Sponsored link
Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sponsored link

News + PoliticsThe Agenda, July 20-26: Micro-units and affordable housing ...

The Agenda, July 20-26: Micro-units and affordable housing …

… and should a parking garage become highrise luxury condos on the waterfront? We review the issues coming up this week

Should a parking garage on the waterfront become a highrise office tower?
Do we need more luxury condos on the waterfront? The Planning Commission will decide this week

By Tim Redmond

JULY 20, 2015 – The legislation that allows group housing – which is, in many cases, just another way of saying tiny micro-units – a break under the city’s inclusionary housing law will be back at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/20, and will probably wind up before the full Board of Supes the next day.

The original legislation, by Sups. John Avalos and Jane Kim, was pretty simple: It would have made clear that housing defined by tiny units that have only limited kitchen and bath facilities is still market-rate housing, and developers need to pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.

The Planning Department never used to collect that money – mostly because there haven’t been many group-housing units built in the past 20 years, and since the term typically applied to SRO hotel rooms that were priced relatively low anyway, there wasn’t much of a push to demand that developers pay for affordable units.

But now several projects are coming on line that are aimed at single young people who don’t mind a single room, perhaps with a two-burner stove and a tiny fridge but no oven. They aren’t exactly low-budget SROs – the developers plan to charge around $1,900 a month for the places.

Kim and Avalos brought the plan to Land Use, where Sup. Scott Wiener amended it to allow developers to count as “affordable” any unit that met the housing needs of a person earning 90 percent of the area median income. That would mean an “affordable” tiny apartment could rent for more than $1,500 a month (my original story quoted housing activist Fernando Marti as saying that the rent could be more than $1,900 a month. Avalos aide Jeremy Pollock told me that number was a bit too high. But still: The “affordable” rent would not be much lower than what the developers will charge on the open market. )

Kim opposed the amendments, but with the support of Land Use Chair Malia Cohen, they went through.

Now the measure comes back as amended for a final vote, which will probably be the same – and then the full board will have a chance to amend it back to its original intent. Let me guess: another 6-5 vote?

That D3 race is looking more critical every day.


We are not big fans of parking garages, particularly in downtown San Francisco. Most people can get pretty much anywhere in that part of the city on public transit, and since much of the city’s transit system is designed to get people downtown, those routs (including Muni Metro and BART) tend to be fairly reliable and fast.

Biking along Market Street is a lot safer and more popular than it used to be, with the improved bike lanes (tho I still don’t understand why any private cars are allowed on Market; limit it to buses, licensed taxis and deliveries only, and the whole artery would be so much better for all).

That said, the parking structure at 75 Howard offers a rare inexpensive place to leave your car if you want to drive to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building on weekends (or if you have little kids who swim at the Embarcadero YMCA). Even those of us who don’t approve of regular car transportation in the city have to admit that we have taken advantage of what used to be $3 parking Saturday and Sunday mornings while taking our offspring to the Y. (I think it’s up to $6 now; I haven’t been in a while. My kids are old enough now take the bus everywhere, and I ride my bike.)

That’s not a reason to save the parking garage; all garages do (like freeways) is encourage car traffic. But this isn’t about that garage, which is going to be torn down for something better at some point soon. And it should be.

There are, however, some serious questions about the current project that will replace that garage, starting with the fact that it’s 220 feet tall almost right on the waterfront, and will cast a shadow on Rincon Park. Oh, and it’s going to be more luxury condos, which the city doesn’t need right now.

It’s also not exactly ending car traffic – the project will include 100 underground parking spaces.

The original plan, two years ago, called for a 350-foot-tall building, which was never going to fly. Then the developers cut it down to the existing height limits, more or less – and in the process pulled funding for an affordable housing project in the Tenderloin.

According to Save Rincon Park,

The San Francisco Planning Department’s draft environmental review of 75 Howard found that it would have a significant detrimental impact on users of Rincon Park on the waterfront by increasing the shadows cast on Rincon Park and significantly eliminating sunlight on Rincon Park on most days throughout the year.

Rincon Park hosts that giant bow and arrow sculpture on the waterfront.

Plus, the project is happening at the same time that another tower close to the waterfront, this one 400 feet tall at 160 Folsom, is under review. Together, the group says, the projects would “create an overwhelming effect of a wall on the waterfront.”

Among the opponents: The Sierra Club, which outlines its case here, San Francisco Tomorrow, the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Harvey Milk LGBT Club, and many others.

All of this comes to a head Thursday/23 at the SF Planning Commission, where a long list of items involving the project’s approvals will be heard. The meeting starts at noon, City Hall Room 400.


