SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor Art Agnos and the Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corp. are proposing the biggest single development project in this cramped city's history, hoping to win over the powerful slow-growth lobby with promises of affordable housing, a new waterfront park and an economic boom.
Agnos planned to announce today details of the latest proposal to turn the Mission Bay area, a 315-acre tract of ragged industrial land a mile south of downtown, into a showplace. The land is owned by Santa Fe Pacific.
In a bid to win support from voters who for years have opted for strict controls on building, city and Santa Fe Pacific officials fashioned a plan that would include 3,000 housing units they pledge would be affordable to middle-class residents who are being squeezed out of pricey San Francisco. In all, the development would contain 8,000 housing units.
Officials are touting the Mission Bay project as a way San Francisco can revive its port and reclaim some of the business it has lost to surrounding suburbs in recent years. Up to 23,000 people would work in the area, and 15,000 people would live there, Planning Director Dean Macris said.
"This is not a political issue. The issue is the future of the city," Chief Administrative Officer Rudy Nothenberg declared.
Santa Fe Pacific has been trying for a decade to develop Mission Bay, the city's last large parcel of under-used land. Trying to satisfy environmentalists and officials, Santa Fe has scaled back its plan several times.
In interviews Tuesday, officials noted that the company's original plan called for high-rise offices of up to 42 stories. The latest incarnation calls for offices of no more than eight stories.
There would be space for light industrial buildings, shops and restaurants. Santa Fe would create 65 acres of parks, including a new greenbelt along the waterfront, and swap 35 acres with the Port of San Francisco south of Mission Bay for land owned by the port in Mission Bay.
Jim Augustino of Santa Fe Pacific estimated that the project would cost $2 billion and that construction would proceed in phases. He said Santa Fe hopes to start building as early as next year and complete the project in 20 to 25 years.
But Mission Bay is the single biggest land-use issue to confront San Francisco since the battles over urban renewal in the 1950s and '60s, and Augustino acknowledged that the proposal faces many obstacles.
First, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors must act on the project. If the supervisors approve it, the project would be put on the ballot.
Voters would have to decide whether to exempt Mission Bay from a city growth limitation ordinance. The ordinance, approved by voters in 1986, limits the amount of San Francisco office space that can be approved in any year to 950,000 square feet. The Mission Bay proposal calls for 4.8 million square feet of office space.
Agnos is not the first mayor to tackle Mission Bay. In August, 1984, former Mayor Dianne Feinstein claimed that she had an agreement for a trimmed-back project on the land. At the time, she noted, office buildings would be no more than eight stories. But Feinstein left office unable to win approval for her version of the Mission Bay plan.
But while Feinstein described her concept as a city within a city, Agnos Administration officials, hoping to win over environmentalists, say Mission Bay will be akin to San Francisco's more homey neighborhoods, such as North Beach.
Some environmentalists are not convinced. Calvin Welch, long an activist in such matters, predicted a major fight. In his opening salvo, he declared that the proposal does not call for enough affordable housing.
Welch also contended that the project would create 50,000 jobs--twice the city's estimate. These workers, unable to afford San Francisco housing prices, would commute to the city, making clogged streets and freeways even worse.
"I think Art needs to do more homework," Welch said. "It is not ready for prime time."