Front page news

Lennar Corp Wants Changes at Candlestick

By John Dunbar


The Lennar Corporation is circulating petitions to change how the land around Candlestick Point can be used. The measure will appear on the June 3rd, 2008 ballot and will require 50% plus one voter approval.
Publicly the initiative will state that it’s a way to keep the 49ers from moving to Santa Clara but the fine print shows that the land use changes stick whether or not the 49ers stay in San Francisco.

The political class is circling the wagons to support Lennar. Former Mayors Dianne Feinstein and Willie Brown support it. So apparently will Examiner owner Anschutz who according to Matier and Ross has been cut in on the deal. Eric Jaye who has been Gavin Newsom’s consultant and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin’s consultant Jim Stearns have been retained for the campaign. For these interests Lennar’s stadium campaign is the ultimate cash cow.

The campaign is likely to tell voters that this is the best chance San Francisco has to keep the 49ers, but the terms of the deal will be binding even if the 49ers migrate south to Santa Clara, an outcome most observers think likely.

Notably absent from those backing the land use changes is Mayor Gavin Newsom, freshly re-elected with 74% of the vote. Two of his predecessors, Art Agnos and Willie Brown were politically hemorrhaged by divisive ballpark measures. Creative graphic artist and consultant Doug Comstock fueled insurgent efforts against both the Giants as well as 49er Stadium deals. Comstock now has the unusual distinction of being the campaign consultant for both Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin and suspended Supervisor Ed Jew, whose residency case will make its way to Tsenin’s courtroom in February. At this point Newsom is shying away from risking his own political capital for one of the nation’s largest and troubled homebuilders. Its stock was downgraded recently to “junk bond” status by Wall Street analysts.

Lennar is suffering its own legal and financial difficulties. It is being sued for employment discrimination by former President of the Board of Supervisors Angela Alioto. The veteran plaintiff’s attorney is representing a former Willie Brown appointee to the Public Utilities Commission who worked for Lennar. Much of the case centers on Lennar officials’ failure to exercise due diligence over the amount of asbestos kicked up into the air as a byproduct of their construction work at the old Navy shipyard at Hunters Point.

The initiative describes a general outline for the future of Candlestick. Propositions D and F, passed narrowly by voters in 1997, would be repealed. The $100 million revenue bond and land use changes for Candlestick Point would be annulled. That would be replaced by a commitment to 8500 to 10,000 condominiums, 600,000 square feet of commercial office space and the commitment to rebuild the Alice Griffith (Double Rock) public housing development. The initiative is short on what Lennar has to accomplish and by when. The operative verb in the measure is “should” not “shall.”

Lennar is one of the nation’s largest homebuilders. It has been hit with the downturn in the housing market and sub prime mortgage market, and it has vacant units and lots across the country that can’t be developed. Lennar is restructuring either by selling off land or by deciding to hold its development rights until there is a market correction. But the San Francisco real estate market is robust and if toxic shipyards and Candlestick Park can be rezoned to become prime spots for commercial and residential development more than the local political class will profit.