If you want to hear the case for the Mission Moratorium and the Airbnb regulation initiative, the Gray Panthers are going to be hearing from the proponents of both measures Tuesday/21 at 1pm. The meeting’s at the Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin. More details here.


We all know that Mayor Ed Lee is effectively unopposed – which means nobody with the community base, experience, and resources to mount a winning campaign is in the race. But there are candidates who are running, for whatever reasons, and they will have a chance to explain what their campaigns are about Thursday/23 at a forum hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America.

Both Francisco Herrera and Amy Farah Weiss will be there. So will I, since the panelists are me and Tommi Avicolli Mecca. The moderator is Rose Aguilar. The actual topic is: “The current political landscape and the 2015 mayor’s race – how do progressives fit in?”

7pm, at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th Street. It’s free.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
Sponsored link


  1. Scott laughing insult to responsibility, mocking the concern of fair housing policies especially city planning building. Scott your pretentious refuse listen anyone, looking at
    possibilities running for mayor are serious. You failed to protect LGBTQ” society your damn liar, how appear lesser concerns always crime or health neglected immediate. Interest housing “Ellis Act” only two communities LGBTQ using statistics financial interest
    you failed empower whom? LGBTQ and diversity I know your independent of “LGBTQ” interest Scott, think if you can those detesting equality going deny you chance becoming
    efficient recollect your ego! You’ll read, not deterred and I’m rant what ever, your not clever endeavor use charade using LGBTQ society you. Approved so many multi-family developments oppose fair housing 1036 Mission once 13th now 9th still postpone why?
    Scott going expose decadence whom eager, development site

  2. Sadly, it seems SF must go thru learning that government control of the market for housing is suboptimal, indeed, sucks. Faith in a freer market is gone. Revival of Soviet architecture! Council-homes; oh how beloved.

  3. “Gov’t housing and controlled housing has been on the rise for decades; has it worked?” Actually, government investment at all levels in public housing has decreased. And public housing was never given a chance; fill t with poor people with no jobs or education, and what do you expect? The NGO-ification of public housing this time has only served to ensure the City can wash it’s hands of the problem. Properly managed anything can work, we just need to identify the right people.And the whole thing is financed through a municipal bank.

  4. How do current residents benefit from new housing; is a negative tax paid to all residents? Are current residents given first choice at their present rent? Will your plan work? Gov’t housing and controlled housing has been on the rise for decades; has it worked?

  5. The housing crisis has to be solved by those who created it; corporations and their enablers in municipal governments. The first people who should benefit from any new housing are the residents who are already here. The most logical way to do this is for the City to un-privatize the housing market for BMR units. It could start by buying up all the hotels owned by negligent slumlords in the now-trendy Tenderloin, restoring the ones that can be saved, and demolishing the vermin-ridden firetraps before they burn down or “partially” collapse. In their place would be state-of-the-art, energy efficient buildings using solar/wind/rainwater-capture/gray-water recycling technology, with communal kitchens and laundry facilities. Ditto with vacant City-owned land (acres and acres) and buildings (scores). If “conversions” are allowed for “Historically Preserved” structures, certainly other types of buildings could be used for housing. All types of housing; rental, co-ops, condos, live-work; whatever is appropriate for the neighborhood. Height limits should be strictly enforced where public spaces are impacted. Seriously, leave the kids something to look at. Bugger off speculators; we were here first. No need to increase height limits by fiat; some yes, some (most) no.

    As for “micro-units,” they are pretty common in Japan. There may be a way to build some that don’t resemble termite mounds, but I really think it’s a bad trend. The micro-units recently approved on Leavenworth and Turk streets are of a modular design that is only supposed to last 10 years. Not sure we need more sketchy construction in this town. I know the days of the Craftsman Cottage is long gone, but that shouldn’t mean people have to live in cracker boxes.

  6. This isn’t holding one’s breath. This is more like putting a gun to the heads of businesses and political leaders, telling them to solve the problem NOW.

  7. Yes, Let’s all hold our breath until the whole thing goes away. Sounds like a totally plausible idea to me.

  8. Actually, I think the consensus-based planning process is WORSE than you indicate in your comment.

    And I’m excruciatingly progressive.

  9. What a joke. That “significant impact” of shadows on Rincon Park amounts to about a 2% loss of sunshine over the course of a year. This whole “wall on the waterfront” nonsense needs to end. The only people opposing the Gang building at 160 Folsom are Infinity residents who will be losing their views. I guess these hypocrites somehow feel their “wall on the waterfront” is fine but the Gang building isn’t. The level of NIMBYism in this town simply disgusts me.

  10. Indeed, chasmader, that would have been the time. Thankfully, consensus-based planning processes are there in SF to ensure that if you don’t like the outcome, you just have to stamp your feet and howl long enough and you can derail whatever you want, no matter how necessary.

