Season of Discontent for "Summer of Love"

By Joel P. Engardio

For a town full of original hippies and 1970s liberals, it’s amazing how many San Franciscans in their golden years have adopted William F. Buckley Jr.’s conservative mantra to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop!”

The “Summer of Love” generation, now senior citizens, moved to San Francisco and transformed it. But many of them set about preserving what they created in amber. They made sure we didn’t build to accommodate the future. They assumed their version of San Francisco was the final and best revolution.

Yet today’s San Francisco is being re-imagined by new arrivals on a level not seen in 45 years. This inevitable transformation is extra painful because too many of our aging flower children have chosen to fight change rather than accept and manage it.

If only they grew up to be like Corinne Woods. The self-described environmental advocate, 67, came to San Francisco in 1969 and has lived on the water in Mission Creek the past 30 years. Don’t call it a houseboat.

“It’s a floating home,” Woods said. “I love waking up and watching the pelicans and gulls squabbling at my front door and the sea lions diving for fish.”

Waterfront development directly affects Woods. AT&T Park, a vast UC San Francisco campus, office complexes and thousands of new housing units surround her boat. More construction is coming, including a Warriors arena that people fought at Piers 30-32 until it was moved further away in Mission Bay.

When Mission Bay was being planned, Woods and others didn’t want the towers of Miami Beach. Developers obliged, but now she regrets the squat, blocky buildings that cover every inch of land.

“Would I rather see a few taller, skinny towers that leave more open space in between? You bet,” Woods said. “I’d still fight against an all-out Miami Beach approach, but we should have built higher. Mission Bay would look and feel better.”

Many in Woods’ generation contend nothing should have been built and they’re calling for no more “Wall on the Waterfront.” But Woods said the popular slogan is misguided and she refuses to adopt a Not-In-My-Backyard attitude.

“Why am I not a NIMBY? Because I think it’s counter-productive to not do anything,” Woods said. “Magical thinking won’t change the fact that the laws of supply and demand still apply in San Francisco. Everyone wants to live here and things will only get worse if we don’t build on available surplus land.”

For Woods, there is a balance that lets everyone win. Her self-interest is enjoying life on the water, where her home has floated next to an industrial wasteland for much of her time on Mission Creek.

“I want parks and open space, and that’s not free,” Woods said. “San Francisco is under tremendous pressure to accommodate more people. So let’s do it in places that are full of parking lots and vacant land. The trade-off is allowing developments that include public benefits like my parks.”

Woods understands that forcing developers to comply with arbitrary height restrictions is the quickest way to kill a new park or housing. That’s why Woods opposes Proposition B on the June 3 ballot. She knows nothing happens if it isn’t economically feasible and she fears Prop B will condemn the waterfront to a future of nothing.

Worse, crumbling piers will fall into San Francisco Bay without the financial means to rehabilitate them.

“Going into a shell and ignoring reality won’t solve anything,” Woods said. “We can preserve empty, toxic land or make our waterfront vibrant. We can roll up the sidewalk or open ourselves up to new possibilities. New people bring talent, diversity and innovation to San Francisco. Our city and its waterfront should be shared with them.”

Also published in San Francisco Examiner May 18, 2014

HousingJoel Engardio