dolores and 15th came down a few years ago) and he wanted to halt it.
The group’s got sophistication and resources -- MDNA has raised $80,000 for the necessary studies and has been working the the Planning Department and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Wiener is opposed to the idea -- particularly the concept of including the Dolores Street median (designed by John Mclaren, he of Golden Gate Park fame) and Dolores Park in the district. The median’s already a state landmark.

“He’s been very polite to us, but he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to see streets or parks included in any historic designation,” Lewis told me.
Why? Well, for one thing, the Planning Department is talking about building bulb-outs on Dolores as a traffic-calming measure. Historic designation for the median might make that more difficult. And Lewis opposes the bulb-outs for all the wrong reasons: “They just want to get people out of their cars,” he said, dismissively.

But really: Is this all worth pushing a measure that could undermine preservation and encourage demolitions and bad development all over the city? Is the current system really all that bad? Didn't a measure to strengthen historic preservation (placed on the ballot with an 11-0 vote on the Board of Supervisors) just pass overwhelmingly two years ago?

Because it seems to me that this is a solution in search of a problem.

 

Comments

that it has any historic or architectural merit. In fact, a lot of 100 old Sf buildings are ugly, dilapidated and really not worthy of preservation.

So i am fine with de-emphasizing historic districts. Individual buildings of great merit should be saved, but saving every old structure in an area regardless of what it actually looks like misses the mark.

An old house that has been stucco'ed, has vinyl windows and the yard paved over for car parking is not something we need to preserve. In fact, a well-designed modern building would be better.

SF has more old buildings per capita than any other US city. Let's not overdo our fetish about houses that in Europe would be considered recent anyway.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

And Tim inadvertently, through dragging out every single progressive defeat on these kinds of issues over the past 40 years (the International Hotel - really Tim?) shows why. Because by using historic district rules NIMBYS and their progressive allies can stop development and tell people what they can do with their private property and hence their lives - which is ultimately the progressive goal anyway.

Just listen to Peter Lewis. He and his NIMBY pals have money and they've been "working" the necessary commissions to grant their wishes so they can preserve the Mission as THEY see fit.

Incidentally there was an article in the NY Times that clearly illustrated what historic districts do - they drive up property values within them and ensure, as in Greenwich Village, that only the super-rich can afford to live within their boundaries.

Posted by Troll II on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

moreover my building was on the register of historic buildings. It was a freaking nightmare which only someone like Tim or Steven could support. Every little change had to be approved by a central bureaucracy who, of course, were answerably only to themselves. It was probably how most of Russia was before they mellowed.

And you're right, Tim wants to increase anything that smacks of centralised control and command. He'll hide behind appearing to care about history or the enviroment but what he really wants is power for people like him.

Notice how he claims to care for the environment, but then he opposes pulling down Hetch Hetchy dam because, well, that would be inconvenient for his endlessly flawed plan for public power.

Then again, with Bruce neutered, maybe Tim will lighten up on his vendatta against PG&E.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 04, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

" It mandates a written survey of all property owners and occupants in an area proposed for historic designation -- an expensive and cumbersome thing that isn’t required for commercial development, demolitions, zoning changes, massive market-rate housing projects, full-on gentrification, or anything else that screws up neighborhoods."

It seems to me that since a preservation district would directly effect the property owners in said proposed district, it makes sense to get their opinion. They are directly effected in ways zoning changes, housing projects etc. don't do- meaning they need to get extra and expensive pre-approval for changes and construction.

Since when was a little democracy being added to the mix such a bad thing?

Posted by Dnative on May. 05, 2012 @ 8:41 am

What are the "right reasons?" Gentrification?

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 05, 2012 @ 9:17 am

If you can't bring SF to New Jersey, you bring NJ to SF!

This the saga of Log Cabin Republican Scott Wiener!

Posted by Richard on May. 05, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

Yes this is the person who now holds Harvey Milk's seat. It's depressing.

Posted by SF-Resident on May. 05, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

Wiener et al do not appreciate what many visitors from the US and abroad do; that the preservation of architecture from past decades is applauded by those who see
many other US cities as cookie-cutter, strip mall places with no character. Our preservation and the preserved neighborhoods (and "European character" as remarked to me by European visitors) are some of the reasons why visitors come here. Buildings that should be preserved need not be exceptional examples of a particular period; they represent the past that is honored, respected and remembered. They will never be built like that again. And future generations will ask: why were they torn down?

