The answer is: “sometimes”……if enough people object.
San Francisco has a proud history in this regard. San Francisco many ill-conceived schemes, all strongly backed and supported by Government, have been blocked by public action. Here are a few examples of blocked, municipally-supported ventures, most of which were partially or entirely funded at the time of their demise:
o The Golden Gate and Pan Handle Freeways
o The ripping up of the Cable Car System
o Building a Parking Garage under Washington Square
o The International Market Center – which would have been wrapped around Telegraph Hill as the 5th largest building in the entire world
o An auto tunnel under Russian Hill
o A 60-story U.S. Steel headquarters building, planned for a waterfront site south of the Ferry Building
o Oceanic Properties’s “Ferry Port Plaza”, a monstrosity that would have been six stories high and protruded 1,300 feet into the Bay
o The Scott/Divisidero/O’Shaughnessy Freeway
o The demolition of the historic Haslitt Warehouse
o The removal of the streetcars from Market Street
o The widening of Upper Market from 6 to 8 lanes (the street is now 4 lanes wide)
o The expansion of downtown San Francisco into North Beach
o The removal of Muni’s J-Church Line
o The removal of the Market Street streetcars
o The Malright Development, which would have blighted Pier 45
o An ill-conceived Mills Corporation venture, planned for Piers 27 – 31
o The Fisher Museum planned for the Presidio of San Francisco
Moreover, the Embarcadero and Central Freeways have been removed. There is now a highly successful streetcar line running along the San Francisco waterfront. Hundreds of distinctive older buildings once slated for the wrecking ball have been saved. Plus dozens of attempts to “up-zone” various sections of San Francisco have been dropped in the face of heated public opposition. Plus the Transbay Terminal/Caltrain Extension Project, once ridiculed by at least one San Francisco mayor, is now well on its way to becoming reality. And in November 2013 and June 2014, by direct vote of the San Francisco electorate, two strong, government-backed attempts to bring highrise development to San Francisco’s waterfront, have been blown right out of the water.
The power of an aroused citizenry to protect San Francisco from the philistines who would squander its physical and cultural resources to turn a profit should not be under-estimated.