Secret 49ers-Lennar Deal Raises Troubling Questions
by Randy Shaw‚
Dec. 20‚ 2005
While Beyond Chron was awaiting confirmation from the Mayor’s Office about its role in a new 49ers Stadium deal, Matier & Ross got the word out first. But there is much more to this story than the public has been told. For example, while many assumed that the June 1997 voter-approved Props D & F---which authorized San Francisco to loan the 49ers $100 million for constructing a new stadium/mall complex---was dead, Lennar and the Newsom Administration seem to believe the measures remain binding. This means that San Francisco taxpayers could be on the hook for over $2 million a year in interest, all to subsidize upscale condos for the rich and a football stadium for America’s worst pro team.
So much has happened in San Francisco and America since 1997 that it seems bizarre that the city could be bound by two June 1997 ballot measures that won with less than 51% of the vote. Yet sources say this is the stance taken by the Newsom Administration in putting together national housing giant Lennar and the woeful San Francisco 49ers.
The twin ballot measures were designed to build a new 49ers stadium, as well as a retail mall to create jobs and boost the economy of Bayview-Hunters Point. After the proposed mall-developer pulled out of the project years ago, most assumed the ballot measures were dead.
But Prop F, which rezoned parkland to create space for the mall, does not require that a mall be built. Rather, the rezoned open space actually allows any development permitted in “C” zoning districts.
In other words, Lennar could pretty much build whatever it wants on land designated for a mall. If Prop F is seen as granting a vested right for development of any type, then San Francisco effectively rezoned parkland not to help Bayview resident, but to pave the way for projects facilitating their displacement.
This is exactly what opponents of the ballot measures predicted.
The big question is where the Newsom Administration stands on the continued viability of both Props D and F. Jessie Blout of the Mayor’s Economic Development Office has been negotiating with Lennar and the 49ers, but did not return calls from Beyond Chron requesting a response to this issue.
Regarding the $100 million loan the voters authorized under Prop D, there is no way voters are going to give the 49ers a dime for a new stadium. The only way the team gets this money is if the Mayor says they are entitled to it under Prop D, though lawsuits would certainly follow.
Similarly, the city is not going to give open space to Lennar unless it is linked to a new 49ers stadium. So there would be no reason for the two entities to be negotiating unless the Mayor’s Office believes Prop F has vested the rezoning of the site even if no mall is built.
Given the city’s $80 million budget deficit, this is not a good time for the Mayor to give $ 2 million a year (the interest payments on the loan paid from the general fund) to the doleful 49ers. That’s likely why the Newsom Administration will deem the rezoning of the parkland as “vested,” with Lennar’s huge profits helping to fund the stadium.
When I learned of the Lennar –49ers deal I contacted Doug Comstock, who headed the Committee to Stop the Giveaway, which led the fight against Props D & F. Comstock told me that word of the new stadium plan “came out of nowhere,” and that he would “be happy to see the plans.”
But nobody outside the Mayor’s Office, the 49ers and Lennar knows of these plans, and they are not talking.
One aspect of this issue that may not be readily apparent is that Lennar’s contribution of money to the 49ers would essentially be coming from money that could otherwise go to fund San Francisco’s schools, health care systems, and basic city services. If the city wants to rezone open space as part of a deal with Lennar, San Francisco residents, not the wealthy 49ers ownership, should get the benefits.
Unlike most ballot initiatives, Prop F gave the Board of Supervisors express power to amend its terms. So the Supervisors are not mere bystanders here, and should start 2006 by holding a hearing on the Lennar-49ers deal.
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