This is why it's important to preserve the 2 buildings at the 55 Laguna St. UC Extension project (read: UC-privatized project) that the developer, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors and openhouse have approved/planned for destruction--two buildings that are part of a 5-building group already listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Oh--I think Wiener garners financial support from the housing development community, n'est-ce pas?

Posted by Tiny Tim on May. 05, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

All buildings constructed prior to 1900 should be preserved exactly as they were. I'd actually go a step further and say their use should be concreted as well. The building in which the Triangle Shirtwaist fire occurred in 1911 should be reserved only for textile use EXACTLY as it was before. In San Francisco all brick buildings should be preserved for the use they were reserved for before the 1906 earthquake as well. Future generations will tell us that we were right in our planning decisions and purity is essential in this process.

I believe these actions will preserve our "European" character as it was meant to be. Like the Colosseum in Rome or Westminster Abbey in London. We are a European nation and we should heed the observations of our European brothers and sisters on this matter.

Posted by Troll II on May. 06, 2012 @ 2:47 am

Preserving them just because they are old regardless of appearance or condition makes little sense. In most cities, many of these dumps would be pulled down, and rightly so.

While if you put too many onerous demands on owners then they may just be tempted to have a little "accident" with matches.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 06, 2012 @ 8:13 am
Posted by lilliipublicans on May. 06, 2012 @ 11:42 am
Posted by Anonymous on May. 06, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

Who cares? I wouldn't make much distinction between multiple flesh-eating zombies who all "think alike" either.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 06, 2012 @ 1:53 pm
Posted by Anonymous on May. 06, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

On another forum, I see that Howard Epstein, Immediate Past Chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, is supporting boy wonder Wiener going after historic preservation. That ought to tell people something.

Even some fake "progressives" and fake "liberals" are supporting it. The Milk Club wrote a letter to Olague asking her to reject the attack on Historical Preservation. It's not likely that she will do that since she's a co-sponsor of the attack. I would guess that she will dismiss their letter and if she has a hard copy of it, being a so-called "progressive" the letter will end up in the black trash bin and not in the blue recycling bin.

The Board seems to give boy wonder whatever he wants. That seems to be the way things are going.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2012 @ 4:25 am

What a sad bunch of commenters. Wiener is a republican. right.
It's been so long that someone called himself a progressive and actually achieved anything in this town, that when someone does just that, people respond with anger and fear.
Wiener is going to have to produce some useless pronouncements denouncing some countries foreign policy or stand up against some "chain" in support of mom and pop selling 50$ artisanal socks from yarn hand squeezed madagascan boll weevils.

Ever read about the "know nothing" party? SF used to be dominated by the "do nothing" party.

Posted by greg on May. 06, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

it's because they do not carry a majority with them. 'Twas ever so.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

Wiener has never called himself a "progressive" and he's not a progressive. Like many conservatives, he's a conservative who hides behind the word "moderate" to make himself appear less backward-thinking and draconian than he is. Some examples: There's nothing "moderate" about criminalizing homelessness (sit-lie) which he campaigned for or the new sit-lie type law for the Warner/Milk Plazas which he came up with, and there's nothing "moderate" about voting for allowing the SFPD/FBI to spy on SF residents. He has also referred to supporters of Rafael M. as the "far left" (he said it as a pejorative). No real progressive would use that language. That's the language of the right-wing.

Someone up above mentioned Harvey Milk. I don't think anyone gives a damn about Harvey Milk anymore, other than to exploit his name and pictures of him for business purposes.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

would he be considered a conservative.

It seems most "progressives" in SF have an them vs us mentality. Either you are a good progressive or you are a conservative. No thought given to the idea that you might be a little less liberal than the "progressive" coalition yet still be left of center.

Posted by Dnative on May. 06, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

As per usual, you've rushed to defend your Wiener guy and try your best to minimize him and sanitize him and justify him. Do you work for him?

You're also the one who considers yourself *somewhat* liberal? Yeah sure you are. Just like I'm a conservative. Unfortunately, many people consider themselves something that they clearly are not. They think it sounds good to say: "I'm (somewhat) a liberal," even when it's far from the truth in reality.

Peace = war, up = down, leaving Afghanistan = staying in Afghanistan, hate = love.

