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San Franciscans Nix Waterfront Development Plans


The subject of affordability in American cities came up in a referendum yesterday in San Francisco. Voters rejected measures that would have given a green light to a major luxury condo development. The city is enjoying a construction boom. And some San Franciscans saw this vote as a fight over the kind of city they want.

Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: I'm standing at the corner of Washington Street and Embarcadero. The Embarcadero is the roadway that runs along the city's waterfront and it has just killer views of the San Francisco Bay. There were plans to build 134 luxury condos for as much as $5 million apiece along the Embarcadero. But voters said no.

The vote wasn't even close. Sixty two percent of voters rejected one measure, Proposition B which would have allowed the condo project. More than 66 percent of voters said no to a companion measure, Proposition C, that would have allowed the condo project to exceed current height limits.

Jon Golinger directed the campaign called No Wall on the Waterfront.

JON GOLINGER: It was really a resounding rejection of a plan to build luxury condos on public land, to raise height limits the way they've done in so many waterfronts around the world, and build, build, build.

GONZALES: Golinger said voters were also rejecting condos for millionaires at a time when the less affluent are seeing rents and eviction rates skyrocket as the city is attracting scores of high-tech companies.

The measures to approve the condo project were endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Gavin Newsom, heard here together in this ad.


GONZALES: Prop B was also backed by construction trade unions and city planning groups.

Corey Cook teaches politics at the University of San Francisco. He says proposals for waterfront development in this city are always controversial. But it's also a sensitive time when many San Franciscans wonder whether they can afford to continue living here.

COREY COOK: But I do think in the context of these concerns over, you know, cost of living and affordability, and out-migration of African-Americans and other low-income groups from the city, that this issue got, you know, swept into a broader conversation around those questions.

GONZALES: Cook says one irony is that the developers of the condo project had agreed to put $11 million into a fund for building affordable housing elsewhere in the city. But that apparently didn't sway many voters.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.