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.


are set at 60% of CPI, which itself is negligible and has been for several years.

Renters in condos, SFH's, new build and anyone who moved in recently are paying a lot. But State Law prevents those from being brought under rent control anyway, so not so much can be done.

Also, some people who move to SF may feel their sky-high rent is due to rent-controlled tenants hoarding so many units.

Anyway, I'd put the percentage of SF voters at risk from Ellis as less than 25%. And remember that, for all this talk of an epidemic, there are still less than 200 Ellis evictions a year.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:21 am

like San Francisco is now experiencing, every renter is a below market renter within a month or two.

So your ratio is 1/everybody else.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:12 am

either own, or who rent proeprties outside of rent control.

If you moved in during the last decade or so, you are at little risk of Ellis.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:34 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

We can do without 'progressives' like that. If we seek to fight the corporate onslaught on wages and benefits, and the rise of deep wealth disparity, we must not elect candidates like Gonzalez.

Let's keep Gonzalez and Adachi in the Public Defender's office where their economic myopia doesn't interfere with their doing good work.

If the San Francisco public becomes sufficiently enraged about being screwed (and they definitely aren't there yet) I can see Avalos winning in an open election with no incumbent.

Let's put our eggs in a truly progressive basket like that one.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:43 am

Matt who? Let's aim for the populist center where we win instead of the progressive fringes where we lose.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:04 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:23 am

In 20 years when the city is paying 1/3 of its budget for interest expenses, retiree pensions and healthcare costs, many voters will wonder how the politicians allowed that to happen. It won't be very fun to tell voters that police, fire, library, park, senior and low-income housing programs have to be severely slashed in order to pay for growing retiree, healthcare and interest expenses that have crowded out other government spending.

Debt financing is not progressive. In fact, it's the opposite of "progressive" since the politicians are telling voters one thing ("we can afford this budget") when in fact they're pushing the cost far into the future for someone else to pay. It's like polluting a river while producing something of value. The current consumers aren't paying for the pollution; it's the future residents/taxpayers that will be on the hook for the toxic clean-up.

Avalos lost the last election by a large margin. It would be stupid for him to run in the next election. Plus, he doesn't really resonate with more moderate voters and is very closely tied to the many non-profit mafia groups who have helped run San Francisco's progressive politics into the gutter.

Greg is usually the only commenter on this chatboard who makes any sense and has more than an once of thoughtful intelligence. He agrees with you about Adachi and presumably Gonzalez. Regardless, I'd rather be on the opposite side of Greg than support any candidate who is largely supported by the non-profit mafia and who basically runs a campaign with the slogan "Anyone but Ed Lee."

Government debt financing is crushing almost every country, state and city in the world. If progressives want to hide their head in the sand rather than deal with it intelligently, I'd say the end of the progressive era couldn't happen soon enough. I'd rather vote for a Tea Bagger, who at least understands that debt financing mostly benefits the 1%ers and harms current and future residents, than ever vote for a "progressive" who supports pushing current government costs onto future residents and taxpayers.

And PS - there is no "truly progressive basket." Candidates have a mix of good ideas and bad; admirable supporters and whack-jobs; worthwhile character traits and flaws. Such black-white thinking as "truly progressive" is anti-progressive on its face. It's just more evidence of progressives' parental, authoritarian and oppressive views about anyone who doesn't agree with them. The sooner they're tossed into the ashcan of political history, the better.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:37 am

particularly because it's the same problem at the State and Federal level, so there is nobody to bail us out. Everyone is kicking this into the long grass because the only sure is too painful - massive tax hikes for everyone and massive layoffs and cuts in city services.

Agree also that Avalos is a has-been already. There's isn't anyone at the elft who can defeat Lee who will sail into a re-election unless something changes dramatically.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:09 am

What happened Ed? Couldn't get enough "stencil voters" to the polls this time around?

Posted by Sfparkripoff on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 6:53 am

is a sign of a vast proletarian revolution?

The phrase "clutching at straws" comes to mind. Maybe the progressives need to at least field candidates against incumbents before they can start talking about a great sea change in this city's politics.

Today will be business as usual at city hall, and those new condo towers will keep going up and up in the city, while Ellis evictions continue amuck.

You had your fun, albeit thanks to a few billionaires who get to keep their view. Now it's back to the real world.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:03 am
Posted by jlfkdj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:44 am

I do not seek to impose my views on others. My point was rather that every time the Progressives win something, they think it is the start of something significant when, in reality, things like this are a one-off with little long-term significance.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:00 am

to say it constructively

but in reality, your intention is simply to attack and abuse people and try to make them feel inferior

envy born of having been mistreated as a child is so sad

and so ugly

Posted by glkhjsd on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:23 am

I wish the Simon Snellgroves and Ron Conways of the world would stick to just voting, rather than trying to impose their views on others.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:24 am

If the billionaires and developers stopped pumping money into the electoral process AND activists and advocates stopped with their attempts to skew the system as well, then we'd have a real democracy i.e. one man, one vote and nobody on the sides trying to distort the process.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:31 am

Activists run campaigns based on people, not money, and that's a huge difference.

