News
01.14.2014
Not on My Waterfront
San Francisco Embarcadero project, 8 Washington, voted down after seven-year fight.
Opponents objected to a "wall on the waterfront."
Courtesy Pacific Waterfront Partners

In early November, San Francisco voters rejected two measures to allow the construction of 8 Washington, a complex of 134 luxury condominiums along the Embarcadero developed by Pacific Waterfront Partners and designed by SOM. The project had been seeking city approval for the past seven years. It needed an exemption from the city’s 84-foot waterfront height limit (Proposition C) and a referendum in favor of the development (Proposition B).

The complex was to be sited on a 3.2-acre triangular plot on the city’s central waterfront on land cleared by the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. Consisting of housing, retail, restaurants, and recreation, it included 552,000 general square feet in a massing that stepped up to a maximum height of 136 feet. With large windows deeply recessed into light colored walls, the project took its cues from the area’s historic buildings. Most of the buildings featured green roofs.

The plan incorporated 30,000 square feet of public open space designed with PWP Landscape Architecture, including the new Pacific Park, the redesigned Jackson Commons, and a series of new pedestrian corridors. The scheme also involved 40,000 square feet of private recreation functions, including an enlarged and renovated new exercise and aquatics facility.

Eight years of public outreach wasn't enough to win over San Francisco voters.
 

The San Francisco Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and the mayor all gave their approval to the complex. But a large group of opponents voted down the referendum, calling the project a “Wall on the Waterfront” that would limit access to the area. “The developer only wants to ‘open up’ the waterfront to one thing: massive development and tall towers from the ferry building to Fisherman’s Wharf,” said the group on its web site, nowallonthewaterfront.com.

“This is a plan that’s been in the works for almost eight years and undergone many revisions to reflect a very extensive public planning process. To have that all upended because a group of wealthy opponents didn’t like the result does not bode well for the public process of San Francisco,” commented Pacific Waterfront Partners spokesman PJ Johnston.

According to Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), the project’s rejection is ironically a sign of the city’s emergence from the recession.

“In addition to the business cycle, San Francisco has a political cycle in which voters become more open to projects during recessions and against them in economic booms,” said Metcalf. “To me this is a return to the status quo of San Francisco. It’s not surprising at all. What’s surprising is during the recession a bunch of projects got approved that are now under construction.”

According to Metcalf, the rejection of the project is also an example of individuals’ ability to stop projects they don’t like through legal means.

SOM declined to comment on the project and Johnston said that he could not comment on specific plans for the site. “We’ll see what we’re going to do,” said Johnston. “The project sponsor still has the exclusive negotiating rights to the property.”

Sam Lubell