The "them versus us" mentality that you try to lay only on "SF progressives" is what politics is about. You haven't figured that out yet? Are you that thick? For example, when it comes to the election time with the two major corporatist parties (Democratic and Republican) it's "us versus them" or "them versus us." It's been that way for years. You've never heard Republicans say, "those Democrats," and Democrats saying "those Republicans?" (us versus them)? That mentality is across politics regardless of what version it is. Partisans play the "us versus them" mentality constantly whether it's an election time or not. How could you not know this? Damned Thick.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

The vast majority of the rest of humanity is actual able to see shades of gray. You seem to be stuck in this mode of thought that if someone disagrees with you, they are not progressive and thus must be a conservative. Interesting world view that you have- everyone is either a progressive and thus good or a conservative and thus evil. Come on back when you mature.

Posted by Dnative on May. 07, 2012 @ 7:24 am

You addressed *nothing* that I said in either post. Of course there are gray areas, in nearly all things. Not all liberals agree on all topics. Not all progressives agree on all topics. Not all conservatives agree. There are gray areas throughout. But as a troll you deliberately miss the point and address nothing I've written. That's trademark troll behavior.

And what would you know about maturity when you live and (spam) post on a site that you can't stand? How mature is that? It's damned dysfunctional, which is why you're here because you exist for dysfunction. You've said in a past post, "it's no fun to come to a site where I agree with everyone" so you come here just to argue and fire off stink bombs to get someone to argue with you. Dysfunction is "fun" to you? Pathetic and very immature. I'm done with you.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

He's only a moderate in the small minds of the real conservatives in this city. The same "progressive" conservatives who rally against all housing development, who prefer to let homeless rot in the streets, who cater to the whims and desires of the unions at the expense of the public, who prefer meaningless policy statements on global foreign policy over actual business that works for San Francisco.
Mandelman was/is a douche and his election totals bear that out.
If wiener is so hated, why are his numbers so high?

Posted by Greg on May. 06, 2012 @ 7:08 pm

Are you seriously saying that historic preservation is now a progressive cause? Do you even understand what these words mean?

Historic preservation is about the most conservative cause you can believe in. Except in San Francisco, where economically illiterate progressives think it's a way to maintain rent controlled housing stock. At some point, you all have to realize that property owners will act in rational ways to achieve a legal and profitable return on their investment -- by updating/enlarging their homes and, where possibility, converting unprofitable rental units to vacation rentals,TICs and condos. Welcome to capitalism, people.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

Progressive economics means defending existing less speculative economics against proposed more virulent speculative economics.

Progressive means, for instance, establishing legal walls between commercial banks that are government regulated and proprietary trading that is not.

Progressive means putting the interests of the voters and residents before those of campaign contributors and developers.

This idea that laissez-faire capitalism is somehow progressive, and that any sort of concern for pre-speculative structures, corporate, economic or residential is reactionary is indefensible.

Unfortunately, the CCHO does not practice progressive anything, they're on the hook as recipients of developer and government crumbs and have sold out the progressive heartland of San Francisco for the privilege.

Posted by marcos on May. 07, 2012 @ 8:11 am

I live at Dolores and 14th where Anthony Weiner wants to widen sidewalks that are already wide enough for two lanes of traffic. Of course widening the sidewalk means removing one lane of traffic from the street. We will end up with one lane in either direction between 14th and Market on Guerrero.
They will be doing this at the same time a nine story condo with a Whole Foods will be put in on the same block.
In this nine story condo there will be .5 parking spaces per unit and whole foods will have 30 parking spaces.

14th is the street that many take from Market to get drive to the freeway and is a very busy street during rush hours. Market Street is of course already busy because it is Market Street and the Safeway is right there.
So now at the corner of Market and Dolores, cars will be backed up on Market waiting to get into Whole Foods, just as they do on California and Franklin and in Noe Valley.

How does this make any sense? Saying that situations like this will get people out of cars is trite. Providing better transit gets people out of cars. How about light rail or a street car down Dolores? That would get people out cars.

Whole Foods wanted wider sidewalks in front of their new store, clearly. But also didn't want to spend the money to provide ample parking for their customers. So Anthony Weiner and people of his ilk repeat banalities about getting people out of their cars because they know that it sounds liberal to say such things.

But he is far from liberal and unable to think progressively about anything other than his bank account.