What activists/organizers/labor does is not that much different than ordinary people talking to each other. Should it be illegal to tell my friends and family my perspective on local politics? Of course not. What about if I went door to door and spoke to all of my neighbors about an issue I care about? That's just called democracy. Well, there's nothing wrong with getting 2000 of my friends who agree with me to go door to door and do the same either. Just ordinary folks talking to ordinary folks.

The problem arises when one person (or a corporation), or a handful of the same, pours huge amounts of money into a campaign of professionally produced mailers and TV advertising to the point that their message drowns out everything else. Even if they don't have the support in the neighborhood. That's a subversion of what the spirit of democracy is all about.

You could argue that sometimes what unions do is indistinguishable from the kind of campaigns that corporations run. I'd agree. If we could limit *all* the money to a certain amount, I would be fine with that. Take out the corporate money, the PAC money, the union money, the individual contributor money... or at least limit it to a level playing field. Then let the chips fall where they may.

Beyond that, if people can get more individuals on their side to spread the word, I have no problem with that. If you want to unleash unlimited development, fine, get an army of canvassers together to spread your message (if you can find such people). But don't set up some phoney baloney campaign called "Families for Homes, Parks, and Cute Fuzzy Puppies" that's really just one dude with 2 million bucks to spend.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

something very similar. The number of rich people trying to "buy" elections is very small, as is the number of "activists" who are trying to achieve the same end thru effort rather than money. Both are one percents.

That leaves the 98% of the populace who are vulnerable to these influences. I'm suggesting that we take away both the one percent mobs, and just let people vote their conscience.

I'd support outlawing all campaigning and just have people vote their own views rather than bombard them with either paid ad's or sidewalk-pounding by "activists".

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

...which to base their votes?

(And by the way, your new false premise that activists are as small in number as the 1%, is simply bullshit. And your unspoken assumption that a group of activists have as much ability to get public attention as can one person with a bunch of money, is equally ridiculous.)

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

I think there's a lot of pushback against policies that promote inequality and make life difficult for ordinary people. Not just here, but nationally.

In New York, Bill de Blasio won by 50 points, on an overt campaign centered on the issue of economic inequality. And he promised to end Stop and Frisk.

In Boston, the pro-labor candidate won against the corporate Dem. That guy campaigned on reigning in the public employee unions, and he lost.

Minimum wage increase (with COLA) won in New Jersey, and the Washington state city that hosts the Seattle airport passed a $15/hr minimum wage.

I think we're seeing continued disillusionment with the neoliberal model.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:09 am

Is what we are seeing nation wide a very good sign? Yes.

Is winning against B & C a good sign? Yes.

Does all of this mean that there is a progressive wave about to sweep in San Francisco?

Not if we just sit back and assume so.

Locally, with sharp political organizing by developers and corporations, and with a progressive wing on the Board of Supervisors who feel they must tilt far more to weak compromise and civility than the class of 2000, we are frankly still pushed back on our heels at this point.

If we want to turn this victory into a sweeping wave, we need to engage a determined fight like we did in the Ammiano and Gonzales campaigns.

But the possibility is definitely there, waiting for us to grab it.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:32 am

1) Record low turnover, or close to

2) It took money from the rich to pull off - not so likely to become common unless George Soros takes an interest in SF

3) The people who opposed 8-Wash felt much more strongly than those who were OK with it. So the No voters came out in force, while the Yes voters didn't bother, as there was nothing else worth voting on

4) Some people I know didn't want this on the ballot at all, and so voted No. This confused a number of people, and even SPUR. If you didn't think it should have been on the ballot, you should have voted Yes, but many didn't get that. (That said, it would probably have gone down anyway on the envy factor)

5) Progressives tend to do best in small matters and do badly when it really counts. This didn't really count - it was just one building in the end.

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

...to the right, nearly always.

So this election was turned by conservatives who voted with progressives on B & C, which is a pretty powerful development, and strongly resembles the similar joining, over the past year, of conservatives with progressives, to tectonically shift and rewrite into better environmental law, Scott Wiener's attempt to weaken California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) protections in San Francisco. (And the primary role of those protections in the City is to protect us from out-of-control development.)

On your supposed 'envy factor', and Point 5?

You are whistling in the dark bigtime. this is clearly a major turning point in San Francisco against the development lobby, especially in light of the CEQA victory I noted above.

