‘Harding Theater/San Francisco’s Public Hearing Process is Broken’

by on April 20, 2005

To the Editor:

Casey Mills is correct that the Divisadero community should be proud of securing a commitment from developers not to demolish the Harding Theater for five years. But important details remain to be worked out.

For example, consider the $750,000 that the developers are agreeing to invest in theater improvements. This figure could provide some security for those who are concerned that the developers, or their successors, will simply leave the theater vacant and then demolish it. But it is not clear what that figure covers. Does it include the estimated $250,000 that developers need to pay anyway to rebuild the back wall of the theater? (Under the proposal, the developers would chop off the back of the theater to make room for the condos, and then they would rebuild the back wall of the theater.)

Also consider the 5 year time period. When does it begin to run? It should run from the date of completion of the condos next door, to alleviate concerns that the developers’ proposal simply postpones a planned second phase of demolition and condo construction.

The biggest obstacle to a resolution that satisfies all sides appears to be the mechanism for ensuring that the developers, or their successors, keep the commitment not to demolish. Central City Progressives has proposed a prescriptive easement that would allow a third party to intervene and obtain a court injunction against demolition for a set period of time. Developers say that a Notice of Special Restrictions and their express commitment to the Board of Supervisors are sufficient. The developers’ refusal to address the idea of the prescriptive easement has raised concerns among some activists as to the developers’ intentions.

The parties are not that far apart. The appellant, Central City Progressives (CCP), has moved a great deal in the negotiations, as have the developers. A short mediation session with an independent mediator could probably resolve the remaining issues in a couple of hours. It is disappointing that the developers have refused CCP attorney Arthur Levy’s recent request for a mediation.

This has been a victory for neighborhood activists already, but it is too early to pop the champagne. Let’s work out the details, and then celebrate on opening night at the Harding.

Dean Preston
San Francisco, CA

Mr Shaw,

Thank you for your onging efforts at Beyond Chron. Unfortunately, I am writing with a complaint. Specifically I am concerned about your support for placing public testimony first at Supervisor hearings. The idea that this will magically transform public hearings into a nirvana of ease and democracy seems a bit exaggerated. If I understand the proposal correctly, now when I go to testify, I will first listen to as many as 3 or 4 hours of public testimony – some of which is understandably and necessarily repetitive – before having an opportunity to hear Department presentations. What about those of us interested in what civil servants have to say about their work? This is frequently very informative and enlightening. I can not imagine you would have San Franciscans get all of our information from either the Chron and/or Beyond Chron.

Sincerely, Name withheld for social reasons.

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