Former mayor Art Agnos sat down for an interview with San Francisco Magazine editor-in-chief Jon Steinberg for the upcoming April issue, and Steinberg tries to take Agnos to task for being such a vociferous opponent of the proposed Warriors arena on Piers 30-32 when he himself pushed to develop a big hotel and cruise ship terminal on those same piers back in his day.

Agnos counters that that was a more appropriate use of public land, and that he wasn't trying to build anything as high as the condo towers the Warriors want to build on Port property on the opposite side of the Embarcadero to help fund the arena. Even if there was a public outcry in opposition to him at the time.

State law says that waterfront land has to have a maritime use. What’s more maritime than a cruise ship being tied up? San Francisco needed an attractive, modern cruise ship terminal for people whom we hoped to develop as a core business for the port. And the Embarcadero was a slum back then. Everybody said so. ...[But] The activists and the preservationists and all the rest of them objected to a hotel on the water, on the pier. I moved it over to the other side of the street [where the Warriors currently want to build their towers], and they had no objections. But they were fearful of future projects that would try to do that, so Prop. H was created [which killed the project].

Agnos, as you may know, was one of the primary forces behind the campaign against 8 Washington and helped to make sure Measures B and C got killed at the polls last fall. The primary objection, despite the fact that project had passed muster with the Board of Supervisors, was that it was giving an exception to a developer to the long-established, four-story height limit along the waterfront, and it was, in a way, a test case for gauging the public's willingness to make a similar exception for the Warriors. The team's owners would be providing the city with a huge, attractive, centrally located sports and entertainment arena, but they'd also be reaping profit from it in the form of a 17-story tower across the street, and that is Agnos' main bone of contention — and one that he's going to continue fighting along with others who have put a similar measure on the ballot this June.

(Sidenote: This guy, Jon Golinger, is the campaign manager for the Yes on B campaign, which would force all height-limit exceptions like the one the Warriors need to go to a public vote. As SFGate reports today, Golinger has done something kind of sleazy in that he's also the public voice, in the city's election booklet anyway, of the No on B side, because he submitted a whole bunch of statements on behalf of the opponents of the measure, which is his legal right. And as you might guess, all of his "opponent" statements were basically endorsements of the proposition.)

Maybe you agree with Agnos and you fear this proverbial "wall on the waterfront" that's represented by these relatively short buildings (8 Washington was 13 stories, the Warriors' proposed tower would be 17). Or, perhaps, like Steinberg seems to be, you're a proponent of more residential development, even if it is of the luxury variety, because it will include 15 or 20 percent affordable units — including the huge development proposed for Pier 70, and the Giants' proposed 37-story building on their parking lot, that could amount to 400 affordable units and around 2,000 new units in total.

But this argument is coming to a head, and it remains to be seen if San Franciscans would actually shoot down the Warriors arena in an election with higher voter turnout than the one in November. As Steinberg mocks Agnos, "You’re saying that the 8 Washington vote, with its 22 percent turnout, was a popular uprising [akin to the Arab Spring]?"

Agnos, ever the voice of progressives, replies:

I’m saying it’s the San Francisco version of the Arab Spring. People are revolting — on some levels it’s blocking Google buses; on others it is saying no to George Lucas, or creating an initiative that says we are going to require you to come to us if you’re going to go above height limits. There’s more to come, just watch. Because people are not happy.

Update: Steinberg writes in to clarify, "You're really going out on a limb when you suggest that I was calling him a hypocrite or mocking him. I absolutely wasn't. The interview was loud and lively but really collegial. When I make opposing points I'm not necessarily voicing my own personal opinions. I'm pushing Agnos to explain HIS positions, which even he admits have evolved over the decades. He emailed me yesterday to tell me how happy he was with the piece..."

[SF Mag]