Progressives who are sick of getting screwed, and conservatives and moderates who have lived a long time in the city, are joining together to fight the destruction of their city.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:44 am

good reason. The depth of felling about 8-Wash among those who opposed it was immense and, I thought, way out of proportion for what in the end is just a few homes.

I know plenty of folks who, like me, thought it should be built, but really aren't affected if it isn't built.

So it was quite simply a case of one side being much more motivated than the other. I do not think you can infer from that that people object to the dozens of other condo towers going up right now.

Generally, people think more homes should be built, and opposing that is suicidal.

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


It was about whether to build a giant luxury condo tower on the waterfront.

And on the voter profile, conservatives are much more dedicated to voting in every election. And this election had a pension reform measure on the ballot. That's outright conservative candy, and certainly attracted them.

My guess is that the ratio of conservatives/moderates to progressives was about 50/50, which means 25% of those conservatives/moderates voted No on B & C.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

B/C was the only reason to show up yesterday and, as noted, those against it cared more than those for it.

That's not the case for other condo projects which are proceeding and which have broad support. 8-Wash was a one-off.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

Seems to me that whenever development is on the ballot, it loses. That's why we enacted height limits in the first place. That's why Herrera needed to torpedo the petition to stop Lennar's development -he knew that a vote of the people would go against the profiteering developers, so the only way to save Lennar's profits was to prevent the people from having their say.

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

Lennar itself put a measure on the ballot, spent $5 million on glossy mailers, and won.

However, it may be correct that when -referendums- are placed on the ballot to challenge previous development decisions, they will tend to win.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

and just vote on every application to DBI for a building permit?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

Next Question?

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Herrera invalidated the petitions to put the Bayview Redevelopment plan on the ballot (not the Lennar development specifically). Similar idea.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

The progressive groups are good at organizing around opposing things they don't like. But they have zero skill at organizing around a positive agenda since they don't agree on what that postive agenda should look like. There are just too many small groups pushing their own, narrow agendas. It's the defining political trend at the local, state, national and international levels. Thus, the status quo remains aside from the occasional one-off victory like opposition against B and C.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:49 am

and related negative talking points.

But where are the affirmative policies from the left? All they want to do is "bash the rich" as if that is a coherent policy.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:14 am

Rent control, sick leave, Healthy SF, marriage equality, minimum wage, police oversight, height limits, sunshine laws... need I go on?

Of course you'll probably see a lot of economic justice legislation as "bashing the rich," but that just shows how skewed your perspective is. The rich are in no danger of being bashed. They've been bashing the rest of us and progressive legislation sometimes manages to fight back.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

without equal. Yet you are still miserable.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

Why would you want height limits? Denser building is good for the environment, increases supply, and makes per unit costs lower since less land is used.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

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 nkldfhjlij on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

and without the rallying call of housing affordability, where would the elft be?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

The stencil voters must have been preoccupied with their evictions. Go Ed Lee!!!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:04 am

I'd like to think this was a referendum against city hall, and the electorate is waking up, but I'm not so sure. If it weren't for the obstruction of the waterfront (a literal usurping of the commons for corporate gain), I wonder if the the moderate vote would have been there to vote NO. I hope I'm wrong. We know we will see these things on every ballot to come- there is just too much money to be made.

Posted by Samantha Murphy on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:27 am

proposed building as it takes a lot of money to get the signatures on the ballot. It only happened this time because some one-percenter was going to have his view blocked.

Notice those two huge 50/60 story towers at Rincom Hill? Far more significant than 8-Wash in terms of scale, and nary a word of dissent.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:04 am

yes, passing an anti development ordinance in the most hostile "big city" in the US is clearly a sign of a nascent uprising.

The tea party should know it would be profoundly welcome in SF progressive land due to the shared motivations:
Fear of change
eschewing of science
extreme mistrust of government

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:43 am

superior organizing skills....

you claim to be good at making money

maybe you should move to Wall Street where you would be happy and not so envious all the time

Posted by jlfk on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:01 am

hahah yes. SF progressives are sure superior about organizing!

Posted by Bob on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:22 am

fighting the much larger and more important issues that they are losing every day, like the forest of new condo buildings and the spike in evictions.

It was sacrificed to save all the other projects.

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

whatever happened to

"a vast majority of San Franciscans support development"


you should work on that envy problem

Posted by glkhj on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 8:33 am

I was more offended at the false advertising Mayors Newsom and Lee used re the project. Calling it 'neighborhood housing with a park' was not anywhere near an accurate description of what was being built. Luxury condos and a small traingular piece of property that couldn't be built on so it would be devoted to park space. So now they have to go back to the drawing board. Here's a thought. Why not develop the land as a public park?

Posted by StevenTorrey on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:44 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 7:50 am

Aren't the ones who would've been housed in 8 Washington.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 9:14 am

Each decile of the population displaces the one below it, and the bottom rung ends up homeless.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

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