Tale of two parties: Was the 8 Washington defeat a referendum on City Hall?

Sups. David Campos (at mic) and David Chiu address the No on Props. B&C party.
Steven T. Jones

From tonight’s victory party for opponents of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condo project, the overwhelming defeat of developer-backed Propositions B&C seemed to go beyond just this project. It sounded and felt like a blow against Mayor Ed Lee’s economic policies, the gentrification of the city, and the dominion that developers and power brokers have at City Hall. 

“What started as a referendum on height limits on the waterfront has become a referendum on the mayor and City Hall,” former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the large and buoyant crowd, a message repeated again and again tonight.

Former Mayor Art Agnos also cast the victory over 8 Washington as the people standing up against narrow economic and political interests that want to dictate what gets built on public land on the waterfront, driven by larger concerns about who controls San Francisco and who gets to live here.

“This is not the end, this is the beginning and it feels like a movement,” Agnos told the crowd. “We’ll have to tell the mayor that his legacy,” a term Lee has used to describe the Warriors Arena he wants to build on Piers 30-32,” is not going to be on our waterfront.”

Campaign Manager Jon Golinger also described the victory in terms of a political awakening and turning point: “We are San Francisco and you just heard us roar!”

Campaign consultant Jim Stearns told the Guardian that he thought the measures would be defeated, but everyone was surprised by the wide margin – the initiative B lost by 25 points, the referendum C was 33 points down – which he attributed to the “perfect storm” of opposition.

Stearns cited three factors that triggered the overwhelming defeat: recent populist outrage over the city’s affordability crisis, concerns about waterfront height crossing ideological lines, and “a tone deaf City Hall that didn’t want to hear there were any problems with the project.”.

Among the key project opponents who have sometimes stood in opposition to the city's progressives was former City Attorney Louise Renne, who blasted City Hall and called the Planning Department “utterly disgraceful,” telling the crowd, “Get your rest, more to come, San Francisco.”

Both progressive and political moderates often share a distrust of the close connections between powerful developers and the Mayor’s Office, and that seemed to play out in this campaign and at the polls.

“San Francisco, this victory is for you. And to all those developers out there: Do not mess with our waterfront. We’re not going to stand for it,” Renne said.

Two supervisors who opposed 8 Washington – David Chiu and Davis Campos – also spoke at the event, with the latter starting to define their political differences as they each run for the Assembly seat being vacated after next year by Tom Ammiano.

“Tonight, San Francisco said we stand for affordable housing and not luxury condos,” said Chiu, who played a pivotal role in appointing Lee as mayor and ending the progressive dominance on the Board of Supervisors.

Campos followed by noting, “I’ve been criticized for saying we’re seeing a tale of two San Franciscos, but that’s what we have here,” referencing a theme that echoes (as Chiu’s campaign operatives have critically noted) that of progressive Bill de Blasio, who also won a resounding victory tonight in the New York City mayor’s race.

“We have a City Hall that, quite frankly, doesn’t get it,” Campos continued, referencing the redevelopment of Parkmerced’s rent control housing and today’s board vote to close city parks at night, both of which Chiu was the swing vote in approving. “When City Hall doesn’t get it right, the people of San Francisco step in.”

Peskin also stoked the class warfare fires by saying, “Your voices are being heard loud and clear in Simon Snellgrove's penthouse,” referencing the 8 Washington developer who spent nearly $2 million on this unsuccessful campaign. And Peskin said he had a message directly for Mayor Lee: “Wake up, San Francisco is talking!”

Judge Quentin Kopp, who fought downtown’s aggressive push for more high-rise development as a Westside supervisor back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, called tonight’s victory “history repeating itself,” mentioning the work that the Bay Guardian did in opposition to “the Manhattanization of San Francisco.”

Kopp also took a swipe at Mayor Lee, the protégé of Kopp’s old nemesis, former Mayor Willie Brown, when he said, “This is the beginning of the end of five more years of Willie Brown’s administration.”

Indeed, the current political moment is beginning to feel a little like 1999, when Brown won a narrow re-election victory against the upstart write-in campaign of progressive hero Tom Ammiano and a movement stirred by the evictions and gentrification of the last dot-com bubble. The next year, progressive candidates won a majority on the Board of Supervisors and held it for almost a decade.

One of those supervisors was Chris Daly, now political director of SEIU Local 1021, who was at the North Beach party and told the Guardian that while Mayor Lee has been trying to defend bad policies like his Twitter tax break and support for 8 Washington, the voters tonight really had their fingers on the pulse of the city: “I’d call this a referendum on Ed Lee’s policies in San Francisco.”

