Stop the developers now

Pub date September 25, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Sup. Tom Ammiano is taking a key step toward ending the gold rush by local housing developers who want to get their projects approved under the wire before the city can put in place new zoning controls for the eastern neighborhoods. The supervisors ought to approve his resolution as quickly as possible.

The eastern neighborhoods planning process has been under way for years; at this point the Planning Department is projecting final language for a proposal sometime around the end of the year. Then it will go to the supervisors, who will be able to debate, hold hearings on, and amend the plan. All of this will take months — and in the meantime, the Planning Commission keeps approving projects.

According to a startling document that the Planning Department posted on its Web site last week, some 30,000 housing units are in the pipeline — projects that have permits pending, have been approved, or are under construction. Nearly 5,000 units are already under construction, and applications for 142 projects, with a total of 9,305 units, are now before the department. That’s a whole lot of new construction, a whole lot of market-rate condos that don’t fit in with the city’s General Plan. Every one of the developers would like to get permission to go forward before any further limits are placed on housing construction.

And the Planning Commission seems happy to oblige: market-rate projects on César Chávez and Valencia streets both won the nod in the past few weeks, infuriating neighborhood activists who wanted to see more affordable housing. And to make matters worse, as Ammiano noted in introducing temporary controls for new housing, the commission rejected a proposal to collect fees of $12 per square foot to fund community amenities and mitigation. "Why the commission chose not to impose conditions on projects in the pipeline is beyond reason," Ammiano said.

His measure would deny permits for any new development in the eastern neighborhoods for the next 18 months or until a full eastern neighborhoods plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors. That makes perfect sense — everyone who wants to build housing in San Francisco knows that there are new zoning rules coming; there’s no surprise here. And if the commission is allowed to keep green-lighting market-rate housing without adequate planning for building the necessary parks, transportation infrastructure, police and fire stations, etc., the city will be absorbing as many as 30,000 new housing units without adequate mitigation.

There’s a larger question here too: as we pointed out last week (see "Our Three-Point Plan to Save San Francisco," 9/19/07), the current proposals in the eastern neighborhoods draft plans don’t do anywhere near enough to provide housing for working-class and low-income San Franciscans. The housing that’s in the pipeline will do nothing to bring down costs and will instead attract world travelers, speculators, and young Silicon Valley workers, who can afford small, expensive condos. That sort of housing policy doesn’t help fight sprawl or global warming, since it forces people who now work in San Francisco to move farther and farther out of town to find affordable places to live.

So the supervisors may decide to do the sane thing when they get the eastern neighborhoods plan and strictly limit new market-rate housing until the deficit in affordable units is under control. And there may be a ballot initiative to completely transform the way housing policy is set in this city (see "A Prop. M for Housing," 9/19/07). Allowing tens of thousands more luxury condo units to be built before the city has the chance to decide how it wants to handle future housing policy is a terrible idea.

Putting on hold projects that are almost certainly not consistent with the direction this city should go until there’s a chance to finalize the eastern neighborhoods plan is a no-brainer. The board should approve Ammiano’s proposal — with no special exceptions for any developer or any project.