Activists showed up to San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday to protest the development of 157 condos at 1515 South Van Ness, already certain that the building would skate to approval anyway.
According to the city lawmakers casting their votes, they were certain too.
However, the tide turned against the new building, and the Board of Supervisors members swept it out on a 9-0 vote.
Many of reasons were given, but the one that stands out most is the frequent references to President-elect Donald Trump, who may well have clinched the decision against developer Lennar.
Thanks to the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, 1515 South Van Ness was set to skip over its CEQA study (bane of developer all over California). But locals lodged an appeal.
The building site sits in the Latino Cultural District. LCD council member Scott Weaver argued on Tuesday that it merited a study about whether new market-rate housing was going to speed up gentrification.
What followed was a commonplace scene in the chamber: People lined up to complain about the project for nearly 90 minutes.
Some called the development racist, and the sitting supervisors racists too. One referred to rich homeowners as an “invasive species.” Another delivered his argument with a Bernie Sanders puppet.
But there were many thoughtful, sincere objections too, from working people worried that San Francisco no longer has a home for them.
The Planning Department and Lennar countered that the Eastern Neighborhoods Project was in place for a reason. Peter Schellinger, Vice President of Lennar Multifamily, pointed out that they’d more than doubled the building’s affordable housing element to 25 percent.
When the vote came, even the appellants were convinced that the building would pass. And that’s when things got a little weird.
District 9 Supervisor David Campos first criticized the activists, saying that he was “not happy” with the quality of the appeal, commenting that “we have to do a better job” and “this isn’t good enough.”
Campos then confessed that he had previously made up his mind in favor of the project. But now, unexpectedly, had decided to vote it down.
And, one by one, all of his colleagues followed suit, ending in a 9-0 vote for the appeal.
Oddly, the recent election might have been behind the upset. Several commenters cited worries about President-elect Trump when speaking to the board, as did Campos and Supervisor John Avalos.
(In fact, Campos said it was one particular comment comparing activists to Trump-like nativists that clenched his decison.)
“It’s not necessarily about this project,” said Supervisor Eric Mar before casting his vote, “but about the bigger political context.”
Trump was obviously not the only factor. Mar also cited statistics projecting that in nine years the Mission would be only 33 percent Latino and only 11 percent of households would be families.
Several of the voting lawmakers are about to be termed out, which perhaps affected their outlook too.
And with two board members absent, it’s likely that one or two others preferred to vote with the groundswell rather than risk being on the record as a lone dissenter.
This puts the South Van Ness project into a holding pattern rather than banishing it entirely, as the developer must now submit for an Environmental Impact Report on the effect of the new building on the neighborhood.