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SF housing density plan meets opposition

February 6, 2016

By J.K. Dineen :  sfchronicle – excerpt

With Mayor Ed Lee’s plan, property owners could add two stories to a building if 30 percent of the units are affordable housing.

San Francisco’s proposed affordable housing density bonus program is the castor oil of city development politics: It’s supposed to be good for you, but almost nobody seems to like the way it goes down.

Not the longtime residents of the settled western side of town, who fear it will harm neighborhood character with downtown-scale buildings, worsen parking and blot out the sun.

Not political progressives, who see the proposal as a redevelopment-style clearing of longtime tenants — even though the city promises the program will not result in the removal of even a single rent-controlled unit.

And, not even some of the market-rate developers for whom critics contend the proposal would be a “windfall.”

The program, proposed by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Katy Tang, would allow developers to build taller, denser buildings in exchange for including more affordable housing. In general, the voluntary program would add 25 feet of height to existing zoning — two stories plus an extra 5 feet for ground-floor retail spaces — while requiring that 30 percent of the building be below-market-rate housing.

t also relaxes rules around setbacks, meaning developers can squeeze more square footage onto lots. Developers of 100 percent affordable projects would get to add three stories.

The City Planning Department, which held a hearing last week but has delayed a decision on the measure until April, has identified 240 “soft sites” where it feels the bonus might work. If all 240 were developed — planners think that would take 20 years — 16,000 units could be added to the city’s housing stock, about 5,000 of which would be below market.

The growing movement against the density program is baffling to city planners trying to reach Lee’s goal of 30,000 new or rehabbed housing units by 2020. Making infill projects slightly denser seems like an obvious way to chip away at the city’s housing crisis…

Alliance formed

Politically, the battle against density has forged an alliance between the city’s leftist factions and west side homeowners, who tend to be moderate. Left-of-center groups like the Council of Community Housing Organizations and the South of Market Community Action Network have been making the rounds to neighborhood association meetings offering critiques of the proposal…

Supervisor London Breed, who introduced the amendment that bars rent-control units from being removed under the program, said she is on the fence about density bonus.

“We talk about building more affordable housing — but who is the affordable housing for?” she said. “We need to make sure we are doing a mix. When you look around the city, you don’t see African Americans. You don’t see a lot of children. … People are just tired of being asked to support a bunch of new residential buildings that they will never have access to or be able to afford.”… (more)

This is a pretty good picture of what we are seeing as we look at the Affordable Housing Bonus Plan. It is a moving target, constantly changing that pleases very few.

What is missing from this article, and is most disturbing, is the way the plan is supposed to be administered. The Planning Department wants to remove the public, the Planning Commissioners, and the elected District Supervisors from the approval process for these AHBP projects.

Whether or not you like the changing details of the density plan, most people are not prepared to hand more power over to the Planning Department staff. A little time at a Planning Commission meeting will convince anyone this is a bad idea.

As disturbing as this is, the most disturbing actions are happening at the state level almost without notice. While we are fussing over the city level administration of a housing element amendment, our state legislation is busy stripping us of even more power. Check out the fast-paced AB 1500 that is rapidly moving through the Senate. AB 1500 would force “supportive housing and transitional housing” on everyone everywhere, without limit, or so it seems. The link to the legislation is here:


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