Pro & Cons – Proposition B – June 3, 2014


Placed on the ballot by initiative petition
Requires a simple majority of votes for passage


Should San Francisco voters approve all exceptions to the current height limits on proposed waterfront construction?


The City of San Francisco, through its Port Commission, administers about 7-1/2 miles of the waterfront along the bay including: 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 and holds the land 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, a zoning law that required the City to prepare a Waterfront Land Use Plan with public input. From this, the Port Commission adopted a comprehensive waterfront and land use plan consistent with Prop H and public trust requirements.

The City’s zoning laws regulate development on waterfront 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.


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 voters have first approved an increase to the height limit for that development. The measure applies to property currently under the control of the Port Commission, as well as any property they may acquire. Any ballot measure to increase height limits on Port property must specify both the existing and proposed height limits.
A “YES” Vote Means: you want voters to approve all waterfront developments seeking exceptions to the current height limits.

A “NO” Vote Means: you do not require voters to approve all waterfront developments seeking exceptions to the current height limits.


The Controller states:

Should the proposed measure be approved by the voters, in my opinion, it would in and of itself, have no direct impact on the cost of government.

Approval of the measure would change certain land use processes on Port of San Francisco property. Currently, projects proposed for Port property generally require approval by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors following required public consideration processes. These approvals can include adoption of increases to existing height limits deemed necessary or desirable to enable a given proposed project. The proposed measure would instead require voter approval for any changes to existing height limits before a project could be permitted. Proposed – but no yet approved – projects affected by the measure include possible development plans for Pier 30-32, Pier 48, and Pier 70.

In a number of cases, given the condition of various Port properties, increases to existing height limits will likely be required to generate sufficient property value to cover required project and infrastructure costs. The proposed measure, if approved, will increase the time, cost, and uncertainty that proposers and the Port can expect for future development efforts on certain Port property. To the extent that the proposed voter approval requirement, over time, results in fewer such increases, it will reduce tax and other revenues to both the City’s General Fund and to the Port of San Francisco.


  • The current system regarding waterfront development excludes the public and allows special interests to gain exemptions to the existing height limits.
  • San Franciscans have an interest to preserve the historic waterfront from becoming walled off by luxury high-rises and tall private buildings that block public access.
  • Waterfront height limits were created to ensure access to the views of the bay. Exemptions to the height limits set a precedent for spot zoning that violates the City’s zoning code.
  • Few San Franciscans can afford to live in the housing developments planned for the waterfront on Pier 30-32, Pier 48 and Pier 70.


  • Prop B will impact the production of affordable housing and will immediately delay the construction of mixed-use housing, high-rise hotels, condo towers, and three planned construction projects along the bay.
  • The loss of construction jobs and revenue will also impact voters.
  • The City and Port Commission approved height limit exemptions for specific construction projects and deemed them essential for providing revenue to repair and maintain the City’s seawall.
  • Prop B intrudes on the State’s jurisdiction over the shoreline and the Port Commission’s authority to manage the waterfront.


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