Political high jinks give ammunition to SF Prop. B opponents – San Francisco Chronicle

On second thought, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

Last week’s political high jinks by one of the main backers of a measure on the June ballot to limit high-rise development on San Francisco’s waterfront gave the opposition ammunition it was quick to use on several fronts Monday.

Opponents were already seeking to have the initiative, Proposition B, stripped from the ballot for allegedly impinging on state authority when they cited Jon Golinger’s actions during a court hearing Monday.

Golinger, co-chairman of the “yes” side, gamed the system last week to get himself listed as the measure’s official opponent and supplier of the lead argument against it in the city’s voter guide.

“These issues should not be subject to this kind of chicanery,” attorney Robin Johansen told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller as Golinger sat a few feet away. Miller, after a lengthy hearing, said she would issue a written ruling shortly on whether Prop. B would stay on the ballot.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who blasted Golinger’s move as “unethical,” on Tuesday will ask City Attorney Dennis Herrera to draft legislation to limit the future use of that type of tactic.

Also on Monday, the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth, an advocacy group made up of business and labor interests that is lining up against the measure, sent a letter to the Department of Elections demanding that Golinger’s pro-Prop. B argument not be printed as the official opposition to the measure.

The alliance’s executive director, Vincent Courtney Sr., also filed a complaint with the City’s Ethics Commission accusing Golinger of violating a city prohibition on false campaign advertisements and the code of conduct for registered campaign consultants.

Even supporters of the height-limit measure distanced themselves from Golinger on Monday.

Matt Dorsey, an officer in the San Francisco Democratic Party who voted last week for the party to endorse Prop. B, on Monday took out a paid argument in the voter guide that read in part, “voters should decide the future of our city after a full and fair debate.”

Rules followed ‘100 percent’

“Regrettably, a leading proponent’s effort to block opponents from making their official argument in this guide betrayed that principle,” wrote Dorsey, who is also a spokesman for Herrera, the city attorney. “(Voters) also deserve the right to hear both sides. Prop. B is a good enough idea to withstand its critics.”

Golinger could not be reached for comment about the latest developments, but has said he followed the rules “100 percent” when he filed at least 25 of the 27 opposition arguments for the measure that he actually supported.

If the mayor or a member of the Board of Supervisors opposes a ballot measure, they can automatically become the official opponent listed in the voter guide and be responsible for the official argument against it. But if there is no elected official in opposition, then registered voters can fill that role. The Department of Elections chooses by lottery one of the opposition arguments submitted, regardless of what it says, and that person and argument become the official opposition.

No elected official has publicly come out in opposition to Prop. B, which would require voter approval for any development on Port of San Francisco property to exceed existing height limits, which are mostly between 40 and 80 feet, although some go as high as 105 feet.

The San Francisco Giants’ parking lot, which the team leases from the Port of San Francisco and which it wants to develop into an urban village with towers as tall as 380 feet, is zoned for open space with a height limit, effectively, of zero.

Political opposition limited

Several public officials have questioned the measure, but apparently no one wants to be the politician in favor of giving voters less say in city matters. Supporters see the ballot measure as empowering voters to protect the waterfront from high-rise hotels and luxury condominiums, like the 8 Washington project near the Ferry Building that was soundly defeated at the polls in November.

The measure would impact three major projects currently in the works: the Giants’ planned development, the Golden State Warriors’ plan to build an arena complex at Piers 30-32 and developers’ efforts to add housing and business space at the industrial Pier 70.

An analysis by port staff said that if passed, the measure could cost the port $8.5 billion in delayed, reduced or lost revenue.

At Monday’s hearing, Johansen told the judge that detailed planning efforts required of major development projects should not be subject to the “irrationality and uncertainty of the election process.”

Battle over ballot

“These issues don’t belong on the ballot,” Johansen said. “These issues should not be subject to that kind of chicanery.”

Douglas Carstens, an attorney for the initiative’s sponsors, which include limited-growth advocates from the 8 Washington fight and the local chapter of the Sierra Club, paid little attention to Golinger’s ballot argument move, questioning its import to the greater issue of whether voters have the authority to decide what is done on tidal lands that are held in trust for the people of the state but overseen at the local level.

“If someone has something they think is worthwhile,” Carstens said of potential waterfront development projects, “let people vote on it.”

John Coté is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected]

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