EDITORIAL The San Francisco Planning Department is having a little trouble dealing with the fact that — for the moment — no more condo developers can build high-priced units in the eastern neighborhoods. In the wake of a Board of Supervisors decision demanding an extensive environmental review of a condo project at 2660 Harrison St., planners have been ducking and weaving around the reality that the supervisors have effectively put a moratorium on market-rate housing projects — and on anything else that could displace blue-<\h>collar jobs (see “A Grinding Halt,” 3/22/06).
The latest installment is a March 31 memo from Paul Maltzer, the department’s chief environmental review officer, who concluded that yes, indeed, all developments in the vast eastern neighborhoods project area that could affect affordable housing or jobs would need detailed environmental review. That’s an admission, of sorts, that no more market-<\h>rate housing can be quickly approved, but it comes with a caveat: The memo states that projects will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis" and leaves an awful lot of wiggle room. It also suggests that as soon as the city’s official broad-based environmental impact report on the eastern neighborhoods rezoning is completed, the floodgates will be opened again.
That EIR is on the fast track: Maltzer projects that a draft will be completed by late this summer and a final report by March 2007. But there’s a huge problem: An EIR has to evaluate a specific project, and the "project" — a rezoning of some 3,800 acres of the city — is pretty damn vague at this point. For example, there’s nothing about affordable housing in the scope of work that was put forward for the EIR.
So it’s entirely possible that the Planning Department will produce a report next spring that glosses over the biggest issues surrounding the future of the eastern neighborhoods — and that developers will use it as a green light to begin a new building boom that will forever change the city.
We’d like to hold a few facts to be self-<\h>evident: San Francisco doesn’t need more million-<\h>dollar condos for young single people who work in Silicon Valley. The city can’t build the equivalent of another good-size town, with a population of perhaps 100,000 new residents, in eastern San Francisco without massive improvements in infrastructure, particularly transportation. The costs of the new streets, bus lines, train lines, and pedestrian walkways will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars — and there’s nothing anywhere in any Planning Department document about who will pay for it.
And there’s nothing in the current proposals for the eastern neighborhoods that’s consistent with the housing element of the city’s own general plan.
The housing element is clear: San Francisco needs a lot of new below-<\h>market housing — housing for families with kids, housing for people who work in the city and make moderate wages, housing for people living on fixed (and not gigantic) incomes. Housing for teachers and firefighters. Housing for the people who change the sheets at the hotels and clean the bathrooms at the convention centers that keep the city’s biggest industry thriving. In fact, it says, 40 percent of all new housing needs to be affordable for low- and very-low-<\h>income people, and another 32 percent needs to be affordable for families with moderate incomes. That kind of housing simply won’t be built under the current plans — and that means any EIR the planners (or any private developers) prepare will be fundamentally flawed.
There’s a solution here, and if the Planning Commission won’t demand it, then the supervisors must: Any final EIR on the eastern neighborhoods has to consider not only the current rezoning plans but also an alternative that would bring the city into compliance with its own general plan. Asking planners to comply with their own plans shouldn’t be a radical notion. And until the Planning Department can explain how that might happen, this entire process — and all new market-<\h>rate housing — needs to be on hold, indefinitely.