Meanwhile, it was a very different scene over at the Yes on B&C party:

The party was held at Coqueta, an upscale waterfront establishment just a stone's throw from the 8 Washington project site. Despite the trays of gourmet hors d'oeuvres and frothy mojitos floating past, the guests were subdued and the mood was not celebratory.

Developer Simon Snellgrove, whose 8 Washington project was essentially being flushed down the tubes tonight, was in no mood to comment. "I'm having a little private party tonight," he told us, "and I don't want to talk to the press."

Rose Pak, a consultant for the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce who is well-known for her ties to powerful interests in the city, had a small circle of guests around her throughout the night and spent some time catching up with Snellgrove. Asked to comment, Pak said, "I don't know the Bay Guardian," and stopped making eye contact. At previous events, Pak has lectured Guardian reporters about what she sees as the paper's shortcomings.

Other notables included Jim Lazarus, who works on public policy for the Chamber of Commerce, P.J. Johnston, a former communications director for Willie Brown, and of course Tim Colen of the Housing Action Coalition and former planner Alec Bash, both of whom campaigned publicly for the project.

Mayor Ed Lee was expected to make an appearance but if he did, it was after the party's prime and after the Guardian had already left the scene.

After the first round of results came in, Colen addressed the crowd. "The returns are coming in and I have to tell you they don’t look good," he said. "It's pretty likely we're not going to prevail tonight." Then went onto recognize "some really magnificent warriors" in the room, including Snellgrove and Alicia Esterkamp Allbin, a Principal at development firm Pacific Waterfront Partners.

"We ran a wonderful campaign we can all be proud of,” he added. “It was going to be a wonderful activation for the waterfront. I think what we didn't see coming was how .. it somehow morphed into something much larger and was defined in different ways."

Lazarus told the Guardian, "I'm not optimistic," when asked early on in the night what he thought about the outcome. He added, "I think this project got caught up in a lot of other things."

"If it loses ... There was a lot of I think mistaken concern about the impact.”

Noting that the project went through months of approval but then was subject to a referendum and finally wound up on the ballot, he criticized the focus on building heights and the idea that it was about something more than just a waterfront development project. But this was the outcome, he said, because "An unholy alliance of people got together to oppose the project."

Perhaps “unholy alliance” is in the eyes of the beholder, but tonight, the voters of San Francisco seemed to prefer the alliance that opposed 8 Washington and all that it has come to represent in San Francisco.


imagine that he will be donating a significant six-figure sum to good causes.

It's not like he can have anyone to pass his condo onto.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Nobody elected you god. And "policies you've proposed" are merely warmed-over rehashings of ideas and policies much better articulated and understood by people you've read or heard speak that you then adopt as your own. Then you pat yourself on the back for being so brilliant. Notice all of the "you," "you" and "you"?

If you cared about getting any ideas into the political discussion you'd shut-up about "you" and focus on the needs and wants of people you're trying to convince.

You bought a former rent-controlled apartment. Thus, we all know that everything is about you and that you could care less about anyone else. Your influence never was and will never be. Maybe you and Brooks can work together on the "progressive purity test" to vette future candidates. I'm sure the entire city will be anxiously waiting for your report.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:05 am

helped gentrify the Mission even while claiming that he opposed that.

And shame that his political effort came to nothing.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:18 am

that you clearly either envy him, want to screw him, or both

which is it?

Posted by lksdjf on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:28 am

The mistake in that assumption is assuming that there is someone male in this town that hasnt already screwed Marcos.

Posted by Bob on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:43 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:52 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:46 am

The policies I've pushed for and which have been rejected outright by developers and which the nonprofits have been forced to abandon have been ratified by voters: they want a fair, equitable planning process to replace this regulatory captured charade of entitlement.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:58 am

unique and controversial proposal to the idea that the city has decided that you were right all along.

Because you weren't. You lost for a very good reason - the people did not buy what you were selling.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Decisive repudiation of Ed Lee and the Willie Brown model of land use planning.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

so your comments apply to the three major posters here - Eric, marcos and lilli/racer.

Eric is still active although nobody takes him seriously outside of his clean energy stuff

Marcos has given up having lost the major battles in the 1990's and 2000's, and got sidelined by the better-organized non-profits.

Lilli/Racer has never been active and is old, unemployed and, essentially, this place is his whole life, hence the dumb barriers and all that.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:43 am

...'Reform' measure (which in its original form would have demolished our local California Environmental Quality Act protections to favor developers like Snellgrove) and we won.

So your endless refrain that I am only effective, and/or listened to, on clean energy issues, is simply incorrect.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:55 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by lksdjflj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:13 am

You're a single-issue guy, like most Greens. Your other ideas are fanciful and have zero probability of ever happening e.g. no private ownership of land

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:15 am

In 2006 and 2007, I was a core coordinator of the campaign to stop Earthlink/Google from taking over the city's local wifi network as a private monopoly. And as a result we now have Google giving us public wifi for -free- with no strings attached. So I also campaign to protect consumers.

