City of San Francisco Voter Approval of Waterfront Construction Exceeding Height Limits Initiative, Proposition B (June 2014)

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A City of San Francisco Voter Approval of Waterfront Construction Exceeding Height Limits Initiative ballot question was on the June 3, 2014 election ballot for voters in the city of San Francisco, California, where it was approved.

The measure required voter approval for any future construction projects on the San Francisco waterfront that exceeded existing height limits found in the zoning and construction code of the city. The measure has delayed the construction of high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay, in addition to three construction projects planned for the waterfront, until voters have a chance to approve each one separately.[1]

On February 3, 2014, many of the same activists who were active in the effort to shut down the 8 Washington Street waterfront development project in November of 2013 turned in 21,067 signatures - well above the required 9,702 valid signatures required - to qualify this initiative for the ballot.[1]

Election results

Proposition B
Approveda Yes 62,727 59.08%
Election results from San Fransisco Elections Office

BallotMeasureFinal badge.png
This ballot measure article has preliminary election results. Certified election results will be added as soon as they are made available by the state or county election office. The following totals are as of percent of precincts reporting.

Text of measure

Title and summary

The following ballot title and summary were issued by the city attorney for Proposition B:[2]

Voter Approval for Waterfront Development Height Increases

The City and County of San Francisco, through its Port Commission, owns and controls about 7 1/2 miles of the San Francisco waterfront along the San Francisco Bay. That property includes piers, land near the piers, and land on the wast side of The Embarcadero roadway. The City holds most of its waterfront in public trust for the benefit of all the State's people, and this public trust restricts the allowable uses of that property. In 1990 the City's voters adopted Proposition H, which required the City to prepare a comprehensive waterfront land use plan with maximum feasible public input. Consistent with Proposition H and the public trust requirements, the Port Commission adopted a comprehensive land use plan that governs acceptable waterfront uses. The City's zoning laws regulate development of buildings and other structures on that property, including the maximum allowed height. Generally, changes in the height limit require approval of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

This measure would prevent any City agency or officer from permitting development on the waterfront to exceed the height limit in effect as of January 1, 2014, unless the City's voters approve the height limit increase. The measure defines "waterfront" as public trust property that the State transferred to the City to be placed under the control of the San Francisco Port Commission, as well as any other property that the Port owns or controls as of January 1, 2014 or later acquires. This measure also would require that the ballot question on the measure to increase height limits on any part of the waterfront specify both the existing and proposed height limits.[3]

Full text

The full text of the ordinance enacted by Proposition B is available here.

Ballot Simplification Digest

The Ballot Simplification Committee produced the following summary and digest of Proposition B:[4]

The Way It Is Now:

The City and County of San Francisco, through its Port Commission, administers about 7-1/2 miles of the waterfront and former waterfront along the San Francisco Bay, including most of the property between Fisherman’s Wharf and India Basin. The Port’s property includes piers, land near the piers, and areas that were filled and are no longer adjacent to the Bay. The City acquired most of this property from the State of California and holds it in trust for the benefit of the people of California. State law restricts the allowable uses of this property.

In 1990 the City’s voters adopted Proposition H, which required the City to prepare a Waterfront Land Use Plan with public input. The Port Commission adopted a comprehensive land use plan that governs acceptable waterfront uses consistent with Proposition H and public trust requirements.

The City’s zoning laws regulate development on that property, including the maximum allowed height. The existing height limits generally range from 40 feet to 84 feet. Changes in existing height limits usually require neighborhood notification, public hearings, and approval by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. These changes do not require the voters to approve a ballot measure.

The Proposal:

Proposition B would prevent the City from allowing any development on Port property that exceeds the height limits in effect as of January 1, 2014, unless the City’s voters have first approved an increase in the height limit for that development. The measure applies to property currently under the control of the Port Commission, as well as any property that the Port may later acquire. Any ballot question to increase height limits on Port property must specify both existing and proposed height limits.

A "YES" Vote Means: If you vote "yes," you want to prevent the City from allowing any development on Port property to exceed the height limits in effect as of January 1, 2014, unless the City’s voters have approved a height limit increase.

A "NO" Vote Means: If you vote “no,” you do not want to make this change.[3]

Projects at risk

Currently there are plans for the construction of three projects in the waterfront area that would be put on hold by the enactment of the ordinance proposed by this initiative. The measure requires voter approval of the following:

Golden State Warriors

Rendering of Golden State Warriors' arena project by Steelblue

The Golden State Warriors', the NBA team located in San Francisco, had proposed and planned the construction of an 18,000-seat arena complex. This project would have required voter approval in a city-wide referendum to go forward under the proposed initiative. The arena would have been be 125 feet tall and would have been located on Piers 30-32, which area is currently zoned for buildings only 40 or fewer feet in height. According to some reports, the Warriors' team may have already been willing to go to the voters for approval of their new arena, independent of the proposed initiative potentially forcing a referendum. The Warriors have announced that Snøhetta and AECOM were selected to design the new arena. The team, however, opted to cancel their plan for Piers 30-32 and selected a location in the city's Mission Bay neighborhood for their proposed arena instead.[1][5][6]

More images of the renderings for the proposed arena besides the one shown on the right are available here.

