The 775-acre Shipyard property in Bayview-Hunters Point is 7 miles from the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, about as far as one can get from the engines of banking and technology that power the downtown economy without leaving the city.
But when it comes to winning approvals for new commercial buildings, downtown high-rise sites and the long-abandoned Shipyard property are treated as equals. Both are subject to Proposition M, a 1986 voter-approved office development cap that limits the amount of new office space to 950,000 square feet a year. There are far more development proposals pending than there is room under the cap.
That is something Five Points Holdings, the subsidiary of Lennar developing the Shipyard, wants to change.
The developer is asking voters to exempt the Shipyard from the Prop. M cap. The measure on next month’s ballot, Proposition O, would allow Five Points to win approvals for up to 5.1 million square feet of office space at its Shipyard and Candlestick Point properties without competing against projects in high-rent districts like SoMa and the south Financial District.
Former Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, a leading proponent of the ballot measure, said it represents a chance to create upward of 17,000 jobs in a poor, largely African American neighborhood that has never recovered from the closing of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1974.
“People in the Bayview have been waiting a long time,” Maxwell said. “Mission Bay has been developed — we’re still waiting. Other neighborhoods have been developed — we’re still waiting. It’s time. We don’t need any other encumbrances. We don’t need to stand in line.”
Prop. O comes at a time when the city’s office development pipeline is stuffed with far more proposals than at any time since the 1980s high-rise boom that led to Prop. M in the first place. With companies like Dropbox, Twitter and Uber increasingly picking San Francisco over Silicon Valley for their headquarters, developers have filed applications to build more than 8 million square feet of office space, more than five times the 1.4 million square feet available under the cap. Under Prop. M the 950,000 added each year rolls over if not used up.
Originally, the Shipyard plan envisioned 2.1 million square feet of office space, but the environmental study considered a 5 million-square-foot alternative. When the San Francisco 49ers opted to move to Santa Clara rather than build a new stadium at Candlestick Point, additional land for office and retail space was freed up.
That’s where access to transit comes in.
Opponents of the measure say that Prop. M was not aimed just at downtown, but designed to ensure that office development was accompanied by the infrastructure needed to accommodate growth. Sue Hestor, a local land use attorney who helped write Prop. M, said “the basic problem is that there is no real transit capacity to move people into those offices.”
“They really didn’t plan for a 5 million-square-foot dot-com office park,” Hestor said. “You are going to create a massive traffic problem. The developers are getting enthusiastic about how much money they are going to make, but they don’t deal with improving Muni.”
The Shipyard plan also will eventually include 12,000 housing units, 1 million square feet of retail and hotel uses and over 300 acres of parkland.
Community organizer Calvin Welch, another architect of Prop. M, said Prop. O is also unfair to other developers who are playing by the Prop M rules.
“Lennar gets to set up their own, separate little stand,” he said. “If you’re a developer with a site in the South of Market waiting in line for a Prop. M allocation, why wouldn’t your customer say ‘forget you’ and go to Lennar?”
Kofi Bonner, who heads up Five Points, which recently spun off from Lennar, said there is a big difference between the Shipyard and most office developments.
“We have to actually build the roads, build the utilities, build all those pieces to connect the pads. That means we have to plan three or four years ahead,” said Bonner. “With Prop. O we can have some visibility into the future.”
And Prop. O proponents are quick to point out that the Shipyard includes an extraordinary set of public improvements, including the rebuild of the Alice Griffith public housing development, the parkland, $37.5 million for job training and overall affordable housing level of 32 percent.
Shamann Walton, a San Francisco Board of Education member and Bayview nonprofit director, said that Prop. M was meant to stop the proliferation of high-rises — not “keep the community of Bayview-Hunters Point disenfranchised.”
“If we are going to be serious about countering displacement, if we are going to be serious about countering out-migration of the black population, then we have to be serious about providing the economic engine that is needed for us to stay, to live and work in the community,” he said.
From 1970 to 2010, the African American population of San Francisco decreased 50 percent, down to less than 6 percent of the city’s population.