I've helped fight chain stores as well.

And in 2008 I was a lead organizer locally of the no on Prop 98 state ballot campaign. (Prop 98 would have been a major statewide repeal of rent control laws in California.)

So you clearly don't know anything about my career in organizing beyond what you have read in these blogs.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:44 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:55 am

I'm not a big fan of either being lionized (or raising myself up) as some sort of leader, because I feel that sort of posturing encourages people to seek help from leaders instead of realizing that they can stand up to help themselves.

One of my favorite quotes is the following:

"I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves."

Che Guevara

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

Likewise, since the progressive electoral project collapsed, I've been working with neighborhood folks who are doing what I agree with, providing pro bono political consulting on how to navigate the system and frame their messaging and demands.

I've worked successfully with folks in my neighborhood to traffic calm with the MTA, fight parking meters against the MTA and force a developer to make their craptacular condos less unfriendly to the community and keep elementary school kids safe from their speeding cars.

Our neighborhood stopped Jack Spade, the City stopped Simon Snellgrove, Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

A Thousand Troll Barriers Today!

A Thousand!

Posted by racer さ on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:56 am

progressive delusions of grandeur.
Marcos, Eric..

Is there a correlation between poor socialization and being a progressive activist in SF?

Posted by Bob on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

They feel like outsiders and that informs their politics.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

I only did so on this thread after I was challenged as somehow just being an 'environmentalist'. So I raised some of my other campaign work to indicate that this isn't true.

So your comment directed at me is simply inaccurate.

In fact, it is the fact that I don't have delusions of grandeur and know how to assess campaign possibilities rationally and without wishful thinking about either my own abilities or any given campaign's potential, that has made me pretty successful as an activist.

I am also extremely coalition oriented and never see myself as the primary factor in a campaign. Campaigns don't really work that way anymore. To me, it is all about coalition building.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

otherwise the result would have been different?

If so, how do you justify interfering with the democratic process unless you somehow think that you know what is good for us better than we know ourselves?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

...be different, than the current situation.

And gathering allies who agree with a position to join together in a coalition and work to convince a community and community leaders to adopt that position, is how democracy works.

If I simply walked into City Hall and said, "I've got all the answers, do what I say." I would get laughed out of the building.

It is only through building majority support (ideally consensus) that grassroots democratic campaigns win.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

result than would have happened without your campaign, then effectively you have changed the will of the people by your own efforts. You have effectively altered a result to the one you preferred.

And that is essentially as non-democratic as throwing money at a campaign. That that is my point - there are individuals on both sides who want a different result, and they are willing to go beyond merely their own vote to achieve that.

But in both cases, you are seeking to project your own view. Why is your view better than anyone else's?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

...those who are organizing, that we believe there is a problem (and/or solution) and saying to the public, "Look at our information that supports our concern and vote on whether you agree."

There is nothing whatsoever that is undemocratic about that process. In fact, if someone feels something is wrong or could be made better, and does nothing, they are harming the democratic process by not providing information to the public. As we know, democracy is impossible without a continuously informed public.

Jefferson said "Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."

It is the job of an organizer to attract their notice.

You seem to proceeding from the assumption that it is 'democracy' for voters to simply elect supervisors and a mayor, etc, and then just leave running the government and development up to them.

That's how a -republic- works, but is not how -democracy- works.

So if you seek democracy, you welcome organizers actively educating the public and asking them to engage in their own governance.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

think that you know things that they do not. Why are you so sure?

Moreover those who throw money at elections would say the exact same thing i.e. that the money pays for education.

In the end it comes down to the fact that you personally think you are right. And who doesn't think they are right?

Instead of a society ruled by money, you want a society ruled by activists and those with the time and energy to advocate. I see the two as no different.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

That activists, by simple virtue of activism can somehow 'rule' a society. On what basis do you make such a claim?

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

But you wouldn't do it unless you thought it could have at least some marginal impact on election results. And that is the point I was making - your desire to potentially change an election result to favor your own personal viewpoint is little different than throwing money at an election to try and send it your way.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

That an activist, who must convince a multitude of others to join in putting a proposal before the public, is somehow merely single-handedly pushing his own personal viewpoint in the same way that, for example, David Koch would use his oil money to very much single-handedly push his own personal view on the public through advertising, etc.

Clearly, your new premise is false.

Grassroots democracy is building mutual agreement, not pushing an individual view. As soon as the original view of the original activist to start a campaign is shared by others, it is no longer personal.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

It can take money to "educate" them.

Or it can be done by "feet on the ground", repeating the same message over and over, shaming people into voting differently, and so on.

