By Joel P. Engardio
You know it’s a slow election year when a vote on a condo development along The Embarcadero becomes a referendum on all that is good and evil in San Francisco.
It’s also time to pick our city attorney, treasurer and assessor. But they are all incumbents running unopposed. There isn’t much voter interest or turnout when candidates can vote themselves into office.
So we’re keeping local democracy alive with two confusing ballot measures about a proposed “wall” of new condos along the waterfront. The debate over the 8 Washington St. project has become so hyperbolic that you would think we were voting to erect The Wall in “Game of Thrones” to forever block the view of San Francisco Bay.
Does 8 Washington make me feel like a Wildling kept out of the Seven Kingdoms? If someone makes lots of money because they dreamed up Instagram, I don’t begrudge their waterfront condo from my Inner Sunset apartment.
Rich people will always have the best views. I accept that. When I ride my bike through Tiburon, jog along The Embarcadero or walk Lands End, I enjoy the scenery with no illusion that I could ever afford to look at it from my living room.
In America, the rich can live in multimillion-dollar residences on private land with the understanding that everyone has access to a public shore. Even if 8 Washington was built twice as high, I’d still be able to walk freely at the water’s edge and see pretty much the same view.
Why is this an issue then? Why are we fighting over a condo development that’s shorter than other residential towers nearby? Why are we voting on a project that has already been approved by numerous city and state agencies?
The answers to these questions might require one of Tina Fey’s epic eye rolls.
First, good luck figuring out what you’re voting for. Only in San Francisco does one issue have two ballot measures. You have to vote yes for both Propositions B and C if you want the condos built and no for both if you don’t want them built.
What’s really at stake? It depends on how you define “wall.” Each side has produced slick online videos that feature menacing wall imagery.
The No Wall on the Waterfront people claim the condos resemble the old Embarcadero freeway that once bisected The City and waterfront. But their “wall” is a boogeyman. The condos would be on the west side of The Embarcadero roadway, not adjacent to the Bay.
Meanwhile, the Open Up the Waterfront folks say 8 Washington will get rid of a wall that’s actually there. The land is currently a parking lot and private tennis club behind a tall, opaque fence. The condo project will create a new public park and children’s playground accessible from the sidewalk where the fence now stands.
Voters are being manipulated to believe this is a fight to preserve an ideal San Francisco and punish developers for ruining our city. But it’s really just a fight between the rich.
If 8 Washington is built, buildings behind it will lose some lucrative views. The old rich are spending gobs of money to save their view while the new rich are spending even more to get one.
Regardless of how you vote, someone rich will win the best view. But don’t think your vote is wasted. There’s an outcome that can benefit everyone.
Consider the new property taxes that 8 Washington will generate with 134 condos selling for top dollar. That’s millions City Hall can spend on the rest of us for improved services, better schools and safer streets.
Maybe a little free-market capitalism isn’t bad for San Francisco after all.