Canard Watch: ‘Neighborhood Housing’

by Mark Wilson

If you watch broadcast television in the Bay Area, you’ve no doubt seen Lieutenant Governor (and former Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco) Gavin Newsom, along with current Mayor Ed Lee touting Proposition B. “C’mon, man, don’t you like green spaces? Don’t you like parks?” they urge.

I mean, what kind of Nazi fascist doesn’t like parks? But more importantly, what the heck is Proposition B?

The City and County of San Francisco has a height limit of 84 feet for waterfront property. A property developer, with the support of Newsom and Lee (who are nothing if not friends of property developers) wants to build a luxury condo high-rise at 8 Washington Street that would rise 136 feet. The issue is being put to voters to grant the building an exemption. Apparently some of the extant tenants on Washington Street don’t want their view obstructed by someone else, which is sort of the point of the height restrictions.

Newsom and Lee’s propaganda in favor of the project insist that they’re just building “neighborhood housing,” but as SF Weekly observed this week, when people think of “neighborhood housing,” $5 million luxury condos isn’t exactly what comes to mind. Even supporters of 8 Washington think the phrase is misleading:

No, you wouldn’t normally use “neighborhood housing” to describe a project like 8 Washington — flummoxing even the development’s ardent backers. “It would apply to something like lowering the height. Cheapening the construction. Fewer amenities,” says Housing Action Coalition Executive Director Tim Colen when asked to define “neighborhood housing.” When told this term was attached to 8 Washington — which he emphatically supports, and which does the opposite of these things — he gasps. “That’s a stretch! It is really high-end.”

In a city where affordable housing is quickly evaporating (and by “affordable,” I don’t even mean “poor people” affordable; I mean “middle class people with decent jobs” affordable), such a project is a big slap in the face. This shouldn’t be surprising; Newsom and Lee (and their silent partner, Willie Brown) are friends of landlords, developers, and big business.

But to specifically address Newsom and Lee, there’s already a park across the street from 8 Washington. And the neighborhood already has plenty of high-rises. And no, there won’t be a “neighborhood” any more than there is one now (which is to say, not much). The area is—and would remain, even with 8 Washington—mostly commercial with residential high-rises. We’re not talking brownstones and kids playing ball in the street.