  11. When Gateway Commons was built it blocked views from Telegraph Hill and Chinatown. Hypocritical NIMBYs, all.

  12. Wasn’t that why the City spent the last decade coming up with Eastern Neighborhoods Plan? Wouldn’t that have been the time to address these concerns?

  13. A regional solution is better. Housing is durable. Neither changes the analysis: encouraging modest, dense housing is helpful, not harmful.

  14. Indeed; edifices like the Salesforce Phallus use as much energy as a small town; and it’s virtually empty 12 hours a day. Most “work” can be done from the “home” these days anyway. Solving the area housing crisis will mainly involve getting people to work wherever they live, and live wherever they work.

  15. I didn’t mean to imply that we should halt housing development, only office/workspace development.

    And while I’m not sure that I agree with the specific increased height limits, I do agree in principle with everything you propose.

  16. Well, the state of housing affordability could definitely be described as a crisis. But halting development will most likely make it worse. We’ve essentially had a de facto moratorium in the mission for the last 15 years, as less than 100 units have been built a year. I’m fine with episodic variances as long as they exchange increased height/density for greater BMR inclusion or actual offsite building. I would love to up-zone everything east of Van Ness and south of California to something like 500′, fill SOMA with 400′ mixed use towers, and spend $30B digging new subway lines and a second BART tube, and but that’s not gonna happen.

  17. Supposedly, we are in a housing crisis. Supposedly, we need hundreds of episodic variances and other development exemptions all over the city because “crisis.” But nobody is looking at a long-term plan to grow San Francisco’s population (or the population of the Bay Area) in a reasonable way.

    It is time to put on the brakes until a good plan can be developed, because allowing more work units to be built with no or little housing is throwing gasoline on the fire. It is also time to contract out this planning effort as City Planning is a joke. We need the best and brightest working on this problem, not the idiots we have now.

    If we don’t stop this train, It will lead to even larger income disparities (because companies will have to pay workers more to be able to afford housing in the Bay Area) and at some point, it will lead to an exodus of businesses as they will find it cheaper to pay employees in Texas or some other part of the country/world.

  18. I get where you’re coming from, but what would solved look like to you? $2,000 median 1BR? Short of a drastic market correction or 50,000 units appearing overnight I don’t see that happening. And why would you want to fight job growth? Pretty much any other city would be giving away their first born for the kind of investment that is happening here – and we got most of it without having to bend over backwards (with a few exceptions: twitter tax break, low as hell tech bus fees).

  19. Let me help to motivate “leaders” to solve the SF Bay Area regional housing crisis:

    Halt all office/workspace building in the Bay Area until the housing crisis is solved.

  20. No. The city should not be responsible for solving regional problems. And today’s micro units will have a long shelf-life as run-down Tenderloin SROs did for decades before the current economic bubble.

  21. I understand where people are coming from with waterfront preservationist efforts, but in reality they are simply siding with old money property owners trying to protect their views from new money upstarts.

  22. Yeah, seems like the staff there liked dense urban development until it started possibly having some sort of effect on their personal lives.

  23. Shouldn’t the city encourage modest, dense housing like ‘tiny micro-units’? Sure, the step function of the in-lieu fee break is an awfully blunt instrument, but it’s something.

    If the city doesn’t provide some incentive to build for the lower part of the market, the profit motive will ensure that new construction sates highest income demand first.

  24. I used to be a Sierra Club member. But after they started opposing all new construction in The City and instead forced all development into the suburbs, where people use more water and more energy, I cancelled my membership.

Comments are closed.

Sponsored link

Top reads

Landlords seek to evict longtime housing activists

Family with many residential properties claims need for an owner move-in; community organizes to fight back.

Welcome to BEST OF THE BAY 2021!

Our 46th annual Readers' Poll winners are here, from Best Burrito and Best Politician to Best Sweets Shop and Best Bike Store.

Best of the Bay 2021: Arts + Nightlife winners

READERS' POLL: Best Nightclub, Best Art Gallery, Best Drag Queen, Best Live Venue, Best Band, more

More by this author

Again, the Chron blames Boudin for a terrible situation that wasn’t his fault

The case of two bicycle hit-and-runs is a lot more complicated than Heather Knight's column suggests.

The profound importance of a new Housing Plan for San Francisco

The Agenda: City planners admit the 'Jobs Economy' was a disaster. Will they really take another path this time?

In a direct assault on planning policy, supes reject Tenderloin tech dorms

Board makes clear, for perhaps the first time ever, that developer profits should not be a deciding factor in city housing decisions.
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED