root - Posted on 30 October 2000

The Mayors Office development director, Emilio Cruz, debates Artist Debra Walker from the Campaign to Save San Francisco on Propositions K and L

by Kaponda

As I gazed at the jack-o'-lantern perched on the sill, a subdued splendor draped the skies of San Francisco. Shadows of dusk cleaved to the beautifully designed, legendary mural of the Women's Building. There was an uncanny sense of intrigue in the illuminated auditorium as I prepared to report on the debate on Propositions K and L between Debra Walker and Emilio Cruz.

In 1986, San Franciscans approved an initiative ordinance governing office space construction. In effect, the measure restricts the City to a total of 950,000 square feet of office space approval. Propositions K and L purport to amend the 1986 initiative ordinance making changes in the laws governing new office development in San Francisco. There were widely divergent attitudes between Debra Walker and Emilio Cruz toward this premiss. and the amount of restriction on office space was the proposition advanced for discussion for the remainder of the evening.

Like a scene from a Halloween tale, voices shrilled frantically across a thick darkness that had besieged the auditorium. The contenders were undaunted by the flight of light and agreed to commence the discussion.

Debra Walker, an artist and one of the many people who assisted in the formulation of the language of Prop L, began the debate by explaining what would occur in the event both Props K and L pass. "If both measures pass, then the one receiving the greater number of votes will become law, that is the measure requires 50 percent, plus one vote to pass." That explanation sounds logical, right? Wrong!

The debate had officially begun when the Mayor's Economic Development Director, Emilio Cruz, painted a different scenario of what would happen in case both Propositions K and L passed. His scenario involved a directing measure that would go into effect if something exists in one of the Proposition that is not in the other.

I knew at that instance that I was in for a treat because there is language already written in the Voter Information Pamphlet which was prepared by the Department of Elections and governs any eventualities. The language, according to the Pamphlet, reads, "Propositions K and L appear to conflict with each other. If both measures are approved by the voters, and if the two measures do conflict, the one receiving the greater number of votes will become law."

Emilio did agree with the assertion made by Debra that the Planning Department did nothing to mitigate the out-of-control development by multimedia companies, but did not think that the solution was "planning by initiative." In fact, a lot of light was cast on Prop K by Debra Walker as a result of in-depth investigation into some of the people that would benefit if it were to pass.

The first beneficiary, according to Debra, would be the darling of developers, the Mayor himself. He would benefit because Prop K creates a growth czar who is appointed by the Mayor for a ten-year term and is accountable to no one. His primary function would be to target areas for new office development. However, the Mayor's delegated authority retorted that the new position would be modeled after the City Controller's position and provide some independence to the new czar.

Another flicker of insight into the beneficiaries of Prop K involved the grandfather clause of Prop K, which exempts "any development project that has filed an environmental evaluation application, a building or a site permit application, or a request for a Zoning Administrator's determination...no later than 5 p.m. on August 9...provided that appropriate environmental review of the development project is complete by December 31, 2000."

As the darkling debate slipped into its first 30 minutes, neither Debra Walker nor Emilio Cruz appeared rattled by any of the assertions made by the other. It was at this time that the proponent of Prop L, Debra Walker, began to expound on the advantages of Proposition L. "Proposition L has been put on the ballot to save at-risk businesses that are seized upon by loopholes in Prop M. It defines live/work lofts as offices and housing and requires developers to make 10 percent of their lofts affordable. It empowers residents to determine the future of their neighborhoods through the planning process. Proposition L encourages a diverse economy."

Emilio Cruz stated that Prop L is a double-edged sword. But the language of Prop K which appears enshrouded in a cloak of mystery, according to Emilio "could have contained some things that he would have personally like to have seen that is not therein."

A splendor of light streeked across the entire auditorium amid a huge ovation. The remainder of the debate occurred under the light without tricks or dressing up language to disguise its intent.

I spoke to Debra Walker about the debate and asked her why was she fighting so tenaciously for Proposition L?

"I think we are pretty much united in wanting to make sure that what growth happens doesn't wreck and displace what is already here. I've been out there at meetings, neighborhood and political groups getting input from people. An overwhelming majority of the people support Prop L.

There are 7.5 million square feet of real estate under construction in downtown San Francisco and over 2 million square feet of office developments in the industrial areas that are displacing already that have been approved under this administration. It also includes a million square feet of live/work space that is suppose to be housing and is being occupied fully as office. It is everywhere and coming to your neighborhood, soon!

Five million square feet that is under development have been approved as office and two million that has been incorrectly classified or allowed that is supposed to be industrial businesses but is actually office."

I then asked Debra what changes she would like to see immediately if Prop L passes?

"I would immediately like the Planning Department to call the live/work units housing if Proposition L were to go into effect so that we could immediately get affordable units out of them, and that they can't be occupied as office only. It also will keep them out of some of the neighborhoods that they are impacting so drastically. It also will immediately call office dot.com proposals 'office.' So those too will be assessed as to their affect on the neighborhood... and fees from developers to pay for affordable housing, child care and schools -- a lot of the stuff that these developers have been allowed to take a big pass on. So, immediately as soon as the election is verified and Prop L wins, those things will go into effect."

I asked Emilio Cruz about the artists and small businesses that have been displaced by the multimedia industry?

"We clearly need to address that situation. We cannot do a lot about those that have already happened. But what we do need to do is to put in the moratoriums and controls to protect the neighborhoods. But we also need to do that in a way that we also have the ability to build elsewhere so we can build more of downtown and keep the economy moving while protecting neighborhoods with moratoriums."

An observer at the debate, Tom Harriman, shared his thoughts with me as well. "I am clearly for Proposition L because after a great deal of reading and thought I discovered that if we look at the voting record of the Planning Commission over the last six years, we see a strong bias in their voting pattern in favor of large developers. As a result communities no longer have a say in what is constructed in their neighborhoods. I feel that communities should have a say in what is built in their neighborhoods, and they do not have that right now. San Francisco is an interesting place because we talk about community involvement but we are not doing it."


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