Posted by Guess on May. 07, 2012 @ 10:25 am

a streetcar down Dolores, as if there wasn't a train line literally one block away on Church.

Posted by O on May. 07, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

"Providing better transit gets people out of cars. How about light rail or a street car down Dolores?"

Well, we already have the Muni metro that runs down Church Street. It's the J Church metro line.

You mentioned WF (that corporate, big-box, chain food store). People should watch this video on YouTube:

Whole Foods Organic, Made In China

Then from today, Google this (BBC News):

Chinese alarm over formaldehyde-tainted cabbages

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

Providing better transit gets people out of cars.

Posted by marcos on May. 08, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

Until they fix muni, we're gonna drive.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 08, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

The City will not deliver key services because the City bureaucracy holds San Franciscans in contempt the same way that an antisocial teen holds the Sims in their Sim City in contempt.

The point of the MTA is not to provide transit. Like every other agency, the point is to control and manipulate resources towards increasing political power.

If that political power were used to solve problems as it had been in the past, like when the systems were built, then I'd be okay with it.

But this is all a big game of keep away, where the powerful interests (more powerful than 2/3 of folks who live here) powerful corporations, the unions and nonprofits get paid and the City languishes.

This is why development plans like this and upzoning for more and more luxury housing are designed to goose profitable development for private hands while outsourcing all of the subsidies for that profit on residents.

There might be a free lunch here, but most of us don't get to dine, we just pick up the tab.

Posted by marcos on May. 09, 2012 @ 5:43 am

WTH is "Anthony Wiener" ?

It really bolsters your argument that you havent even bothered to get the names right

Posted by Mirrorman on May. 07, 2012 @ 10:42 am

"...Because it seems to me that this is a solution in search of a problem."

Or worse: by interpretation, i.e.City Attorney, Commission, Regulation...this bill could give them an inch and they will take a mile.

Posted by Guest Charley_sf on May. 08, 2012 @ 11:33 am

Historical preservationism is, by its very definition, antithetical to progressivism. Think about it. PROGRESS. Has the word been so twisted by modern connotation that people gloss over its actual meaning?
40 years from now, the historical preservationists will talk of the McMansions and condos of today as "important representatives of early 21st century architecture, and a vital fixture of the rich tapestry of vibrant neighborhood character and community."
What's gaudy and awful to one generation is an object of nostalgia to the next.

Posted by myklValentine on May. 09, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

BANANA slugs: Build ANything ANywhere, Always.

Historical preservation is a proxy to attain by other means that which cannot be attained through corruption of government by developers.

Just like the California Environmental Quality Act is being gutted to fast track development, Historical Preservation, like the environment, can cut through the developer funded political sleaze to put the interests of existing communities before those of developers who buy politicians.

Yes, it is imperfect, but it is all we've got, that is why developers are spending like drunken sailors to eviscerate it and CEQA.

Posted by marcos on May. 09, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

Clever acronym, although I've met enough anti-development Santa Cruz alums that it could create too much confusion to catch on. Then again, the public dialogue is apt to use plenty of terms in ways that seem to me to be outright contradictory to their actual meaning. Take the word "conservative."
From dictionary.com, conservative is defined as "disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change."
Sounds very much like protecting "the interests of existing communities" to me.
I don't want to presume anything, Marcos, but I'd wager you don't consider yourself a conservative person.

I don't know anything about this CEQA you mention, and don't understand its relevance here other than that it is something separate that developers are also not fond of. I must say though, the authoring legislators do know how to come up with an acronym! Would a California Environmental Quality Act Lawsuit be a CEQAL?

Posted by myklValentine on May. 09, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

Clever acronym, although I've met enough anti-development Santa Cruz alums that it could create too much confusion to catch on. Then again, the public dialogue is apt to use plenty of terms in ways that seem to me to be outright contradictory to their actual meaning. Take the word "conservative."
From dictionary.com, conservative is defined as "disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change."
Sounds very much like protecting "the interests of existing communities" to me.
I don't want to presume anything, Marcos, but I'd wager you don't consider yourself a conservative person.

I don't know anything about this CEQA you mention, and don't understand its relevance here other than that it is something separate that developers are also not fond of. I must say though, the authoring legislators do know how to come up with an acronym! Would a California Environmental Quality Act Lawsuit be a CEQAL?

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