SF Giants project

The San Francisco Giants' plan for an urban neighborhood on what is currently their main parking lot. The development would include 300-foot tall towers on areas that are zoned for open space.[1]

Pier 70 Development

There have been plans revolving for a while around developing the Pier 70 area - 69-acres located in the City’s Central Waterfront, generally between Mariposa and 22nd Street, east of Illinois Street. The estimates for the development work are between $58 and $100 million and would require voter approval under the initiative.[7]

Hotels and condos

Another project potentially at risk is a plan for Piers 30-32 that would include multiple condos and a 227-room hotel.[8]


"Yes on B" campaign image


Many of the same activists who supported the November effort to shut down the 8 Washington Street waterfront development project in November of 2013 were behind this initiative. These supporters included the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club and limited-growth activists as well as the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign committee. They argued that the measure was designed to protect the waterfront against politically powerful developers side-stepping construction rules put in place by the voters as part of a comprehensive waterfront development plan in 1990.[1]

Jon Golinger, campaign director for the measure, said, "What this initiative says is, respect the plan that's already in place and if you want to change it, don't try to do it behind closed doors. Do it in the light of day, and let the people have a say."[1]

The Sierra Club, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the Affordable Housing Alliance collaborated to produce the official arguments in favor of Proposition B and the official "Yes on B" campaign.[9]

Arguments in favor

The following was submitted as the official argument in favor of Proposition B:[9]


Campaign finance

As of February 4, 2014, the latest campaign filings show a couple that lives in Golden Gateway Apartments is the sole contributor so far to the petition campaign. Barbara and Richard Stewart provided $75,000 to support this initiative and were also large backers of the campaign opposed to the 8 Washington Street development.[1]


  • The San Francisco Examiner:[10]

It’s important that San Franciscans are involved in their city, be it when electing leaders, participating in the community or deciding what the future skyline might look like. At its core, the June ballot measure Proposition B seeks to give the people more tools in civil discourse.


We are urging voters to stand behind the new Prop. B. Our waterfront is a place that needs careful and attentive stewardship, and if that means letting citizens be a more active part of the political process over its future, then that’s a good result.

Prop. B backers make the case that this extra level of protection — an “insurance policy,” as they call it — is needed because the waterfront is a public resource beyond compare. They contend that developers and politicians don’t always have the public’s best interest at heart.

We would like to think those concerns are unfounded, but it can’t hurt to make sure.[3]

San Francisco editorial board[11]



  • The San Francisco Democratic Party narrowly voted 13 against 12 to oppose Proposition B.[13]

The following individuals signed the official arguments against Proposition B:[9]

  • Tim Colen, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition
  • Mike Theriault, San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Corinne Woods, Mission Creek resident

Arguments against

Opponents of Proposition B said it would unnecessarily involve voters in the complicated process of deciding what is best for the future of the waterfront of San Francisco, delaying or stopping projects important in making San Francisco thrive economically.[1]

They also argued in court that to control the development of the waterfront did not belong to the jurisdiction of the city and, therefore, was outside the authority of an initiative approved by city voters.[8]

C.W. Nevius wrote an opinion piece against Proposition B that was published by the San Francisco Chronicle. In it he wrote:[14]

First, if this is such a good idea, why stop there? Shouldn't other neighborhoods be able to vote on height limitations? Or homeless shelters. Or Muni routes? Or whether the mayor should have soup or salad for lunch?

Elections are expensive and time consuming. They're also a formula for gridlock. The Giants have prepared a terrific plan for a retail center on their parking lot A. Now they might have to prepare an election strategy. [3]

—C.W. Nevius[14]

Official arguments

The following was submitted as the official argument in opposition to Proposition B:[9]



  • The San Francisco Chronicle:[15]

Proposition B, which enshrines ballot-box planning as the essential arbiter of one of San Francisco's most precious spaces, is loaded with potential for unintended consequences.

It's easy politics and lousy public policy.


The last thing a city that desperately needs more housing should be doing is adding another layer of uncertainty, delay and expense to processes that already stack years and six-figure costs onto each new residence. Developers are going to do almost anything to avoid campaigns that will cost them millions, and subject their projects to further shakedowns by interest groups, while leaving themselves vulnerable to the whims of a clever slogan.

Voters need to take a close look at Proposition B. They may just find that it works against the goals it espouses. Vote no on Proposition B.[3]

San Francisco Chronicle editorial board[16]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in California

On February 3, 2014, many of the same activists who were active in the effort to shut down the 8 Washington Street waterfront development project in November of 2013 turned in 21,067 signatures. The San Francisco Department of Elections had until March 5, 2014, to certify that at least 9,702 of these signatures were valid, qualifying the initiative for the June ballot. There were more than enough valid signatures among those submitted to put Proposition B on the ballot.[1]


On February 14, 2014, several of the large developers and their supporters, including the San Francisco Giants, backed the filing of a lawsuit attempting to keep the initiative off the ballot. The lawsuit claims that the measure would intrude on the jurisdiction of the state and the Port Commission over the shoreline and waterfront.[17] On March 19, 2014, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller ruled in favor of the defendants of Proposition B and ordered the election to go forward.[12]


The attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Robin Johansen, argued that a city initiative cannot regulate "state lands that are held in trust for all the people of the state, not just San Franciscans." She also argued that the state "has expressly prohibited those lands from being subject to local initiatives," pointing to a 1968 law that gave the Port Commission, rather than the City of San Francisco, authority over waterfront planning. Johansen also stated that even the city's charter gives waterfront planning authority to the commission.[17]


Jon Golinger, director of the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign supporting the initiative, said, in response to plaintiffs' arguments, that the developer special interests themselves used a city initiative measure about shoreline height limits to try to approve the 8 Washington Street Development project, implying hypocrisy. Golinger also referred to the history of waterfront construction regulation to illustrate a precedent of city involvement and authority. He cited a voter initiative that prohibited hotels on city piers and put a temporary stop to construction on the waterfront in 1990. Golinger said, "They're trying to keep the voters of San Francisco from weighing in on the future of the waterfront that belongs to all of us." He continued, saying, "Zoning ordinances regulate the height of waterfront land. The Port Commission has abided by this."[17]


San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller ruled, on March 19, 2014, that the plaintiffs did not present enough evidence to keep the measure from the ballot and ordered the election to go forward. Judge Miller, however, did not rule on the merits of the legal complaints brought against the measure, saying that the measure should go through a "full, unhurried briefing" and detailed scrutiny in court. This leaves Proposition B open to post-election lawsuits if it is approved in June. In answer to the allegation of plaintiffs that the waterfront was outside city jurisdiction, Miller wrote that there was a precedent of many other initiatives and referenda being proposed to control uses of San Francisco waterfront lands and that Prop. B opponents "have not clearly established that the challenge is meritorious such that it justifies the 'dramatic step' of withholding the measure from voters."[12]


Opponents of the initiative, still supported in part by the San Francisco Giants and other development interests, filed an appeal of Judge Miller's original ruling, rehashing their claiming that Proposition B violates the jurisdiction and authority of the state and the port commission. They also argued that the initiative must be blocked from the allot because it threatens to delay or halt projects that are essential to the economic well being of the city and the state. Certain development projects that have already been planned and are put at risk by Proposition B would result in an additional 3,690 housing units and almost eight and a half billion dollars in port revenue.[18]

Attorney Robin Johansen filed a case with appellate court, writing, "Allowing the election to go forward will halt or indefinitely delay projects that the Port Commission and the legislature have determined are essential to providing revenue to repair and maintain the city's seawall and historic waterfront structures that are at risk from earthquakes and sea level rise. These projects are too important to statewide interests to be subject to the vagaries of the local election process."[18]

Jim Stearns, who works in support of Proposition B as a political consultant, said, "The Giants support our right to vote on who goes to the All-Star Game but not on what gets built on our waterfront. With all due respect to the All-Stars, that's pretty messed up."[18]

The appeal was denied without a hearing on March 27, 2014.[19]

Similar measures

Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Sacramento Voter approval for Public Funding of Professional Sports Arena Act, STOP Initiative (June 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena Bailout Initiative (May 2014)
Defeatedd 8 Washington Street-Referendum, Proposition C (November 2013)
Defeatedd 8 Washington Street Development-Initiative, Proposition B (November 2013)

See also

External links

Suggest a link

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 San Francisco Chronicle, "Signatures for SF Waterfront Height Limit," February 4, 2014
  2. San Francisco Elections Department website, "Official title and summary of Proposition B, archived March 10, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  4. San Francisco Elections Department website, "Ballot Simplification Committee Proposition B digest," archived March 10, 2014
  5. Golden State Warriors, "Arena Development Project Announcements," accessed February 4, 2014
  6. SB Nation, "San Francisco waterfront arena opponents declare victory after Golden State Warriors shift plans to Mission Bay," April 22, 2014
  7. Port of San Francisco website, Pier 70 project, accessed February 4, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 The San Francisco Examiner, "SF ballot fight over waterfront height limits has day in court," March 17, 2014
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 San Francisco Elections Department website, Proposition B Voter Pamphlet information, archived April 22, 2014
  10. San Francisco Examiner, "Vote yes on Prop. B, SF’s waterfront height limits ballot measure," May 8, 2014, archived May 23, 2014
  11. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named examiner
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 San Francisco Chronicle, "Judge rejects effort to kill high-rise measure Prop. B," March 19, 2014
  13. San Francisco Bay Guardian, "Democratic party rejects bid to make waterfront development more democratic," March 13, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 San Francisco Chronicle online, "Prop. B will win easily, and that's a shame," April 26, 2014
  15. San Francisco Chronicle, "Chronicle recommends: No on S.F. Prop. B," April 18, 2014, archived May 23, 2014
  16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Chronicle
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 San Francisco Chronicle, "Suit challenges ballot measure on waterfront height limits," February 14, 2014
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 San Francisco Chronicle, "Prop. B opponents appeal to get waterfront measure off ballot," March 25, 2014
  19. San Francisco Chronicle, "Appeal rejected, Prop. B waterfront measure still on ballot," March 28, 2014