San Francisco: So Liberal That Unions Take the Role of Defending the Interests of the “One Percent”

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Update – November 6, 2013: More than 60% of San Francisco voters rejected two referendums – supported by the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council – that would have allowed the 8 Washington Street project to move forward. See 8 Washington Condo Project Loses Big in S.F.San Francisco Chronicle – November 5, 2013.


I was at the Embarcadero in San Francisco yesterday and learned about the tizzy over a proposal to build some “luxury condos” close to the waterfront on the edge of the Downtown Financial District in San Francisco. A coalition group opposed to the project called “No Wall on the Waterfront” submitted signatures to the City of San Francisco on July 19 to qualify a November ballot measure that would allow voters to reverse the intentions of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and stop the project.

Called the 8 Washington Street/Seawall Lot 351 Project, this 134-unit condo development with a parking garage and some associated commercial space would replace the private Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club and a surface parking lot owned by the Port of San Francisco. See a current picture of the site on the cover of the City of San Francisco Planning Department’s June 2011 draft Environmental Impact Report here and a picture of its proposed replacement here.

The developer’s promotional site says “8 Washington reflects a desire to reconnect the City with its waterfront and is inspired by a deep respect for San Francisco’s history and topography.” The opposition talking points include the claim that the project creates a “Wall of Wealth” and a “gated community for the super-rich.”

It’s difficult to pick a side in this fight, ongoing since the developer’s original application for project approval was submitted to the City of San Francisco on January 3, 2007. Construction trade unions have teamed up with the developer to battle environmental and neighborhood interests opposing the project.

The San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council claims the project will create 250 construction jobs, or an average of 160 construction jobs per day. It is supporting the project, which means the developer must have agreed to build it exclusively with union labor. Despite the routine union arguments about prevailing wages allowing construction workers to buy the housing they build, it doesn’t seem possible that the “prevailing wages” on this project will be high enough for construction workers to buy these multi-million dollar condos – even with the 35-hour workweek in place for IBEW Local No. 6 Inside Wireman in San Francisco.

Those San Francisco construction unions are obviously hungry for work to support this project to enhance the pleasures of the dastardly 1%. As reported in the March 15, 2012 San Francisco Business Times:

2011 was a tough year for new housing in the Bay Area. That’s an understatement, really. Almost no new large projects were built due to the housing collapse that began in 2008, meaning very few started construction in 2009 or 2010 … For perhaps the first time ever, we didn’t even have a market-rate housing category that focused exclusively on San Francisco. Our reporter J.K. Dineen found that the biggest condo developments to wrap in the city in 2011 were little more than 20 units.

A major investor in the project is the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), which has allegedly already provided $25 million, according to project opponents. Opponents are apparently outraged about this, stating on this web site that “The California Teachers Retirement System has invested $25 million into this project. Why are they not investing in affordable housing for teachers? Most teachers cannot afford to live in San Francisco.”

Just another day in California.

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