I still fail to see any difference between throwing effort at elections and throwing money at elections. In both cases one person isn't just content to let everyone to vote. They want to swing the election their way by whatever means they have at their disposal, whether that be money or effort.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

...false premise: That grassroots outreach is 'shaming' (which is clearly nonsense) we're done.

Three strikes and your out.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

Again, I see you as no different from those who try and "buy" elections.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

The veil of corruption can be pierced.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

That's just a different type of corruption.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

That's just a different type of corruption.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

That's just a different type of corruption.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

Yes, an "unholy" alliance indeed!!

Posted by Granny Gear (Terrrie Frye) on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

Ron Conway! Fuk yea!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:30 am

Suck on it, boosters!

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:48 am

>"1999, when Brown won a narrow re-election victory against the upstart write-in campaign of progressive hero Tom Ammiano"

In reality Brown got 132K votes to Aminano's 89K, a 60%-40% victory

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:50 am

Ammiano's write-in campaign was pretty historic, considering there were others on the ballot running against Brown who marketed themselves as "liberals" and "progressives". It was mind-blowing that a write-in candidate could vault to the number two vote-getter.

And regardless of what the actual Brown-Ammiano outcome results in 1999, the most important effort of that campaign was afterwards when Ammiano and others looked around the community and identified quality candidates to run against the Brown Machine in 2000, which completely neutered Willie Brown for the rest of his term.

That progressive leadership, which was supported by a very broad group of individuals and groups, was quite effective until Chiu and Kim handed the mayor's seat to Ed Lee. Since then, Ed Lee, Jane Kim, David Chiu, Scott Wiener and the always reliable downtown vote in D4 have turned the city into a divisive, insecure community where massive rent increases and an eviciton notice are waiting in the mail, and the only new housing being built caters to either millionaires or the very poor.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:24 am

We could also take the view that, since Agnos (and notwithstanding Tom and Matt) coming close, but no cigar), this city has had a very consistent 60-40 tilt towards the moderates, of which Lee's win over Avalos is only the latest installment.

The importance of Lee's interim status and volte-face is a handy excuse for progressives but the real failure is not having a candidate who resonates with the majority.

Progressives can win the odd battle like this, when the rich help them. It says nothing about the city changing tack, and one could argue that the demographic changes further favor the moderates.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:52 am

Since we gave away runoffs, progs have forfeited valuable organizing opportunities.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:45 am

In return though, I think we have a more democratic election and faithful representation of the electorate. It's a good tradeoff, IMO.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:13 am

It's true that progressives haven't been able to find many smart, capable, thoughtful and inclusive candidates for many years. But with at least 60% of the city's voters wondering if today's the day they receive that eviction notice in the mail, most of them know they will be looking for housing options in Stockton and Tracy since the city has become way too exclusive and expensive for them. If the right candiate is found, that's a lot of voters motivated to find a replacement for Ed Lee, who has turned the city into a divisive, insecure and polarized community where the mayor most often sides with the very wealthy and the very poor (to cover his flanks).

Maybe Peskin will step up since he helped lead the very successful Prop B & C victory, although he's got a few issues to overcome. Or maybe Gonzalez can be dragged out of retirement, although he's also got a few issues to overcome. At a minimum, those two should be talking as often as necessary with other key groups in the city to find a candidate who can move the city forward, support job strategies that cater to the city's entire income spectrum and, most importantly, build 20-50,000 housing units that cater to the broad income ranges of current residents who earn 80% to 150% of AMI. Building safe, secure, and moderately affordable housing for the current tenants who are tired of living under the imminent threat of eviction is a proactive, pro-growth and positive agenda.

Ed Lee is currently viewed by many voters as a toxic, divisive mayor. With the right candidate and right platform, he can be defeated.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:22 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:30 am

does anyone know the ratio of market to below market renters?

Posted by lksdjfo on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:45 am

control, as are post-1979 buildings and any building owned by a non-profit or government agency. Add those to the buildings that are owner occupied and you are probably close to 50% already.

If we assume the other 50% are covered by rent control, then the question is how many are significantly below market? That essentially equates to people who have been in situ for 15-20 years or more.

The average turnover period is about seven years, so I might argue that leaves maybe no more than a quarter whose rents are so low that a landlord would Ellis.

Also bear in mind that a landlord with one low-rent tenant and 2/3/4 decent paying tenants will not Ellis.

So you are left with the buildings where each unit is low rent. A fair number, still, but gradually getting winnowed away.

Long-term the demographic trends do not look good for rent control.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:58 am

is that middle to upper middle class tenants, especially those with rent control, are going to be chafing at their rising rents, and very sympathetic to tenant protections

Posted by lksdjf on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:05 am

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